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Many Scriptures tell parents to provide information and guidance so their children can know what is expected. We should teach many aspects of life, but especially we must teach the word of God and its application in their lives. Children, in turn, should heed this instruction.
Proverbs 1:8 - Sons should hear the instruction of their fathers and not forsake the law of their mothers. [Cf. 1 Thess. 2:11.]
Psalm 34:11 - David determined to teach future generations the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah 38:19 - The father shall make known God's truth to the children.
2 Timothy 3:15 - From childhood Timothy had been taught the Scriptures because they could make him wise to salvation. [Cf. Eph. 6:4.]
Consider some principles involved in instructing children. As we do so, notice the many other passages that show the importance of instructing children.
What methods should we use to instill God's word in our children?
Genesis 18:19 - Abraham commanded his family after him. He told them what they should do to serve God.
Deuteronomy 4:9,10 - The things the parents know should be made known to the children.
Psalm 78:4-8 - We should tell God's law to the next generation so we can be sure they know it and can tell their children.
Parents must take time to talk to children about God's word. Explain the teachings and the principles involved. Discuss with them, ask them questions, and answer their questions.
How often do you make it a point to explain God's word to your children? Do they have a thorough understanding of His will for their lives?
[See also Deut. 6:6-9; Psa. 48:13; 71:18; etc.]
All people learn by imitation. We learn new jobs by watching others do them, etc. Children especially learn by mimicking parents. Toddlers want to wear our shoes, talk like us, dress like us, etc.
Children need to see their parents living by Bible principles. But remember that they imitate both good and bad characteristics.
2 Timothy 1:5 - Timothy's genuine faith was first possessed by his mother and his grandmother. They did not just tell Timothy what to believe. They showed him by their own faith. "Actions speak louder than words."
Ezekiel 16:44 - "Like mother, like daughter." Most parents want their children to live better than they themselves have lived. This can happen, but it is rare. The general rule is that children are like their parents. If our children are no better than we are, what will they be like?
1 Kings 15:3 - Abijam walked in the sins of his father. Many such statements can be found regarding kings of Israel and Judah. Children often imitate their parents' sins.
And children often go even further in justifying sin than their parents do. We knew a family in the church where the kids grew up hearing the father argue that there isn't anything wrong with drinking a beer now and then. His kids ended up leading the teens in the congregation in drinking parties with obvious drunkenness. This is why parental example is so important.
Nehemiah 13:23,24 - Both parents will influence the children. Jews married people of other nations, and their children spoke half in the language of Ashdod. This is one reason why it is so important that a Christian marry another Christian. Children need both their parents to set good examples. Otherwise, the bad example may defeat the effect of the good example. [Matt. 23:1-4]
Genesis 27 and 37 - Isaac and Rebekah played favorites with their children, and Rebekah influenced Jacob to deceive Isaac. When Jacob had children, he in turn played favorites, and his sons in turn deceived him. When you practice evil, you may as well expect your children to practice it too - and they will probably practice it toward you!
If your children imitate you, will they lie, deceive, smoke, drink, gamble, dress immodestly, neglect the Lord and the church? Or will they be honest, hard working, and diligent in Bible study, prayer, teaching God's word to others, and working in the church?
Do you have things about your life that you don't want your children to imitate? If so, you need to change, and do it now!
Woe to us if, by our example, our children are lost eternally. It would be better for us to be drowned than to suffer the fate we will suffer in such a case (Matt. 18:6,7).
Usually people learn best, not just by being told what to do, nor even by watching others, but by actually practicing the activity guided by an instructor. This is the way most people learn to play the piano, drive a car, or participate in a sport, etc.
Parents need to teach their children to work by having them help you work. This applies to housework, gardening, making repairs, and work of all kinds. But especially children should learn to serve God by practicing it under their parents' guidance.
Hebrews 5:14 - To discern good and evil, senses must be exercised by reason of use (NKJV footnote: "practice"). It is not enough just to speak truth to children, nor even to set a good example before them. We must also insist that they regularly practice what is right. This will instill in them the habit of doing right and avoiding evil, so they will continue to be faithful throughout life.
Do you insist that your children practice what you teach them till it becomes a way of life with them? Later lessons will discuss how to get children to practice what we teach them. The point here is proper instruction requires that we insist that children practice right, not just see us do it.
With all the methods of teaching we have discussed, frequent repetition is needed. Humans are creatures of habit, and habits develop by repetition. The telling, the good example, and especially the practice all need to be repeated throughout the child's life, so good habits are thoroughly instilled in his character.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 - Parents should talk continually of God's commands. Write them down where you see them frequently. All this involves repetition and reminder.
Exodus 13:8,14-16 - The Passover feast was repeated every year so that the children would remember how God led Israel out of Egypt.
2 Peter 1:12-15 - Sometimes young people tire of hearing parents repeat things, but Peter repeatedly reminded people of things they already knew. To do otherwise he said would be "neglect." He knew they would need these lessons after he died.
When children do something contrary to what their parents said, one of their most common excuses is, "I forgot." Every time a child uses that excuse, he is admitting that he needs to be reminded! Like Peter, someday your parents will be gone and you won't be able to talk to them.
But parents should not let repetition turn into nagging and lecturing. When kids already know something, they will often turn off a long lecture. A short reminder may be all that is needed. Or ask them to explain the matter to you. But make sure they know and that the lessons are fresh in their minds.
These methods will instill God's will deeply in your children's minds. What about your children - have they been thoroughly instructed in God's ways?
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 - We should teach continually (walking, sitting, lying, etc.). Consider some specific applications:
2 Timothy 3:15 - Timothy knew the Scriptures "from childhood."
Matthew 21:15,16 - Jesus appreciated praise from the mouth of babes and nursing infants. God and His will should be among the very first things that children learn. From the time they learn to talk, they should grow up talking about God.
Bob and Sandra Waldron tell of a mother who took a Bible story book to the hospital to read to her child from the time it was first born. They encourage mothers to read Bible stories when they nurse their babies. The baby won't understand the words but will grow up understanding the importance of Bible study and will always have pleasant memories of it. (A Generation that Knows Not God, p. 137)
Or they say, "I don't think you should make a child go to church or Bible class."
However, you can't avoid indoctrinating a child. There is no way to be neutral about God (Matt. 12:30). If you serve God faithfully, then your child will see and hear you living and teaching God's word. But if you never do or say anything about God, then you will teach the child that God is unimportant. Either way you are teaching the child about religion.
Furthermore, Satan will attempt to indoctrinate your child. Do you think Satan will wait till the child is grown before he places temptations and false teachings before him? You must begin early to teach the truth, or Satan will win by default!
In a garden, good plants must be cultivated, but weeds grow by themselves. So we must teach children the truth early, or Satan will fill their lives with spiritual weeds.
So the fact is that the child will be indoctrinated regardless of what we do or don't do. The only question is: What values will he be taught? To fail to teach truth is to guarantee that Satan will teach him lies and cause him to be lost eternally.
The only one who really gains if we don't teach our children early is Satan. And he is the ultimate source of the view that parents should not indoctrinate children. When you hear people say "don't indoctrinate children," you can be sure they are not faithful Christians. Knowingly or unknowingly, they are tools of Satan.
God commands us to teach, and to begin early.
It is a simple fact that proper training when a child is young will help him avoid most of the serious spiritual problems that teenagers face. If a child is going to have a problem, it usually begins in early years; then it grows as the child grows. When teenage years come, it may be too late to change the child. Yes, we should continue to train our teens, but the best way to avoid serious problems is to train them properly long before they become teens!
For example, when I was in the fourth grade, the schools wanted to teach us to dance, but my parents refused. One might reason that a fourth-grader would not be likely to lust. But by starting young, my parents trained me not to dance. When I became a teenager, dancing was never an issue. But if you let a child dance when he is young, it becomes far more difficult to get him to quit when the lusts of adolescence come.
The same principle applies in many other areas.
Bring him from the age he is first able to go anywhere. Even though he does not understand what is being said, yet your example will permanently instill the fact that these meetings are very important. (Parents are also learning an important lesson of commitment to God that strengthens them and gives them the assurance they did their best.)
Your child should never be able to remember a time when he did not attend church meetings regularly.
There should never be any doubt in anyone's mind where they will be Sunday evening, mid-week classes, gospel meetings, etc. Every family member should view this as a pre-determined appointment.
Less important matters (school activities, sports, musical activities, etc.) should never be allowed to hinder church meetings. That also applies to jobs. Working a job may be good for teens, but they have no God-given obligation to provide for the family like their fathers do. So how can they be justified in missing church for work?
Children should be trained from the beginning to seek first the kingdom and sacrifice for the cause of Christ (Matt. 6:33; Rom. 12:1,2).
Parents must set the proper example by having their own lessons prepared. They should also check with teachers from time to time to see how their children are doing. Church meetings and classes are only part of the teaching children need, but the least parents can do is to bring their children to meetings on time and well-prepared.
Many parents have been indifferent and irregular regarding attendance, only to find that their children grow up and decide not to attend at all. But by then it is too late for the parents to change them. What a shame!
How regular is your family in attending church meetings?
The primary duty for teaching children rests on parents, not on the church. We need to teach them the importance of regular, frequent study at home. Consider:
Acts 17:11 - The Bereans were noble for searching the Scriptures daily.
Hebrews 3:13 - To avoid falling away, people need daily admonition.
Psalm 1:2; 119:97-99; Joshua 1:8 - We should meditate on God's word day and night. (Reread Deut. 6:6-9.)
1 Peter 2:2; Matthew 5:6 - We should hunger and thirst for God's word as a man thirsts for water and as a baby does for milk.
Do these verses describe something to be done just once or twice a week? Parents should teach their children this kind of daily commitment to Bible study.
For younger children, many good books and recordings are available for teaching Bible stories.
Parents can review the children's church Bible class lessons with them at home. You can also order other Bible class material to study with the children at home.
A good way to memorize Bible verses is to write them on cards, place the cards on the table, and have everyone say them at meals till the whole family knows them.
For years our family read a chapter of the Bible every evening at the supper table. Then we would go around the table asking one another questions about the chapter.
Many good study methods are available. The point is that parents need to spend time on a regular basis, in an organized way, to make sure their children learn God's will.
What about your family - are they being thoroughly instructed in God's will?
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 - Note the emphasis on teaching under all circumstances. We should have prearranged studies in which we determine beforehand when and what we will study. But we should also watch for the "teachable" moment that may occur unplanned on the "spur of the moment."
Here are some suggestions about informal teaching.
Before you can help them apply principles of truth to their problems, they need to feel free to bring their problems to you.
This is another area where I made mistakes. I am not a good conversationalist, I often thought I had more important things to do, and especially I let my wife become a mediator between the kids and me. If they had requests or concerns, they went to Karen first. If she approved it, she would defend the kids' case to me. If I disapproved, she would explain my conclusion to the kids.
The effect was to isolate me from my children. Dad was unapproachable. Mom was the only one you could really talk to. And if Mom agreed to something, then the whole group would gang up on Dad to convince him. If Dad vetoed it, then Dad became this gruff ogre, the bad guy. The kids were teenagers before I realized my mistake and tried to correct it.
Some suggestions for open conversation with kids:
Take time and be available from early days.
If you take time to talk with them when they are little, they are more likely to take time to talk to you when they are older. Do things together as a family and each parent individually with each child. Plan activities together and make use of informal occasions to be together.
This is another problem area if both parents are employed outside the home or spend too much time on outside activities. Opportunities to establish an open relationship are missed.
Often the "generation gap" exists because parents fail to take the time to discuss children's concerns.
Especially be available at three special times: meal times, when they come home from school, and bed time.
Kids are especially talkative at these times. Ask about their day. Think of topics you can bring up to discuss. Always have at least one meal per day (preferably more than one) as a family and encourage good conversation.
Be involved in their interests.
Attend their ball games, school functions, and musical performances. Get to know their friends. Listen to their music. Watch TV and movies together. Help with their homework. Know what they are involved in so you can discuss with them.
Honestly listen to them and treat their conversation seriously.
Don't try to do most of the talking. Let them talk so you know what interests them and what they are thinking.
If a problem or viewpoint is serious to them, you should treat it seriously as you would with an adult friend. If you disagree, try to reason at your child's level, but don't ridicule or make fun or "talk down" to him. Otherwise, next time he won't come to you with his concern.
The ability to converse with your children will lead to the following kinds of teaching opportunities:
Many of Jesus' most memorable lessons came in response to questions. This includes the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29ff), teaching on divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19:3ff), and the discussion of the greatest command (Matt. 22:36ff).
Likewise children often ask questions that give excellent teaching opportunities: questions about death, prayer, baptism, smoking, etc. When the child asks, he is obviously interested and receptive. Don't just make a brief comment; discuss the matter.
Discuss the sermon on the way home from services or at a meal. Ask each child about his/ her Bible class. Invite visiting preachers or other Christians into your home and have religious discussions.
Don't think children won't learn because "it's over their heads." They will understand more than you think, and later they will remember the importance of these discussions.
And yes, parents should discuss in the presence of the children about problems the church faces. I grew up understanding divorce and remarriage because the church dealt with it in my best buddy's family. Some judgment may be needed here, but too many parents hide church troubles from their children so the children are shocked when they grow up and must deal with problems.
Obviously the children do not need to solve the problems, but they need to grow up knowing there will be problems in the church. And they should learn from their parents' example how to deal with problems.
A circumstance in which someone handles temptation wisely may present a good example to encourage. A car wreck may make a good lesson about obeying the law. A Christian who has problems with a non-Christian spouse may teach the importance of marrying a Christian. Many such examples will arise.
As a teenager I was watching a ball game on TV, when a fight broke out. The camera showed Minnie Minoso calmly sitting on second base, waiting for the game to continue. My mother stated simply that, like Minoso, Christians don't fight. Obviously, the lesson stuck with me.
Don't just tell your children what your rules are or punish him for disobeying rules. Tell them why you made the rule, especially if there are Bible principles involved.
Discuss the principles with the child. Get the Bible out and look up passages together. When he grows up, he won't have to have you to tell him right from wrong. But if he understands the principles involved, then he can make right decisions for himself.
Obviously not every decision can or should be explained. Sometimes there is no time to discuss a matter. In other cases the child is too young to understand. And sometimes children repeatedly demand to know "Why?" even when you have tried repeatedly to explain. They question the explanation simply because they don't like the rule. We should not give in to such manipulation. But when reasonably possible, we should explain our reasons as a teaching tool.
Sometimes it may be useful to test our children's understanding of Bible principles by asking them to explain the principles and make the application to a certain situation. Let them reach the conclusion and explain it to you. Give guidance and additional information, if needed, of course. And never let him reach a wrong conclusion without giving the correct information. But let him learn to think things through for himself.
I sincerely believe that the majority of Christians neglect to teach God's word to their children as they ought. Many of us let our children face serious temptations day after day at school, on TV, in music, with friends, etc. In many cases, we make mistakes just by the degree of temptation we let them face. But then we make matters worse by neglecting to give them the instruction they need to deal with those temptations. No wonder we are losing so many young people to the world.
When we bring a child into this world, God expects us to instruct that child to do His will. That job belongs to us simply because we are parents, and God will hold us accountable for how well we do the job.
Are we training our children in such a way that we are ready to give answer to God in judgment?
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Copyright 2004, David E. Pratte
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.