Based on: Deuteronomy 6:1-9
One of my seminary professors was talking about family devotions with a group of people. He showed them a picture of a family from the late 1800’s. The mother had died and the picture showed the father with his seven or eight children. I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember the very compelling main point. This man had plenty to do to raise his children, but he consistently took time for devotions with his family and taught them the truths of God’s Word. The value this man placed on God’s Word showed throughout his life and his example made a huge impact on his children. Not only his children, but also on his grandchildren and great-grandchildren as his love for God’s Word was passed on from generation to generation. In fact, you can still see his love for God’s word in many of his descendants, one of whom was my seminary professor. From this one family has come two Synod presidents, dozens of pastors and teachers, and hundreds of faithful lay men and women. If you think about the many people that would have heard about Jesus through this one man’s descendants, you could say that he had and still has an impact on thousands of people because he shared his love for the Gospel with his children.
However, let’s not place this man on a pedestal that is too high for us to reach. It is by God’s grace that he was a believer and it is through God’s word and sacraments that his faith was strong. We do want to see in him an example for us to follow. Understand that as you teach the next generation you are doing future mission work now. We no longer live under that old covenant where we had to do something in order to earn God’s favor. Our relationship with God is based on Christ’s sacrifice. God has done all the work to create this relationship we have with him. In love to him we want to share this good news with others, especially with our children. What Moses said to Israel applies to us as we pass on God’s precious promises. We can examine what Moses said with the three questions: Who? Why? How?
First, who does the passing on of the gospel? We are redeemed children of God who have been rescued from the death our sins deserve. Because God has made us his children we also want to tell our children about what God has done for us. This is a privilege that we have, but at the same time God knows we have a sinful nature and he doesn’t want us to neglect it. He gives this responsibility primarily to fathers. God tells us in Ephesians chapter 6, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Mothers are also involved. Remember how God calls attention to the good example of Eunice and Lois, the mother and grandmother of Timothy. It is very clear that God gives the primary responsibility of passing on the faith to parents. First and foremost, talking about our faith is a family activity.
That doesn’t mean the congregation has no role in teaching the children of others. Before Jesus ascended into heaven he gave the church a command to make disciples of all nations and that includes children. We are to teach them everything Christ has commanded. That means God has given everyone in this congregation the responsibility of educating the children of our congregation and as many as we can reach outside our congregation. One of the ways we do that is with our Christian Day School.
Why would we do this? The Lord commands it, of course! We love to please our Savior. That too, but there is more. Every time God gives us a command, it is not simply to give us busy work or to frustrate us. No, every command God gives us has a purpose. It is there to bless us. Moses tells us one of the blessings of teaching our children about their Savior, it is so that “you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God … and so that you may enjoy long life." I asked some of the catechism students what blessings they receive from Christian education. Here are some of their answers: “They would have a good outlook on life. They would know Jesus died for us and that we have heaven waiting for us.” Isn’t it true that when you know God is in control now and that you will be in heaven later gives you a more positive attitude in life? The catechism students also said they would be nicer to people. And that’s also true. The better we understand God’s love for us the easier it is to show love for others. They also said it would help them find a Christian spouse. As they learn about God’s Word they know what to look for in a spouse and how to find a godly man or woman.
When it comes to why we teach our children about their Savior, also think back to the man I told you about. Think about how he is going to see many generations of his descendants with him in heaven. What better blessing can you think of then to have your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and perhaps beyond are going to share eternity with you. Not only them but the many lives they will touch. That’s really what it is all about. When we think about outreach we usually think about who can we talk to now. We should do that but consider how much future mission work we are doing right now by training our children and teaching them God’s Word.
So how do we do this out reach? Moses tells the Israelites, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." That means that that there is no room in your life for anything else except those things that are done out of love for God. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your family and others, but it means that you love them in a God pleasing way so that your love for them is also a love for God.
Moses gives a little description of what that would be like. He says, God’s Word will be "on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." Simply, Moses says to immerse yourself in God’s word.
As we take the words of Moses and apply to our lives, we carry them out in regular family devotions, in the opportunities we take to use the things that happen to us in this life as moments to teach God’s Word, in the example we set as we pray, in the church and Bible class attendance that becomes a habit – so much so that it feels strange when we are not there.
We also carry out these words by surrounding ourselves with reminders of God’s promises. Perhaps by wearing a cross made of nails close to my heart to remind me that I belong to the Lord and I was bought with his blood, or by carrying a wallet with a Christian fish symbol to remind me that my money belongs to God, or perhaps by wearing socks that remind me of my Lutheran heritage through which God has brought me to stand, so to speak, on the solid foundation of God’s word. If you want to see my socks you will have to ask me later.
Do not just simply say, “learning God’s Word is important”, but show with your actions how important it is to learn God’s Word. Yes, it takes work, but the benefits are amazing. I know that even as we try to follow these words of Moses there will be times that we fail. Even now many of my failures as a parent come crowding back into mind, but that is all the more reason to immerse yourself in God’s Word – there you hear about Christ’s sacrifice for you, how he paid for all those parenting sins. There you find his strength and his wisdom to continue.
You can do future mission work now. As you bring your children up in “the training and instruction of the Lord” you impact the spiritual lives of people who have not even been born yet. The fruits of this mission work will only be fully known when you meet them in heaven.