In the Old Testament, we read that Samson’s father, Manoah, asked the angel: “Can you give us any instructions about how we should raise the child after he is born?” (Judges 13:12). We are not really told how well Manoah and his wife did in following the angel’s instructions, but there are many instructions in the Bible about raising our children in the ways of the Lord. In the paragraphs below, you will find a few of the most important ones:
Intentional Daily Instruction
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “These words which I command you this day shall be in your heart and you shall teach them diligently to your children . . . when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.” In these early words from scripture, parents are instructed to give priority to the task of teaching God’s commands to their children. Concerning this responsibility, the famous first century Jewish historian, Josephus, writes: “Our chief ambition is for the education of our children . . . . We take most pains of all with the instruction of children and esteem observation of the laws and piety . . . the most important affairs of our whole lives.” Parents are told to teach these commands “diligently”. This suggests intentionality and earnestness. Apparently Timothy’s mother and grandmother had been intentional and earnest about teaching him the scriptures. We read: “From a child, you have known the holy scriptures which are able to make you wise unto salvation” (II. Tim 1:5 & 3:15).
Answering Questions Posed By Our Children
Several times, the Old Testament mentions the importance of answering questions that children are asking. Exodus 12:25-27 says, “When your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ . . . tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord who . . . spared our homes.’” Joshua 4:6 says, “When your children ask . . . ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them . . . . ‘The flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.’” A similar word of instruction is given in Joshua 4:21. As Jesus spent much of his teaching time answering questions posed by the disciples, so parents must be ready for the teachable moments when their children ask them questions about God and about faith.
Prayers By Family Members
Some of the earliest prayers in the Bible deal with important issues in the family: (1) Abraham prayed for his son, Ishmael: “Oh that Ishmael might live before thee” (Gen. 17:18) and God responds, “I have heard your prayer (Gen. 17:20).” (2) In Genesis 24: 12-14, there is a prayer for guidance in finding the right spouse for Isaac. God answers this prayer by directing Isaac’s servant to Rebekah. (3) In Genesis 32:9-12, there is a prayer concerning a broken relationship between two brothers: Jacob and Esau. God answers this prayer and reconciliation ensues. While there are no direct references to families praying together, we may assume that children in biblical families were aware of the prayers offered and were instructed by the example of the parents (and related adults) who offered these prayers.
Involvement of Both Parents
The Book of Proverbs often reminds us of the importance of the role of the father and the mother in giving spiritual instruction to the children: “Listen my son to your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Prov. 1:8) and “My son, keep your father’s commandments and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Prov. 6:20), etc. While Ephesians 6:1 speaks of the role of the father in providing nurture and training, I Timothy 1:5 suggests that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were the most important figures in his early spiritual development. (This should be an encouragement to single parents as well as to women who teach boys in the local church.) If we take the most common biblical passages about child-rearing, we find that most of them are addressed to both parents while one refers only to the father and one refers to the mother and the grandmother.
The principle of “qadesh” (holiness or separation) was fundamental to Hebrew religion. As the family prepared the Passover sacrifice, participated in a Sabbath meal, or explained the covenant of circumcision, children learned that the God’s people were to be distinct and separate. We tend to think of separation only in terms of separation from sin. However, Hebrew parents went a step further: They taught their children to embrace a lifestyle that was significantly different from the customs and behavior of their neighbors. This distinctive lifestyle was both an indication of their dedication to God and a protection from customs and behaviors that might lure them away from their faith. Many stories in the Old Testament illustrate how individuals (and families) failed to live a life of separation and fell into sin. The story of Lot in Genesis is an example of what happened to a family whose parents failed to live a life of separation. Ps. 106: 34-37 (a good summary for this story) says: “They . . . . mingled among the heathen . . . . and learned their works . . . . They sacrificed their sons and their daughters . . . .” (This principle of separation is cited by Paul in II Cor. 7:17-18). In contrast to Lot’s failure to embrace this principle, God said regarding Abraham: “I know him that he will instruct his children and his household after him . . . . and they shall keep the way of the Lord (Gen. 18:19).”
Involvement in Church
There are no specific biblical references about children attending church, but we do know that children went with their families to special feasts and celebrations which were an important part of the Old Testament faith. Separate classes for children and youth (as we know them) did not develop until after biblical times. However, children were taught God’s law in synagogue schools during New Testament times as well as later Old Testament times. As schools developed for children and youth in the western world, the church began holding classes for children and youth as well. Scholarly studies show a correlation between regular church involvement (and the amount of church involvement) and the development of Christian attitudes and actions on the part of children and youth. If a child or teen attends one (or more) Christian Education class(es) each week, he/she is much more likely to develop Christian attitudes and behaviors. When I was a child, television and film stars, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, made this song popular: “If you don’t go to Sunday School, you’ll grow up to be bad; You’ll never know just what you missed, but always wish you had. If you want the Lord to be proud of you, you’d better start today. Those who miss the Sunday School are on the downward way.” We would never sing that song today, but there is an element of truth in it. If parents do not take their children to Christian Education classes regularly, their children are much less likely to grow up to be life-long Christians. In Luke 2:52, we read that the child, Jesus, “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” Do you want your child to grow in all the ways that the child, Jesus, grew? Taking your child to church (and to Christian Education classes) is one of the best ways to facilitate this kind of growth. And while you are setting the example, perhaps you will find yourself growing in a Sunday School class as well.
Dr. Keith Springer, Professor of Educational Ministries, Indiana Wesleyan University