I want to begin this evening by going all the way back to lesson 1. What did we say is the goal of parenting? (children who please God; we want our children to be saved and to be walking with God on the path to spiritual maturity) Now what ingredients are necessary in order to produce that goal? In his book, Teach Them Diligently, Lou Priolo lists three essential ingredients: the Spirit, the Scriptures, and time. The Spirit is the One who regenerates us and sanctifies them, but He does so using the Bible! That’s why the Bible is called, “the sword of the Spirit” in Ephesians 6:17. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” and Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth; Your word is truth.” Our children cannot be saved or sanctified apart from the Bible.
Biblical discipline is very important, but there are many parents who try to rely almost solely on rules and discipline in order to shepherd their children! That doesn’t work. It is vital that you communicate with your children and that you communicate the Bible to them.
Today, we are going to discuss how to communicate the Bible to our children. For a guide, we’ll use 2 Timothy 3:16 (2 Tim 3:16-17).
These verses were written by Paul to his “son in the faith” Timothy, who, at that time, was serving as pastor in Ephesus. Paul writes from a prison cell in Rome, shortly before his execution. This is his “farewell letter” to Timothy, so it is very moving. Paul is just about to charge Timothy before God and the Lord Jesus Christ to “preach the Word!” But before doing so, he provides the theological basis for that command. He says that all Scripture is “God-breathed,” or inspired. We often stop there. But Paul goes on to say that all Scripture is useful–it’s profitable. In what sense is it profitable (v. 17)? Armed with the Scriptures alone, the man of God is thoroughly equipped for his ministry of bringing about spiritual maturity in the lives of the people he pastors. In the same way, armed with Scripture alone, parents are fully equipped to bring about spiritual maturity in their children. The Bible you hold in your hand is a powerful, powerful tool!
But we have to know how to use this tool! Let’s say you visit some remote part of the world where they’ve never seen a smart phone, and you accidently leave your phone there. Those people pick it up and they’re trying to figure out what to do with it, and they end up trying to use it as some sort of a kitchen utensil or mounting it on the wall because it’s shiny. The Bible is powerful, but we’ve got to know how to use it! That’s where v. 16 comes in. Verse 16 lists four uses of the Bible. What are they? (“doctrine” [or “teaching”], “reproof” [or “conviction”], “correction,” and “instruction” [or “training”] in righteousness”) We’ll use this as an outline for the next two weeks. Tonight, we’ll focus on teaching and conviction.
The word “doctrine” in 2 Timothy 3:16 just means “teaching.” The Bible is profitable for teaching. Let’s ask some basic questions about the responsibility to teach our children.
Whose job is it to teach your children the Bible? It’s your job (Deut 6:6-9)!
Who is Moses talking to in these verses? Is it just priests? (no) Is it the elders of Israel? No! He’s talking to the whole congregation! And he tells them in v. 7, “You shall teach them diligently to your children….” Not somebody else’s children! You are responsible to teach your own children the Bible.
Dads, this responsibility begins with you. The Bible clearly teaches that husbands are to lead their families. Paul specifically addresses fathers when he says, “Don’t provoke your children, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Jonathan Edwards said that every Christian home is like a mini church. So dads, think of yourself as the pastor of your home.
Of course, mothers, this responsibility falls to you, as well. And certainly, the local church is to help, also. But Sunday school is no substitute for what you are supposed to be doing at home.
Some parents might ask, “But I’m a new Christian! There’s a lot about the Bible that I don’t even understand! How can I possibly teach my children?” What is Moses’ response to that objection? (“These words shall be in your heart.”) In other words, “If that’s you, then get busy studying the Bible!” In lesson 2, we said you can’t lead your children where you yourself have not been! So if you don’t think you’re qualified to teach your children the Bible, maybe you need to study more!
But at the same time, don’t overcomplicate this. You do not need a PhD in order to teach your 5-year-old about Jesus. The people Moses is talking to are not well-educated; they are former slaves! And they didn’t even have the written word of God, because it was Moses who wrote the first five books of the Bible! But they did have the oral commands and teachings, and Moses says, “Teach them that.”
How are parents supposed to teach their children according to this passage? (“diligently”)
The Hebrew word for “diligently” was used to describe the process of sharpening a sword. How do you sharpen a knife? You do it over and over and over. In the same way, we are to teach our children repeatedly, little-by-little. Repetition aids learning. Repetition aids learning. Repetition aids learning.
But it’s not just about repeating facts. It’s about applying the Bible to situation after situation in the course of daily life. It’s not just about rehearsing the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. It’s about teaching our kids what that story has to do with their lives.
When are parents to teach their children how to live out the Bible? (all the time!)
Priolo calls this, “teaching in the milieu.” “Milieu” comes from the Latin word for “middle” and means “environment, setting, or surroundings.” The idea is to incorporate your teaching into whatever setting you find yourself in. Some people refer to opportunities for milieu teaching as “teachable moments.” Can you think of an example of “teaching in the milieu.”
When I got saved, my dad and I were in our church auditorium cleaning on a Saturday evening. (It was a church plant, and we didn’t have a cleaning crew at the time.) We had some room dividers up, and I asked my dad what they were for. Now, looking back, my dad must have been eager to get home. After all, it was Saturday night, and he had to preach the next morning. But instead of saying, “They’re just to make classroom space,” and leaving it at that, he said, “That’s so that if someone raises their hand about getting saved, we can have a quiet place to talk with them.” And then he asked, “Kristopher, are you saved?” That was the conversation that sparked my conversion.
My youth pastor growing up was also great at this. He could take any sunrise, any broken-down bus, any late night conversation, and turn it into an opportunity to teach us about God.
What are some benefits of teaching in the milieu?
Benefits of Teaching in the Milieu
1. It’s a more enjoyable way to learn. Dads, if you want to teach your son about baseball, I guess you could sit him down and describe it all in detail, but that probably wouldn’t be very effective. But what if instead, you took him to a baseball game and while the two of you are sitting there eating hot dogs, explained what is going on out there on the field? Your son is much more likely to get excited about baseball that way!
2. It’s a faster way to learn. One of the reasons my pastoral internship was so helpful was that it helped me focus in seminary. I knew the stuff I was learning in class on Monday was stuff I was going to be teaching on Wednesday! And that made me listen better.
3. It places knowledge in the context of obedience. In the Christian life, knowledge is never an end in itself. When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He didn’t say, “Teach them to know everything I commanded,” He said, “Teach them to observe everything I commanded.” We’re not just teaching facts; we’re teaching habits. Lecture-style instruction tends to produce scholars. Milieu instruction tends to produce practitioners. Of course, we want our kids to be Bible scholars! But we also want them to apply what they know! So we need both styles of teaching.
By the way, didn’t Jesus incorporate both styles? Sometimes, He would just sit in a boat and lecture for a while. But how many powerful lessons in the gospels grew out of a conversation the disciples were having as they walked or some situation that arose?
How to Make Teachable Moments Work
1. Spend time with your children. You cannot teach them “when you sit in the house” and “when you walk by the way” if you don’t sit with them in the house and walk with them by the way! “Quantity time” is essential!
2. Engage with your children. This one’s often hard for me. You can’t just zone out and scroll Facebook on your phone while they play. You’ve to be interacting with your kids, observing them, and above all, listening carefully to what they say.
3. Ask questions to draw out their hearts. The older your children get, the more complicated they become. Parents of teens need to invest a lot of time talking with (not just to!) their children and asking good questions. You want to figure out what’s going on in their heads. And remember, kids don’t pour out their hearts on a time schedule! That’s means you’ve got to talk when your children are in the mood even if you don’t feel like it. Every once in a while, one of your children will ask a question or make a comment that reveals a little piece of his heart. Those are the moments to drop everything and talk. This can be exhausting! But it’s well worth the effort.
4. Encourage them to ask questions and give them good answers. Your child’s questions are your best friend. Don’t discourage them unless their questions are an excuse for disobedience. It’s critical that you teach your children the “why.”
Along the same lines, don’t opt for the easy answer. We were at the park last week eating dinner and there was a group of girls doing their hip hop dance practice across the way. It’s just crazy to me the kind of music that parents teach their little girls to dance to and the provocative ways that they teach them to move their bodies! But Anaya and Felicity are watching and Anaya asks, “Why can’t we be in dance?” (I don’t remember ever telling her she couldn’t be in dance; but somehow, she got that impression.) I think what we said was something like, “Just because.” But looking back, we could have used that opportunity to give a short, 2-minute, age-appropriate explanation of why we she can’t be in hip hop.
Short answers are easier, especially when we’re tired or we don’t know what to say. “Because I said so,” is really handy in those situations. The problem is that if we always give our kids the short answer, they’ll assume it’s because we don’t have a better one, and when they grow up, they’ll reject that conviction.
5. If you miss an opportunity, come back to it. Depending on the age of your child, he may continue to be interested in that question for the next couple of days. Take some time to think about it and then get back to him.
6. Use role-play to turn family devotions into milieu teaching. My dad said that in family devotions growing up, his dad would ask them questions like, “Let’s say that I’m your friend from school. And I say, ‘Kevin, come try these drugs with me.’ What would you do?” By doing things like that, we can prepare our kids ahead of time for situations they haven’t faced yet.
7. Help your children memorize Scripture that you can use to teach them. Ephesians 6:1-3, Philippians 2:14; Ephesians 4:32, etc.
8. Learn to trace what you see in the world back to the character of God. Like my youth pastor would do growing up.
9. Make a family meal and devotions your flagship teaching time.
Family Meal –How many of your families growing up ate at least one meal together? It’s very common for families not to do that. But the family meal is really helpful, because it provides a great perfect context for teaching in the milieu. We often ask the question, “What did you do today?” And that leads to conversation. I look forward to those conversations becoming deeper and livelier as our girls mature.
Devotions – I’m just curious, how many of you are currently doing some kind of family devotions?
If you’re looking for a good little book on the topic, A Neglected Grace, by Jason Helopoulos is a great place to start. He states that throughout church history, Christians have recognized three primary contexts of worship: private worship (or personal devotions), corporate worship (at church), and family worship.
Now, you won’t find any commands in the Bible about family worship, but if you’re serious about teaching your children, it’s really helpful to have the kind of consistency and planning that family devotions provides.
So what does that look like? I’ll just tell you what we do in our family. First, we read. We’ve read the gospel of John and we’ve also read numerous Bible story books. The Bible story books are especially helpful for younger children. The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, The Jesus Storybook Bible, and Leading Little Ones to God are three of our favorites. When I was a kid, my dad also read us Pilgrim’s Progress, and he read several missionary biographies. Any of these options would be great. Choose what’s best for your family. Just make sure that the content of your instruction is the Bible and not just books about the Bible.
Next, we sing. For many families, this can be the most awkward part of family devotions, but I think it is important, because singing is an essential aspect of worship. Even if your family is not musical, you can make a joyful noise to the Lord! In our family, we usually just sing one song per night, and we try to make sure we teach it well. Over time, we’re building a repertoire of songs to draw from. We sing hymns as well as little kids’ Bible songs. I think there’s a place for both. If your kids can read, you might consider buying some hymnals for them to use so that they can see the words.
After that, we recite Scripture. We just read a passage once per day until we have it memorized. We’ve gone through several passages this way.
Finally, we pray. I try to make the prayer time purposeful by asking everyone a question each night. For instance, I might ask, “What’s one thing you’re thankful for?” Or, “Name one lost person that we can pray for?” Etc.
Optimally, husbands should lead family devotions. However, if your husband isn’t interested, it might still be a good thing to do. Wives, if you find yourself in that boat, I would encourage you to choose a time that works for you (and the kids, if possible) and invite your husband to join in reading the Bible and praying. (He probably won’t want to sing, so don’t push it.) If he doesn’t come, just go ahead and do devotions by yourself or with your children.
At the same time, be careful to guard your heart on this issue. Priolo says, “Very often, wives will expect their husbands to lead family worship on a daily or almost daily basis. This expectation, when unfulfilled, can lead to sinful anger, bitterness, or resentment if you allow it to. And it can even tempt a woman to being to start doubting her husband’s spiritual leadership. Guard your heart against any “letter of the law” legalism which thinks, ‘If my husband doesn’t conduct a formal family worship time every single day, he is not doing his job.’” He goes on to say, “Don’t turn this good desire [for you husband to lead formal family devotions] into an idolatrous one,” and, “Guard against comparing your husband or your family to anyone else." I thought that was helpful. You won’t find the command to have family devotions anywhere in the Bible. It’s a good thing to do; but wives, don’t let it ruin your marriage and don’t become bitter.
Don’t feel bad about missing a day. Our average is usually 4-5 times per week, depending on the schedule.
Start small and be consistent. Better to meet for 10 minutes four days a week than to try to meet for an hour and never get around to it.
The word translated “reproof” in 2 Timothy 3:16 means “conviction.” According to one Bible dictionary, it means “to show people their sins and summon them to repentance.”
Whose job is it to convict your children? You say, “Isn’t that the Holy Spirit’s job!?” Yes, but it’s also your job! Lou Priolo says, “The Holy Spirit certainly does convict of sin (John 16:8), as do the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16). But God’s ministers also are charged with the ministry of conviction. Paul commanded Timothy to “convict” those under his spiritual care with the Scriptures. “Preach the word; be ready in season [and] out of season; reprove [convict], rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim 4:2). He also told him to convict those church leaders “who continue in sin… in the presence of all so that the rest also may be fearful [of sinning]” (1 Tim 5:20). In fact, one of the qualifications for being ordained as a pastor in the first place is the ability to convict those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9). Moreover, in chapter 2 of his epistle (vv. 9-11), James used the law to convict his hearers of being lawbreakers. Bringing conviction, therefore, is a part of the responsibility of the ministry of the Word.”
Can you think of any other Bible characters who convicted others? (Nathan the prophet, Jesus, Peter, all of the OT prophets, Stephen–basically everyone who preached!)
I’m a diplomat by nature. The last thing I want to do is to make someone feel bad! So what would possess me to convict my children? I must convict them whether I want to or not, because conviction leads to repentance and confession, which leads to forgiveness and grace. Psalm 32:1 says, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” If we want our children to experience that blessing, we must be willing to convict them.
Correction without biblical conviction looks a lot like behavior modification. And that’s what a lot of parenting methods basically teach. Just replace the bad behavior with good behavior. The problem is, if you try to change your child’s behavior without addressing his sin problem and relationship with God, you’ll end up turning him into a Pharisee, which is just as bad!
Think of conviction as plowing the heart. In order for the Word to take root in your child’s life, he must first be convinced that he has sinned against God and feel badly about that.
1. Use the Bible. This isn’t emotional manipulation! It’s not lecturing your kids and sending them on a guilt trip. It’s about helping them see their sin. And in order for them to understand that what they did was sin, you have to use the Bible.
2. Get to know the passages you will use to convict them. Let’s do this together. What’s a sin that your son or daughter might struggle with? Now what are some passages that speak to that issue? (Feel free to use your concordance, smart phone, etc. Let’s make a list.) Now that we’ve got our list, what do we need to do? March into his bedroom, and read off the entire list, right? No, we’ve got to study these verses to see what they mean! You don’t want to rip Scripture out of context when dealing with your children!
3. Learn to explain the Bible well. The next step is to communicate the fruit of your study to your children in a simple, memorable way. That means you’ll probably want to simplify the vocabulary, or at least explain your terms. You might also want to use illustrations or comparisons! Use the word “like” a lot! Getting good at this step will take time and effort, but it’s well worth it!
4. Focus on the vertical relationship. When confessing his sin with Bathsheba, David said, “Against You, You only have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.” What’s that supposed to mean? Didn’t David sin against Bathsheba? He certainly sinned against Uriah–and Joab! And he sinned against the whole nation by failing to lead them well. Frankly, it’s hard to think of anyone David didn’t sin against! But David understood that what dwarfed all of those things was his sin against God. When reproving your children, don’t focus on “I can’t believe you would treat your mother that way!” or “How could you be so insensitive?” Those horizontal relationships matter, but most importantly, your child needs to feel the weight of his sin against God.
5. Appeal to the conscience. Thankfully, when you go to convict your children, you have an ally. Who’s your ally? (their conscience, and if they’re saved, the Holy Spirit!) When talking to your children, you can appeal to their own inner sense of right and wrong. And the more Scripture you have taught them, the more sensitive their consciences will be, and the easier it will be to appeal to them.
Can you think of someone who was a master at appealing to the conscience? There was never anyone more skilled at this than Jesus.
The men come in: “This woman was caught in adultery; she deserves to be stoned.” Jesus pretends not to hear and just writes in the dirt for a while. Then He says, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Back to silence. Writing in the dirt. That sentence begins to sink in, and one by one, they all walk away, heads bowed in shame. They can’t handle the conviction.
A lawyer comes to Jesus: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus doesn’t just tell him; that would be too easy. He says, “You’ve read the law. You tell Me.” The lawyer says, “You’ve got to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says, “That’s right. Just do those two things perfectly and you’ll get to heaven.” That starts to sink in. “I’m not perfect.” So he tries to justify himself: “Who’s my neighbor?” Now he’s asking for it! “Let me tell you a story… “A certain man went down from Jerusalem,” etc.–the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus gets to the end of that whole story and asks the man, “You tell me, which one was the neighbor?” “The one who showed mercy.” “Go do likewise.”
6. Be humble. We must be very careful that in seeking to convict our children, we do not become arrogant or self-righteous. Jesus was never arrogant. We must always approach our children with humility. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness….” If you try to convict your children in pride or sinful anger, you will exasperate them.
One of the ways to convict with humility is to be open about your own sins and how God is changing you. Also, we’ve got to remember that I too am daily dependent on God’s mercy. And our desire to reprove our kids should always come from a heart of love and never a heart of frustration.
7. Choose your words and timing carefully. This is especially important the older your kids get. If you need to have a difficult conversation with one of your teens, it might be wise to pray over it and even script out what you are going to say. I would do this at Ironwood in my one-on-ones with campers. Counselors would often ask me to talk to their most-difficult campers, in which case, I’d often take 15-30 minutes to think through what I wanted to say, look up some Scripture passages, and pray before pulling the camper aside. I found that the extra prep time was almost always worth it.
8. Don’t convict when you should be encouraging. Also, encourage more than you convict.
I wish I had more time to spend on encouragement. There are many times your child does not need to be convicted. Maybe there’s a boy who says, “I should just go play by myself. Every time I try to play with others, I end up getting mad! It’s no use! I’m a failure!” That boy doesn’t need to be reproved or even instructed in that moment! He needs to be encouraged that He can do all things through Christ who strengthens him.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” So we’ve got to discern what type of communication is appropriate for the moment. If you try to reprove the fainthearted or weak, you are going to crush them.
Priolo says that his own personal goal is to complement his daughter seven times for every one time he has to reprove her. In order to do that, you have to be constantly on the lookout for good things they are doing and evidences of grace in their lives.
One additional word of challenge when it comes to encouragement is to try to encourage your kids in terms of what God is doing in their lives and not just what they are doing well. This will help them to understand that everything good in their lives comes from God. Like the apostle Paul said, "What do you have that you have not received?" Seeing evidences of God's grace in my life is tremendously encouraging.
- Which do you personally find more challenging–teaching or reproof?
- Give an example of how you can teach one of your children (or future children) “in the milieu”?
- What are some things you can do to engage better with your children and have more profitable conversations with them?
- Why is it important to answer the “why” question?
- What are some of the hurdles you have found to having consistent family devotions? What can you do about that?
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