Jesus called Deuteronomy 6:5 the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” That’s a strict, sweeping law that might make us gulp even without the verses that follow, which contain some of the strongest instructions to parents anywhere in the Bible. It turns out that in addition to obeying the Greatest Commandment, we’re ordered to teach it (and all the others) to our children.
Oh, the pressure! We hear rules about what it should mean to teach our kids in the house or by the way, and perhaps we feel guilty when we fail to follow whatever formula is being offered—or maybe we don’t teach them at all. Maybe we feel overwhelmed by the challenge.
Well, following these instructions does make for a wild adventure. It isn’t just about teaching our children; it also requires much spiritual renewal in us! But this does not mean we should become model families that look like they belong in a cheesy greeting card photo. Our Father has filled his instructions with comfort, encouragement—and much freedom.
Six Freedoms (and Challenges) in Deuteronomy 6
1. RELAX. You don’t have to follow someone else’s formula. Teaching our kids about Jesus should happen as we sit and walk and lie down and rise—as we go about life (v. 7). God’s instructions allow for a wide variety of times and methods. That means there is no formula! We have great freedom to mold our gospel teaching to fit what works for our family life, not force it to fit the way some expert says it must be done. We dare not neglect it, but we need not follow any particular model.
2. ACT. You do have to be deliberate. Despite our freedom, we must “teach them diligently” (v. 7). It takes purposeful action to get started teaching about Jesus, and to keep going. The times when we sit (mealtime), walk (travel time), lie down (bedtime), and rise (morning) actually make excellent occasions to set good habits. And our doorframes and gates might make handy places to post daily reminders of God. Especially in a family that feels awkward talking about Jesus, establishing set times to pray together, learn, and read the Bible can help overcome the awkwardness. For busy families (isn’t that all families?), having a short, set time to talk about God will help you to keep this in your schedule. Planned prayer and teaching times train us to pray and think of Jesus in unplanned moments as well. Try any way you can think of to look to Jesus as a family several times a day, so that he fills your lives always.
3. SMILE. It’s not all about enforcing rules. Yes, our kids must learn to obey God. But the obedience in Deuteronomy 6 flows from gratitude, confidence, and hope in him. Even when children ask about God’s law, the text instructs parents to tell of salvation. “Then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand’” (v. 21). This salvation includes:
- What God has already done (vv. 12, 21–23)
- How he cares now and provides life-giving laws (vv. 1–3, 24–25)
- How he will bless in the future (vv. 10–11)
For us, this means we must teach our children all about salvation in Jesus. What a joy it is to tell about the forgiveness that’s already ours because he died for our sins and rose again, or the fatherly care we have today because he shares his Father with us, or the future hope of being with him forever! We get to share that whole gospel story, not just lay down rules. More than that, we also get to wonder at Jesus himself. We can be amazed at how he kept the law for our sake, not just worry over how we break it. The love of God will grow in children when they know Jesus and fall in love with him—because they’ve heard the gospel and believe. We find it easy to correct our children all the time, as life happens. Let’s tell them about Jesus all the time too.
4. GO DEEP. Make it about your heart. We will find it impossible to keep on telling our children about Jesus if our hearts aren’t in it, and difficult to stop if they are. This is why we’re told, “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (v. 6). Being committed to a personal practice of prayer, Bible reading, and churchgoing may sound tiresome, but it’s actually how we pour God’s good news into our own hearts first. This is more than fuel; it’s how we learn joy in our Savior. It makes the task of doing these same things with our children delightful.
5. BE REAL. You need integrity. Since Jesus is not just for special activities, there’s no pretending. We must be the same person at home or while travelling as we are at church. If we teach about Jesus while we go about everyday life, without gearing up to look extra spiritual, our children surely won’t think we’re mega-gifted (or sinless) teachers. They’ll see who we really are—and we need to let them see! They must know that following Jesus is not for “good people,” but for those who are weak, make mistakes, and need grace for each moment. This kind of integrity is wondrously freeing, but can also be scary. Many parents fear letting their kids see their failures, or even their ordinariness. Yet we must not ignore the fact that this great parenting passage of the Bible says absolutely nothing about how capable we must be, and much about how real we must be.
6. TRUST. Keep your eyes on Jesus. We’ll be teaching our children that there is no lasting source of happiness except for Jesus. They must trust no other helper, serve no other master, and seek only the true Lover of their souls. Teaching this is as glorious and necessary as any task on earth, so it means we too will be forced to turn constantly to Jesus. That’s the only way to accept the Deuteronomy 6 challenge without collapsing under the pressure. When we fail (and we will fail so often!), we must rest in the fact that Jesus never fails. When we sin, we must remember that he forgives and still loves us (1 John 1:9–10).
Does any of this sound too hard? Remember our first lesson: the Lord builds the house. Do not forget to go to your Father in prayer. He strengthens weak people and also uses their continuing weakness to accomplish great things. It’s okay to be weak, because then you are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Taken from The Gospel-Centered Parent, by Rose Marie Miller, Deborah Harrell, and Jack Klumpenhower. Used by permission of New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC 27401, www.newgrowthpress.com.
Our children are precious to us, so naturally we want to protect them and guarantee their safety and happiness. We want to get it right, so our children will be all right. But we live in a broken world where things don’t always (or ever?) go as planned. Children make mistakes, and, if they are honest, parents know they make mistakes too. So it’s easy for parents to live in fear, regret, confusion, and sometimes hopelessness about parenting and the children they love. Is there a better way? Can you learn to live by faith, to trust the God who made you and your children with their past, present, and future? How can parents live by faith as they parent their children?
This ten-session small group resource will help parents apply the gospel of Jesus Christ to their families. Each lesson looks at parenting through the lens of God’s grace for sinners (parents and children) and gives parents a gospel center to their parenting. Parents will learn how to live out the biblical principles of faith, repentance, and faithfulness to their calling as parents with their children. Each lesson is self-contained, featuring clear teaching from Scripture, and requires no extra work outside of the group setting.