The most important responsibility of parents is to pass along their spiritual faith and understanding to their children. Here are tips for how to teach God’s words and ways to your children.
Timothy was blessed with something very valuable. The apostle Paul reminded him, "From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation" (2 Timothy 3:15). Just think! Before reaching adulthood, Timothy was already familiar with the writings of God's instruction book! How much was that worth? Priceless!
Paul also reminded Timothy of "from whom you have learned" the Holy Scriptures (verse 14). What was that source?
It's quite obvious from reading 2 Timothy 1:5, where Paul wrote, "I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice." His mother and grandmother had taught him God's Word and had been role models of faith!
Parents have the primary responsibility for teaching God's words and ways to their children, and sometimes grandparents and other family members can help as well.
Concerning God's words, Moses was inspired to write, "Teach them to your children and your grandchildren" (Deuteronomy 4:9). Why is this so important? First, God's Word is the most important subject by far for our children! It should take priority over all the many other subjects we want our children to learn.
Secondly, childhood is by far the best time to start learning God's Word. Children are naturally more teachable and pliable then. As the saying goes, "As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined."
Most parents want to be good providers, as we are admonished in 1 Timothy 5:8. But God wants parents to provide much more than just the necessities for physical health. God wants us to provide the spiritual food for a godly life that will result in eternal life! Otherwise, we are guilty of spiritual child neglect.
My wife and I look back on a lifetime of joyous memories of when our three children were growing up. They include countless precious memories of those times spent in family Bible study and family prayer. Learn to do them with your children and you will be greatly inspired and rewarded even as your children are learning and growing spiritually.
Great guidelines in Deuteronomy 6
Now let's look carefully at God's instructions in Deuteronomy 6—for there is much more spiritual truth in the Old Testament, including this passage, than most people think. First notice verse 5: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." To successfully teach our children or grandchildren, we must fully love God's ways ourselves.
Continuing on in verses 6-7: "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (emphasis added). This passage tells us to teach God's truths and then talk about them—have interactive discussions with our children about how to live by those truths.
Teaching implies a concentrated focus on family Bible study, while "talking" implies casual discussions and comments about godly principles.
As the rest of verse 7 shows, these "talks," often brief, can take place at any and all times of the day as we go about other activities. These many moments when we tie real-life experiences to God's point of view can benefit as much as the study times.
"When you sit in your house" means anytime the family is home. Take advantage of the time together! Children grow up fast. Stop and take advantage of opportunities whenever they arise because you may not see the same opportunity arise again to naturally and comfortably teach the same lesson.
"When you walk by the way" means use the time while you are walking or traveling to talk about meaningful things. Walking and doing things together outdoors can be a very inspiring time to observe and talk about the marvels of God's creation.
Riding together in the car can have advantages if your children wish to talk. Use such opportunities to talk with your children, keeping in mind that sometimes it is better if we are more attentive in listening than talking (and keep focused on driving, of course).
How might this work in practice? Someone (besides the driver!) can read something and then everyone can discuss what was read. You can play a recording of a sermon or a Bible study. You can discuss the subject of a sermon you just heard on the way home from church services. Riding to and from services is an especially good opportunity to further make the Sabbath day profitable spiritually.
"When you lie down" means at bedtime. This may be a good time of day for your family to have family Bible study. It may be the best time of day for family prayer, which is equally important. It is also a good time to discuss the events of the day. Young children love this—if for no other reason than to stay up a little later.
"When you rise up" suggests you begin right away each day to take advantage of opportunities to talk about God's values, virtues and way of life. For many families, the best time of day to have family Bible study may be before anyone leaves or the phone starts ringing. No one has his or her mind on a hundred other things. You gain food for thought for the rest of the day. You are putting God first even in the order of the day.
Deuteronomy 6:8 says of God's words, "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes." This means God's words should guide our behavior and our thoughts.
This relates to Hebrews 8:10—we want to help put God's laws into the minds of our children and "write them on their hearts." Another thing that helps internalize God's Word is memorizing key scriptures. Encourage your children to learn important verses while they have strong memories.
"You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6:9). Visual aids are useful, especially for young children. For example, many families display a plaque of the Ten Commandments in their homes to remind them of the importance of God's laws.
Family Bible study guidelines
Now for more about family Bible study. It can be valuable for a couple even when there are no children in the home, but it definitely should be a top priority when there are children.
The end and the means are both remarkably rewarding. The end or goal is the knowledge of God and "the words of eternal life" (John 6:63, 68). The means of achieving that goal is family Bible study, which can be and should be a very enjoyable, interactive family activity with excellent side benefits!
Some of the benefits are greater family togetherness, bonding and closeness. While learning to love God, families are also drawing closer to one another in love!
Another benefit is that we are subtly teaching our children to become readers and to love reading. Some of these same benefits come from families reading anything aloud together. With modern television, movies and videos, we no longer live in a print culture alone, but also in an image culture. Children are growing up not learning to read well and with little interest in reading. This holds major disadvantages for their futures.
With family Bible study, you have the benefits of reading the Bible and related materials together plus getting the spiritual knowledge, understanding and wisdom of God!
You can do it!
Some parents will feel inadequate or intimidated at the thought of leading in family Bible study. Pray about this and rely on God! With God's help, you can do it. Let Him use you in this ministry to your children. It's rather simple. First, set the example and let your children see you studying the Bible. Then follow the suggestions below for your own family Bible study.
How often will you want to have family Bible study? Deuteronomy 6 implies, if possible, every day that you are together. Regular renewal and daily direction are invaluable. It is doubly important to have family Bible study on God's Sabbath day.
How long should these sessions be? They need not be excessively long. Remember the child's shorter attention span and don't turn him or her off with overly long sessions. Around 15 to 20 minutes a day can be sufficient. What is more important is regular frequency. It forms a good habit, and many short lessons add up to a lot of time.
For very young children, it is usually best to learn a Bible story well yourself and then tell it in your own words. Or use Bible storybooks that are written more for your children's ages. With Bible storybooks, be careful in your selection. They vary considerably in the accuracy of the text and the illustrations and in how well they teach the major lessons. A poor selection could do more harm than good.
Cover a variety of topics with varied approaches
When you start reading the Bible to your children, use a modern, easy-to-understand translation. Pick out the parts that will be easily understood and especially profitable for them. Some of the most beneficial things to read are stories from the Old and New Testaments (with your comments about the lessons they contain), Christian living teachings, the book of Proverbs and all about God's laws and feast days.
When reading the Bible, you can paraphrase—"talk the book." Skip or change words that are too difficult for the child. Add extra words or sentences that will explain or amplify the meaning without distorting it.
Family Bible study can include things that are related to the Bible as well as the Bible itself. Publications such as those offered free in The Good News are an excellent reading resource when the children are old enough to understand and appreciate them. As children mature, our free magazine Vertical Thought ( www.verticalthought.org ) is available to help young people further their relationship with God.
You can use interesting sections from Bible reference books, including the maps and other graphics. You can use excerpts from books about the history and cultures of Bible times. On some occasions you may want to read stories and articles from non-biblical sources that teach certain morals or virtues.
Children learn more if the teaching is interactive and gets them involved in the subject matter. Encourage them to ask questions and make comments.
Many Bible games are available and helpful for teaching and learning the Bible. Some of them don't require making a purchase, and you can even make up your own. Making a game out of quizzing each other about the Bible can be fun while also reinforcing our memories.
For those with computers, there are more and more Bible-related software packages, including games (though they, like all Bible-related materials, need to be screened for accuracy and suitability).
Many Bible stories and other Christian stories have been recorded, both as audio readings and as video programs. You can supplement your own teaching by playing these for your children, if they are suitably presented.
There are so many wise and wonderful things to teach. Teach your children all about God, His mighty works, His promises and prophecies, His laws and ways, His Holy Days, His great and merciful plan of salvation! Teach about Jesus Christ, including His life, teachings, sacrifice and His future coming to rule this world in love! Teach them how to love God and how to love people.
The book of Proverbs is full of simple, practical, easy-to-understand wisdom. Plus it is worded like a father speaking to his son, so it helps us as parents in learning a gentle, patient, loving approach. "My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother" (Proverbs 1:8).
Make family Bible study a positive, pleasant time
Much of the success of family Bible study will depend on your children's attitude toward it and what kind of memories they have of it. So strive to make it into a relaxed, happy family tradition that they will cherish.
Parents who regularly lead in family Bible study consider it to be a great blessing for themselves. They experience great satisfaction and joy in those special times sharing the treasures of God's Word with their children.
Now a word to fathers. Many fathers have turned over most of the teaching and training of their children to the mothers. But when fathers are present, God wants them to take a major share in teaching and to gently take the lead, being careful with their approach.
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4, Revised Standard Version).
Our goal should be to inspire our children to have "the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (2 Thessalonians 2:10). We need to teach our children that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable" (2 Timothy 3:16).
The broader context of both of these passages speaks about how persecution and deceptive teachings will become worse at the end of this present age of man. To remain faithful to God during those trials, we and our children need to be prepared with the Word of God in our minds and hearts as our source of faith, wisdom and strength.
Those of us who are parents should consider our children as loaned to us from God. We must be the best stewards and teachers that we can be, for they also are God's children! When those precious children reach adulthood, may we be able to say to them, as Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15, "From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures." GN