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HBC Sermon Podcast

Biblical Childhood


I begin by reminding you that we are dealing with eternity when we raise our children. As Bible-believing Christians we acknowledge that human beings are the pinnacle of creation. Man alone—male and female—is made in the image of God, and it is a massive privilege and major responsibility that God would allow any of us to have a direct hand in nurturing that image in each of His offspring! Yet Biblically, the possibility of raising soldiers for the Kingdom is to be devoutly desired.

When Hannah was childless she prayed, “Lord of Hosts, if You will take notice of your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and his hair will never be cut” (I Sam. 1:11).

Hannah’s prayer was echoed in the hearts of many a mother in Israel in the Old Testament, including Sarah, Rebekah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and, of course, the greatest mother of them all, Mary, the mother of Jesus. These godly women self-consciously sought God’s favour by giving their children to Him. It wasn’t so long ago (only two or three generations?) that God’s people prayed diligently that their children would grow up to serve God. Along with their prayers, they actively sought to bend the little twigs on their family tree toward the sunshine of His love.

Parents did this by maintaining an active spiritual life of their own. They were engaged each day in a personal walk with God, a walk that even a child could see was warm and rewarding, but also disciplined and costly. And when the family was called to worship in the home, the children could see that the family at worship was nothing more than a natural outgrowth of Dad and mom’s personal relationships with the living God.

Now you may be tempted to doubt that Christian families lived like that in former days. But keep this in mind; somehow Christianity has survived 2,000 years of Satan’s efforts to wipe it out. Think about it; two thousand years of government attempts to either water down the message and make it meaningless, or else burn all the Bibles, murder all the preachers and destroy all the churches. But instead of being defeated, by the Romans, the Mongols, the Muslims, or the Communists, another generation of Christians has always been ready to pay the ultimate price for the ultimate Gift. This doesn’t happen accidentally. It happens only when each generation of Christian parents is determined to raise the next generation of Christian parents.

Show Video of 2,000 years of Christian progress:

Battles against the enemies of the cross are always first won in the homes. The church is merely the Christian family extended into the community. That’s why the enemies of Christ focus their attacks on Christian families, even more than on churches. Consciously, or unconsciously, anti-Christ powers know that if the Christian family is strong, nothing can stand in the way of the gospel. On the other hand, the Adversary knows that if the family falls, the collapse of the church is inevitable.

Of course, God knows this better, even, than the devil. That’s why in Ephesians 5 He inspired Paul to speak to the filling of the Holy Spirit in terms of family relationships—wives to husbands, husbands to wives, and then in chapter 6, Children, obey your parents.

Today’s text

Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents as you would the Lord, because this is right. 2 Honour your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, 3 so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land.

Eph. 6:1-3 unpacked

  1.    We should take note that Paul addresses children in an epistle that was supposed to be read to the entire church.

A.   His direct address speaks to the surprising ability of children to understand and benefit from deep discussions of eternal truth. He expected children would benefit from exposure to adult ideas.

i.      Ephesians is six chapters long, and Paul expected them to still be listening at the end. He had no doubt that the ability of a child to take in spiritual truth is much greater than most moderns think.

ii.      Why would Paul do this? It occurs to me that our Creator may actually know more about what children can learn than the latest education theorist. After all, He, Jesus, was himself once a child, and He has never forgotten the experience.

Jesus our model

Luke 2:46 After three days, they found Him (Jesus) in the temple complex sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers. 48 When His parents saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You.”

51 Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and with people.

  • Not an accident Jesus was at the temple. His parents took him there. Should that not be a model for every godly parent who ever lived?
  • If Jesus is our model, then we ought to aspire to raise children who only get in trouble for trying too hard to understand spiritual things. If your biggest complaint is that your children stay too long at church, or read their Bibles too late at night—well what are you complaining about?
  • Parents, do not underestimate your ability to teach your children. Where do you think Jesus learned how to talk with adults about spiritual things? At home, that’s where, talking with His mother and father. And notice he had made such progress that the learned temple doctors were “astounded at His understanding and His answers.” Again, who brought Him to that point? Nobody special, just His carpenter father and homemaker mother.
  • Here’s a key point—by helping Jesus grow, His parents’ knowledge and understanding leapt ahead of everyone else as well. If you will simply engage in the battle to teach your children God’s truth, you can’t lose!

iii.    I do not doubt that in today’s church we probably should offer age-appropriate teaching to our children. For one thing, when we have 40 or more children in attendance, many of whom have little experience in sitting through something as long as a church service, we have to be careful not to overtax them. Better they should be taught something in Sunday School and children’s church, than be bored to death in an adult service.

iv.    But such considerations should not stop us at home. There our children can learn almost anything, as long as they are motivated. And nothing motivates a child more than seeing mom and dad excited about it. Why do you think Tiger Woods is trying so hard at age 40 to make a comeback at golf, after knee surgeries and back surgeries, after scandal and public shame? Because his father, now dead for ten years, also lived for the game.

B.  Paul addresses the children in his epistle partly because he wants parents to remember that children are like sponges; they will learn something. If we do not teach them truth, they will soak up the world’s lies.

I.    It is the job of godly parents to teach your children godliness, no matter what the world may say about it.

Let me tell you the story of John Thelwall and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Most of you will know Coleridge as the author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and a couple of other poems that they always teach in English Lit. But what you may not know is that Coleridge was also a Christian whose writings on theology continue to have an impact to this day.

Thelwall, on the other hand, was a radical leftist who tried to bring the French Revolution to England. In a conversation with Coleridge one day, Thelwall put it to him that it was unfair to direct a child’s mind in a certain direction before it could choose for itself. Coleridge reports that he took Thelwall outside, where he showed him a neglected garden all gone to weeds. “This is what happened,” Coleridge said to him, “because I didn’t want to prejudice the soil in favour of roses and strawberries.”

ii.    Children must be encouraged to grow up into Christ, and the faster they grow into Him, the better. Don’t you dare write off the story of Jesus at age 12 as an anomaly related to His divinity. When properly encouraged children have always shown amazing spiritual aptitude and maturity.

During the Great Awakening in Scotland (1740s), prayer meetings often began with children, then spread to adults. For example, a schoolteacher in the parish of Baldernock allowed four students to meet on their own for prayer and psalm singing. According to The Parish of Baldernock, “In the course of two weeks, ten or twelve more [children] were awakened and under deep convictions. Some of these were not more than eight or nine years of age, and others twelve or thirteen. And so much were they engrossed with the one thing needful as to meet thrice a day-in the morning, at mid-day, and at night.” Adults then began holding prayer meetings two or more times a week. There were many conversions at both the adult and the children’s meetings. From an article by Dr. Joel R. Beeke, President and Professor of Systematic Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

Back to Today’s Text

2.  We should take note that Paul instructs children in much the same way as he has instructed adults. In other words, Paul is teaching that in the pattern of the Spirit-filled life, just as husbands are to love their wives, just as wives are to submit to their husbands, so Spirit-filled children are to obey their parents.

A. This speaks to Paul’s expectation that children are to be converted and live for Jesus; his application shows that children are to be taught the same standards as adults. Only the degree of responsibility changes.

B.  Paul is teaching, then, that children learn the first stages of handling responsibility through obedience to their parents.

i.    “Obey” (hupakouō), which is used for how children relate to parents, is a stronger word than submit (hupotassō), which is used to describe how wives relate to husbands.

ii.    The word for submit refers to willing cooperation and support. Obey carries the sense of doing so without question, or without second-guessing.

C.  Childhood is the right time to learn the blessedness of obedience. In 6:1, “this is right” is written as “this pleases the Lord” in the parallel passage in Col. 3:20. Children are never too young to learn the pleasure of pleasing, not just their parents, but also God.

3. Finally, we should take note that Paul bases his instruction to children upon the Ten Commandments.

A.  By citing the promise in the fifth commandment Paul is clearly teaching the eternal relevance of the Ten Commandments.

B.  The Ten Commandments imply a specific world view that must be embraced by Christian parents and then taught to their children.

i.    The Creator has perfect authority to set the standards of right and wrong for His world. (See Ex. 20:8-11)

ii.    The Creator is doubly justified in expecting obedience because He not only made us, He has also graciously saved us.

  •       The Ten Commandments begin with God saying: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” (Ex. 20:2).
  •       The New Testament is just as zealous that obedience be found in God’s people: “Finally then, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us how you must walk and please God—as you are doing—do so even more. For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus” (I Thess. 4:1-2).

C. The Creator stands ready to help His people live out the obedience of faith.

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Mat. 11:28-30).

The greatest favour we can do our children is to yoke them to Christ as early as possible.