A modern paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6 might go something like this:

These are the commands, decrees, and laws you are to teach your children and children’s children as long as you live.

Learn to use the smartphone, for without it, you will not survive in the world of digital technology.

Work on your second language, for if you don’t, you won’t make it in business with the world’s largest economic powers.

Hear, O parents, the LORD our God, the LORD is one, Love the LORD your God with all your heart.

Impress this upon your children’s Sunday school teachers, junior worship leaders, and the pastors and elders of your church: they are to teach your children to love God.

Should your children grow up delinquent, the Sunday school and the church shall bear the blame.

Finally, when the LORD your God brings you mothers into the land he swore to your mothers, to Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel, to give you, be careful that you mothers—along with your children—do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Doesn’t sound quite right, does it?

There are in fact several things wrong with this paraphrase:

  • In the original passage, parents were commanded by God to teach their children to love God first, not acquire skills for earning a living.
  • Parents were to teach their children themselves, and not pass the responsibility to someone else.
  • The passage was addressed in its original context to men and fathers as representatives of families, not to mothers.

These distortions reflect what has gone wrong in our thinking today about the family. The first has to do with our most important priority; the second, the most important place; and third, the most important person.

Priority

First, the most important priority in the family is not teaching skills to make a living, but values to make a life.

It is understandable that we as parents want the best for our children. We often think that if they learn certain skills, they will make it in life. We are concerned for their education.

We engage tutors to coach them in Maths, Science, English, Second Language, and so on. We remind, scold, threaten, and cajole them to study for their tests and exams.

We know that without a certificate, without a degree, they are finished in this competitive world.

To give them an edge, we urge them to learn computer skills, eat healthy foods, and play at least one musical instrument.

There’s nothing wrong with all these.

My wife and I, like all other parents, have done these things for our two children.

Look at Deuteronomy 6:7–9. The context is unmistakable: the home.

But it’s not what we do that’s the problem—it’s what we haven’t. We do a lot of good things, but have we missed out the most important one?

We urge our children to learn skills so they can earn a living later on. But do we devote as much time and attention to teaching our children values?

By values, I mean the awareness and fear of God, the sense of right and wrong, and the desire to love the Lord with all one’s heart.

When I read Deuteronomy 6, I’m struck by what God told the Israelites to teach their children.

I’m sure that, lacking modern conveniences, they needed skills of all kinds to survive: hunting, cooking, sewing, finding water, farming, and building shelters.

But when we read Deuteronomy 6, none of these skills are mentioned.

Instead, the Israelites are commanded to teach their children to fear God, love God, and obey His commands.

Do we give the same priority to teaching our children about God as we do to Math and digital literacy, Second Language and piano?

Place

Perhaps one reason why we don’t is that we do not see it as our responsibility.

This is the second thing wrong with the way we see the family. We tend to hand the task of teaching our children about spiritual things to others.

The place most of us look to for teaching our children about God is naturally the church.

Again, this is not wrong in itself. The church exists as an institution to safeguard moral and spiritual values.

However, we see from Deuteronomy 6 that the most important place to teach values is not the church, but the home.

Even in the field of education, it has been shown that the education of a child belongs not only to the school but also the home.

First, the most important priority in the family is not teaching skills to make a living, but values to make a life.

I remember the time when my wife and I received a note from our daughter’s teacher saying that the school principal wished to see us.

When I went to the principal’s office, I felt like a schoolboy again, called up to be reprimanded.

To be honest, I felt sheepish and embarrassed. I thought to myself: why does the school want to see me? If my child is not doing well, surely the teacher is to blame? After all, she is paid to teach my child!

Of course, blaming the teacher would be foolish and immature.

Finally, the most important person for teaching values is not the mother but the father.

I appreciate the school for involving parents in the education of our children. All good, enlightened schools do that, and we parents know how crucial our role is.

What is true of secular education is also true of Christian education.

Look at Deuteronomy 6:7–9. The context is unmistakable: the home.

We are to teach our children about God “when you sit at home”, “when you lie down and when you get up”.

We are even to write the commands of God on the doorframes of our houses and on our gates.

Was it because the Israelites then did not have a church? Not so.

We urge our children to learn skills so they can earn a living later on. But do we devote as much time and attention to teaching our children values?

They had their tabernacle while they were in the desert, and a temple when they settled in the promised land.

Later, they had their synagogues, places of worship and instruction.

The Word of God was read and taught in public. But the real education, the inculcation of values, took place in the home.

There are a number of reasons why it is the best place for teaching values:

  • It is the place where you spend a good amount of time with your children.
  • The atmosphere is usually more relaxed, allowing for the best interaction.
  • Values are better caught than taught. At home, children watch their parents and imitate them.
  • The home is where our true colours show, where what we truly believe in (whether good or bad) can be seen.
  • We learn best in the homely atmosphere of love.

This is not to say that the church, the kindergarten, or the school does not play a part. All these institutions play a part.

But the primary context of learning about God is the home. Parents cannot abdicate their responsibility to someone or somewhere else.

It is essential that parents, if they are to heed God’s commands in Deuteronomy 6, pray with their children and read the Bible to them.

But apart from prayer and Bible reading, much of such instruction is carried out in informal situations.

Deuteronomy 6–7 speaks of teaching our children while walking along the road or putting them to bed.

Ultimately, what our children need from us is not what we give them, but ourselves.

There need not be a rigid schedule—any time is good for talking with your child about the day, his friends, his favourite subject in school, and then tying everything up with prayer. The important thing is always to direct his or her attention to God.

Perhaps the strongest example (whether good or bad) that children will witness at home is the relationship between mum and dad.

A parenting expert once said, “The best gift you can ever give your child is your love for your spouse.”

Children are particularly observant about how we behave, and are quick to pick up our behaviour.

I once overheard a parent say to her child, “Don’t you tell your friends about our family, you hear? You only mention bad things about us!”

It’s difficult to stop our children from picking up our bad values.

The only way to pass on good values is through example—our lives and our relationships with our spouse, our domestic helper, and other members of the family.

Impress the love of God upon your children. Talk about it when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Person

But who usually does all this? If I’m not wrong, the easy answer is the mother.

Should this be the case? Times have changed since the days of our grandparents. Then, the father went out to work while the mother stayed home.

Today, we are rethinking our roles as husbands and wives. The husband should assume certain responsibilities traditionally accorded to the wife.

We have said that the most important priority in the family is not teaching skills to make a living, but values to make a life.

The only way to pass on good values is through example—our lives and our relationships with our spouse, our domestic helper, and other members of the family.

We have also seen that the most important place to teach values is not the church but the home.

Finally, the most important person for teaching values is not the mother but the father.

Why do we say this? Simply because when we look at the context of Deuteronomy 6, the whole passage was addressed to men as representatives of their families.

It was the custom of that day for the men to assume the responsibility and leadership of their households. This was true also of spiritual matters.

God means for the father to shepherd the family.

In one of his Focus on the Family teaching films, family physician and counsellor Dr James Dobson said that if a nation is to survive, “it will be because husbands and fathers begin to put their families at the highest level of priority and reserve something of their time, effort, and energy for leadership within their own home.”

But just as parents often abdicate their responsibility for their children to the church, fathers leave this responsibility to the mothers.

This won’t work. God means for the father to shepherd the family.

One favourite excuse we fathers have for evading our responsibility at home is that we are breadwinners: our responsibility is to bring home the pay cheque, and nothing more.

A father shared this experience about his son who loved toy trains.

But the primary context of learning about God is the home. Parents cannot abdicate their responsibility to someone or somewhere else.

Early one morning, he said to his father, “Daddy, come play with me.” The father replied, “Daddy can’t play with you. Daddy has to go to work; otherwise Daddy will have no money to buy toy trains for you.” After thinking it over, the son said, “I don’t want trains. I want daddy.”

Think about it. This little boy knows where his heart lies—not with the trains, but with his daddy. Do we?

As fathers, we cannot feed our children with substitutes and think we have discharged our responsibility. Ultimately, what our children need from us is not what we give them, but ourselves.

I once received a letter from the daughter of a friend who had passed away suddenly.

The letter ended with these words: “I want simply to learn to be like my father.”

To me, that is the highest tribute anyone can pay a parent.

Does your child really want to be like you? Have you cultivated a close relationship with your child, such that all you hold dear will be passed on to him or her and cherished?

The most important priority is to teach our children spiritual values. The most important place to do this is the home. The most important person to do it is the father. May the Lord help us.

 

This article was adapted from a sermon by David Wong and is used by permission.