What Are We Passing Down to Our Children? Reflections on Deuteronomy 6
Deuteronomy is the last book of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Four of these books – Exodus through Deuteronomy – tell the story of the fledgling nation of Israel as she escapes slavery in Egypt and ends up on the brink of the Promised Land. Deuteronomy is a set of sermons given by Moses to the nation, encouraging Israel toward faithful obedience and not to repeat past mistakes as she enters the land of promise.
Moses reviews the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, and in chapter 6 we find the all-important Shema, which is taken from the Hebrew word for “Hear.” This is still recited today in Jewish circles and the greatest command according to Jesus (see Matt. 22:38). “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5).
But how will faithful obedience be passed down to the next generation? “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:6-8). Reflecting on Deuteronomy 6, what principles should inform our homes?
Principle #1: We pass along values whether we intend to or not
Though I didn’t grow up in a household that emphasized faith, there were many ideals I absorbed that I value today: love of learning; appreciation for different nationalities, cultures and races; concern for the marginalized. These things were passed along by example, teaching, and discussion. You could say they were “impressed” on me. Our example and our words communicate for and about us whether we intend them to or not. What values drive your family? What do you model to your children? What is your greatest desire for them: Good grades? Successful career? Athletic success? These may all be good things, but are you passing on the ultimate things of life? What are they? Are you being intentional with your influence?
Principle #2: There is no division of the sacred and the secular
Many churchgoers compartmentalize their “religious” life and their “regular” life, believing that God only cares about spiritual or religious things. Unfortunately, this thinking has resulted in outsourcing the spiritual influence on our children to the church. The church is meant to partner with the home, not to replace it. The regular churchgoer typically spends 1 out of 168 hours of a week at church. Should we really put all the burden of spiritual nurturing on that one hour? Shouldn’t we pass on the most sacred values to our children by example and conversation, “When you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up?” That is, shouldn’t we be involved with our children’s spiritual formation in the normal course of regular life, which is the majority of our time?
Principle #3: The home is designed to be the primary center of godly influence
This principle is an outgrowth of what has been covered above. In Deuteronomy 6, the spiritual education of the children largely rested on the home environment. Now, I am aware that there are many children that are not getting this in the home (I was not raised in the church). Yes, the church should serve as a type of family to nurture the faith of its members. Still, Christian parents should not abdicate their influence to others. Our primary impact will be what we model and teach in daily life. These mundane hours have a cumulative effect perhaps greater than anything else in life. Do you struggle with this responsibility like I do? Stay tuned for future posts which will wrestle with the “how’s” of spiritual influence in the home.