"Teach Them Diligently" – A Sermon on Deuteronomy 6

I want to talk about one of the most pressing issues of our day—education. But rather than invoke the opinions of man on this subject, I want us to look at a very important passage from God’s Word, Deuteronomy 6. God has much to say about parenting and educating our children, and this is one of the central passages on the subject.

A little context for our passage. Deuteronomy is one long sermon given by Moses before his death. The book recounts the teachings & events of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. The Ten Commandments are recounted in ch. 5, and now in ch. 6, God gives Moses instructions to give to Israel. He is to exhort the Israelites regarding God’s law.

Deuteronomy 6 is an exhortation to love and fear God by keeping His commandments and to pass this on to the future generations. There is a pattern here:

  1. Keep God’s commands (6:1-3)
  2. Teach them to your children (6:4-9)
  3. Do not forget God (6:10-15)
  4. Keep God’s commands (6:16-19)
  5. Teach them to your children (6:20-26)

I think this pattern clues us in on why teaching our children is so important, with the central point being to not forget God.

Teach Them to Your Children

Deuteronomy 6 is concerned with the individual’s obedience to God. But it is also concerned with families. Though our passage is all about keeping God’s commands, it constantly references our children along with obedience.

  • v. 2—“that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son.”
  • v. 7—“You shall teach them diligently to your children . . .”
  • vv. 20-25—“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you? Then you shall says to your son . . .’ ”

God cares very much about how we raise our children. And there is no better passage on this subject than Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Central to this passage is what the Jews called the Shema, from the Hebrew for “hear.” As v. 4 says, “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one” (or Yahweh alone). This verse teaches monotheism and the exclusivity of God—we are to worship no one else.

The Shema is followed by what we call the Great Commandment. Verse 5 says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus quotes this and says that all the Law and Prophets depend on this command and the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That God alone is our Lord means we are to worship Him with our all.

But we must not forget what follows these two magnificent verses. Follow the logic. How are we to love God with our whole being and honor the Lord as our exclusive King? (vv. 4-5). The words of the Lord are to be on our hearts (v. 6). How so? We are to teach God’s words to our children and make them part of everything we do—sitting/walking, lying down/rising (v. 7).  Jews even began to follow vv. 8-9 literally by using phylacteries (boxes around the arm & forehead) and mezuzot (attached to doorposts).

God’s design for the family is to make God’s Word a part of everything we do. Whether it be family meals, family devotions, attending church, schooling our children, playing sports—everything is to involve the Word of God. His Word should be read, meditated on, and memorized. But more so, we ought to be applying God’s Word to every aspect of life. We want to think God’s thoughts after Him. This is how we help our whole family—ourselves, spouse, and children—to love God with our whole being. We make God’s Word central to our lives.

Important here is the role of parents. This passage has its New Testament counterpart in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Parents, particularly fathers, have great authority over their children. And with this comes the great responsibility of training their children in the way of Christ. Let us not underestimate the greatness of this task! It is for our good—faithfulness in this area may lead to a godly line of descendants, while unfaithfulness may lead to apostasy and shame upon families.

One of my favorite theologians is the 19th century Southern Presbyterian, R.L. Dabney. He has a fitting quote on the importance of parents:

The education of children for God is the most important business done on earth. It is the only business for which the earth exists. To it all politics, all war, all literature, all money-making, ought to be subordinated; and every parent especially ought to feel, every hour of the day, that, next to making his own calling and election sure, this is the end for which he is kept alive by God—this is his task on earth. On the right training of the generation now arising, turns not only the individual salvation of each member in it, not only the religious hope of the age which is approaching, but the fate of all future generations in a large degree. Train up him who is now a boy for Christ, and you not only sanctify that soul, but you set on foot the best earthly agencies to redeem the whole broadening stream of human beings who shall proceed from him, down to the time when men cease to marry and give in marriage. Until then, the work of education is never ending” (“Parental Responsibilities,” pp. 691-692).

Some today want to downplay the influence of parents on their children. We may think school, media, and friends have an equally great influence on kids. But who makes the decision as to what school a child attends? Or what media a child is exposed to? Or which friends a child associates with? Is it not the parents who make such decisions? We must therefore conclude that the parents’ influence will be more effectual than anything else on a young person—whether for good or evil.

Education Belongs to the Family

I want to apply this principle to a specific issue relevant to all Americans, that of education. Think of the different spheres of life—family, church, state. The world would teach us that education belongs to the sphere of the government/state. But that is not how God regards it. The responsibility of educating children belongs to the family. Parents are to teach their children the way of Christ. And they are to choose a schooling option that aids this.

Now we ought not to equate education with schooling. Education is lifelong. And many schools do not provide genuine education. But we know that children need an education. They need to be taught basic skills—reading, writing, arithmetic. They need to understand the world—Bible, science, math, literature, history. We know that the God of Scripture is the foundation for all such knowledge and wisdom. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” If we want to teach children genuine knowledge, we must teach from a Christian foundation.

But where will children get such an education? It must be pointed out that neither Deuteronomy 6 nor Ephesians 6 nor anywhere else in the Bible gives specific instructions for educating our children. They only give a principle. There is no mandate for sending kids to a school, nor is there a prohibition. However, the principle is quite clear—we are to give our children a Christian education. We are to train our children in the the way of Christ. And if God’s Word is to be part of everything we do, it ought to be a part of a children’s education.

So let this be the guiding principle in how you train up your children. And ask yourself—“Is the educational option I have chosen helping to train my child in the way of Christ? Is it training my son or daughter to love Christ with his or her whole being?”

It seems clear that homeschooling or a good private Christian school can accomplish such a task, though this still requires parents to work hard to do so. But Christians debate the case of the public schools. Many Christians send their kids to state schools, and these vary in quality and favorability towards Christianity and Christian ethics.  However one evaluates such an option, it is impossible to deny the growing secularism of America’s modern school system. Government schools teach a Darwinian view of man, reject biblical marriage and gender roles, reject biblical morality and sexual ethics, embrace relativism, and ignore our Western Christian history.

All of this makes America’s public school system a very difficult place to provide our children with a Christian education. It would require parents to both debrief children and then teach them outside of school what they should actually be learning inside of school. It may help us in our day to think of the Old Testament Israelites and their children. I have a hard time seeing faithful Israelites sending their children to a Babylonian school for seven hours per day. This of course would train the Israelite children in paganism. And this is what many of us are doing today.

Do Not Forget God

This leads us to our last point, and the concluding message of the passage, that we are not to forget the Lord our God. We are to keep God’s commands, and we are to train up our children in His ways, so that we may not forget God and go after false gods. “Forget” is primarily moral. It’s not referring to a memory problem. It is referring to forsaking God.

Deuteronomy 6:10-15 speaks of when the Israelites come into the land of Canaan and receive all the good things they did not build. At that time, they are not to forget God. This applies to us as well. When we have all our good things—our houses, our food, our jobs, our cars, our electronics—we are not to forget our Lord. We are not to go after “the gods of the peoples who are around you” (v. 15).

Yet sadly that is exactly what many Christians have done. Apostasy runs rampant in America. This can be seen by comparing the younger generations (say 20s & 30s) with their grandparents’ generation. What was once a church-going people with a basic Christian morality is gone. And we now have a generation who doesn’t go to church, rejects biblical marriage & morality, and wants more government control and less personal responsibility. Charles Murray has an excellent book called Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960–2010 that examines just how much our nation has declined. He shows that we are less religious, less industrious, less honest, and less communal than previous generations.

How did this decline happen? Many Christians were unfaithful in their parental task. Of course, there were other factors, including an increasingly secular media and increasingly secular school system. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that America’s educational system—including universities—has been the driving force behind the secularism that now dominates modern America. We may call it “the engine of atheism.” Our schools have turned out generations who have no regard for God and His Word. I myself went to secular schools for 17 years, and it’s only by God’s grace that I overcame all the anti-biblical lies I was taught. But this took a lot of work outside the classroom.

However, parents still have a responsibility regarding media and schools. Media should be filtered and educational options evaluated by parents, whether it be high school or college. Maybe parents just got lazy, or maybe they didn’t fully realize what was happening. But that’s why God tells us to teach our children, so that they do not forget.

Conclusion

We must return to our Lord. It’s never too late. Christ is able to forgive even those who have forsaken Him. And He is able to forgive our parenting mistakes. Jesus died to bring us to God, and He calls us back to Him even now.

God is calling us to first seek Him individually, to seek to worship Him and keep His commands. And then He is calling us to dedicate our children to Him and raise them in His ways. We must dedicate ourselves to Christian education. This alone is how we will pass on the faith from generation to generation, so that our children and our children’s children may walk with Him. Let’s close with Psalm 78:5-8, which seems to be a reflection on Deuteronomy 6:

He established a testimony in Jacob
    and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
    to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
    the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
     so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
    but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
    a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
    whose spirit was not faithful to God.