A Sunday School teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five- and six-year-old pupils. After explaining the Commandment to Honor thy father and thy mother, she asked, “Is there a Commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” Without missing a beat, one little boy (the oldest of a family) answered, “Thou shall not kill.” Good answer.
Most people will agree that education is essential, and that religious education is equally important.
It is not unusual to see young couples returning to church after years of not attending church once a baby comes along. They stand before God and the congregation at the child’s baptism, promise to raise their little one in the faith, and then bring that young life to the church and Sunday School from week to week because they want to nurture the child with the spiritual values we find in the scriptures.
Deuteronomy 6:1-12 links the earlier recollection of the past events at Horeb, and the actual exhortation and teaching of the law to the present generation.
The final line of Chapter 6 Verse 3 recalls that the lush future in the land will be theirs because of God’s faithfulness to the promise made to their ancestors. It was a gift of grace, but to be used and enjoyed through obedience.
This must be taught to their children. Israel believes that religious instruction is not simply a measure of faithful piety. It is training their children never to forget God’s standards for right living, and to never forget God’s faithfulness.
According to our lesson in Deuteronomy, one of the most sacred duties the people of God have is that of passing on the faith from one generation to the next. “These commandments that I give you today will be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children…”
Since God is the only God, Verse 5 commands us to “love” him (one of 14 times in Deuteronomy). We are to love him with “all [our] heart”, which, in this case, refers to our mind and intellect (Jer. 5:21; Hos. 7:11), and with “all [our] soul,” which refers to our total being, life, and vitality.
Parents in Israel are to make sure that conversation about such things is a daily part of their children’s lives. There is to be no excuse for neglecting their children’s spiritual welfare. As families eat together, they are to talk around the table about the Lord.
Later, many Jewish families will take Verses 8–9 literally by making small boxes with these verses inside. They strap these boxes to their foreheads, called phylacteries, and attach similar boxes to their doorposts, called mezuzas. This passage envisages internal family teaching, in which parents answer children’s questions regarding specific events, memorials, rituals, or observances.
The child’s question then becomes the springboard for explanation and teaching. The first thing to notice is that such questions and teaching opportunities would arise only if the parents themselves were conspicuously observing the laws.
With the blessing of God to come as they enter the land of Canaan, and receive God’s gracious gifts, they must “be careful that [they] do not forget the Lord” (6:12). Forgetting what God has done would seriously impoverish Israel’s spirituality, for pride takes over as they begin to think that it all happened by their strength.
The early church understood the same thing. Paul wrote to Timothy: “If you point these things out to the brothers [and sisters]”…if you instruct them…” you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus.”
Unfortunately, we are not doing enough.
Two lawyers were good friends. Much to the amazement of one of them, the other became a Sunday School teacher. He protested, “I’ll bet you don’t even know the Lord’s Prayer!”
“Everybody knows that,” the other replied. “It says `Now I lay me down to sleep!’”
“You win,” said the other admiringly, “I did not think you knew so much about the Bible.”
One of the myths about Christian Education that absolutely must be stamped out is that this is a ministry only for children. We usually hear people say that they graduated from Sunday School.
A pastor remembers visiting a parishioner of one of his former congregations in the hospital. Bill was a member of the men’s Sunday School class, and he and the pastor were talking about another class member who was also in the hospital; Bill wanted to know how Ken was getting along, and was telling the pastor about the wonderful dinner Ken had cooked for several friends (including Bill) not too long before. A nurse walked in during their conversation, heard that both men were part of a Sunday School class, and laughed. “At your age?,” she chuckled. Bill, who was 70 years old, replied, “You are never too old to learn.”
Many of you may have read Robert Fulgham’s wise and witty, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I think that when it comes to faith development, we could paraphrase that, and say, “All I really need to know I learned in Sunday School.”
In Sunday School, we learned that God is great and God is good. God is big, strong, and mighty, and there is nothing my God cannot do. God made this world. God made you and me.
We also learned in Sunday School of God’s love by singing Jesus Loves Me, this I Know.
You have heard the name Karl Barth, probably the best theologian of the 20th century. He was asked near the end of his remarkable career to state the most significant truth he had come across in his lifetime of study. After a moment of thought, he is reported to have answered, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Sunday School taught, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” We learned that Jesus is living and dying proof of God’s love for you and me. We learned, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”
We learned “The B I B L E, yes, that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the word of God, B I B L E.” We also learned, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” We believe because of what we learned in Sunday School, that we have a mission in this world—to share the Good News. We learned in Sunday School that one of the best ways to share the gospel is by the way we live.
Then it tells us that we need to remember the source of the faith we have. There is a fascinating detail in Paul’s letter to Timothy.
You turn to the first Chapter, and see from whom Timothy has received his faith. Paul reminds Timothy, “You have learned your faith from Lois and Eunice.” They are Timothy’s grandmother and mother who raised Timothy in the Christian faith. Both were heads of the Church in Lystra. That is where Paul first met Timothy when he stayed in their house and met their son, Timothy. Paul was so impressed with the quality of Timothy’s Christianity that he invited him to travel with him as his companion.
Timothy is one of the first of the second generation of Christians. That makes him significant because he has something in common with us.
Like Timothy, we are Christians because somebody told us about it. We are Christians because somebody taught us the Faith. We are Christians because the Church had a tradition, and saw to it that its children receive the tradition.
Lois taught Eunice the Faith. Eunice taught her son Timothy the Faith. Timothy helped change the world. Paul writes to them now, saying, “Remember how you did that. You did that by holding on to what you had learned.”
I was listening to the testimonies of some of the Pastor’s kids last week. Some resented at first the double standard of how people looked at them. However, as they matured, many of them appreciated the faith that was handed down to them by their parents. And most likely, will be handed down to their children.
Lastly, HoAnnie Dillard wrote about the Eskimos in Canada, in the great tundra west of Hudson Bay. She said, that as Eskimos traveled across that tundra, they would get some rocks, and make a tower, about the height of a man. They would walk until they can no longer see that tower, then gather more rocks, and make another tower. That is the way they make their way across that white desert. They would do this so if they get lost on their journey, they will be able to find their way home. “So remember what you have learned about your faith and where you learned it.”
As we partake of the bread remembering Christ’s body that was broken for us, and as we drink the cup of blessing reminding us of Christ’s blood shed for us, we share with our children the faith that was handed to us by our parents.
And through that faith, our children will discover the gifts that God has given them. Then they, too, can share with their children, and their children’s children the everlasting love with which God has loved them in Christ.
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