|Starving our children|
by Andrew Lansdown
“Feed me, feed me, else I die!” Our children used to chant these melodramatic words sometimes at mealtimes when they were young. The chant was a hurry-up to mother to get the food on the table, and the whole family thought it was great fun.
Of course, the humour lay in the fact that our children were in no danger of starvation. They ate three meals a day and had snacks in between.
Parents in this blessed country would not dream of letting their children go without a meal. Even when they are rushed or exhausted, they still prepare something, such as a boiled egg or a bowl of two-minute noodles. Breakfast, lunch and tea: there is always food to eat. And what’s more, most parents make their children eat something every mealtime—even if they say they aren’t hungry or protest they don’t like what is on the plate.
It is the duty and delight of parents to feed their children. Christian parents acknowledge this along with the rest.
Nonetheless, I think it is true to say that many Christian parents are starving their children. They give them food for their bodies but none for their souls.
Our Lord Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; cf Deuteronomy 8:3). The life-giving words to which Christ refers are found in the Bible. Scripture is the storehouse where God’s bounty is kept. It contains food for the soul, food that nourishes for eternity.
“Man shall not live by bread alone.” Yet how many Christian parents are trying to raise their children on bread alone? They feed them physical food faithfully three times a day, but feed them spiritual food only once a week—and even then, they leave it to the Sunday school teacher to lift the spoon to their mouths!
God intended the family to be an academy for the religious education of children, as is indicated by the Lord’s statement to Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4-7: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (my emphasis; cf 4:9; 6:20-25; Psalm 78:5). The Lord commands parents to teach their children about him diligently and constantly. Pastors and Sunday school teachers merely support parents in this task.
Fathers, as the spiritual heads of their homes, have a special obligation to read and to explain the Scriptures to their children. This is not to say that mothers are in any way exempted or excluded from their children’s spiritual education: it is merely to stress that fathers are especially responsible. The apostle Paul emphasises this in Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (my emphasis).
It is essential that Christian parents read and explain the Bible to their children regularly. Such a habit will not only contribute to their knowledge and understanding of Christ and the Christian life, it will also contribute to their salvation.
Children of Christian parents are not saved by virtue of their parents’ belief. Each child must respond personally to Christ in faith. But how are they to obtain this saving faith? Paul tells us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, NASB; cf Galatians 3:2, 5). It is the word of God that produces saving faith in people’s lives—provided they hear it. Peter likens God’s word to sperm that enters a person to bring about the new birth: “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). This being the case, the instruction of children in the word of God is indispensable to their salvation.
Paul indicates that the salvation of Timothy was largely due to the fact that his mother and grandmother diligently taught him the scriptures as a child. He says to Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.” Then he notes “how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15).
Incidentally, the example of Lois and Eunice ought to encourage all Christian mothers, and especially those who are widows, single mothers or wives of non-Christian husbands. If the man cannot or will not discharge his duty as spiritual head of the home, God will enable the woman to bear a greater responsibility, and bless her leadership as she opens the scriptures to her children.
The Holy Spirit uses his own word, the Bible, to convict and convince people of sin, righteousness and judgement. This was true in the case of Timothy: the instruction in the scriptures that he received throughout childhood produced in him a saving faith. And Christian parents today may reasonably hope that similar instruction, coupled with godly example and earnest prayer, will produce a similar result in their children. For the Lord promises: “as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Of course, it is not just for their salvation that parents should read the scriptures to their children. Christian parents want their sons and daughters to grow in knowledge and in grace. The Bible is the food to fuel that growth. Paul states that “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is by the scriptures that the child of God is best trained in righteousness and equipped for every good work. Parents who thoroughly acquaint their children with God’s word can look forward to hearing them declare with the psalmist: “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104).
There are a many ways to approach a daily, family Bible reading. One way is to read the Bible after the evening meal, before anyone leaves the table, and before the television goes on. Choose a book and work right through it, reading and discussing a chapter a night. Memorise several key verses as you go. Read a book in the Old Testament, then one in the New. Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Ruth, Esther, Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts: all these make fine reading for children.
Christian parents, don’t starve your children. Bring them daily to the Bible, that great banqueting hall, where they can learn that the Lord’s banner over them is love, and taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, feed them, feed them, else they die!
Copyright © Andrew Lansdown, 1990