Letters from God Addressing Our Roles in Christian Education
"I am Jesus’ little lamb, ever glad at heart I am; for my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my need, and well provides me, loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name." Dear Jesus, give me a childlike faith that rejoices to be a lamb under Your shepherding care. Fill me with the desire to proclaim your praises to the children and they to their children so that in every age sinners may hear, and set their hope in You. Come to us, be with us, bless us in our worship this morning! Amen.
Paul had every reason to boast if he was going to have confidence in earthly advantages. Paul was from a good family, followed every outward law, and was a highly educated Pharisee. However, Paul counted all of his honor, education, prestige, and all his worldly pursuits as rubbish because gaining Christ is of such greater value.
Jesus called Peter to be a shepherd and feed His sheep and lambs. For Peter, feeding Jesus’ sheep would mean losing his own life. Teaching and instructing the lambs of Christ in a world that is opposed to Christ will never be easy. It may well involve struggle and sacrifice, but it will also be well worth the effort. Jesus calls to us: "Feed my sheep and lambs…Follow Me."
Text: Psalm 78:1-8
Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments; And may not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not set its heart aright, And whose spirit was not faithful to God.
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow redeemed:
The prophet, Jonah, went to school in the belly of a fish. The apostle Paul went to school in Arabia. Moses went to school in the deserts of Midian. Although these men did not sit and learn in a Christian Day School and Sunday School, they all "went to school" and received a Christian education from God to prepare them for the work God called them to do.
God told Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh. Jonah didn’t want to go so he ran the other way. God caused the storm to rise up and directed events so that Jonah was thrown overboard and then swallowed by the huge fish God had prepared. During his three days in the belly of the fish Jonah repented of his sin and was humbled so that when the fish spit him out on dry land he was ready to go to the people of Nineveh.
Paul, after his conversion, did not begin preaching right away but spent time in Arabia, being prepared by the Lord for the great work he would do as the "apostle to the Gentiles" (cf: Galatians 1:15-18). Moses had taken matters into his own hands and killed an Egyptian so he fled into the deserts of Midian. During the 40 years that Moses tended sheep for his father-in-law, God was training him to be the leader of His people, Israel.
Christian education is God’s training of one of his children for life—for life as a whole and ultimately for eternal life. We as a Christian congregation are very interested in Christian education—very interested in Christian education for our own souls’ well-being and also for the others whom God has gathered together in our congregation. It is fitting, therefore, that we, at least once a year, take time to again remind ourselves of the importance of Christian education and all the things that are involved with it; to thank God for the blessings He gives to us through Christian education; and to pray that God would preserve it among us.
So this morning, we use the text from Psalm 78 to shed light and to consider"LETTERS FROM GOD (Addressing Our Roles in Christian Education)." We will be considering a letter I. To Parents II. To Childrenand III. To Immanuel, our congregation…first of all, to parents. God writes…
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
God is very clear to parents in His Word. He gives them the responsibility of training their children in the truth of all He has promised and commanded. When Jesus gave the commission to “go and teach all nations” He also added, “teaching them to observe ALL things…” (Matthew 28:19-20). Christian education involves everything God has revealed to us in His Word. God gives that responsibility first and foremost to parents.
If it was only the command of God, that in itself would be enough to lay upon the hearts of parents the need and responsibility of training their children in the “fear and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). If there was no emotional connection at all, if there was no love involved, and your child was just a body given to you by God and He commanded "raise this child and train him," the command from God would be enough. When God says to do something, we as His creatures should do it. The command itself is all we would need, but there is SO much more!
Children are not just a possession that God has given us and commanded us to train. Children are a precious gift from God. They are a gift that parents love dearly. They are a gift that God entrusts to parents so that they may provide, not only for the needed things of food, clothes, etc., but also for instruction in the truth of God’s Word and thereby, provide the way to salvation and eternal life.
It is more than just a simple command from God to teach our children. It is a command and responsibility laid upon parents’ hearts because this child (these children) are "blood-bought" by Christ Himself.
To each parent: You have been entrusted these children and their souls to be taught the wonderful works of God. As we hear the Psalmist say, “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.” [vv.2-4]
The content of the instruction which parents are to teach to their children is the content of ALL that God has wonderfully done for them and for all people. For the psalmist, it was all the things that God had done for Israel. In the rest of Psalm 78 (read it to see), the psalmist lays out point by point all the different examples of how God did wonderful things for His people leading them into the Promised Land.
Parents are given the privilege of telling their children what God has done. It is a privilege for what great joy it is to tell your children: THIS IS YOUR GOD! This is your Creator who has done all things well. Just look at the world He has created for you! Look at your own amazing body! Look at what His amazing power can do! But even more…let me tell you about what Jesus has done.
This morning in our Bible Class and Sunday School we studied the events that took place when the people of Israel crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. The people of Israel crossed the flooded Jordan after God had miraculously stopped the flow of the river upstream so that the water piled up into a wall to form dry land down river where the people could cross.
Before God caused the water of the Jordan to return to its normal flow, He commanded the people to take 12 stones from the middle of the river and to set them up as a memorial. So one man from each tribe, shouldered up a boulder from the river and took it out of the river bed. Later, Joshua piled the 12 stones into a memorial in Gilgal. Joshua also set up another monument of 12 stones right in the middle of the river where the priests had stood with the Ark of the Covenant.
God’s purpose for these memorials was this: That in the years to come when parents would be walking past the heap of stones with their children, and the children’s natural curiosity would ask, "Dad(or Mom) what do these stones mean—what are they their for? Why is this pile of stones here in the middle of the road?" Then parents could smile and say, "Let me tell you…" "Those stones are there because they came from the heart of the Jordan River. They were in the Jordan River when your great-grandfather passed through on dry land, when God brought His people safely into Canaan." Parents could tell the whole story and then walk down to the river and see the memorial in the middle of the river and say, "There is where the priests stood. My daughter (or my son) let me tell you all the other wonderful things that God has done in the past and promises to do for you too!"
There would be nearly an endless stream of wonderful works of God that the Israelite parents could teach their children. It is the same for us. We have indeed experienced and continue to experience the wonderful works of God. You have personal experiences you can share with your children. More importantly, you have all the wonderful works of God and their significance, recorded in God’s Word.
When the psalmist speaks of revealing the “dark sayings of old” to his children, he identifies the "dark sayings" as “telling…the praises of the LORD and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done” [v.4] In a later verse, he explains what the goal of this instruction is to be: “That the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God.” [v.6-7]
Parents, the goal of the education of your children is that they will hear and learn and love the good news that God sent His Son, Jesus, to die for their sins; so that they will be led by the working of the Spirit to place their hope in that same rock of salvation in which you have placed your hope.
So you see, your calling as parents and Christian educators for your children is not just a commandment. You are given the opportunity to use the Word of God to lead a blood-bought soul to that soul’s Savior, and into eternal life. Timothy’s mother and grandmother took advantage of the opportunity so Paul wrote to Timothy, “From a child you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
Parents, the instruction you give in the wonderful works of God and the wonderful grace that He showers upon us, provides salvation for your children. What greater joy could you have than to be the instrument through which God works to bring salvation to a child. The result is that not only will you love your child here on earth as your offspring, but will also share eternal life with that son or daughter as a fellow believer in the courts of heaven.
In our society, it is not looked upon the most favorably when parents actively instruct their children in the truth of God’s Word. Society wants parents to let their children choose their own way. Let them decide for themselves what they will believe or what their source of truth will be. God knows of no such brand or method of education. We would not let our children decide for themselves what the rules of the road will be when they begin driver’s training. So why then, would we allow for themselves—they being sinfully born just as we are—what course they will take for their souls?
We who are born blind need the instruction of God’s Word. You and I and every believer, young and old, need it on an ongoing never-ending basis. Children have need of instruction lest they never learn the way of eternal life, lest faith once created in baptism dies on the vine, lest knowledge and trust in their Savior never grows and eventually fails altogether. No, children arenot equipped to choose for themselves the way of their soul’s well-being. Parents have been given the privileged responsibility to TEACH them the way of the LORD and reveal to them the wonderful works of God.
Another philosophy of the world is that children decide for themselves where and how they will receive their education as well as making other significant life-decisions. It is a parent’s responsibility, not the child’s. God has placed children under the care of parents. He has given you that responsibility and it includes more than where the training will take place, it also includes the boundaries set for a child and the discipline; it includes every other aspect of guiding a child’s life.
There are households in our present day in which the children run the home—making decisions, demanding their way. The child is not the one appointed by God to decide for himself or herself. If we as God’s children were to tell God, "OK God, You’re my heavenly Father and I’m the child, but this is how we’re going to do it" we would be stunned at such foolishness. Likewise, parents are God’s representatives to the children so if children tell their parents what to do, or if their parents allow the children to control the household, it is equally foolish and sinful.
God’s design is that one generation reveals all that God has done to the next generation and they to the next, and to the next, and so on. As our text says, “that the generation to come might know them…that they may arise and declare them to their children” [v.6] God desires that we preserve the truth among us so that we have a heritage to pass on to our children. We may never end up with a multi-million fortune to pass on to our heirs. We may not even have any heirloom of physical quality to give to our children. If all we give them is the glory of the grace of God we have given them the most valuable treasure they could ever desire or need.
The heritage we preserve in our generation is not just for us. It is not just for us or for our children or grandchildren. It is for generations yet unborn that God will bring into the world. As the heritage of the truth of God’s Word is passed down from generation to generation salvation will be brought to each new era of sinners as long as the earth remains.
Parents educate your children, not only in the things they need for this life but with CHRISTIAN EDUCATION. Luther wrote in his Large Catechism:
Luther: Here again is the lamentable evil that no one recognizes or takes to heart such truths. All live as if God gave us children as objects of mirth and pleasure; as if He gave us servants to use, like the ox or the horse, only for work, or as if we were to live with those under us according to our own whims—to ignore them in unconcern about what they learn or how they live. No one is willing to believe that it is the commandment of the Almighty, who will solemnly require an account and will avenge its neglect, nor is it generally recognized how very necessary it is to devote serious attention to the young. If we wish to have worthy, capable persons for both temporal and spiritual leadership, we must indeed spare no diligence, time or cost in teaching and educating our children to serve God and mankind. We must not think only of amassing money and property for them; God can feed them and give them riches without our help, as He does daily. But He commanded with regard to the children given us that we should train and rule them according to His will; otherwise God would not have ordained that there should be father and mother. Let everyone know, then, that on pain of the loss of divine grace his chief duty is to rear his children in the fear and knowledge of God; and, if they are gifted, to give them opportunity to learn and study, so that they may be of service wherever needed [Luther’s Large Catechsim, 4th Commandment, Lenker & Tapper translations used].
It is an awesome responsibility that God gives in his "letter" to parents, but not an impossible one. By the grace of God, He does equip us to teach, instruct, and encourage our children. He gives us the tool whereby to do it—His Word.
When we do fail…when in weakness we do make mistakes, we have that same assurance of forgiveness which we give our children in their instruction. We go to the cross of Christ, confess our sins, and leave fully assured that our sins are forgiven by the sacrifice of our Savior.
“’Honor your father and your mother’ which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:2-3).
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments”(Psalm 111:10).
“Obey those who have the rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
School is about ready to start in a few weeks. Children: You probably don’t always think of school as more than a place to which you go every weekday for 9 months. For you, it may be something you enjoy, it may be something you dread as summer slips away and the time for school gets closer. It is possible that you don’t look at school as more than a place where your friends are; where you may have activities you enjoy;
When you are young, it is hard to always think of the bigger picture. As you grow older, you will take a greater interest in where you go to school. As you grow older you will decide what career you will pursue and then you will start looking for schools that can help you meet that goal. Then a school choice will become an important issue for you so that when you graduate from that school you will be qualified to do the work you have chosen to do.
God writes you a letter, to remind you—even if you don’t fully understand it right now—that more than anything else your education in God’s Word is the most important. The Psalmist begins in our text, “Give ear, O my people, to my (instruction). Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” [v.1] The instruction in God’s Word and applying that knowledge to daily life is the most important thing you can pursue in your life and in your education.
As you grow up you will be flooded with all sorts of things: "What can I do to make money?" The jobs that look the best will be those that can guarantee a job and provide an easy lifestyle. There will be things you want to do and places you will want to go and you will want to pursue a variety of things, but remember the "one thing needful." Remember that there is no greater wealth than salvation. Money is nothing compared to eternal life. Money, success, fame, an honored career, disappear when you die. “What is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
Children, look at your parents. Sometimes they will frustrate you. Sometimes you will grow angry with them and sometimes you will be disobedient. Remember to look at them as God has given them to you—as your instructors, as the ones God has given you to teach you about God’s Word. Remember why they are teaching you those things…so that you may set your hope in God and not forget the wonderful works of God.
It is easy for children (and adults) to think that you can choose a way that pleases you, and perhaps sacrifice Christian education a bit without really losing anything. It is easy to suppose that we can follow a way that is not actively involved with God’s Word and that it won’t have an effect on our faith. Or children you may look at your parents and say, "Well, Dad you did that." And "Mom, you weren’t always the greatest either. You guys didn’t do this why should I?" I can tell you why…and God tells you why.
God tells parents to instruct their children in part so that they may perhaps avoid some of the sins of their parents. For the people of the psalmist’s day it was that they “may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God.” Children, I’m not suggesting that your parents are rebellious or are always wrong, but where they have done wrong they don’t want you to follow their example. Your parents’ wisdom and instruction is given to you so that your faith may be strengthened and your life not follow sin nor make the same mistakes they may have made.
Your parents desire nothing more than that you remain firm in your faith. That you keep loving Jesus as the one who forgives your sins just as you do right now. So, honor your parents. They are the ones God has given you to lead you, to teach you God’s Word. When they instruct you, when they discipline you, and use God’s Word to tell you what he has done, in order to help you in your faith, then LISTEN! “Give ear, O my people!” Listen to their words. Listen when your parents apply God’s Word to your lives. Listen! Hear! And love your God more as your parents teach you about Him.
“Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 31:12-13).
The work of Christian education—passing the heritage of God’s truth from generation to generation—is something that can be done alone, but is and even greater blessing when it can be a joint effort. Working together with like-minded believers in a Christian congregation, we are able to gather together, work together, encourage each other, and serve each other with Christian education. Here in our congregation of Immanuel we have formal and informal means of joint efforts in Christian education.
The existence of a Christian congregation and its various forms of Christian education does not mean that parents are free of their responsibility. The congregation’s work is not to "take over" or replace the parents. The congregation and its programs of education are there to assist parents.
We have a Christian Day School in which children not only hear the wonderful works of God in classes which study God’s Word, children also see the wonders of God in all things, in science, in math, social studies and so forth. Here, children are able to learn in an atmosphere of knowing that God controls everything, and they learn to see His hand in everything.
Our Sunday School, youth forum, and adult Bible Study—one hour a week each Sunday supplements the work in the Day School for children and provides ongoing education for adults. Vacation Bible School adds instruction one week each summer. The weekly worship services provide ongoing instruction, edification, and rejuvenation in the Gospel.
All of these are rather formal means of "Christian education" provided by the congregation. There are, however, also less less obvious means of Christian education in our midst. Christian education is not just time in a classroom or church pew. Christian education is putting the comfort of the Gospel into day-to-day living. Christian education is putting God’s Word into day-today living for direction so that when we don’t know quite where to go the Word is there to guide us.
Therefore, one example, of less formal Christian education is the youth groups. We do not do intense, hour by hour, Bible Study in youth group outings, but in those outings we do use God’s Word. We do practice working together and making use of God’s Word together in the every day kind of things that youth like to do. We have time together to enjoy things God has given us, but not with friends who do not share the same realization of God’s role in our lives; not with people and acquaintances with whom we don’t share a common faith or who don’t understand our faith. Rather, these times are spent fellow believers with whom we can confess our faith and not worry about what the world thinks. We can build each other up, we can learn from one another and so prepare each other to better confess our faith when we are out in the world among others who do not share our faith. We can learn together how we might enjoy the gifts of this world, but not be of the world and how we can share time together with friends and in enjoyable activities without compromising or endangering our faith.
Work-days at church are another example of informal Christian education. These days accomplish much for the ongoing needs of the facility of the congregation. They also provide the opportunity to put into practice the joy we have in the Gospel as we work side-by-side in the temple of the Lord.
The programs of Christian education here at Immanuel are many. They are formal and they are informal. They are profitable for in them we there we learn and grow with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whether it is parents with children, or individuals without children, or those whose children may already have their own children, we as a Christian congregation all have the privilege and opportunity of supporting the important work of Christian education—through our prayers, through our offerings, through the assistance we offer, and by making good use of the opportunities that exist. Every means of support for Christian education is important because the health and well-being of Christ’s Church depends upon solid and full Christian education for all ages.
God gives us the command to instruct each new generation with the truth of God’s Word. It is also true that we have freedom in how we will do this. God does not command a specific way by which we should instruct our young people and ourselves. We have freedom as long as we do not pursue a way that is sinful and as long as we do not use anything less than the pure Word of God as our tool for instruction. However, as we consider the different opportunities we have as a congregation to instruct and teach our children in the precious truth of God’s Word, we come to realize that we have TREMENDOUS opportunities which are there for us to use. What a blessing! What a blessing to have a Christian Day School where we can instruct in every class according to God’s Word; where we can pray in united fellowship asking God to supply our needs and to thank Him for His grace and mercy; where we can grow together.
This congregation has historically stood upon the desire that it wants to provide solid Christian Education for its children. May we always stand upon that sense of purpose and also support the school so that there is no child who would be deprived of this Christian education simply because of financial need and a lack of material means to afford it.
We have so many opportunities: Day school, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, etc. No, we don’t HAVE to use those avenues. God doesn’t command, "Thou shalt GO to the Christian Day School," but what a blessing to have such a means whereby we can fulfill God’s command for Christian education.
So, these letters from God which lay upon our hearts responsibility, also give us great joy. As we work together, learn together, instruct together, we grow together in the grace and knowledge of Christ. We have all of our weaknesses forgiven and the joys of heaven to anticipate.
May God grant that this congregation, every parent here assembled, and every child may grow in their Christian education from this day forward and that He preserve Christian education in its truth among us ALWAYS. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen!
— Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt