The book of Deuteronomy begins with the people of Israel being reminded of the ways God has revealed himself after they had left Egypt during the exodus. They are reminded of the law (Deut. 4:1-14), the Ten Commandments (Deut. 5:6-21), the Shema (Deut. 6:4), and, what Jesus would call, the greatest commandment (Deut. 6:5). Each of these elements stood as the foundation for a radical charge given in Deuteronomy 6:6-9.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
Although most of us live in an entirely different culture of discipleship where we don’t wear frontlets or write Scripture on the doorposts of our homes, we do see a common thread through Scripture of the responsibility parents have to teach and instruct their children in the Word. This passage from Deuteronomy is not alone with regard to commands for family discipleship in the Bible. There are examples all the way from Abraham to the New Testament church that confront parents with the awesome privilege and responsibility to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Gen. 18:19; Josh. 4:6-7; Ps. 78:4-8; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4).
For many of us, glorified images of family worship times around the table or before a fireplace pop into our minds and we quickly realize our failures to intentionally lead our families in the Word. But Deuteronomy 6 both encourages and challenges us to an entirely different framework for family worship. While designated times for Scripture reading, prayer, and singing are appropriate in the home, the call to family discipleship in Deuteronomy 6 and throughout the rest of the Bible is more comprehensive than that.
The picture of family discipleship in Deuteronomy 6 is one of constant pointing. From morning until night and during every activity in between, parents should point their children to God as he has revealed himself in his Word. Discipling your children in the instruction of the Lord doesn’t require a seminary degree. It requires intentionality, focus, discipline, and a love for God that surpasses all other loves. When moms and dads love the Lord with all that they are, they will naturally want to pass this love on to their children. Passing on the truths of the gospel happens more frequently and more effectively in some ways during unexpected moments.
Reminding your children of the Lord’s renewing mercies and creative genius as the sun rises on a new day is more effective than any Sunday School lesson on creation they could ever receive. Disciplining your children in their worst moments and then reminding them of gospel grace is far greater than any illustration they will hear from a pastor on Sunday morning. Putting your children to bed and assuring them that though they may be afraid to fall asleep, the God of heaven and earth never slumbers and is always working for the good of his people and the glory of his name will impact your children far more than the best Bible study resource on the market.
Instructing our children doesn’t always look like a 15-minute family worship time each evening. It may be a surprise to you, but leading your children in the gospel and teaching your children the ways of the Lord doesn’t have anything to do with organized family worship. Instead, it has everything to do with taking advantage of opportunities and situations to know, show, and grow in the Word with your children throughout each day.
This kind of Deuteronomy 6 discipleship occurs as you’re in the car together on the way to school, sitting on the back porch as the sun sets, doing chores together around the house, outside playing in the yard, or during a discipline moment. Biblical and effective family discipleship only requires a little intentionality as you look for opportunities to sprinkle the Word throughout the day in the lives of your kids.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.