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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: Faithful or Fearful?

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. (Jdg 2:10)

In the second chapter of Judges, this verse might as well be a flashing neon sign.  It is the bridge between the faithfulness of the Joshua generation and the apostasy of the Judges generation.  In explains how Israel’s outlook went from being one of promise and hope to being one of sin and despair.  The depth of its ramifications is played out for the rest of the book of Judges, and in a sense, for the rest of Old Testament history. 

Those of us who are parents might read such a verse and be convicted and fearful that we are not doing enough to build Christ into our children.  The assumption is made that if that new generation of Israelites did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel, the previous generation must not have told them.  They dropped the ball.  They bear great responsibility.

But as I mentioned in the message on Sunday morning, the knowledge written about in this verse does not refer to an awareness of information.  It’s not that the Israelites had never heard of the Lord or of the work that he had done for Israel.  Certainly, they had.  Remember Caleb’s reply to the angel of the Lord in Judges 6:13? “If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’”

Also in ch11, Jephthah spends 14 verses giving a history lesson to the king of the Ammonites, recounting for him how God brought them from Egypt to their present inheritance. Clearly, the people knew about the LORD and His work.  They knew it very well.  So the preceding generation was faithful in some significant measure in communicating the promises and works of God. 

The problem was that this new generation did not know God in the sense that they did not love and cling to God, they did not trust His work (Jos 23:1-13).  Not even Joshua could make them do that, and we sense his frustration about that in the final verses of Joshua 24.

So, Judges 2:10 should not serve to indict us if our children do not come to faith in Christ.  However, it is a good reminder of two things – first, we do have a responsibility to bring the gospel to our children, but second, our efforts are no guarantee that they will repent and believe.

We all want our children to be saved.  Some people want it so desperately that they are preoccupied with it.  “What can I do?  What can I do to make sure they get saved?”  And many, in their great desire to be assured that their efforts will be successful, cling to Proverbs 22:6, Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

But Proverbs are not promises or laws.  A biblical proverb is a short, pithy saying that expresses a wise, general truth.  Most of us probably know someone who diligently and faithfully raised a child up according to Scripture, but the child grew up to live and die as an unbeliever.  How do we explain that?  Proverbs are general truths, not promises or laws.

Further, the popular understanding of this proverb is not quite accurate.  The text literally reads, “train a child up in the beginning of his way, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  There is no explicit or implied reference to training a child in godliness.  It is a general truth about training a child up in any direction.  It simply states that the way you train a child will affect how he lives his life.  If you train him to be lazy, he will be lazy as an adult.  If you train him to work hard, he will work hard as an adult.  There will be exceptions, but the exceptions do not refute the general rule.

So Proverbs 22:6 is far from a promise that if we will just do the right things, our children will be saved.  That can be freeing or disheartening depending on how much you trust the Lord.  It can be a freeing thought that I am not responsible for saving my child, if I trust the Lord and purpose to be faithful in what He has commanded.  It can be a fearful thought that I cannot save my child, if I am trusting in myself rather than the goodness and wisdom of God. 

But the fact that I am not responsible for saving my child does not mean that I am not responsible for how I parent that child.  And the fact that I cannot save my child does not mean there is nothing I can do for them.  God has given us instructions to which we must be faithful.

Ephesians 6:4 reads, Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  Titus 2:4 reads, …and so train the young women to love their husbands and children.   These commands along with the pattern shown in Deuteronomy 6 and the principles of Proverbs should be our guide.

Deut 6:6-7 "And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up.

Pro 19:18 Discipline your son while there is hope, And do not desire his death.

Pro 22:15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

Pro 13:24 He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

Pro 23:13 Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you beat him with the rod, he will not die.

Pro 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

Additionally, we should pray diligently for our children.  All of these things comprise the yardstick by which we will be held accountable in the end.  As in all things, God is sovereign and we should rest in His goodness and wisdom, striving to be faithful in all that He has commanded us.  We should be speaking, living, and training them in the gospel, teaching them to obey all that He has commanded.  As a general rule, our children will follow.  But our hope is not in their conversion, but in the God who saves. 
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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