When God had a message for the generation of the book of Deuteronomy, it was a call to correct the errors of the past—errors of unbelief, idolatry, and infidelity. The first generation from Egypt was filled with trouble, just read the book of Numbers.

What those young Israelites needed was a greater commitment to Yahweh’s instruction than their forefathers. Genuine “love” for the LORD was to be expressed by devotion to His “torah,” or law.1 God’s Word was to be their treasure, stored in their heart. They were called to study it meticulously. Unlike those who walked before them, they were not to “forget.”2

The most familiar passage calling for such rededication is the “shema.” In Deuteronomy 6:4 and following, God called Israel to renewed consecration—to love Yahweh their God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their might. The nation was to commit themselves to His words.

The torah was to ripple through every aspect of their lives—their days and homes and hearts

Israel’s entire lifestyle was to be consumed with the instruction of Yahweh. And, in large part, this wholistic dedication to Yahweh would only occur through diligently teaching the children: “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.” Sadly, such parenting was greatly neglected.

In the book of Judges, the devastating consequences of failing to teach the children fell upon Israel. Judges 2:10–12 reads:

All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.

The spiritual endurance of a people, whether that’s a family, a community, a nation, or a church, depends greatly on the effort spent teaching children the Word of God.

If churches today want to see fruit that extends beyond this generation, they must become devoted to teaching children diligently. This is a call to give greater attention to parental instruction and the church’s children’s ministry. As a father of three boys and a Pastoral Assistant in our children’s ministry, this is an exhortation I feel heavily upon myself. We can’t allow the Word of God to be forgotten by our kids.

Teach Them God’s Word Diligently

Children need the Word of God. They are born sinfully depraved (Ps. 51:5; cf. Eph. 2:1–3). They are prone to foolishness (Prov. 22:15), easily tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). Yet they are sponges for truth. Obviously, no child is made a Christian by their parents’ or Sunday School teachers’ Bible teaching. Children, like all of us, come to believe through a work of sovereign grace. But God has ordained instruction to be a primary means of directing children onto the path of righteousness and wisdom (Prov. 1:1–7). The sacred writings are able to impart the wisdom that leads to salvation (2 Tim. 3:14–15). It is the Word of Christ that produces faith (Rom. 10:17).

Children need to be taught God’s Word diligently. In Deuteronomy 6:7, the Hebrew verb שׁנן (shanan) “teach diligently,” bears the idea of “repeating” or “sharpening.”3 The necessity of repetition is captured by the scrupulous description of sitting, walking, laying, and rising. Kids don’t learn to think rightly from a single lecture given in the classroom. Instruction needs to be given throughout the day, in the kitchen and driving home from school and at the dinner table. The saying is true: “The key to learning is repetition, and repetition is the key to learning.” Parents and children’s ministry leaders must learn to communicate the same truths in multiple ways. Illustrate. Explain. Apply. Discuss. Continually feed biblical doctrine into young minds in ways that are clear and captivating.

These are not pointless echoes. The purpose in repetition is to sharpen. Just like a stone is struck, again and again and again, over the edge of a sword to shape and sharpen the blade, so too teaching children is rhythmic in order to sharpen their minds with truth. This takes great attentiveness on the part of the teacher.

Paul’s exhortation to fathers, in Ephesians 6:4, is to bring up children with the discipline and instruction of the Lord. There are three components within this command that emphasize the diligence required for teaching children. First, such instruction must be caring. Paul used the same Greek verb ἐκτρέφω (ektrephō) for “raising” children as he did for “nourishing” one’s own body in 5:29. This is a commitment to provide and protect. Second, children need a comprehensive education. The word, παιδεύω (paideuō) “discipline” (NASB), includes all the correction, discipline, and guidance involved in child rearing. It points to a thorough training regiment, like that found in the military. Third, νουθετέω (noutheteō) focuses on instructing the child’s thinking. Fathers must provide for and protect the mind of their children. This takes place through biblical admonition, warning, and advice. Our sons and daughters must have their thinking shaped by the truth found in the Word of God, communicated to them through their parents.

Teach Them to be Diligent with God’s Word

Children need to grow in maturity and understanding. They need to grasp sound teaching so that they will not be carried away by every wind of doctrine, fooled by the trickery of men and the craftiness of deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14). Children must learn to destroy corrupt speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). In other words, we want our children to be sharp—capable of discerning dangerous ideologies and heresies and using the sword of truth against the enemy’s battle on the mind. We want our children to flee from the way of the wicked and walk in truth (Prov. 1:8–19).

One of the greatest misconceptions when it comes to teaching children is that they can’t handle rich theological truths. They can, and they need to.

Children are much deeper thinkers than they are often given credit

My experiences as a father have proven this to me.

While sitting on the bed with my three sons just before tucking them in for the night, I often play the role of Professor of Theology. I’m not sure if it’s their eagerness to delay the dreaded bedtime, or, perhaps, the fruit of a quiet moment, but this hour has provided many of our deepest discussions. A couple months ago, we waded into the problem of evil. One of my sons asked: “If God is in control of everything, why does He allow the coronavirus?” This honest question led us to the greatest evil, planned by God, resulting in the greatest good—the crucifixion of His only begotten Son. I asked: “If God planned it, was it bad for them to kill Jesus?” And we were ushered right into the intricacy of God’s sovereignty and its relation to man’s responsibility.

It is a delight each evening to watch my sons’ minds swell as they grapple with the character and nature of God

The point is, children have profound thoughts. And if I took these late-night discussions lightly, I would likely fail to provide sharp, accurate, and helpful instruction for their formidable minds. We need to be ready, willing, and capable of teaching our children to be diligent in the Word. We must sharpen their minds with theological depth and precision, laying the foundations of sound doctrine that will shape their thinking for the rest of their lives. Such consideration of teaching children cannot be overlooked.

Be Diligent to Teach Them God’s Word Clearly

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bring rich theological truths down to the comprehension level of our children. Just as Paul rebuked the Corinthians for not communicating with language that was understandable, we also must teach with clarity (1 Cor. 14:9). Parents and teachers must be so well grounded in their own biblical understanding that simplicity comes naturally. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “If one couldn’t communicate the most profound ideas about God and the Bible to children, something was amiss.”4 R.C. Sproul said that if a person couldn’t explain their theology to a 5 year old, then they didn’t know their theology well enough. With greater depth and precision comes greater clarity and simplicity. Therefore, the call to teach children diligently is a call to diligent study. We must know the Word of God, and then pass it down to our children.

[1] These two words become central themes in the book of Deuteronomy, both being repeated again and again. אהב (ahab) “Love” 23 times and תּוֹרָה (torah) “Law” 22 times. Old Testament scholar William Dumbrell states, “Complementing law in Deuteronomy is the command to love God, which, in turn, is set against the background of God’s love and choice of Israel. The totality of the law is thus comprehended in one demand (Deut. 6:4–5). Love, however, is more than mere affection or devotion. Love always appears in association with some activity: walking in the Lord’s ways (10:12), keeping the Lord’s commandments (5:10), obeying the Lord’s voice (13:4). Love thus demands that the person engage in practices that demonstrate covenant fidelity.” William Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 66–67.

[2] The verb שׁכח "to forget,” is repeated 14 times in the book of Deuteronomy, highlighting the danger of forgetfulness and the necessity of preserving God’s Word (4:9, 23, 31; 6:12; 8:11, 14, 19 2Xs; 9:7; 24:19; 25:19; 26:13; 31:21; 32:18).

[3] Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 195–196.

[4] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 64.