Children in New Testament Letters
Various Passages
By Paul Robison

A recent book tells about an interesting situation: “In recent years, medical doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and professionals who serve children and youth have been deeply disturbed by the number of North American young people who are not flourishing.  This is evidenced by the growing number in need of counseling and medication and the increase of violence among teens and even children.  In 2002, a group of these concerned professionals came together to examine significant recent research from several different fields with the goal of trying to identify what is important for the thriving of the young.  For their study, they concluded that human beings are biologically 'hardwired' to need connections.  We cannot thrive if deprived of close [relationships] with other people and deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.  These researchers claim that children and youth need to be a part of a community that provides those connections” (Stonehouse & May).  Isn't this some interesting research?  You see, a congregation provides the perfect community where morals, and spiritual meaning, and relationships can take place.  Children who go to church services have a better chance to thrive and be more balanced.
 
We learned in a previous sermon how children mean the world to God.  Then we discovered in another sermon Jesus' desires for children.  We must teach them, care for them, strengthen them, pray for them, learn from them, touch them, and bless them.  Now we need to consider our children and the church.  Someone made this observation:  "Children whose parents live selfishly and greedily [however] become adolescents who want every new toy, go on to become teenagers who expect the church to sponsor ski trips and [float trips], and walk into adulthood expecting to be served by the church and community. ... [However,] children who see their parents and people in the church community love the unlovable, forgive the sinner, and encourage the fainthearted grow up to be the same kind of [unselfishness and benevolent people [who serve the church]" (Shank).  
 
The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 6:1: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  'Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with promise: 'that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth."   Now, if you are a child in our audience today, please raise your hand.  Alright, thanks, you can put them down.  Now, children, listen carefully.  You are to obey your parents.  Why?  Well, Paul says that it's the right thing to do.  God wanted the Jews to honor or to obey their parents; this is one of the Ten Commandments that God actually wrote Himself.  God knows what is right and best for us.  In fact, Moses said that if we obey this rule, we have a better chance of living a long life.  Here's another reason that you need to obey your parents.  Jesus did too, and we want to be like Him.  Luke tells us that He was subject to His parents (2:51); this means that He obeyed them and did what they told Him to do .  So, children, be like Jesus and do what your parents tell you to do.  Thanks for listening closely, children.  Now, parents, let me talk with you a moment.  You might want to check out a book called Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World.  The author sustains that respect for authority used to be paramount, but that all changed in the early 70s.  We went from teaching self-respect to stressing self-esteem, and in that process we lost our manners and respect for authority.  Empowerment gave way to entitlement.  Why?  Because stressing self-esteem causes a child to focus on themselves and how they feel and what they want while teaching self-respect causes a child to focus others and how they feel and what others want.  Then the author said:  "Many adolescents have no respect for authority because their parents didn't command their respect. ... Little princes and princesses are not expected to humble themselves before others by extending common courtesies. ... There is no better vehicle for teaching children respect than through the use of 'sir' and 'ma'am.' ... Only character-centered parents [not child-centered] truly parent and, as a result, raise respectful children" (Rigby).  The book stresses about ten other concept to help you instill self-respect.  A police chief was once asked, "How can people make your job easier?"  His reply was this: "Take you children to church and teach them to respect authority" (source unremembered).  The apostle Paul admonishes the evangelist Titus in 3:1-2: "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men."  The apostle Peter commands Christians in 1 Peter 2:13 & 17: "Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those sent by Him for the punishment of evil-doers and for the praise of those who do good. ... Honor all people.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the king."  Brethren, don't these passages teach us that obedience in the home needs to be extended to obedience towards all those in society who have authoritative positions?  Doesn't this also mean that no matter how inept an official, an officer, or a governmental clerk may be, we should still teach our children to be respectful toward their position and to obey their directives (if they do not violate God's directives)?
 
Now look at Colossians 3:20: “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.”   Someone made this interesting observation: “... in at least some congregations, children were not merely passive spectators on the edge of what was going on but were taught and encouraged alongside the adults during the course of the church's meeting for worship.  We know this because the letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians specifically address children about their responsibility to their parents” (May, Posterski, et al).  Yes, children were mentioned in these letters, and they were instructed just as everyone else was.  Remember how the recent research showed that children need to be in a community where morals, values, and connections are stressed.  Brining children to church is so vital for their spiritual growth.  They can learn at church to love God, to love other cultures, and to love all ages.  A Bible class teacher once asked her small children to draw pictures of God.  She later published them in a book.  One boy drew God with large muscles because he said that God was strong.  Another girl made yellow, orange, and red circles around an earth, and she explained that God is everywhere and the bright colors represented His goodness.  One girl drew a candle and above it wrote: "God is good," and she said that God was light, and He was good.  When the children drew a human like figure for God, He was usually smiling.  And many children drew yellow lines coming from the figure to represent God's glory (Stonehoue & May).  Isn't it amazing what these children were learning about God from other church members?  At church, children learn about God in their classes, when praying, and during the sermon.  They also learn to love other cultures.  We sing: "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.  Red, and yellow, black, and white, they are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world."  We teach and preach that Jesus wants everybody to hear the Gospel.  Another version of that song goes: "Dutch and Irish, Mexican Jew, and little Navajo too.  Jesus loves the little children of the world."  Somebody told me that they recently worshiped over in Hope, and at this service, there were Hispanic Christians sitting on one side of the auditorium and Caucasian Christians sitting on the other side, and both were singing a hymn in both Spanish and English simultaneously.  Now wasn't that a rich experience for their children?  This was a wonderful lesson of how Jesus can unite cultures.  Children also learn to love all ages in a congregation.  They enjoy classes with their peers, but they also worship with teenagers and adults and mingle with others who might be old enough to be their grandparents.  Sometimes adults and children will attend other church events, or working on some project, or will go on some outing together.  These activities also form special bonds between the generations.  Children learn many other things at church as well: hospitality, gratitude, speaking the truth, keeping promises, forgiveness, and how to pray are just a few of the more obvious things.  Parents, our congregation does have its clouds of weaknesses, inconsistencies, and failures, but don't let them overshadow all the sunshine of strengths, good examples, and all the good things that your children can learn while being in church.  Children are an important part of the church and having them in the assembly will not only enhance our worship but also enhance their spiritual formation.  Young mothers, we applaud all that you do in training your children to have good behavior while in church.  Don't forget, we have baskets in the back that contain items which might provide you some help during worship.
 
Now let's move on to another passage, “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have leaned them, and that from childhood 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).  We see from this passage that Timothy's grandmother and mother had made it a point to help Timothy learn some of the Scriptures.  As a child, he had memorized them.  A child's capacity to memorize things is very remarkable.  Parents, if you want to do your children a huge service that will be something that will last them a lifetime and help to carry them upward to heaven, then take a few minutes during the week (it could even be while you are driving them church), but take a few minutes to help them memorize passages from the Scriptures.  Think what a blessing that can bring!  A child who knows the Scriptures can resist temptation better, can know what God desires, can understand what's true and right, and can be a real encouragement to others.  Do any of you remember Bro. Carl Mitchell, who did one of our Gospel meetings here?  He said that his mother used to make him memorize Scriptures.  One of those was Psalm 23.  When his mother was dying the hospital, she said to him, "Son, let's say Psalm 23 together."  He later reflected: "When she taught me those passages the first time, she was teaching me how to live.  At the close of her life, she was teaching me how to die."
 
Now let's hear a few more stories.  In the first, a major league baseball player recalled his boyhood home.  He, his friends, and his father played baseball very often in their backyard.  As a result, the grass had really taken a beating.  It didn't look good anymore, unless you were a child looking for a nice place to play ball.  One day, as the kids and the father were playing and having a great time, the boy's mother leaned out a window and called, "Can't you guys find somewhere else to play?  You're killing the grass."  The man looked at his wife and answered, "Honey, we aren't raising grass; we're raising kids" (Evans from sc.com).  Here's the second story: "In the movie, 'Dead Poets Society,' Neil Perry was a boy from a wealthy family studying in a very exclusive New England prep school. He wanted very much to become an actor.  But his father wanted him to be a medical doctor. The school produced a play in which Neil had the lead role.  His father reluctantly attended.  Neil was the star of the play.  His performance received a standing ovation at the end.  After the play was over, the father took his son home and laid down the law: 'Son, I’m not going to let you waste your life being an actor; I’m going to take you out of this school tomorrow and send you to a military academy.'  That night, tragically, the young man committed suicide.  He couldn’t bear the frustration of being denied his dream [and his] father’s heavy-handed overbearing attitude" (Hickey from sc.com).  Now here's the third story: “[One] teenager growing up really gave [his] parents a lot of grief.  On one particular occasion, [he] had really messed up pretty bad.  Dad called [him] in and told [him] that, in the light of [his] bad behavior, he and mom had decided to ground [him], which meant missing the big high-school Jr.-Sr. Banquet.  [He] said, 'OK, Dad, if that’s the way it is, I guess I’ll just leave home.'  [His] Dad’s response was: 'Well, go if you must, but wait until Saturday.'  It was hard to find something to do to make the time pass.  Saturday morning, [he] went out and got on the tractor and did some plowing in the field across from the road.  As [he] plowed back and forth in front of the house, [he] couldn’t help but see my mother out on the front porch with her broom, sweeping the same spot over and over.  And then [he] noticed that [his] Dad had decided to do some pruning on a tree out back that really didn’t need pruning.  That afternoon, [the son] went out to the barn and began greasing the tractor, just to get out of a very quiet house.  Then [he] looked up and a crack appeared in the barn door.  It was [his] Dad.  He came to [him], put his arm on [his] shoulder and said, ‘I just want you to know son, in every set of circumstances, wherever you go, or whatever you do, I will still be your father, and I will still love you.'  From that day forward, there was never another cross word or misunderstanding between [that boy] and [his] father" (Ibid.).  Children are to obey parents, but fathers are told not to anger or provoke their children.  “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). 
 
Hebrews 12:9-11 states: “Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect.  Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?  For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.  Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Here we read about fathers who corrected and chastened their children.  Here are fathers more concerned about character development than psychological development.  They want their children to be self-controlled rather than being self-conceited.  "Discipline is teaching kids to do good rather than to feel good" (Rigby).  My father had to take a belt to me on occasions.  Guess what those occasions taught me?  It taught me that some of my behaviors were terribly wrong, and I needed to change some behaviors or avoid other one.  It's amazing how just a little pain helped me to remember his instructions.  You see, the ultimate goal of my father's discipline was to help me be more self-disciplined.  Here's a thought: Can you be more abusive sometimes to your children by NOT spanking them than by giving them a little hurtful reminder?
 
For many years, a faithful Christian woman attended church, whether her family came with her or not.  Most of the time they did.  One particular Sunday, a sermon touched her ten-year-old daughter.  It got her to really thinking about her relationship to Jesus and making the decision to be immersed in His name.  She decided to tell her older brother who was 12.  He said it was a good idea, and he'd think about it too.  Then, he proposed to his sister that they do it a church Bible camp, which was coming up soon.  So, they had a plan.  About this time, in walked their 18 year-old sister.  "What were you talking about?"  So, they told her that they were going to make Jesus the Lord of their lives by being baptized sometime during the church camp.  The teenager thought about their decision for several days, and then she told them: "I'd like to join you.  I need to be a Christian.  Let's do it on Sunday evening when the camp opens."  They were all excited and later told their parents during supper.  "Well," said their father, "That's a decision that I've put off for way too long.  Jesus has been very patient with me.  Let's make it a family affair!"  So they did, and there was great rejoicing in that family.  Where did all that begin?  "And a little child shall lead them."  The New Testament's letters show us five actions to practice with our children.  First, help them to obey authority.  Obedience to parental authority is the first step towards submission to all other types of authority--educational, social, and civic.  As adults, we should respect and obey those in authority as well.  Second, involve them in the church.  Bringing your children to church can teach them many positive truths and behaviors.  Third, treat them respectfully.  Don't be overbearing and harsh.  Too much provocation can lead to disaster.  Respect them and express your love to them.  Fourth, teach them the scriptures.  Help them to memorize God's word.  "I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways.  I will delight myself in Your statues; I will not forget Your word" (Psalm 119:15-16).  Fifth, show them right from wrong.  "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Parents, we help to determine if our children will be self-controlled or self-conceited.  Help them obey authority.  Involve them in the church.  Treat them respectfully.  Teach them the scriptures.  Show them right from wrong.  Do you need prayers to be a better, more effective, or courageous parent or grandparent?  Do you need to confess Jesus as God's Son and become His disciple through baptism in His name?  If you want to thrive and be more balanced, come to Jesus and let Him add you to His church.
 
Sources:
Jill Rigby.  Raising Respectful Children In A Disrespectful World NY: Howard
         Books, 2006.
Harold Shank. Children Mean The World To God Nashville: 21st Century
         Christian, 2001.
Catherine Stonehouse & Scottie May Listening To Children on the Spiritual
         Journey Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.