“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 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.”
As an unregenerate kid with a reputation for fighting, I thought the best use of an oxymoron was my parents’ comment that they disciplined me out of “love.” Before I would head off to serve my next sentence, I nodded in disbelieving agreement to my parents’ statement. But I didn’t particularly find long timeouts, T.V. restrictions, or summer school to be all that loving. I much preferred ice cream, video games, and full summer baseball schedule.
All About Love
The Shema, or Deuteronomy 6:4-9, is perhaps one of the most well-known parenting passages in the Bible, popping up in almost every Christian book on parenting. And as you read the passage, you notice that it is all about love. Moses commands his listeners sitting the banks of the Jordan to love the Lord, their God. Moses states that one the truest expressions of a person’s love for God is to tell their offspring about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It would appear that on face value this passage is all about the positives. Love God and things will go well for you! The sentiment of “All I need is love” appears to be the key to Biblical parenting. Perhaps, my parents would have been better served to combat my sin with a trip to Baskin Robins centered on a brief talk about how much God loves me.
And it’s true; we and (our children) should find God attractive because he is a loving and good God whose character is where, “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet” (Ps 85:10a). Indeed those who dwell with the Lord are never disappointed and have everything they need. But for our children to appreciate the goodness of God, they must first understand how bad their sin is. If they have done nothing wrong, they don’t need a savior or to exclusively follow God.
Why Talk About Sin
Though all about the positives, Moses does reminds his listeners of their need for God. Before he tells them to love the Lord their God in chapter 6, he spends large portions of the first five chapters reminding the nation of Israel of its depravity, of God’s law, and of God’s judgment upon those who break his law. In Deuteronomy 1:26-32, Moses tells the people not to follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents. This older generation saw the fortified cities and the giants dotting the Promise Land and immediately doubted the integrity of God’s promises. They did not believe the word of the Lord. And God punished them with death. Some died when they attempted to fulfill God’s promises by launching an unauthorized attack into the Promise Land. The others died a slow death wandering around the wilderness (2:16). All those who disbelieved God died. And Moses warns that in the future, all those who try live without God, “will be utterly destroyed” (4:26b).
From Sin to Love
Friends, we and our families are just like the people of Israel. We need to be reminded of our sin and of our need to constantly trust Christ. When my parents disciplined me, it was an act of faithfulness. They helped me understand as Matt Chandler helpfully notes, “The bad news of the gospel still applies to everyone” (p. 25).The hours spent in summer school or in timeouts reinforced the truth that my life was separated from God. And, the constant drum of punishments also helped me to see that I could never be good on my own. I tried, I tried every so hard to be good. But like the Israelites, I always failed. As the apostle Paul says in I Timothy the law was given, “for the lawless and disobedient” so that they would believe (1:8-11).
The cure for kids who feel burdened by sin is not to ignore the topic (they feel the burden anyway, even if they aren’t talking about it) but to administer large doses of the good news so that their trust in Jesus grows (Klumpenhower, 2014, p. 39).
My parents’ discipline of me was not an oxymoron. They truly did love me! As Tedd Tripp writes,
The rod is an act of faithfulness toward a child. Recognizing that in discipline there is hope, and refusing to be a willing party to his child’s death, the parent undertakes this task (p. 105).
My parents punished my little unsaved soul because they hoped God would use the reality of the law to draw me to Christ. Let’s point our children to the love Christ by showing them they need a Redeemer.
Chandler, M., & Snetzer, M. (2014). Recovering Redemption: A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change. Nashville: B&H Publishing .
Klumpenhower, J. (2014). Show Them Jesus: Teaching The Gospel to Kids. Greensboro: New Growth Press.
Tripp, T. (2005). Shepherding A Child’s Heart. Wapwallopen : Shepard Press .