Hearing, Loving, and Embodying God's Commands

Here’s a key truth that the Bible teaches us about being parents. As parents, we are the primary spiritual influences for our children. Our kids will learn more from us than from anyone else in their lives. We aren’t the only spiritual influences in their lives, but we are the primary ones. It’s not okay to “outsource” their spiritual formation to the church or a Christian school. These influences are important, but parents are called to assume the responsibility for teaching their kids about God. God makes this clear in Deuteronomy 6, where he commands parents to lead their children in the worship of the one true God.

 Over the next several posts, I’ll be unpacking what Deuteronomy 6 tells us about family discipleship. But before this passage gets into what it looks like to teach our kids, it first tells us about the kind of disciples we need to be. In Moses’s words, we learn that if the message of the Bible isn’t in you, you have nothing to give your kids. Take a look at verses 4-6:

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.

Family discipleship begins with (1) hearing, (2) loving, and (3) embodying God’s commands. Let’s take a look at each of these responsibilities.

  1. Hear God’s Word. Deuteronomy 6:4 is known as the Shema. “Shema” is the Hebrew word for hear. The words, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” are foundational for the Jewish faith. Jewish worshipers recite the Shema three times each day as part of their devotional lives. There’s no part of a Jewish Sabbath worship service that doesn’t have these words as a part of its proclamation. Because the Shema is foundational for the Jewish faith, it’s also foundational for our New Testament Christian faith.

    The Shema is made of two parts—foundational truths and the resulting obligations.

    The Shema declares the unity and uniqueness of God. He is the only true God, and he is solitary in his purposes and plans. He is God alone. So, when God speaks, no one can contradict. When God promises, no one can revoke. When God warns, no one—except God himself—can provide refuge. Why? Because there is no other god to whom you can turn.

    For this reason, we must give God our full attention. It’s important for every believer to quiet himself and hear every command and testimony God reveals in his Word. We must simply read it, but study it, knowing that we will never mine its depths fully. And we must not only study the word, but also meditate upon it throughout our days, reflecting on what God says and how it can be applied to our lives.

  2. Love Him. Having heard God’s word, God demands that we respond to his revelation with our total being. Husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers are under an obligation to give the fullness of our affections to God. We must love him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all of our might.

    Loving God is the central message of the book of Deuteronomy. The book is one longer sermon that Moses preached to Israel before the people entered the promised land. The message marked a time of covenant renewal for God’s people. In his proclamation, Moses called them to an all-encompassing love that would fuel joyful obedience.

    It’s important to see that God wants you to love him with your whole self. Heart, soul, and might aren’t intended to represent different categories or aspects of your self—such as your intellect, emotions, and physical body. The main idea is that you should give your entire being to God. Not part. All. Your whole self as a totality completely committed to trusting obeying God with noble and pure intentions. We’re to give God every faculty and every capacity (Matthew 22:37–40). We’re to give God both thoughtful reflection and decisive action (Mark 12:28–34). We’re to give God our total obedience and loyalty—the kind of loyalty that overflows in compassion, mercy, and costly sacrifice for our neighbor (Luke 10:25–37).

  3. Embody His Commands. The problem is that we can’t love God this way on our own even though he calls us to do so. We’re unable to love, because of the sin in our hearts. As a result, it was necessary for someone to perfectly obey the Shema on behalf of fallen man. Our sinless and perfectly loving Messiah paid the punishment for our disobedience by sacrificing himself for us. It is only when we see Christ’s perfect love for us that we can receive a new heart and love God fully. Moses wrote later in Deuteronomy that a time was coming when God would circumcise the hearts of his people, enabling them to love him with their whole heart (Deuteronomy 30:6).

    We can only love God and love our kids when we’ve first received God’s love. It’s so important to fill our cups with God’s love each day. Then, we can give our kids what we’ve got.

    Moms and dads, draw near to God by reading your Bible and praying daily. Then, be intentional about sharing what God is teaching you with your kids. Seek God for understanding of his truth—simple enough understanding that you can teach it to your children. Then, draw near to your kids and invite them to hear what you’ve learned. When it seems like you’ve run out of things to say—like you’ve run out of truth and love to give them—run back to God for more. His supply never runs dry. He’s able to make your cup overflow (Psalm 23:5).

When you’ve first drawn near to God, you can come near to your kids with confidence that he can take your little and do even more in them than he’s done in you. Draw near to your kids with hope that your spiritual ceiling will be their spiritual floor.

Three Ways to Show a Child Unconditional Love

I've been reading D. Ross Campbell's classic book on parenting, How to Really Love Your Child. Campbell's premise is that a child needs unconditional love more than anything else. He tells us, "A child is the most needy person in our society, and the greatest need is love." Most parents know this intuitively, but they find it a challenge to convey their love in a way that their child can receive it. 

I've found Campbell's teaching both encouraging and convicting. Here are three ways is gives us to share unconditional love with our children:

A child is the most needy person in our society, and the greatest need is love
— D. Ross Campbell

1. Pleasant Eye Contact. We parents can get into the bad habit of giving pleasant eye contact  only when our children perform well or bring us pride. This can communicate the unintended message that our love is conditioned on the child's performance and not given as a gift of grace. On the other hand, we can also fall into the habit of using eye contact primarily when we want to make a strong, negative point. We have our kids look us "straight in the eye" when we're bringing correction but get distracted and give our eye contact to our phones or the television when the kids are doing well. Campbell says, "Our ways of showing love to a child should not be controlled by our being pleased or displeased. We must show our love consistently, unwaveringly, no matter what the situation... If there is anything we don't have to worry about, it's giving a child too much love." Eye contact is pleasant when it comes with pleasant words and pleasant facial expressions, such as smiling. No matter what is going on, look your kids in the eyes and show them love.

2. Physical Contact. Studies show that most parents touch their children only when necessity demands it such as when helping them dress or buckle into their car seats. In our society, parents are rightly wary of inappropriate physical touch and abuse. But children need the emotional encouragement that comes from physical affection. Campbell writes, "I don't just mean hugging, kissing, and the like. I'm talking more broadly about any type of physical contact." As boys grow, they need wrestling, jostling, back-slapping, playful boxing, bear hugs, and high fives. As girls grow, a father may feel uncomfortable giving his daughter the affection she needs, especially when she becomes a preadolescent (about ten or eleven years old). But that's when daughters need affection most. Campbell tells us, "Fathers, we must ignore our discomfort and give our daughters what is vital to them for their entire lives." A girl gets her feminine identity primarily from her father. Dads help their daughters grow in security by showing them appropriate physical affection.

3. Focused Attention. Finally, we show unconditional love to our children through focused attention. Campbell reminds us, "It's not possible for you to take care of every obligation in your life as you would like it to be done." We know this to be true, and yet we let seemingly urgent things like texts, tweets, and phone calls to rule our time. I can find myself answering them during family dinner or while helping my daughter with her homework. But communicating unconditional love to our children requires showing them they are a priority. Consider the high regard Jesus gave to kids. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Mark 10:13-16). To show our children they matter, we must make give them our time--and make each individual child a priority. In families who have two or more children, that can be particularly difficult. Campbell described how intentional planning can pay off: "For example, on a particular day (say next Friday) one child may be invited to a party, another may be at a relative's, leaving one child free. A carful parent whose children take priority would consider this a golden opportunity to give focused attention to that child." 

Have you thought intentionally about these three ways of showing your children love?