Rev. Stephan Regnerus, pastor of Hull PRC in Hull, Iowa

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Deuteronomy 6:6, 7

School is starting again! For some, the thought of children returning to school is a welcome thought; for others, especially for students who delighted in the freedoms of summer break, the thought of the classroom brings a measure of disappointment. But regardless of whether one rejoices or is disappointed, the start of the school year provides a good opportunity for us to examine the biblical mandate to teach the children of the church.

The teacher

We begin by considering the idea of the teacher. In Old Testament Israel, who was the teacher? And who is the teacher in the Christian school today? This is a matter that we as parents consider with carefulness. School boards are selective about whom they hire; parents do not want unqualified instructors teaching their children. The text describes for us the teacher.

The teacher was an Israelite who had God’s Word in his or her heart. God addressed Israel with the commandment: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently.” The Israelites were a special people. Out of all the people on the earth, the Israelites were privileged to have a relationship with Jehovah. They knew God and they loved God. They knew Him through His mighty deeds. They knew Him in Egypt when He preserved them from Pharaoh’s oppression and made them a mighty nation. They knew Him when He brought them out of Egypt, when He delivered them through the Red Sea, and when He gave them water from the rock and manna from heaven.

It was to this covenant nation that God commanded: teach. They had a corporate responsibility to instruct the generation following. As it was in Israel, so the calling remains in the covenant church. God calls all confessing members of His church to teach. Some are called to teach in an official capacity: in Sunday school, in the Christian day school, or as ministers or elders in the church. Others teach in an unofficial capacity, in their examples of godliness and humility, while living as servants of the King. Many support teaching by serving on the school board or by giving generously to the cause of Christian education. But no Christian is exempt from the command: teach.

The text becomes more specific in describing the teacher. The teacher, according to this text, was the Israelite parent. Moses addressed parents with the words “and thou shalt teach…thy children.” Parents were to teach the children in the home, when they put the child to bed, and when the child would arise the next morning. So the calling is to this day: the covenant parent is a teacher. Certainly, the parent is not the only teacher the child will have, for the child will have many teachers throughout his life. But you who are the parents are the primary instructors of the child. What a wonderful position God has given to the Christian parent! God chose you—with all of your weaknesses and all of your strengths—and He set you to be the primary earthly teacher of His covenant child.

To you, the parent, is given the duty to teach the commandments of the Lord. You are called to take God’s commandments, which He has given to you in love, and pass them to the generation following. What a tremendous responsibility is given you; who is sufficient? And what a glorious task is yours! There is a special work performed in the Christian home and the Christian school. The world scoffs at the labor of the mother in the home and will even try to deter her from being able to teach her children. But it is a work that the Lord blesses. God uses the truth as taught by the parent in powerful ways. He uses it for the good of the child and the parent alike, as they are brought to know their Savior Jesus Christ through the truths of God’s Word.

The parent must learn to view himself in this way: “I am a teacher.” Though the parent may have received no formal training in education, and though the parent might be intimidated at the thought of teaching, yet the reality remains that God has set the parent in this position. Receive this calling of God with the confidence that He who calls will also qualify. You are qualified to teach, for God’s Word has been given you and, by the Spirit of Christ, His Word dwells in your heart.

The duty

The duty that God gave to Israel, and that He gives to the covenant parent today, is teach. Teach diligently. Teach in the home. Teach when you are by the way.

The word teach is a rich, figurative word. The figure is of a whetstone that would be used to sharpen the edge of a chisel. The woodworker would take the dull chisel, which had become ineffective and even dangerous because of its blunt edge, and he would repeatedly file the leading edge of the chisel against the whetstone, and by that repeated action form a sharp point. The chisel, once razor sharp, would then return to service in the hands of the laborer.

There are several points of comparison between sharpening a chisel and teaching your children. First, just as the dull chisel is ineffective in woodworking, so the child unlearned in the commandments of the Lord will be ineffective. The sense in which the child will be ineffective is this: the unlearned child will not know how to use the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of the Lord. The child who does not know God’s commandments will be ineffectual in fighting against the threefold enemy. The child must be taught how to resist the temptations of the devil, and he is taught by the Word.

Second, the figure of a whetstone teaches us about the method of instruction. Just as the woodworker sharpens the chisel by repetitive motion, going back and forth over the same spot until the desired sharpness is achieved, so the parent teaches the child by repetitive motion, reviewing the same truth repeatedly until the desired comprehension is achieved. At times the work of teaching seems monotonous, tedious, and even ineffective. The parent can become frustrated after reviewing a particular truth many, many times, with a child. The parent might then be tempted to give up or find alternative methods of instruction. But let the parent recall that this method of repetitive instruction is the wisdom of God. Let us not despise the day of small things.

Third, the figure of the sharpening on the whetstone teaches us about the goal of instruction. Just as the objective of chisel sharpening is so that the tool may be useful in service, so the goal of teaching the child is so that he may be useful in service of the Lord. The objective of parenting is not to raise rich, influential, or respected children; but the goal is to raise a child who lives to the glory of God’s name.

How demanding is this work of “sharpening the chisel”! This is an all-consuming activity. We are called to teach our children everywhere and in every instance. The command of the text is: “And thou shalt talk of [the Lord’s commands] when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” When the Old Testament family was sitting in chairs, perhaps around the table for a meal, then the duty of father and mother was to teach. Adequate time would be given to mealtime so that godly instruction could be given. When they “walked by the way,” the teaching continued. When father took his son out of the camp to retrieve manna, let him teach! When the mother walked with her daughter to get water from the rock, let her teach! And then, “when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Here the text contrasts the evening with morning. The final moments with the child at the close of the day were to be didactic; teach the child to trust the Lord who never slumbers and sleeps. And then, when the sun would rise in the eastern sky, before the parents were caught up in the business of the day, let mom and dad talk to their children of the Lord, whose mercies are new every morning.

In all seasons of life we are to be teachers. When things are going well for us; when God blesses us with health and strength, financial stability, and peace in the home and the church, then let us teach. Speak of Jehovah’s goodness. Instruct about the Lord who gives food to all flesh. Tell of the wonderful deeds that God has done and continues to do for His church. Teach of His redemptive love and the sacrifice of His Son.

But then too, when things are not going well, teach. When health and strength are removed, when there is financial uncertainty, when there is trouble in the home or in the church, teach. When the heavy hand of the Lord is felt upon us, let us teach by our example of patient endurance. It is especially during times of trial that we must be a faithful teacher, for it is at those moments that the senses of the child are heightened and they are especially receptive to instruction from mother and father. Children will recall into adulthood how mom and dad responded to difficulties in life. Teach of God’s providence, which permits nothing to happen by chance or accident. Teach to walk by faith and not by sight. Teach that we are pilgrims and strangers who seek a heavenly home. Teach of Jesus, who sits at God’s right hand, and who directs all things for the salvation of His people.