“… thy children like olive plants round about thy table.” Psalm 128:3b
As Reformed believers, we know how tremendously significant the institution of the family is in the church and kingdom of God. We know and believe that God, from the beginning to the end of time, is pleased to continue His covenant from generation to generation with believers and their children. The faithful church will continue, by the grace of God, in the way of each succeeding generation fulfilling its covenant obligation to raise up a godly seed.
From the time of the Fall of our first parents into sin under the instigation of the devil the institution of the family has been under attack. Today we witness increasing immorality, the multitude of broken homes, and the often despised, destitute, and delinquent children brought forth by the world of the ungodly. We also realize that we are not immune from these attacks on the family.
In Psalm 128 we see the blessedness of family life lived in the fear of the Lord. That is the key, the crucial thing—the fear of the Lord! “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord.” (v. 1). It is not by having a larger income, not by having a wife who can feel “fulfilled” with a career outside the home, not by avoiding having children so that your lifestyle is not hindered from making you happy. It is fearing Jehovah, walking in His ways, that brings real happiness and true blessedness.
And in the fear of the Lord there is the rich blessing of having a wife and children. This is not to say that the blessing of God is not upon the house of the godly couple who have been given no children, or upon the house of those saints whom the Lord leads in the way of single life. These also have their vital place and calling in the fellowship of the church. But the general rule is that God gives unto husband and wife children, children who must be brought up in the fear of His name. We are called to nurture the olive plants that God has placed around our tables.
Olive plants are young, vulnerable plants, small saplings that in time become olive trees. We desire that our children be straight, healthy, and strong, sucking in the sap of their godly upbringing and education. Ultimately, our covenant children are God’s; they are His olive plants. That is the seriousness of our calling to nurture them. That is what Jehovah Himself says about the children of His covenant people in Ezekiel 16:20, 21. Rebuking Jerusalem for their enormous wickedness of sacrificing their children to idols, God says, “Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and daughters, whom thou has borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, that thou hast slain my children?”
God’s olive plants must be nurtured, that is, spiritually fed, nourished, trained up, and cultivated. Because the children are God’s, they must be brought up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). They must be “piously and religiously educated,” according to our Baptism Form. God’s children must be brought up in the fear of the Lord; they must be led in His ways. This instruction is essential, for God uses it to train up His olive plants to godliness, to spiritual maturity as olive trees.
This required instruction includes all of the education and schooling our children receive. That is plain from all the commands of God to teach our children. Those commands are all-embracing and all-comprehensive. We may not exclude any part of our children’s education from that. God’s claim on our children, His olive plants, is total! If anything, God claims their minds. We are to nurture them so that they love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. After all, the life of the child is one life, a unity. And that one life is to be nurtured by the Word of God. Scripture must be the basis, content, and rule of all the instruction, not only of a certain spiritual part involving the church.
This instruction is ultimately the responsibility of parents. Extended family, friends, and fellow saints of the covenant will support the work. Godly teachers will assist us. But the parents have the calling: “And ye fathers, bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). The establishment and maintenance of a good Christian school honors this reality. It is an extension of the covenant home. It is parental; the teachers stand in the place of the parents. But the home is basic, fundamental to all the nurturing of God’s olive plants. The Christian school cannot rise higher than the homes of the students. That means that we must do all within our power to make our homes what they should be.
We must work diligently so that we have good, strong marriages. A loving relationship between husband and wife contributes much to the nurturing of children. Then the whole atmosphere of the home is one of trust, understanding, and caring for one another. When father and mother sincerely pray and zealously strive to conform their lives to God’s Word, the children learn to do this. By word and example, the tender souls of God’s olive plants are nurtured. This includes carefully defining our roles and responsibilities as God wants us to do this. God instructs the husband to be the loving head of his wife and the wife to lovingly honor and submit unto her husband. We see this from Psalm 128, where the Lord’s blessing is upon the man that fears the Lord, and his wife is as a fruitful vine by the sides of his house.
We must endeavor to create a spiritual environment in our homes. That is more than merely setting aside a brief time for spiritual, religious activities such as our meal-time devotions. On the one hand, I would emphasize how vital it is that we have regular, edifying family devotions. After all, our children are to be “like olive plants round about thy table.” That family fellowship with each other and with the Lord is at the heart of family life! Reading and discussing Scripture, singing, praying together as a family every day is a necessity. We may not let social media, sports, work, socializing with friends, or other activities destroy the family altar around the table!
Yet, on the other hand, a spiritual environment includes our awareness that actions speak louder than words to our children. We must in all of our life be God-fearing if we expect our children to be. We then strive to provide both positive and negative motivation to our children. All of Scripture emphasizes that true love is manifest in admonition, chastening, and discipline. Undisciplined children grow up to be lawless, evil characters—think of the example of Eli’s sons. So we must discipline properly. We must evaluate our discipline. Does it hurt us more than the child? If not, we may be guilty of venting our frustration or anger on the child. Do we discipline our children so that they feel the displeasure of God more than ours? And are they aware of this because we lovingly explain it to them?
But there is also the positive side—edifying words of encouragement sometimes avoid the sorry consequences of sin. Olive plants need much TLC—tender, loving care! It always seems easier to criticize than to encourage. Positive reinforcement is assuring them that when they do right and well, God approves and His grace is magnified.
Finally, in the process of nurturing God’s olive plants we must strive to be consistent. Paul warns fathers, “Provoke not your children to wrath” (Eph. 6:4). We easily do this when we punish our children according to our moods, sometimes more severely than they deserve, sometimes not at all when they should be. We must be consistent in passing on proper spiritual values to our children: reverence for the Word of God, love for God and our neighbor, honor for the law of God in every area of life, and striving to do all things to the glory of God.
The danger is great that we forget or ignore the principle of the fundamental importance of the home in the nurturing of God’s olive plants. If that is the case, we think of the nurturing of our children as something that automatically happens to them as they enter the Christian school building. Perhaps we tend to think this is roughly comparable to the manufacture of vehicles in a factory. We insert a child into the process at age five; certain fixed operations are performed upon him at various stations along the way. And after thirteen years or so he emerges fully educated and equipped to enter the real world. If the result is unsatisfactory, we can complain about the decline of quality control. However, we know that in the nurturing of God’s olive plants there are no recalls and no refunds.
But in this way of thinking of the education of our children we make a serious mistake. A car is manufactured entirely in a factory, but learning takes place in many different places—home, church, school, at work, and wherever else a person is. In addition, there is a point at which the process is finished and the car rolls off the assembly line, but education continues throughout a person’s lifetime. With a car, the factory does the whole operation, but the Christian school is only a part of the process of nurturing our children. And, we forget that we may be letting the world educate our children, maybe for several hours a day, by means of the Internet, social media, or television. Perhaps we have allowed our children to associate with improper, unbelieving friends. We must remember that the school provides only a small part of the total nurturing, however important that part may be.
Another great danger involved in this nurturing of God’s olive plants is that we develop an increasing acceptance and tolerance of sin. On the one hand, we can easily become insensitive to sin. The Internet, social media, and television display with approval and laughter the corruption and rebellion of the world of sin. Constant exposure to sin makes us increasingly insensitive to it. After a while, sin is no longer seen to be very sinful. And on the other hand, we sometimes seem to find it easy to make and accept explanations (really excuses) for sin. Evil speech, cruelty to others, disobedience, disrespect for authority—such things can be excused with a shrug of the shoulders and a comment that “It’s only natural for a girl to try to get approval from her peers,” or “Boys just naturally act that way.” We console ourselves in the thought that, after all, everybody does it. We must increase our sensitivity to sin—in our homes, at school, in all of life. We must avoid exposure to it and learn to react against it when we do encounter it. We must treat it as the grievous evil it is, also by the proper discipline of God’s olive plants.
Nurturing God’s olive plants is no easy task, not in our homes nor in our Christian schools, which are again opening their doors for another school year. Maintaining a good Christian school is costly and difficult work.
There are struggles, problems, and disappointments. Parents, teachers, board members, and the whole covenant community need to be encouraged.
We certainly may be encouraged by the Lord’s blessing upon our feeble efforts. Deuteronomy 6 assures us that God’s olive plants learn to know Him and love Him. Psalm 78 confirms that they will set their hope in God and not forget the works of God but keep His commandments. The concluding verses of Psalm 128 encourage us greatly: “The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.”
God does truly bless the nurturing of His olive plants by giving us, according to His will, young men and young women who hold high in confession and walk the glorious banner of our Lord Jesus Christ. By God’s grace they will carry on after us the cause of God and His truth in the midst of this world. May that assurance of His blessing encourage and inspire us unto renewed zeal in carrying out the vital task of nurturing God’s olive plants!