Teaching Our Children to Contend for God’s Truth
I remember playing a game called Telephone in grade school. A whispered secret met my ear as I strained to hear the message. At the end of the game, I remember feeling surprised and confused that what I had heard along the telephone line, was in fact… not the original message. I had received words secondhand and somehow, the words passed on were skewed, and in some rounds, lost entirely.
Secondhand information permeates every sphere of our lives and if we aren’t careful, we will make decisions based on faulty information. Our children will learn from us to do the same.
When I was in grade school, I learned about the Bible through songs and stories. I learned that the B.I.B.L.E. is the book for me and all I had to do was hide it in my heart. The things I learned as a child were foundational, but as I grew, I found my spiritual structure was scantily built, wavering with wind and storm. My teen years did not yield much spiritual maturity as the truth that I “hid in my heart” was hard to access, like buried treasure without a map. But other “truths” that culture provided were easy to find and the map to their treasures ruled my decisions and emotions.
It wasn’t until college that I encountered God in a way that forever changed my life. I joined a Bible study group my freshman year and we went through the book of John. The study provided space to ask questions of the text and challenged us to align our daily choices with the truth that we read. My experience with the Bible in this way allowed me to discover the truth about God’s character, values, ways and promises. I began to take down the walls that were constructed of faulty bricks- false secondhand ideas about God’s character. During this season of my life I began to pursue God through his own Words, and to understand the gift and the cost of the Scriptures in my hands.
As a parent, one of my top priorities is to teach a love of the Scriptures to my children because the Bible is living and active (Heb 4:12), fully relevant to us today and tomorrow. The accessibility to Scripture we have now is a privilege that was secured through great efforts by our founding church fathers. For most of history men and women have had little or no access to the truth of the Scriptures without it first being sifted through the hands of men.
In 1378 John Wycliffe wrote The Truth of Holy Scripture. His message challenged the Catholic church in England, which at that time wielded power equal to kings, using its authority to keep God’s Word inaccessible to the masses. Wycliffe pushed against the church’s control over Scripture and devoted his life to a movement to make God’s Word available to all people.
This Holy Book is one we must treasure ourselves and then help our children to do the same. We show them how to seek God and his truth, and to measure secondhand information with the standards the Bible provides.
I have a shelf in my bookcase full of copies of the Holy Scriptures. A couple are covered with soft leather with intricately gilded pages. One has larger print for easy reading, and a few are “pocket” size for convenience. Truth so accessible to me, but lifeless if left sitting on a shelf.
While our shelves collect dust, we go to our own “authorities” for truth. Our modern guides are the podcast, book, pastor, or friend. Our children also find truth through platforms like social media, from schoolmates or teachers and through the entertainment industry. These sources are not inherently wrong, but we mistake them for authorities, and we can be misled nonetheless.
We need to teach our kids to check secondhand information with the author of Truth instead of playing life like a telephone game. When we sit in the pews of our culture, we are to be watchful so that man’s words do not have dominion over God’s. We must cultivate an ear to hear God’s words, and show our children how to do the same.
A pursuit for truth firsthand does not mean that we are bound to the pages of the Bible in solitude. In Acts chapter 8 we read of a eunuch from Ethiopia who meets Phillip, an evangelist and disciple of Jesus:
“Philip ran to him (the Ethiopian) and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture, he told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:30-31, 35)
Phillip guided this Ethiopian to an understanding of who God was using the Scriptures. He began with the Scriptures, with the source of truth. When this Ethiopian held the scroll, he held a parchment of great monetary worth. But without understanding, it was worthless to him.
When we merely hold God’s Word, or stash copies of them on our shelves, we aren’t tapping into the riches God has for us. The moment we accept God’s free gift of salvation, God sends his own Spirit to live in us. The Holy Spirit helps us understand the Scriptures. We, like this Ethiopian, can encounter truth firsthand. We too can flourish from the giftings of others. This is what we have the privilege to teach our children.
It is a wonderful thing to open the Scriptures and learn about God with friends, in a church, and as a family. We can challenge each other to value God’s truth more than the idea of truth. We can encourage each other to pursue what God says over what just appears to be true. We can contend together for what is sincere over what only appears real. We can caution each other to evaluate truth based on God’s Word instead of emotion or familiarity. And with a community, we won’t be alone when the whispered secrets that meet our ears have life and death significance.
We have access to truth as we disciple our children. What will we do with it?