How can you give your kids the biblical foundation they need to help them resist Satan, self, and the sinful pulls of modern society as they get older? Follow these principles to make a real difference in their lives with biblical instruction.
From the moment they are born, our children become one of the most important parts of our life. We delight in watching them grow, change, and become the best people that they can be—but we also feel the weight of responsibility for our part in helping them become those people. God has designed this natural and necessary sense of parental responsibility to establish a legacy of learning from one generation to the next.
In Deuteronomy 6, God instructed the Israelites to pass His commands on to the next generation. He said, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (v. 7). So, we have a mandate to teach our children the Bible’s timeless truths—to make this book familiar to them. While this may be a simple goal, in actual practice it can seem overwhelming. How should I teach the Bible to my three-year-old? How should I teach it to my seven-year-old? How do I keep my twelve-year-old child interested in the Bible when he prefers playing video games?
Here are some suggestions.
As we prepare for our first little student, we may get quite excited about the myriad of children’s Bible helps that are available in all shapes, sizes, and approaches. There are books that tell biblical stories in simplified form with pictures that grab a child’s attention. Cartoons depict biblical characters as superheroes and talking vegetables. Board games can take a child on a journey through biblical principles.
But while these are not necessarily wrong to use to supplement our teaching, they should not replace the actual reading of the Bible, through which children can learn the emphasis, phrasing, and word flow of its passages. A good modern translation is not overly complex—for example, the New King James Version, our standard translation at Tomorrow’s World, is simple, concise, and clear.
How do we adapt our teaching to a child’s age? The answer requires judgment on our part. Reading the Bible to very small children may involve selecting stories to which they can relate. We may explain words to them or ask them questions to help them with comprehension, but we must always gauge what is appropriate for them according to their age and understanding. As they grow older, their ability to understand vocabulary, situations, and concepts will broaden. In fact, how well we know our children is key to adding other elements to enrich our Bible teaching. For example, as a child matures, a parent can selectively add context—showing places on a map, explaining some of the history behind what is being read, or explaining unfamiliar words and concepts. Sometimes situations from the child’s own life provide opportunities for parents to illustrate biblical principles and instructions.
Very young children soak up everything they hear, but as they develop, their brains become more geared toward asking questions and making connections. Recognizing and engaging this proclivity helps to keep them interested. Don’t forget to ask children to participate in reading the Bible aloud when their reading skills reach the point where this is practical—this increases their engagement and helps them practice their reading and increase their comprehension.
What about other biblical resources? For children, activities based on biblical passages can be fun and bring details to life. For example, creating a life-sized cutout of Goliath makes a real impression on a young mind, and coloring pictures of Noah and the ark, Moses and the Red Sea, or Elijah being taken up into the sky cements the biblical narrative. There are many games and activities that can enhance the learning experience.
While it’s good to implement tips, tools, and techniques, let’s not forget why we are reading the Bible to our children in the first place: to “Train up a child in the way he should go,” so that “when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
In other words, our objective is not to train our children to just repeat what they have learned. Memorizing the Bible would be a remarkable feat—but is that what we need to teach our children? No. Our goal is to teach them the right way to act, feel, and think. If we can teach them the principles of God and help them apply these principles in daily life, we are not only giving them a map, but also showing them how to follow it on life’s road. What is the key to successfully accomplishing this purpose? Following that map ourselves.
You see, all the Bible reading and game playing we do will only create cynical children if they don’t see us applying what we teach. Children are quick to spot hypocrisy and where we fall short. When we read to them about Moses’ angry outburst and God’s disapproval, do we think they won’t remember that when we lose our temper with them, with our spouse, or with others? When we teach them to “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2), but constantly draw attention to ourselves, can we somehow think that they won’t see hypocrisy?
What about how we talk of other people? Throughout the Bible, gossip is roundly condemned—and we can hardly avoid the scriptures emphasizing this. How do we exemplify this principle in their eyes? Moreover, how honest are we? How lovingly do we treat our spouse? Do we take God’s name in vain? Do we keep the Sabbath holy? The challenge with reading the Bible to our children is that as they come to believe what we are teaching them, they will come to measure us by our words of training. Little eyes ultimately see us, for better or worse, as we really are. Teaching our children can actually help us to become, ourselves, the best that we can be.
Parental example can and should be a good thing—even one parent’s good example can reinforce the words of the Bible in a powerful way. When the Apostle Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, he highlighted the profound faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother, which left deep impressions on the young man even though his father was evidently not a believer (2 Timothy 1:5).
By getting into the habit of reading the Bible to our children, we lay a groundwork of familiarity with the invaluable principles that will help them become truly successful. As we both encourage and correct our children, and do so without hypocrisy, our words will echo the words that come from our Father, who continually trains us in the way that we should go—and, through us, trains them.