Ask the average parent in God's Church to define his most important role in child rearing, and he will probably quote Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." No one can doubt the power, force and gravity of this scripture. To bring up our children to fear and reverence God is the greatest responsibility we've been given as parents. Yet, did you realize that our role reaches far beyond our immediate family, beyond the meaning and scope of the verse just quoted? There are other scriptures that teach us that we also are to be concerned with the development and education of future generations.
Through the family
The reason is simple. God wants His truth perpetuated for all times. And the way He has chosen is through the family system He has set in motion. Therefore, it's incumbent on us, as parents, not only to "train up our children in the way they should go" (that is, to instill in them godly values and virtues, attitudes and habits, outlooks and insights), but also to be involved in the education of our grandchildren and even their posterity. Thus, if each succeeding generation would follow this divine precept, God's truth would never vanish from the earth. In reading through the Bible, I've been amazed to see how much emphasis God places on the generation-to-generation concept of child rearing. For example, notice how God praised Abraham for his determination to teach the true values to his children and those after him: "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment..." (Genesis 18:19). Notice further the command God gave through Moses: "Only take heed to yourself, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; but, teach them your sons, and your son's sons; specially the day that you stood before the Lord your God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children" (Deuteronomy 4:9-10, paraphrased).
The reason is simple. God wants His truth perpetuated for all times. And the way He has chosen is through the family system He has set in motion.
In speaking of dire prophetic events that were to befall Israel, the prophet Joel commanded, "Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation" (Joel 1:3). Clearly, God has given His people the charge to hold inviolate His truth down through the ages by teaching it to succeeding generations. This profound duty cannot be fulfilled through an occasional hit-or-miss, halfhearted effort. It must be done diligently and consistently with each passing day. "And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart: and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, Revised Standard Version). It is only through consistent teaching of our children that the everlasting truths of God are engraved in their hearts and minds. His promise to us, then, is that "they will never depart from it." What follows as a natural consequence is that they will pass this knowledge on to their children. No doubt you've seen evidence of this principle working in your own life. The qualities that your parents drilled into your mind you have inherently instilled into your children's.
Future generations blessed
Besides preserving God's truth, this approach to child rearing also produces another great benefit. Just as the wrong teaching, improper habits and example of the older generation will bring retribution, "even unto the third and fourth generation" (Exodus 20:5), so it is that right teaching will bring blessings for generations to come! "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and his righteousness unto children's children ..." (Psalm 103:17). What values should we teach our children? I believe the place to begin is with the meaning and magnification of the two great commands — love to God and love to neighbor. The apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6:4, "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." There is no greater knowledge you can bequeath to your children than teaching them how to love and obey God. This means introducing God's Word, His law and His way in a positive manner so that they come to have a proper concept of what He really is. It takes meditation, prayer and an active imagination to do this effectively. And, of course, we should never minimize the power and force of a model example. We should teach our children how to love neighbor as self by practicing the Golden Rule. One of the most vital laws of success is learning how to interact with others and to express a heartfelt concern for their feelings and welfare. Our children should be taught that making friends and maintaining good human relations is largely a matter of thinking of others first. The standard values, such as honesty, integrity, hard work, morality, mercy, patience, will automatically follow when we have put love for God and neighbor first.
A preoccupation with self
In our society we see an attitude that seems to care little about the state of future generations. The emphasis is on "me" not "we." Present-day problems of world pollution, overpopulation, fiscal irresponsibility, a giant vortex of credit spending and attendant inflation, the creation of planet-destroying weapons and technology, are the result of past generations thinking mostly about themselves and their needs. Today, in political circles we see the same preoccupation with self and an overt lack of concern for the long-term effect our actions will have. "Let future generations worry about solving the messes we are making," seems to be the "ho-hum" approach many of our leaders are taking. In our mad rush to get for ourselves, the time-tested qualities of love and concern for neighbor are not only ignored — they are deliberately scoffed at and rebuffed. When Christ returns to set up His Kingdom in the world tomorrow, one of His primary goals will be to restore the generation-to-generation method of education and instruction to the family. Beginning with the first generation at His return, He will spread and perpetuate the knowledge of His truth and quality lifestyle throughout the world until "... the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). It is this generation-to-generation system of teaching that will finally help mold the hearts and the minds of people throughout the millennium into a God-fearing, self-disciplined society of culture and achievement. We as parents today have a profound calling resting on our shoulders. Not only have we been called to help our leaders carry the Gospel to the world, but also to prepare a generation of God-fearing sons and daughters to physically assist Christ as human leaders in ushering in His coming Kingdom. As Malachi 4:5-6 states, one of the functions of Elijah the prophet is to "... turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..." These verses summarize what we collectively as God's Church should be doing — returning to the type of family relationships God ordained from the beginning.