“In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?’ tell him: ‘We were slaves of Pharoah in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.’” (Deuteronomy 6:20-21)
If you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, what will be the impact on your family? If I extend myself in serving the Lord, will it hurt my children?
This is a very real question for many parents and grandparents. You love the Lord and you want to serve Him. You want your life to count for Him, but you also have a family. You feel a tension between these two things.
You love your children and you want to be a good mother, a good father. What does it look like to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and strength, when you are married, and when you have children?
It is very significant that when Moses says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (6:5), he immediately goes on to describe the impact on the family. Far from destroying your family, I want you to see from the Scripture today that if you choose to love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength, your family will be blessed.
The best way to serve your family, the best way to love your family is to live for the Lord. Indeed, any other choice will be destructive to the people you love. Here’s the principle: Love the Lord first, and the family will be blessed. Love the family first, and the family will suffer. I want you to see how this works out in practice.
The great irony of putting family first
Moses is speaking to a new generation of God’s people on the verge of the Promised Land. Forty years earlier God had called their parents to step forward and enter the land. You remember the story: They sent out spies, and the spies reported, “It is a good land, but there are giants there, and the cities are massively fortified.” When these parents heard the report and turned back, they wandered in the desert for the next 40 years.
Why did they make this decision? Why did they refuse to go up into Canaan? There must have been many factors, but we get a fascinating insight into what they were thinking, “The little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children… will enter the land” (1:39).
You see what was happening: The spies came back and said, “There are giants in the land.” And the parents said, “This is far too great a risk. We have little children. We have to think about what’s best for them. If we go into the land, our children could be taken captive.” That is what they said. I understand that. Don’t you?
“The risk is too great. We can’t do what God says, we have little children.” They put the children first. And what was the result? The children they tried to protect spent the largest part of their lives wandering in a desert.
Here is the great irony: If the parents had put the Lord before the children, the children would have been raised in a land flowing with milk and honey. But because the parents put the children before the Lord the children spent the largest parts of their lives wandering in the desert.
The parents put the children first, and it was devastating for the children. Yes, if they had gone into the land, some families would have lost their sons and their daughters. Obedience always has a cost. But by putting the children first, these parents did themselves and their children a great disservice.
Don’t Live For Your Spouse or Your Family
Putting your children first is the worst thing you can do for your children. The best way to serve your family is to love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. The same is true of marriage.
Marriage: Who holds first place?
Think about this. It is so different than the culture around us. Wives, don’t desire to be first in your husband’s life. Desire that Christ will be first in your husband’s life.
If he loves Christ with all his heart and soul and strength, he will love you well, even when you are most unlovable. If you are first in his life, then you have taken the place of God. Taking the place of God is a burden that you cannot bear. You can only fail, and you can only disappoint if you are there.
Husbands, by all means, buy a card for your wife that says, “I love you.” But don’t buy a card that says, “I live for you.” You will find many cards that say something like this out there. That’s idolatry.
If you live for your wife or live for your husband, you make yourself an idolater, and you place on your spouse a burden that they cannot possibly sustain. That is not love. That is destroying the very thing that God is seeking to build. Only God can be God to you. Your spouse does not have that capacity.
Children: How much do you love them?
The same principle holds true for children: The first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me,” and that includes your children. That is why our Lord said, “Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”(Matthew 10:37). People read that and say, “How could He say such a thing?” When Jesus said this, He was simply applying the first commandment.
If you let your children take first place in your heart and first place in your life, and have first claim on your money, you have made them an idol. If you make them an idol, what are you teaching them to do? You are teaching them to worship themselves.
When Satan came into the garden, he said, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5), and paradise was lost. When the Lord came down on the mountain, He said, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Deuteronomy 5:7), and the Promised Land was gained.
Don’t life for your spouse or for your family. Then you can say with the apostle Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Align Your Life Around One Consuming Passion For the Lord
Forty years later, the little ones whose parents tried to protect them from the risk of full obedience, are now mature adults in middle life. Their parents had put them first. They had suffered as a result.
You must choose how you will live
Now Moses brings this new generation to the verge of the Promised Land. Picture this in your mind: The little ones have become parents. Now they have children of their own. There are still giants in the land. The cities are still fortified. God is calling the next generation to enter the Promised Land. This new generation knows it will be costly.
Moses says to them: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Your parents didn’t do that! They had a faith, but no mission. They put you first! Look what it did to them and look what it did to you!
Now you are standing here with your little children. You must choose how you will live. You’ve seen how their half-hearted love for the Lord was toxic to children. “Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Do it so that it will go well with you and with your children” (Deuteronomy 5:29).
Aligning is not prioritizing
Align your life around one consuming passion for the Lord. Aligning your life around a single passion is not the same as prioritizing. People sometimes say, “God first, your family second and ministry third.” I have never found that helpful.
How can you separate loving God from serving God? Loving the Lord is seen in obeying His commands and in devoting your life to serving Him. Christ lays claim, not to a part of your life, but to the whole of your life. He lays claim to my family as much as to me. The language of priority does not help us here.
Aligning is not balancing
When the issue of loving God and loving your family is raised, people often say, “Well, you have to keep a balance. You should set aside time for ministry, and time for your family. You should love the Lord, and you should love your family. Keep a balance.”
Whenever people say, “Keep a balance,” it sounds good, but it is surprisingly unhelpful. If loving the Lord and loving your family, or serving the Lord and serving your family have to be kept in balance, it means these two things have become separated: They are on opposite sides of the scale. They are being weighed against each other. I don’t want my family to be weighed against the Lord, I want my family to be weighed for the Lord.
We are not looking to maintain a balance, but to achieve an alignment. Moses tells us how to do that:
“These commandments… are to be on your heart” (6:6).
Love the Lord with all your heart. But it has to begin with your own heart. We saw last week how this is learned over the course of a lifetime at the foot of the cross.
“Talk about them when you sit at home…” (6:7).
We are talking about family conversation. Don’t let your love for the Lord, your work for the Lord, or your giving to the Lord remain private. Talk about it with your family. Open your heart to them. Let them see, as they grow, and in an appropriate way, the passion that drives you.
Luther says, Moses is not speaking here (6:5) about the Ten Commandments in general, he is talking about the first commandment in particular. The family is not to engage in constant conversation about, “Why we don’t commit murder” or “Why we don’t steal.” We are to talk about, “Why we love the Lord with all our heart and all our resources. Why do we live this way?” What it means to live for Him is to pervade everything.
Luther says, “This first commandment is the chief source and fountainhead which flows into all the others.” And, “Where the heart is rightly disposed toward God and this commandment is observed, all the others follow.” [i]
“Tie them as symbols on your hands” (6:8).
The hand is the means of action. Let this love for the Lord that is in your heart, and in your conversation, also be put into practice through your commitments, your choices, and your ministry. If you want to align your family around a single passion for the Lord, you have to step out and lead by example yourself. Don’t just talk about it. Do it.
“Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates” (6:9).
Bring your children increasingly into this great consuming passion of your life. Let them be a part of it, as they see it. Allow them to participate in it.
Seeing a passionate love for Christ in my father and in my mother has had a profound life-shaping impact on me. My father worked two jobs when I was young to sustain the family. Some of you know what this is like—utterly exhausting.
He served on the church board (they were called “deacons”), taught a Sunday school class, as well as editing and producing the church magazine. It was a family production line: Typed by my mother and then duplicated, collating the covers and the inserts, and then stapling it together in our home on Friday nights.
My folks lived this verse of Scripture. Oh, that God would burn this into our hearts, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). My parents wanted me to catch a glimpse of living for one, single passion for the Lord. And I saw it!
Karen and I have tried to follow that model in a small way in our own family. When we came here to The Orchard, we decided to get to know as many of the people as we could. So, we invited all the members of the church to our home. There were about 800 people and it took a year of Sunday evenings to do it. Our boys were 10 and 8 years old at the time. They got involved, opening the door, giving out name tags, and serving coffee.
People often ask me, “How do you protect your children from the pressures of life in the ministry?” Our children have received immeasurable benefits from their exposure to ministry: The people they have met, experiences they have enjoyed, and life lessons that they have learned. It’s the tapestry of a family that’s trying to live out, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Many of you have grasped this vision and you are doing this in ways that fill me with admiration and thanksgiving. You worship as a family. You serve as a family. You say, “We are going to support Dad, or Mum in doing this, because by giving this support our family is doing something for the Lord.” This is what it means for us to get behind this.
The parents who said, “We can’t enter the land because of the children,” led their children into the desert. The parents who said, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord,” that was the generation that led their children into the Promised Land.
Let the Cross Explain the Passion of Your Life
As you live with one consuming passion for the Lord, your life will provoke questions. It will need explaining. Moses does not say, “If…” but, “When your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God commanded you…’” (6:20). If you love the Lord with all your heart, soul and strength, that question will be asked, “Why do so many people come to our home? Why are we giving all this when it could be used for other things? Dad, other families are not like this…”
Christopher Wright has a marvelous comment on this. He says, it would be easy to jump from the question (in 6:20) to the answer (in 6:24). Question: Why do we keep these laws? (6:20) Answer: Because the Lord commanded us (6:24). He says, “Most parents will have felt the temptation to answer children’s “why’s” in similar fashion.” [ii]
Before we get to the Lord who commanded us (in 6:24) we come to the Lord who redeems (in 6:21-23). Why are we living with this one consuming passion for the Lord? Tell them, “We were slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out with a mighty hand.” Son, if it wasn’t for the Lord, I would have been a slave. He redeemed me. Not only has he redeemed me from past slavery, He has promised me the future inheritance of His promised land.”
Christopher Wright says,
“The meaning of the law is to be found in the gospel.” [iii]
Even in the Old Testament God is calling parents to do more than teach their children a moral code. It is about loving the Lord with all your heart and all your strength. That is far deeper than morality.
Here are fathers and mothers who live in such a way that their children are asking, “Why do you have this deep passion for God? Dad, how do you sustain love in your marriage? Why is there this contentment in you?”
When he asks you these questions, tell him what the Lord has done for you. Tell him what the Lord means to you. Tell him, The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me and everything I have, I have received from Him.
Live for your family and you will lead your family into the desert. Live for the Lord and you will lead your family into the Promised Land.
[i] Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism of Martin Luther,” p. 54, Fortress Press, 2010
[ii] Christopher J. H. Wright, “Deuteronomy,” p. 103-104, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996
[iii] Christopher J. H. Wright, “Old Testament Ethics For the People of God,” p. 317, InterVarsity Press, 2004 https://www.amazon.com/Old-Testament-Ethics-People-God/dp/0830827781/
© Colin S. Smith
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