Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray. Proverbs 22:6 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “Why do you break the command of God, for the sake of your own tradition?”… and He proceeded to quote from Isaiah 29:13 – ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me… their teachings are but rules taught by men’.
These verses remind me how much we need the fresh, daily manna directly from God, how we need the grace, wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit in all our affairs – especially in the way that we teach our children!
This week I was to teach our Sunday School class, following a prepared program thatinstructed me to teach the 2nd Commandment. Although the actual class would last no longer than 30 minutes, the lesson took me over six hours to prepare, plus many other hours praying over and discussing the questions I had myself. This may sound very inefficient (and perhaps would have to be different if I did it every week!), but the reality is that I learned so much myself during my preparations. I trust that the children also learned what they needed to learn too. But I want to share some of the questions and complexity with you.
Firstly, the 2nd Commandment, as found in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5:
“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to thousands who love me and keep my commandments.”
I had photos and toy animals to discuss the inanimate nature of such things, obviously drawing out the foolishness of worshipping the creature, rather than the Creator… and how even more foolish to create our own image of a creature and to worship that – given it can’t talk, act or anything! Everything in all creation is to worship the Creator, not the other way around! Of course, everything that God made is good and it is so natural and easy to look at ‘all things bright and beautiful’ and in awe and wonder for our hearts to be lifted in praise to God. It is in fact much easier to appreciate what we can see and touch, than to appreciate the God and Creator that we cannot see and touch. This was all straight-forward and fun. We then looked at kneeling in front of a cross, an icon, a bible – objects which perhaps take a little more explanation… Am I worshipping the lump of stone or wood? Or am I kneeling before Jesus, who is no longer on that cross, but is risen and alive?
“Which is greater: the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred?” Matt 23:17.
These images and festivals and traditions can help us to worship God, as long as we don’t end up worshipping the image or the tradition… We must be careful not to create God in our own image! I know that when I cherry-pick the parts of Scripture that I like, I am in danger of doing this.
I know that you know this. I knew this. But I had to put it into words in order to teach it faithfully and clearly. The key was the verse – “you shall not bow down to them or worship them”. So we spent a while thinking through what worship is…
What is worship? What is love? If I spend no time, effort, thought, money on something or someone – can I honestly claim to love or worship them? We have many resources at our disposal and arguably time is the most precious, but how much of it do we spend doing God’s will. How do we spend our resources of time, money, energy, patience and effort? I ask myself these questions. If I look at how I use the hours in a day, what does that tell me about what is important in my life?
I would have more than happy to leave the lesson there – with the significance of an image and the meaning of worship, but the commandment had a further clause, which caused me many questions and prayerful study (actually, although I did prepare the rest of this, the lesson itself did not require it on the day, so this was the lesson that God was wanting to teach me instead). We cannot cherry-pick with the Scriptures! There were three aspects of this commandment and all connected, whether I wanted to look at it or not. This was the notion that God is jealous and ‘punishes the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation OF THOSE WHO HATE ME, BUT SHOWING LOVE TO THOUSANDS WHO LOVE ME AND KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS.’ The bit I capitalised is what I had not noticed as I first wanted to reject this statement. But that notwithstanding, still I took it in prayer, to Jesus who I knew had said,
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19)
After asking God to explain this punishing the generations clause, later I picked up an old work-book, that I had begun to work through, taking me through the 12 Step Programme of AA, (hang on in, this is relevant) – and I had been instructed to draw a family-tree, to look at family issues of abuse, addiction, depression etc – through the family to my grand-parents – the third generation! And boy, they were a lot of issues that had been handed down… whether it was genetic or learned, nature or nurture, the patterns of issues (and sin) were very apparent. The people in Jesus time on earth understood this command literally and considered sickness and misfortune to be the punishment from God. It seems that part of Jesus’ ministry was to break that chain of inheritance. In John chapter 9, when Jesus meets the man ‘blind from birth’, the people asked whether it was because of his own sin or that of his parents? Jesus answered that it was neither, but that the people there may all learn of the power and glory of God. The reality is that there are consequences of sin and these we both inherit and learn – from our parents and teachers and from our institutions, traditions and from the structure of our society. We learn from what they do. We copy their example, for good and for bad. We mimic bad habits automatically. Often we are also injured, damaged, wounded by the behaviour of our elders, these are also consequences. This is why Jesus said.
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach.” (Matthew 23:2)
We are to do what God instructs us to do, in His word and by His Holy Spirit. It is not my place to judge others. Jesus made this quite clear. God alone is the judge and the teacher. We are to forgive, over and over, as Jesus does. I am to forgive all those who hurt me and whose sins and issues had consequences in my life and in the lives of my loved ones. Often these others are powerless over their actions and behaviour and need our mercy and patience. Often the people who irritate me, hurt me and annoy me are the people who have been already hurt and damaged by another. Hurt people hurt people. This, I believe, is part of the generational consequences of sin. My children are still affected by the consequences of my sins and failings, though I thank God that He has broken the power of sin over my life and broken that generational curse over my children. I pray that they will know Him for themselves and walk with Him in abundant life and blessing.
I pray this for you too – that you may know the power of the risen Jesus to break the chains that may be in your own life; that you may love Him with your whole heart, mind and strength; that you may have the grace to forgive those who have hurt you; that you may live in abundant life, directed by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Word of God; that your children and children’s children will love God and keep His commandments and live in the blessings of His plans and purposes. Amen.