For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments (Psa. 78:5-7).
On my Yahoo email account there is often a life insurance advertisement with a picture of a little boy sitting alone by the side of an empty street—perhaps a dock near a harbor. Written to parents, the sign simply says, “When you die … love continues.” Naturally, the scene is meant to touch your heartstrings and cause you to think seriously about providing for your family after your demise. It sparked questions in my mind and a Bible class lesson which I would like to share today.
1. How can we be sure our love continues after we leave our children?
2. How will they benefit from our having reared them instead of some other parents?
3. What legacy will we leave them?
Christian parents are told to lay up for their children (2 Cor. 12:14). Jesus recognized this as a normal response (Matt. 7:9-11). Generally, most parents have a desire to leave their children a good inheritance. Most want to provide them with the good things they need so they do not have to suffer. I for one do not appreciate the bumper sticker that says, “We’re spending our children’s inheritance.” That shows a seriously wrong attitude.
However, many well-meaning parents have a wrong sense of values. They may only think in terms of lands, houses, and money for an inheritance. Value is a relative thing. Obviously, not everyone values the same things. The breathtaking sunset is not valued by a blind man. A delicious steak is not valued by a man who has just eaten too much. Then there is heat in a desert, ice in the North Pole and so on. Now if we put these same items in a different context, they become quite important.
It is unrealistic to say money has no value at all, but its true value is limited. We know that there are different kinds of riches (Prov. 13:7). According to the Apostle Paul, we can have nothing and yet possess everything (2 Cor. 6:10). I have never met a person who did not agree with Solomon when he says, “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife” (Prov. 17:1). What then will wise parents leave their children? Solomon, the wisest man in the world, had much to say on this subject.
First of all, we can leave our children a memory of a Christian home. What a wonderful blessing it would be for every child to have the privilege of being reared in a Christian home! The early years are the most impressionable years. Early training can prove beautiful (Prov. 22:6). Even the Prodigal Son carried the memory of a good home with him as he agonized over his mistakes (Luke 15:17ff). His home had been filled with righteousness, thoughtfulness and love. This is what inspired him to return there for help when he most needed it.
Next, we can give our children respect for parents and for those in authority. If we do not fulfill this responsibility, it can be fatal for the child (Prov. 29:15). We have the promise of God, if we do our part (Prov. 29:17). Taking care to train children in these things will give them the promise of a long life (Eph. 6:4). This same process can give them an eternal inheritance. We know that we can leave them great wisdom if we teach them to fear God (Prov. 9:10). And by the same token, we can destroy our children by withholding correction (Ecc. 7:7). We can leave our children—souls delivered from hell (Prov. 23:14).
A third thing we can leave our children is a sincere desire to work. Solomon tells us that they will suffer if they do not learn to work (Prov. 19:15). Many today have the idea that the world owes them a living (Prov. 12:24). We cannot listen to excuses when it comes to work (Prov. 26:16). We have to understand that we did not make our children; this is God’s work (Prov. 22:15). We bless our children by teaching them to work diligently (Acts 20:35). Some parents had not given their children a good inheritance (Eph. 4:28). Every Jewish child learned a trade—it is still a practice in Judaism today. Even the son of God learned a trade for 30 years (Mark 6:3).
Often we hear, “My child is going to be worth something.” Or we may hear, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” One little boy replied that he wanted to be a preacher, but the person asking the question said, “No, sir! You need to make something of yourself.” Is that the response we would have for our children? God had only one son, and he was a preacher!
Furthermore, are we leaving our children a good Christian example? Would we want our children to know everything we do? Are we ashamed of any part of our lives? We should strive to leave them a good example of honesty and integrity (Prov. 19:22). It is good to give up money for a good character, but not the reverse (Prov. 8:10-11). Seeking to be rich is not the wisdom that comes from God (Prov. 23:4). Can we give them a good example of reverence in worship, or do we show them we are still entwined with the world?
We first meet Samuel’s mother praying; it seems her whole life was involved in her relationship with her Creator (1 Sam. 2:1). Samuel inherited the same love for worshiping God. What do our children see? Timothy received a beautiful inheritance of a love for God (2 Tim. 1:5). We can also be salt for our children (Matt. 5:13). When (or if) our children see our devotion to God, they should be encouraged to follow. What do they actually see? Do they see faithfulness to assemble with the saints for Bible study and worship? Do they see faithfulness in getting there on time? I know one family that is always late for every service. When they arrived at 10:30 one Sunday morning, a young teen sarcastically asked, “Are they late for class or early for worship?”
Even a child can recognize unfaithfulness. Our children are gaining much from their inheritance right now. Do they see a good example in applying the golden rule (Matt. 7:12)? Do they see a good example of loving the church for which Christ died (John 13:33-34)? They need to see a faithful, loyal, dedicated service to our Lord and to his church.
Most of all, our children need to inherit a compelling desire to be like Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29). Our ultimate goal is to be like Christ (Eph. 4:12-13). There are many people in the world teaching our children to eat, drink, and be merry, but we should be teaching them self-denial and devotion to God (Luke 9:23-24). Eli honored his children and gave in to their desires. Both his sons were lost. Hannah only had Samuel to teach and train for approximately five years, but he never lost that inheritance. We know that Abraham talked enough about heaven that he was known for his example (Heb. 11:10-13).
What will we leave our children? Really the question is what are we leaving our children every passing moment? We are, at this time, leaving them their inheritance. What about non-Christian families? They can only leave money, lands or keepsakes, but not eternally valuable things. We can be like Eli, Jezebel, or Judas and be a wrong influence for our children, or we can be like Hannah, Sarah, and the other godly parents who talked of God day and night (Deut. 6:5-9). Our Father in heaven wants to be our “real Father.” He wants to leave us an eternal inheritance (Gal. 3:29). When you die … will love continue?
The following poem seems to suit the tone of the lesson.
ORPHANS OF THE LIVING
Edgar A. Guest
We think of orphans only as the little girls and lads,
Who haven’t any mothers and who haven’t any dads.
They are grouped with other children and in groups they’re put to bed,
With some stranger paid to listen while their little prayers are said.
All the grownups look with pity on such lonely children small,
And declare to be an orphan is the saddest fate of all.
But sometimes I look about me and with sorrow hang my head,
As I gaze on something sadder than the orphans of the dead.
For more pitiful and tragic as the long days come and go,
Are the orphans of the parents they’re not allowed to know.
They’re the orphans of the living, left alone to romp and play,
From their fathers and their mothers by ambition shut away.
They have fathers who are busy and so weighted down with cares,
That they haven’t time to listen to a little child’s affairs.
They have mothers who imagine, life could give them, if it would,
Something richer, something better than the joys of motherhood.
So their children learn from strangers, and by strangers’ hands are fed,
And the nurse, for so much money, nightly tucks them into bed.
Lord, I would not grow so busy that I cannot drop my task,
To answer every question which that child of mine may ask.
Let me never serve ambition here so selfishly, I pray,
That I cannot stop to listen to the things my children say.
For whatever cares beset them, let them know I’m standing by,
I don’t want to make them orphans till the day I come to die.