Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Mark 10:13-16
We continue with our series on “Sharing God’s love with the world”.
Today we consider one of the most precious mission fields that lie before us. Whereas up to this point in our series we have focussed on sharing God’s love with the hungry (through LUTL), with the needy (through Hanover Park Mission) and even with the community around our church (through the Prayer Walk), today we bring it much closer to home and consider how to share the gospel with children. Now, of course, this is a vast field and I will only touch the tip of the iceberg. But let’s make a start and today particularly take Jesus as our example.
The gospels don’t really give us much detail of how Jesus ministered to children. But of course that would be because He ministered in a day and age when people understood properly their role in bringing up children in their faith. Fathers in families took upon themselves the responsibility that Moses imposed on them in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. They accepted that just as their fathers had done for them, so they too were called by God to tell their children about the wonders God had done for them and to instruct their children in the ways of God and the will of God. “Religious instruction”, if we can use that term, was something that every family did at home and also ensured that their children received through the schools of the local rabbis.
Jesus Himself would have been taught the essentials of Judaism by Mary. Joseph would have taken him to the synagogue with him. Annually they would make their way to the festivals. And when Jesus was 12 He went with them. This is what all faithful Jews did. And so Jesus lived and ministered in an era when the community took responsibility to raise their children in the ways of the Lord. Perhaps this is why the gospels don’t give us much on His ministry to children.
But perhaps we also need to receive that as a challenge to our own faith community in this day and age … where we take so little responsibility for the children in our midst. I remind you again as I did last term that it takes a village to raise a child … and it takes a faith community to raise a child in the Lord. Your own children may be grown up … or you may feel you have your own children to raise in the Lord and other people’s children are not your responsibility. I would beg to differ and would suggest that the Biblical model is that the whole faith community takes a degree of responsibility for ALL the children among us … and those not yet among us.
Now, we find a very important insight in this passage from Mark 10 which gives us one of the very few glimpses of Jesus sharing the gospel with children. It gives us a clue as to how we can share the gospel even with children we have very little to do with. The one very clear thing Jesus did to share the good news of His ministry with children, was to bless them! “Jesus took the little children in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.” (Mk 10:16) And right there in that amazing word BLESS, we find a framework for sharing the gospel with all children, no matter how much or how little we may have to do with them. So the basic message which I will elaborate on in a little detail this morning is this:
One amazing way to share the gospel with children is to BLESS them.
The word “bless” has lost a lot of its meaning in our modern world. We use it meaninglessly when we someone sneezes and we respond, “Bless you”. So what does it mean to bless?
The Greek word used in Mark 10 is “eulogeo” which means literally “to speak well of”. In Latin it is the more familiar “benedictio”, which means literally “the good word”.
We first come across the concept of blessing in the Bible when God steps back from his creation on the 5th day, and blesses what He has made. In blessing it, God speaks:
- His love for and delight in His creation: He says, “It is good”;
- His purpose in that creation: He says, “Go forth and multiply”;
- His ability to them to fulfil that purpose.
Then we come across the concept again in the patriarchs of Israel who would call their children around them when they were dying and would speak a blessing over them. And in speaking that blessing, we see the same three elements coming through because they would speak over their children:
- Their love for them and delight in them; and
- Their belief about God’s purpose for the remainder of their children’s lives; and then they would
- Impart to them the means for fulfilling that purpose.
So how are we as Christians today going to share the gospel with children by blessing them? Here’s how…
1. Tell children at every opportunity how God loves them and delights in them.
You know this contemporary world we live in is a world of destructive words. Children are bombarded with negative input. They are being told by the world around them that they’re too fat or too thin or too short or too tall … they are not cool enough or they don’t have the right possessions … or they’re weak or they’re stupid … or they’ll never amount to anything. Even their humour is destructive.
And the basic message of the gospel of Jesus Christ which we have the privilege of sharing with them is this: God loves you and delights in you … just the way you are!
Friends the word gospel means “good news”. Jesus Christ brought into the world the greatest blessing ever … the greatest benediction – the greatest GOOD WORD – ever … it is a word of God’s love … it is the message that God loves you so much that he was willing to die for you. Right at the very heart of the gospel message is the truth that this child standing in front of me … no matter how clever or otherwise … no matter how physically beautiful or otherwise … no matter how rich or how poor … no matter how smelly … is deeply and thoroughly and completely loved by God!
And to share the gospel with a child begins with sharing that incredible truth with them. You are loved by God and God delights in you! To quote a friend of mine who is an excellent evangelist … he is always telling people and reminding them of this truth … “God thinks you’re awesome!”
That is the heart of the message. That is something we can all tell children everywhere … because it is true for all children everywhere. No matter how well or how badly they are behaving … no matter how much or how little they may know or understand about God … and no matter how eloquent we are … we can all tell every child we encounter that God thinks you’re awesome!! God loves you and delights in you!!
When Paul the apostle wrote his letters to the churches of the world, he always started and ended with a blessing. More often than not, the opening blessing was a word of thanksgiving. It was a word of blessing that told the community to whom he was writing what he loved about them … what God loved about them.
Here are some examples:
- Ephesians 1:15 “I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.”
- Philippians 1:4 and 7 “I always pray for you with joy … because of your partnership with me in the gospel … and I always have you in my heart.”
- 1 Thess. 1:2-4, “I thank God for your work produced by faith; your labour prompted by love; you’re your endurance inspired by hope in Jesus. Brothers, loved by God; he has chosen you.”
So when we tell children that God loves them and delights in them … if we know them a little, we can also take it a step further and build them up in the love of God by telling them what we feel God loves about them. So look at their lives and I would suggest, look for the things God values … not the things we humans value. God values things like love and joy and peace … like patience and goodness and kinidness … like gentleness and faithfulness and self-control.
Our children are perfectly loved by God regardless of who they are. But if a child is particularly friendly, affirm them for that: “God loves how friendly you are.” If they are particularly patient: “God loves your patience.” If they are really gentle the world will normally try to beat that out of them … we should be saying: “God loves your gentleness!”
So number one in sharing the gospel with our children is blessing our children by telling them how much God loves them and what He loves about them.
2. Tell them about God’s purposes for their lives;
God’s blessing of humans on the 6th day of creation included the command, “Go forth and multiply.”
Likewise, the blessing passed on from father to child on the father’s deathbed usually included prophetic statements about God’s plan for the rest of the child’s life.
Speaking a blessing includes speaking God’s future over the person being blessed.
With most of the children we come across, we will not be able to speak specifically or in any detail about God’s plan for their lives. However, we are able to tell each and every child that God has an incredible plan for their lives.
For every child here’s what we can tell them:
- God wants to be your best friend for the rest of your life!
- God wants you to invite Jesus to be the Leader of your life.
- God wants to fill you with His love and His power!
- God wants to give you spiritual gifts!
- God wants you to live forever in heaven with Him!
- God has already given you talents and abilities that you can use to show the world how great God is!
And when we know the child a bit better we can be more specific. God has given you these spiritual gifts … God has given you these talents and these abilities. If we are in any kind of relationship with that child – whether as a parent or grandparent or even friend – we should be asking God for the discernment to be able to speak specifically into their lives. I believe that as parents and grandparents we should be doing that. We should be asking God to show us His destiny for our precious children … so that we can speak that destiny over them prophetically. It is part of the good news of Jesus for them … Jesus has a plan for their lives, specially tailored to their particular strengths, gifts and abilities … and we ought to be speaking it over them.
Sharing God’s good news … God’s gospel … with children through blessing them includes the key element of speaking LIFE over them … even as the world tries to speak death over them!
3. Give them the means to fulfil God’s purposes for them.
The third, vital element of blessing is to give the resources by which to fulfil God’s purpose.
God told Adam and Eve that His purpose for them was to be fruitful and multiply and manage the earth well … but he had already given them the wherewithal to do those things.
Godly fathers would bless their children by telling them what they believed their destiny was to be … but they would also leave them an inheritance through which to accomplish the destiny with which they had just blessed them.
This may imply a number of different things for us depending on our relationship to the particular child in front of us. But here are a few implications that are always valid:
- Pray for them: Pray for them to come to a personal relationship with Jesus. Pray for them to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray for them to embrace their destiny. Pray for them to receive the spiritual gifts and talents they will need. Pray for God to open doors for them.
- Tell them how to accept Jesus as their Saviour: Explain in simple ways to children that Jesus has taken the punishment for their sins against God and that if they invite Jesus to be the Lord and Leader of their lives, they will be given the free gift of living with God in their hearts forever.
- Teach them what you know about God: Teach them to read the Bible. Teach them to pray. Teach them to worship. Teach them to ask God for advice and guidance. Teach them how to hear God’s voice. Tell them the things you’ve discovered about God. Share with them what excites you about God. What have you learnt to do to deepen your walk with God? Share your relationship with God with them.
- Help them to be trained in their areas of strength and gifting: This may mean paying for their schooling … or their music lessons … or their art teacher … or their extra classes … or for their church camps where they can embrace God’s plan more fully. It may mean giving them a book or a DVD or an instrument to play or a computer to use.
- Encourage them along the way to press on and continue to do what God has planned for them. It’s easy to become discouraged – especially as a teenager trying to follow Christ – because the opposition is strong and the distractions of the world are so powerful. It’s easy to lose heart in our walk with God … so encourage them whenever and wherever you can to keep pressing on with God.
So, although there is far more to sharing the gospel with children than just what I have spoken about today, I do believe that these are vital aspects:
- Tell every child you can that God loves them and delights in them;
- Tell them about the beautiful plan God has for their lives;
- Give them the resources they need to accomplish that plan – especially the resource of a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.