Jeremiah 31: 27 – 34
2 Timothy 3: 14 – 4: 5
Luke 18: 1 – 8
There was a belief in Israel that the sins of the parents were to be visited upon (isn’t that a juicy judgemental word – visited) that the sins of the parents were to be visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. What it means of course is that the unwise lifestyles of parents affect the lives of family members who come after them – which is very true – but the Israelites had understood this in a mechanistic, hopeless, fatalistic sense: my Dad was a baddy so I’ll cop it.
Jeremiah the prophet says, “Not true!” Each person will face the consequences of their behaviour themselves:
29In those days they shall no longer say:
‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
30But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.
Individual responsibility. Makes sense.
But, when it comes to bringing up children, is there such a thing as a cultural, sociological and moral vacuum that enables each individual to call upon the timeless logic of Aristotle and make sensible choices? Patently not. Left to their own devices (as so much of our current society foolishly assumes we can do) children will be influenced by the loudest voices around them and they are not always helpful.
Children need definite guidance, especially up to the age of seven to ten, and the degree to which we provide that in word and in example is the degree to which they will be protected from the dangers in our society and make sensible choices later on.
In those sometimes confusing teen years when we transition into adulthood, the concept of individual understanding and decision-making come into play; helpfully, for those whose parents have provided them with a sound Christian foundation.
Now Timothy (to whom Paul wrote the letter we read this morning) was what we would call a cool dude. He had, had the right upbringing and that set him up for life, a life he handled successfully and effectively.
14But as for you, (Paul says to him) continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
I don’t have to comment other than to say the obvious: one of the most effective and helpful things we can do for a child is to bring them into a sound familiarity with Scripture.
So much for small children. What is the advice for Timothy (and all of us) as we grow older?
4In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message
Having lived the good life, it is ours to pass it on, and what I mean by ‘the good life’ is a godly life, a life lived in Christ.
5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
In other words if you are not focussed on evangelism (sharing the Good News) you are not carrying out your ministry fully.
We may be familiar with what has now developed the status of a legendary story, namely that if, in the sixties, you were to ask anyone at NASA what they were doing (even if they were sweeping the floor) their response would have been, ‘Putting a man on the moon.’ That was the response of anyone in any position at NASA apparently.
For Christians it should be, ‘Sharing the Good news.’ Why are you ringing the bell? ‘To peal out an invite to everyone out there to come and hear the Good News.’ Why are you dusting that pew? ‘To share with everyone the Good News that Jesus died for our sins and has reconciled us to God.’
Evangelism is a function, not simply for evangelists (which is a special calling) but for each and every one of us. Timothy, by all accounts, was a mild-mannered man, and Paul feels is necessary to say to him, you’ve had a good life, growing up in a home soaked in the principles of Scripture. Now learn to share that good life, give away the Good News – the news that in Christ we are one with God and that, that is what Jesus came to bring about.
The greatest thing a grandparent or parent can do is to introduce their children to a world of godliness and that involves all manner of things, but especially an introduction to Scripture which lights the way.