Ministerial Musings: Teach Your Children

“How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” ~ Psalm 119:9, NRSV

Psalm 119 is the longest of the Psalms: 176 verses long. It is filled with rays of light that speak of God’s commandments, precepts, ordinances, and laws as guiding our path. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105, KJV). Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith wrote a beautiful piece of music based on that verse.

Other nuggets are nestled in this Psalm. Recently, I have been reflecting on verse nine cited above. In some respects, it calls to mind the Proverb which declares, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray” (22:6).

This verse from the Psalms speaks to an issue I hear echoing in many quarters. It usually begins, “Kids these days,” and leads into a statement about not being respectful or not having any values. Of course that is a generalization, which is neither fair nor fully accurate. There are some great kids out there behaving in ways that many adults do not. I see it among my own children and their friends.

That said, we all need guidance — and adults have a responsibility of molding the generation that follows them. Teachers shape the minds of children, coaches inculcate them with good sportsmanship, and the Church is often looked upon to instill good moral values in our youth.

On the one hand, that is a role I take quite seriously. On the other hand, I have a knee-jerk reaction to the word “values”? Whose values are we talking about? Are we talking conservative values, liberal values, or something totally different? I am going with the latter. Regardless of what pundits on the right and the left say, God’s word stands strong. The same Psalm on which we're reflecting declares, “Your word is firmly fixed in heaven” (vs. 89b).

So what does God’s word say? What message does Scripture have for the young to keep their way pure?

Of course, The Bible says many things. Jesus, however, said that the greatest commandment was to love God wholeheartedly and that a second command was like it: to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt. 22:40). In Jesus’ day the law and the prophets was another way of saying The Bible. There was no New Testament yet and along with the poetical Writings, the Law and the Prophets comprised the Hebrew Bible (what came to be known as the Old Testament). In other words, Jesus is saying that all of Scripture — everything it says, everything it dictates — is summed up under these two commandments: love God and love others.

Loving one another — do we actually do this? What would the world look like if we did? Better yet, what if we really taught our youth to do this? What world would they carve out of the future?

Jesus wasn’t the only historical personage to offer such a command. Similar dictums appear in the writings and teachings of Zoroaster, Confucius, Vardhamana Mahavira, Siddhartha Gautama, Hillel, Mohammed, Immanuel Kant, Baha’ullah, and Sotarsan. Apparently, loving others is a universal maxim.

Let’s teach our children well, as the old Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song declares. Let’s teach them to truly love others in order for their lives to be pure. And may they learn from our actions as opposed to just our words.

John Tamilio III (JT3) is the Senior Pastor of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in the Tremont neighborhood. A nationally published author and musician, JT3 lives in Lakewood with his wife Susan and their three children: Sarah, Jay, and Thomas. He is the religion columnist for The Lakewood Observer.

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Volume 6, Issue 17, Posted 8:21 AM, 08.25.2010