About a dozen faces looked up at me from the desks of my classroom. Excited faces, tired faces, some were just there because they had to be. I was eager to begin teaching and launched into a New Testament passage. I reached what I thought was something obvious that I would be able to state and move on. It wasn’t that I didn’t think it was important. I just knew they were familiar with it and I wouldn’t need to deal with it. I told the students that God’s word says sex outside of marriage is unacceptable for the believer. Immediately the bored students jerked their heads around. The kids who didn’t want to be there looked up. And hands went up all over the room.
“Mr. Olinda, we all know people that do that.” I replied that this wasn’t surprising in a sinful world, but another student clarified. “No, people in our churches. But nobody thinks it’s wrong.” Another student added, “Mr. Olinda, no one’s ever said that.”
I was completely speechless. This wasn’t the sort of thing I had expected. Most of my students come from Christian homes and all but a few claim to be believers. But there sat the 9th grade expressing their amazement at what the Bible teaches about sexual relationships.
I spent some time going through passages that teach about the issue. But in the back of my mind I was grappling with the fact that a group of kids who claimed Christ, attended church, and had Christian parents had not learned such an important principle, especially as they headed into life in a sexualized culture. This was the first of many topics - qualifications for elders and deacons, modesty, drugs, the authority of scripture - that I would bring up and expose huge gaps in their understanding of scripture. What had gone wrong?
Tonight we’re going to look at the following two passages as well as their application for us as believers: Ephesians 6:1-4 and Titus 2:1-8.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
God is speaking here specifically to families: children, fathers, and mothers. Children should honor and obey their parents. Fathers should not try to anger their children but should teach them the ways of the Lord. These two commands are tightly knit together. A godly father teaches his children how to live the way that God desires them to, and godly children are honoring and obeying that teaching. This is in many ways a tightly-packed summary of the entire book of Proverbs. The father gives wisdom, the children receive wisdom. This is God’s desire for the family, and he specifically points out the necessary attitudes for fathers and children for that to happen. It’s also worth pointing out that in Proverbs, such as chapter 31, children are expected to hear and receive this sort of instruction from their mothers as well.
Let’s look at Titus 2:1-8 now.
But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.
Here God is addressing older men, younger men, older women, and younger women. Basically all of us.
Older men are to show dignity, respectability, and wisdom1 in their lives, which are qualities that are expected in many cultures throughout time as necessary for maintaining society. He goes on to express God’s desire that older women live excellently, and here he introduces a reason beyond society. He says that these women (and he later brings the focus back to men as well) should live excellently not just for the sake of excellence but for the sake of the young women in the church, so that they would have an example to look to in addition to the formal teaching they would receive.
Paul goes on to explain what God desires of the young. He addresses young women first, although in the context he’s specifically addressing young married women in this passage, and then addresses young men. The implication I want to spend time on here the most is not specifically what they’re told to do, but by whom they’re told. The elders in the church are supposed to be teaching the younger. And they’re being taught in a way that reinforces the relationships that are essential to the type of teaching that’s supposed to take place according to Ephesians 6.
So what does this mean for the church? First, more mature members of the congregation are teaching young men and women - especially those who are married. Those mature members are modeling the type of believer that younger Christians should become, as well as teaching them directly. These mature believers are also creating the environment that allows parental instruction and modeling to take place even more effectively.
But when I think back to my students, I know that for many of them, this is not happening. You see, in Korean culture there has historically been a strong tendency to group by age, so that generations do not tend to mingle. There is also a hesitancy to talk to younger people about your experiences. These two things wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that they go against specific biblical commands: the older mentor the younger and parents mentor their children.
Many of my students were in an environment where no one older than them would share experience or wisdom, and it showed. In fact, I would find that when I stopped to share personal experiences – what it was like to be a student, what challenges you face in marriage, how to respond to death – my students would sometimes actually take notes because they were so interested to finally hear about these things. They saw that their churches were full of corruption, so far gone that they couldn’t even pass on basic knowledge to younger generations.
So church, look around you and appreciate the opportunity you have to disciple and be discipled and know that it’s not optional. I’ve sat at the feet of many of the older men in this church and learned many things that have helped me be a better follower of Christ, a better man, a better husband, and a better father. And that’s the way it ought to be. And because of the hours of discipleship poured into me by many of you, Seth and Sean will be stronger. Those of you who are older: share your wisdom. Those of you who are younger: listen.
Or you can choose the way of the world and watch entire generations fall away.
We parents have the duty and privilege of doing this specific teaching ministry for our own children. And we cannot outsource this ministry to others. We are the first line of defense in our homes. In the four years that I spent as office manager at Lighthouse, I would listen to parents discuss the youth ministry. Many times I heard parents wish that the youth leadership would handle a certain issue or fervently hoping that the Wilds would help their son or daughter “get right with God.” They would worry that their children weren’t engaged enough by the teaching style. And while it is appropriate to be concerned about the church’s ministry to children, we as parents can never, never develop the mindset that the spiritual well-being and growth of our children is anyone else’s responsibility more than ours.
It is not the school teachers’ job to make sure your son understands the danger of gossip. It isn’t the camp counselor’s job to confront your daughter about pornography. Will they sometimes be involved? Definitely. But is that the only place your children receive spiritual instruction and guidance?
A group of mothers commented to me that I am like a father to their sons. And that broke my heart. These weren’t boys without a father. They were boys whose fathers had failed to obey Ephesians 6. That ought not to be. However gratifying it might be to know I am appreciated, I would rather these students be under the ministry of their parents than mine when it comes to spiritual growth.
Children, obey the command of Ephesians and listen to your parents and obey their instruction. If your parents do not seem interested in teaching you in spiritual things, keep asking. Nothing motivates parents to learn like not knowing the answer to your incessant questions. And if your parents are not saved, then look to the older men and women in this church for guidance. Don’t look at culture for help. This culture will destroy you. There is nothing for you in pop culture or Hollywood that can do in you what the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Word, your parents, and your spiritual leaders will do.
And I challenge you: are you actually interested in what they have to say? As heartbreaking as it was for me to realize that my students hadn’t been taught about God’s commands about sexual behavior by their parents and churches, I was rejoicing to see my students take hold of what I was saying and think about it, question it, and wrestle with it as it confronted what they thought they knew. Are you wrestling with the Word and allowing it to change and challenge you? Or are you just playing it cool until graduation so that you can do what you want?
Your parents, pastors, teachers, and elders are going to say things that shock, anger, or confuse you. You need to listen and engage with those things so that you can grow in Christlikeness.