by Jefferson David Tant
Raising children is, I believe, one of the greatest responsibilities God has given us. By God’s design, a man and a woman have created something which will never cease to exist — a spirit that has been made in the image of God. Can you imagine the awesome feeling of responsibility you would have if Bill Gates made you a trustee to administer a charitable trust fund of one billion dollars? Or if the president of the United States asked you to formulate a peace plan for the Middle East? But would that be a greater responsibility than raising a child for eternity? I am afraid that many take their responsibilities rather lightly. Luther Burbank once stated that if we cared for our shrubbery as we care for our children, we would all soon be living in a jungle. In many respects, some would say we are already living in a jungle.
Our Heavenly Father has given us some insight about words to children. Over 3,000 years ago, a great man realized that his days were numbered and the time of his departure was at hand. Thus David, king of Israel, called for his beloved son Solomon to come to his bedside that he might instruct him.
“As David's time to die drew near, he charged Solomon his son, saying, "I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. And keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn, so that the LORD may carry out His promise which He spoke concerning me, saying, 'If your sons are careful of their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel'” (I Kings 2:1-4).
David went on with further instructions, and then I Kings 2:10 states that “David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.” Years later, Solomon wrote from his vast storehouse of wisdom, instructing those who would follow after him in such passages as Proverbs 4:1-13.
I am honored to have been asked to speak on this topic. Flora and I have been greatly blessed to raise good children, and between us, we have had some 200 years of experience in raising them to adulthood. With five children and two parents, and raising them from zero to 20, that makes 200 years, if my math is correct. Thus I would say we have some experience, and now we look forward to watching our grandchildren grow, now 14 and counting. But rather than depend solely upon my own wisdom in giving final words to my children, allow me to cite some inspired words of wisdom.
David’s Words to Solomon
David’s charge begins with “Be strong…and show yourself a man” (I Kings 2:2) Strong in the text is from a word that suggests courage, with the idea of the strength of mind that was required to discharge the sometimes distasteful functions of a king. Being strong in this sense means that we do not hold a wet finger to the wind to see which way it is blowing every time a tough decision has to be made. A special temptation to young people is to be popular. How many parents have heard the tried and true, “But Dad, everyone else is going”? Or how many of us as parents used that line ourselves a few years ago? I would want my children to be strong enough to stand on their own two feet so they would stand for something and not fall for everything.
This was the courage of Joshua who was willing to stand alone against the whole nation of Israel if need be. “And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15).
This was the courage of Daniel when faced with the choice of prayer to his God or being fed to the hungry lions.
“Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: "King Darius, live forever! "All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions' den. "Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked." Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction. Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously” (Daniel 6:6-10).
This was the courage of Esther when confronted with the risk of losing her life when her cousin Mordecai asked her to petition King Ahasuerus to spare her people. You will recall that she was reluctant to do so, for to go before the king without being summoned carried the risk of being put to death. Mordecai sent her the message that is one of the key passages in the book of Esther. “Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, "Do not imagine that you in the king's palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13-14). Esther’s courage then came to the surface, as she responded with these words: “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16).
This was the courage of Dana Marrs when in 1970 she was nominated for State Sweetheart of a high school organization. There was to be an awards banquet where the winner would be announced, with a dance to follow after the banquet. Her advisor said that if she won, she would need to reign over the dance. Dana conferred with her parents and wrote a statement to be read in case she won the crown. In her own words, she relates what happened.
"The night was a magical night in many ways… Word had spread around within our close group of high school friends. They had snuck into the hotel after the banquet just in time to be there for me at the crowning ceremony. When they called my name it was surreal. I will never forget them placing the crown upon my head and looking out and seeing so many friends cheering for me. I asked if I could make a statement and went to the microphone. “Thank you so much for this honor. It has been a thrill and an honor to compete in this event. Due to my religious convictions, however, I will not be attending the dance. I ask that the first runner-up assume my role.” The crowd cheered even louder. I was shocked. I thought that I would just slip away into the night. I was surrounded by hundreds of well-wishers wanting to shake my hand, give me a hug and talk to me…"
David continues with “Ánd keep the charge of Jehovah thy God…” What does it mean to “keep the charge of Jehovah?” David elaborates on this: “to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, and His commandments, and His ordinances, and His testimonies.” I think we can all understand his; it means to follow God’s teaching. What does David say is the purpose for keeping the charge of Jehovah? “that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn” (I Kings 2:3).
What is the greatest prosperity that one can have — houses, lands, bank accounts? If so, then we pity the poor apostle Paul, who often languished in jail cells, and must have had more than a few scars on his body from the beatings and stonings that he endured.
Wealth can be the source of all sorts of problems.
“For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang" (I Timothy 6:10).
“Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, Than great treasure and turmoil with it” (Proverbs 15:16).
It is not that money is the root of all evil, but the love of money that causes the problems.
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance [with its] income. This too is vanity. When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on? The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much. But the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep. There is a grievous evil [which] I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt. When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him. As he had come naked from his mother's womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand. And this also is a grievous evil--exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So, what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind?” (Ecclesiastes 5:10-16).
What is it then, that Paul had? He had peace.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned [before,] but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:6-7, 10-13).
He had something which the world cannot give, and which the world cannot take away. The point of God’s promise is that his commandments are always for good. He always has our best interests in mind. “And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5)/ This was written in the first century, in a society that had many gods — sometimes bad and sometimes good; sometimes light and sometimes darkness. But God is light — always good. Every commandment He gives us is always for our good, whether we understand or like it or not. For example, parents tell children to do or not to do certain things, and they are for the good of the child, whether or not the child understands or likes them. Just think of how many bad things a child would avoid simply by obeying parents, and how good life would be. And so it is with God and obeying His always wise directions for us.
Solomon’s Words to His Son
“Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, And give attention that you may gain understanding, For I give you sound teaching; Do not abandon my instruction. When I was a son to my father, Tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, Then he taught me and said to me, "Let your heart hold fast my words; Keep my commandments and live; Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. "Do not forsake her, and she will guard you; Love her, and she will watch over you. "The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding. "Prize her, and she will exalt you; She will honor you if you embrace her. "She will place on your head a garland of grace; She will present you with a crown of beauty." Hear, my son, and accept my sayings, And the years of your life will be many. I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble. Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life” (Proverbs 4:1-13).
Solomon raises wisdom and understanding to the highest level. “True wisdom consists not in seeing what is immediately before our eyes, but in foreseeing what is to come” (Terence). In all your getting, get wisdom. No price is too high nor sacrifice too great to obtain the greatest treasure. Men have sacrifices morals, ethics, family, friends, health, and even their own souls in order to obtain wealth. But there is a far greater treasure in life — the wisdom that makes life worth living, that gives riches beyond measure — the peace that passes understanding. Christ asked a poignant question in Matthew 16:26: "For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Solomon presents wisdom as a family heirloom to be passed from one generation to another. He encourages his son to hear even as he heard his own father in Proverbs 4:1-4. As I teach my children, I want to impress upon them the need to pass wisdom on to the next generation. This was also the instruction to Israel upon entering the promised land.
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded [me] to teach you, that you might do [them] in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged” (Deuteronomy 6:1-2).
There is no greater treasure to pass on to the following generation than learning the wisdom that comes from God.
“My son, do not forget my teaching, But let your heart keep my commandments; For length of days and years of life, And peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute In the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:1-7).
“How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding. For its profit is better than the profit of silver, And its gain than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; In her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, And all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who hold her fast" (Proverbs 3:13-18).
Micah’s Words of Wisdom
“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
Let it be known that the children of God are those who do right, who are just. We see everywhere around us that justice and fairness are not valued by many. What a shining light we are to others when they see justice and fairness. Have you ever received too much change from a purchase, or have not been charged enough for an item? The clerk is sometimes shocked when you point out the matter. Our Lord had strong words for the religious leaders of His day who lacked this quality. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:14, 23).
The basic quality of this is summed up in the golden rule. “Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Isaiah also addressed this to the people of his day: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless; Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).
To love kindness or mercy
It seems that God has a special place in his heart for those to whom life has not been kind.
“How blessed is he who considers the helpless; The LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble. The LORD will protect him, and keep him alive, And he shall be called blessed upon the earth; And do not give him over to the desire of his enemies” (Psalms 41:1-2).
“Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalms 85:10).
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
“This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of [our] God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).
This sometimes causes inconvenience on our part, and people will sometimes take advantage of us. But is this not the heart that God would have in us? Even our Lord did not always receive good for the kindness He showed. For four generations our family has had an open home to those who needed someone to care for them — pregnant girls, injured travelers, unwanted young men, foster children. Flora and I have tried to teach our children kindness and mercy by both deeds and words. I am so thankful that our own children exhibit acts of kindness, as their hearts and homes have been receptive to others.
This began with my grandparents, whose home and hearts were open to many. One such incident had a humorous twist to it. After my grandfather, J. D. Tant, closed a meeting and left by train for his next appointment, my grandmother received a letter from Kennett, Missouri, postmarked September 18, 1911.
“Dear Mrs. Tant: I believe it my duty to inform you that you husband left this place last night for parts unknown with the most disreputable woman ever known here. If you desire further information, write the elders of the church here.” (Signed: A Friend) [J. D. Tant, Texas Preacher, p. 326].
My grandmother sent a letter to the elders, asking them to give it to the anonymous friend:
“Sir, Your unkind letter received. Wherever my husband is, I am sure he is about his Father’s business. Go thou and do likewise. Signed: Mrs. J. D. Tant” [Tant, p. 326].
She later learned that her husband had found a home for an orphan girl who had become a mother under the promise of marriage from her sweetheart, who then abandoned her. Her uncle, one of the elders, treated her shamefully and made her life miserable. My grandfather found her a good home with a loving family who helped her start her life anew. In writing about the incident, my grandmother had these words:
"Oh, yes, the “disreputable woman.” It has ever been one of my husband’s greatest works in life to try to raise the fallen — both men and women, boys and girls. I don’t think I could begin to count the number of unfortunate girls we have taken into our home, kept them until their babies were born, and then helped them find homes for themselves and for their babies. And more than once my husband has gone to the jail to go bond for some boy who was in trouble, and brought such into our home, helping him to get his life back on the right track. I was certain this was the situation at Kennett when the anonymous letter came.” [Tant, p, 318].
Have you ever thought about caring for foster children, or adopting a child? What a great gift of love to take an innocent child or troubled teenager into your home and heart. What an immeasurable gift to give that child the hope of heaven through exposure to the gospel of Christ. Think about it: God adopted us, didn’t He, when we were without hope?
“And walk humbly with thy Lord”
This is a spirit of submission—a willingness to do the Lord’s will. The downfall of so many is to think that we are smart enough to know what God wants and what pleases Him apart from His revelation. What have I done to deserve what God has done for me—for the gift of His Son who gave His blood and His life for me? I am not worthy! And neither are you. Therefore I have no reason to be proud of my accomplishments, however great I may think they are. My spirit should only be one of thanksgiving, that God has been gracious to me in allowing my wife and myself to serve the Great King in whatever opportunities He had placed before us. My attitude must be, “Father, what can I do to please you?” rather than just doing what pleases me. The height of arrogance is for me to think that I know the mind of the Lord apart from what He has told me in His Word.
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” (Romans 11:34).
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Much of the entertainment in denominations that passes for worship is simply an appeal to the sensual desire for a good time, and in truth, it is described by Paul as “will worship” in Colossians 2:23.
“What is here termed will-worship…signifies simply a mode of worship which a man chooses for himself, independently of the revelation which God has given. The whole system of Deism is an ethelothreskeia, a worship founded in the will of caprices of man, and not in the wisdom or will of God.” [Adam Clarke 2:525].
“True humility is intelligent self-respect that keeps us from thinking too highly or too meanly of ourselves. It makes us mindful of the nobility God meant us to have. Yet it makes us modest by reminding us how far we have come short of what we can be” [quote attributed to Sockman].
If we can learn true humility, God will see to it that whatever praise is due to us will come as He sees fit.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (I Peter 5:6).
“A man's pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23).
This is humility before God, and before our fellow man.
Micah says we are to walk humbly with our God. Two noble souls are said to have walked with God -- Enoch and Noah. “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). “These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). What a great testimony to future generations, to have walked with God.
No matter what success I may have in life there is no greater thing that I can do than teach my children to love the Lord and follow His Word. In teaching these things to my children, I pray that they would pass them on to future generations, thus continuing to build bridges for those yet unborn. One of my father’s favorite poems was “The Bridge Builder.”
An old man traveling a lone highway,
Came at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream held no fears for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side,
And builded a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” cried a fellow pilgrim near,
“You’re wasting your time in building here.
Your journey will end with the closing day;
You never again will pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm deep and wide,
Why build you this bridge at even tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This stream which has been as naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim--
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”
--Will Allen Dromgoole
Margaret Campbell, the first wife of Alexander Campbell, was born in 1791 and died in 1827 at the age of 36, leaving her husband and five surviving children — girls ranging in age from six to fifteen. Her lingering illness provided her the opportunity to make preparations for her departure, including writing a touching letter to her daughters. The following excerpts from her letter are worth considering
“And now I tell you, my dear children, that all your comfort and happiness in this life, and in that to come, must be deduced from an intimate acquaintance with the Lord Jesus Christ. I have found His character, as delineated by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in their testimonies exceedingly precious; and the more familiarly I am acquainted with it, the more I desire to be with Him. I say to you, then, with all the affection of a mother, and now about to leave you, I entreat you, as you love me and your own lives, study and meditate upon the words and actions of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember how kindly He has spoken to, and of, little children; and that there is no good thing which He will withhold from them who love Him and walk uprightly…It is scarcely necessary, I hope, to exhort you to this; nevertheless, I will mention it to you, and bed of you, all your lives together, to love one another, and to seek to make one another happy by all the means in your power. But I must have done, and once more commend you to God and to the word of His grace; even to Him who is able to edify you, and to give you an inheritance in the heavenly kingdom, is my last prayer for you; and as you desire it, remember the words of Him who is the way, the truth, and the life. Amen!”
May God bless all who are parents and grandparents who seek to point their children and grandchildren to heaven, as we build the bridge over which they must cross in the generations which follow.