A common heart’s desire I hear from homeschooling parents is to raise children who will love and serve the Lord Jesus. That is our desire as well. I believe this is a major reason why families invest their time and money to home educate their children. However, as critical as homeschooling is to raising men and women of God, homeschooling by itself will fall short.
Logic would wonder who could be a better father than the man of God, Eli the high priest, and what better place to raise one’s children than in “God’s house”? With those things going for them, Eli’s sons should have been dynamic, on-fire followers of God. Yet, 1 Samuel 2:12 tells us: “Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.” Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s sons, were priests in Shiloh. They would take the fat and flesh from the pots of the Israelites contrary to God’s Word to satisfy their covetous hearts. In addition, they were immoral, and God took notice. “Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:17).
The people reported the sons’ conduct to Eli. We learn much about Eli’s life and parenting by how he responds to this information. “Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the LORD’S people to transgress. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall intreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them” (1 Samuel 2:22-25). Can you believe that all Eli could bring himself to do was to lecture his sons? Where was his passion? Where was his fear of God? Where was his love for his God and sons?
This account of Eli and his sons, though more extreme, bears similarities to many Christian families. It seems the popular assumption today is that if we are religious parents who bring our children to church frequently, the children will turn out all right. This hasn’t worked in the past, and it will not work now, even if we have made the important choice to homeschool them. If our vision for our children is that they be dynamic followers of Jesus Christ, we must be committed to do whatever is in our power to help them get there.
First and foremost, each child needs a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). It isn’t enough that Dad and Mom are believers. Each child must have a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each has to come to a place of acknowledging that he is a sinner and, before God, repent of his sin. Then he should see Jesus’ death on the cross, burial, and resurrection as the solution to his sin. However, our jobs don’t stop once our children are saved. Salvation is just the beginning of the journey.
The children have to be discipled by Dad and Mom to learn what life in Christ is all about. It appears that perhaps Eli failed in discipling his sons. We can tell from this account that Eli and his sons were focused on the flesh’s pleasure. Eli was very overweight when he died, and Scripture indicates this condition had come from Eli’s coveting food and physical pleasure, “. . . to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings . . . “ (1 Samuel 2:29). His sons followed their father in his fleshly appetites while also taking them to new levels. They demonstrated the natural tendency children have to expand the appetites of their parents with less restraint. It would be beneficial to examine our lives and identify wrong appetites because we can expect to see these amplified in our children.
Subtly Satan has convinced believers today that as long as we attend church, we can still live for most all the world has to offer. If we stay away from the bad sin, it is all okay. Most of the “church” today thinks that everything “neutral” is fine and only wicked things are to be avoided.
Instead of listening to the world, we want to look at what God’s Word says about so-called neutral things: “. . . they have provoked me to anger with their vanities . . .” (Deuteronomy 32:21). The Hebrew word for vanities is hebel and means “breath as a transitory thing, emptiness or idols.” God is saying that because of the pursuit of empty, worthless things, He is angered. “And turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain” (1 Samuel 12:21).
The tragic result of parents who follow after the world and vanity is that their children are being pulled into the world just as Eli’s sons were. To avoid this, children must see Jesus Christ alive and at work in Dad and Mom’s life. They have to be part of spending quality family time together reading the Bible every night rather than seeing a parent’s example of following after the world and its entertainment. The beauty of the abiding life in Christ should become desirable to our children because of its truth in our lives, and we must flee the pleasurable vanities that are being embraced.
Eli had a reverence for God as evidenced by the way he instructed Samuel to respond to the Lord when He called, but he didn’t have a fear of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:9). If Eli had possessed a fear of God, he would have chastened his sons when he learned what they were doing. There would have been consequences for his sons’ sin, such as removing them from their offices of priesthood or perhaps something even more severe. He would have used the authority that God had entrusted to him as the high priest with his sons just as he would have if they hadn’t been his sons. The prophet God sent to deliver the message to Eli made it clear that Eli preferred his sons over God. “Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me . . . ?” (1 Samuel 2:29).
After our love for the Lord, fearing Him is one of the next most important aspects in discipling our children. Fear of God and His chastening is a wonderful hindrance to sin. “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Hebrews 12:7). God chastens His children. Based on this verse, among others, and Israel’s past, I believe if we don’t experience chastening, we either aren’t saved or we are spiritually asleep and not aware of the chastening we are receiving. It would be wonderful if we didn’t receive chastening, but each of us is still in the flesh, and as long as that is the case, we can expect to be chastened. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). Hopefully, there will be fewer instances of it as we mature in Christ, but it is a good thing to recognize chastening and share it with the family.
When we tell the family that we have been chastened by the Lord, it will help the children to grow in fear of the Lord. I believe that talking about our personal sin and disobedience, with discretion, is almost as important as sharing the mighty works that God does in and for the family. In Deuteronomy 29, Moses forewarns what disobedience will cost Israel. In Acts 7, Stephen reminds the Jews of their ongoing disobedience and chastening. As I listen to and observe families, I have come to believe that the fact that God chastens His children isn’t being taught in homes.
“Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it” (Deuteronomy 31:12-13).
One important point to teach our children is that God does not always chasten immediately. God is so patient and long-suffering, giving us time to repent of our sin, that we can often think He isn’t going to chasten us. We must help our children not to confuse long-suffering with overlooking.
I have developed a passion about this topic because of the struggles families share with me all the time—conservative, Christian families who desperately want children who love Jesus Christ and serve Him. They are blind to the fact that their heart’s desire for their children has not matched the example of their lives nor their own investment into their children’s lives. I walked that path in my earlier Christian life and parenting, but I never want to return there. I can’t describe to you the joy and spiritual growth our family experiences as a result of our nightly time in the Word, and the freedom in our hearts as we have let go of the self-focus of entertainment. With all my heart, I want the same for you and your family.