Whether you read Deuteronomy, Matthew or Colossians, the message is the same: the first thing that God requires is that he is to be loved. Too often, when it comes to raising children, loving God is tacked on as an after thought to obedience. The thought process may run like this:
“I can’t force my children to love God, so I will teach them to obey, because I can require that.”
Teaching obedience appears to be a more doable task than teaching the love of God. After all, reaching the heart of your child is way beyond our capacity. Of course, it is beyond your capacity, but not beyond God’s!
Think of the people of whom God required love as a condition of obedience:
The children of Israel were a hard-hearted, complaining bunch. But Moses tells them that their first responsibility is to love God with all their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; 6:4-7). To the cynical, hypocritical hearts of the Pharisees, Jesus says the greatest commandment is the love of God (Matthew 22:37-40). To the pagan, cosmopolitan people of Colossae and Corinth Paul says to begin with love (Colossians 3:14 & I Corinthians 13).
Your children’s hearts are no more difficult to reach than the hearts of these folks. The love of God must come first. This doesn’t mean that this truth will be immediately embraced by your children. But it does mean that you cannot leave out requiring the love of God in your parenting (Deuteronomy 6:4-7). Otherwise, your parental direction will be just an empty form of work-righteousness or manipulation.
What does this look like in practice?
Instead of saying “The Bible says that you must obey mommy right away.”
Use language like this “Obeying right away is how you can show your love for God. Remember, that God says that loving him is the most important thing.”
Teaching your children to love God is much more than a change in behavior. Simply changing behavior will not protect your children. But there is no more important issue that you can be involved with as a parent than teaching the love of God.
This means everyday there is the opportunity, the command to present the gospel to your children. In addition to whatever discipline is called for, the most important thing is to address the importance of loving God. This means that loving God first must be your primary motivation as a parent and as a Christian.
Obey first or love God first? How you answer this question will shape the course of your parenting!