I’ll never forget the feeling of cradling our baby girl in my arms just after she was born. She was so tiny, so new. I remember thinking how she had her whole life ahead of her. And though she was only minutes old, my mind was spinning with all the good things I wanted for her, not just in the days and weeks ahead, but throughout her life. That’s the way it is with us parents and grandparents. We have such dreams for our children. We want the best for them. Should it surprise us that our heavenly Father feels the same way about the children he entrusts to our care? We all have some ideas about what is best for our kids. Today we’ll spend some time comparing those ideas with what God wants for our children. We’ll study the verses of our text with this theme in mind: Giving Our Kids God’s Best: 1) makes them wise for salvation; and 2) equips them for service.
The Apostle Paul is not a new father holding his child for the first time in a hospital delivery room. He’s a tired servant of Christ, scratching out these words that God’s Spirit is breathing into him as he suffers in the cold confines of a Roman dungeon. Paul seems quite certain that he won’t leave this prison alive. His thoughts turn to Timothy, a young pastor whom Paul thinks of and loves as a son. In some ways this letter will serve as Paul’s last will and testament and as one of his spiritual heirs, the apostle wants to pass along the best to Timothy, not Paul’s best, but God’s best. Paul says so right here: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
Paul’s devotion to Timothy was one born of Christian love. Theirs truly was a father/son relationship that had its deep roots in the one person that both men held most dear – the Lord Jesus and his life-giving Word. Paul had shared with his son in the faith all that Jesus had passed on to Paul. Timothy soaked it up like a sponge. But don’t think for a moment that this was the young man’s first encounter with the Scriptures. Oh no. Paul wasn’t Timothy’s first teacher or even his second. Those honors went to Timothy’s mother, Eunice and his Grandma Lois. As those dear ladies took turns holding baby Timothy in their arms, they, no doubt, sung him to sleep with songs about his Savior God and we know for a fact that they taught him the Holy Scriptures from little on. In fact, in the Greek Paul actually refers here to the Scriptures as the “holy letters” giving the sense that God’s Word was Timothy’s primer, the book from which he learned his ABCs. You know: A is for Adam. B is for Bible. C is for Christ.
This was Eunice’s way of giving her son God’s best. What a powerful example she sets. One that I often need to take a hard look at—hard in the sense that at times, too many times, Eunice and Lois and Paul have put me to shame. Don’t get me wrong. I have wanted the best for my daughter. That’s not the problem. No the problem has been my ideas about what is best for her. Can you relate? We imagine that it would be best for our children to be successful in every aspect of life. That thought leads us to make choices about the courses they need to take and the schools they need to attend from pre-school through college and beyond. We imagine that our children need to be well-rounded individuals who have participated in all kinds of sports and exposed to the arts. We become a taxi service hauling them from this event to that recital. We do it all in the name of love – of course we do. Again, that’s not the problem. Nor do I mean to suggest that any of these things is wrong in and of itself. But any and all of these things can become wrong, they can become sinful when they begin to interfere and even compete with what God says is best for the children he’s given us.
You see, as sinful mortals, our idea of “best” can be so short-sighted. We don’t always think to look beyond the 70 or 80 or more years we hope our children will spend on this earth. We get so invested in their earthly future that we can lose our perspective on the eternity that awaits them and us all. But God’s vision is always perfect. He sees the big picture. He would have us to see it too. More than anything else God wants our children with him forever. But there’s only one way that is going to happen. Having inherited our sinfulness our children come into this world as far from God has heaven is from hell and there’s nothing they can do about it. They could spend all their lives studying under the best scientists, the most noted philosophers, the greatest minds this world can produce and they would learn nothing that would help them draw even one millimeter closer to their Creator and Judge. They could spend their lives working hard to make and save vast sums of money, but neither their efforts nor their wealth would earn them even a day in God’s paradise.
Only God can pay the sinner’s price of admittance into heaven and that’s exactly what he did through the sinner’s Substitute – God’s Son our Savior Jesus. Christ’s blood is the ticket. It’s the ransom he paid on the cross to free us and our children from hell’s unending torture. This ransom is not something that our children must beg for nor is it a lottery prize to be won. It’s a gift full and free – God’s gift to all who know his Son, to all who die trusting in Jesus as Savior. But how do our children learn to trust him? Well, that’s God’s doing. He works faith in our children’s hearts through his powerful promises. This is why Paul tells us “All Scripture is God breathed…” (2 Timothy 3:16). There have been so many words written in so many books over all of the centuries of times. But of all those words and all those books, the Bible is unique. Because every word of Scripture is from God himself. As he placed it in the minds and put it on the pens of his prophets and apostles, he packed each word with his power, the power to create in us sinners the very faith in Jesus that Scripture calls on us to have. God gives us and our children everything he requires of us. He calls on us to be perfect. He credits to us the perfection of Jesus. He demands payment for our sins. He cancels our debt by counting Christ’s sacrifice as our own. He promises salvation to all who believe and then uses that very promise to work in us the faith we need. God does it all for us and in us. Nothing is impossible with him.
Parents, this is our great confidence. When you brought your child to the baptismal font that was no empty ritual. That was not simply a nice family tradition. The font is God’s workshop where he uses his Word to make your tiny infant wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. That’s God’s promise and it doesn’t stop there. He repeats the miracle as often as you sing and talk and read about Jesus. Whenever, wherever we proclaim to our children Scripture’s truth in verse or song, we are giving our kids God’s best, because there God’s Spirit is growing faith in Jesus, keeping it alive so that it does not die, so that we do not die spiritually. This is so important that even though Timothy was all grown up, St. Paul was still telling him: “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of…” Paul wanted God’s best for Timothy. He wanted to make sure he would see his son in heaven. And he knew that for such a blessing to take place, Timothy would need to remain a student of Scripture till his own dying breath. There was something else on Paul’s mind. He knew that as Timothy grew in his knowledge of Scripture, he would be a blessing to so many others. The love of Jesus transforms us sinners from selfish to selfless. Giving Our Kids God’s Best not only makes them wise for salvation that awaits them in heaven. It equips them for a life of service till they get there.
Paul writes: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). As we hold our little ones in our arms, we may dream of the day when they don’t have to work, a day when they are so well off that they can afford to hire others to do for them life’s menial and mundane tasks. Well off or not, God has other plans in mind for us and our children. Remember, God’s own Son “…did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The saving love of Jesus transplants in us and our kids a heart just like his own, a servant’s heart. We want to serve and the Word helps us do just that. We want to share what we have received from God. But how? What should we say? The Word is the answer. We simply speak it and it does all the rest. Packed with God’s power it is useful for teaching others all about Jesus and the forgiveness he as earned for all sinners. The Word our children learn makes each one of them an evangelist. But what about all the crazy ideas out there and even in here, in our own hearts that war against God’s will and ways? Again the Word is useful in that it rebukes, it refutes error with simple truth spoken in Christian love. It turns hearts away from dangerous lies to saving promises. It corrects us sinners in the most winsome way. We know this from our own experience. It may be happening to us today. As I come to grips with the thought that I haven’t always given my child God’s best, God does not weigh me down with guilt. He corrects me in love. Even before I spot my sin, he pardons me. He does the same for you. And with his forgiveness he promises to be at work, not only correcting us but fixing what we can’t. He is able to right our wrongs by making all things serve our good, our children’s good. And then, he gives you and me this new day of grace in which to make changes, not so as to earn his favor, but to thank him for his unconditional love. His word trains us and our children to live righteous lives, lives of service that bring honor and praise to the God of our salvation.
Isn’t this what we want for our kids? We want God’s best for them. We want them so close and connected to him, that even when we are no longer here to encourage them, nothing will turn them from God’s saving Word. This is same desire that moved our brothers and sisters here at Mount Olive to promote Christian education from the day our church was born. For a hundred years now there has been Mount Olive Sunday School and Mount Olive catechism classes. From day one, parents wanted their children to study God’s Word in a Lutheran Elementary school. For the first 55 years of our existence that meant sending our children to St. Paul Lutheran School downtown, a block away from our former church building. But then came the opportunity to start our own school. If fact that was the impetus to moving here to the north side of Appleton. If you and I could go back 45 years to the day, August 30, 1970 and stare through this wall, we would be watching the very first students of Mount Olive Lutheran School (94 of them) take their seats on the first day of class as teachers Kolander, Levorson, Nelson and Meyer teamed up with parents to give those precious souls God’s best. The goal was to impart the truth that makes wise for salvation. The prayer was that every student would continue for a lifetime in what he or she had learned and become convinced of.
You and I have that same goal in mind for all our children here at Mount Olive. Whether we are single or married, young or old, whether we have a house full of kids or we are empty nesters, the children of Mount Olive are our children. We want them in heaven with us and so we will do all that we can to give them, not our best, but God’s best for their eternal good and to our Savior’s eternal praise. Amen.