1 Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
2 for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
3 When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
4 he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
5 Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
6 Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.
8 Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
9 She will place on your head a graceful garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
that the years of your life may be many.
11 I have taught you the way of wisdom;
I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
12 When you walk, your step will not be hampered,
and if you run, you will not stumble.
13 Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
guard her, for she is your life.
14 Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of the evil.
15 Avoid it; do not go on it;
turn away from it and pass on.
16 For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
17 For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
19 The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know over what they stumble.
20 My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
22 For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.
23 Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
24 Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
25 Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
26 Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.
The Book of Proverbs is loaded with words of wisdom. It is filled with teachings that lead to life. God reveals his grand teachings for practical living in this book. The parents passed on their wisdom to their children. And this is the kind of wisdom that is from above. The kind of wisdom that springs from God himself. The natural relationship between parents and children become the platform for the wisdom of life to be taught and internalized into the hearts of the next generation. The simplest summary of the teachings of the book of Proverbs is that the way of righteousness is the way to life, which is contrary to the way of wickedness that leads to death. Wisdom is teaching the simple the way to life. Folly is deceiving the simple to walk the way of death. And the parents, the father and the mother, teach their children wisdom. The foundation of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.
This intimate connection between wisdom and the Lord requires everyone to know the Lord in order to properly fear him. And to know the Lord one cannot skip listening and be transformed by the word of God. This is where theology becomes significant. Theology is basically the study of God. John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion started his entire book on the knowledge of God. The knowledge of God holds the key to all other knowledge, including the knowledge of self. Without proper theology one is in danger of being lost in the web of knowledge. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:16-18:
16I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
18For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
It is meaningless to continue acquiring knowledge. It never ends. New knowledge is added every time. How can we conclude that the knowledge we have leads us not to meaninglessness? Solomon continued to ponder the question of meaninglessness and couldn’t settle, until he reached chapter 12:13-14 and formulated his conclusion of everything:
13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
It all goes back to theology. Proper theology will lead us to the healthy fear of God. And when we fear God the way we should, we will heed and keep his commandments, and his commandments will keep us in the way of righteousness, which leads us to the way of life. Paul understood this and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit he then taught the parents in Ephesus to bring their children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This is instructed not as a way to achieve salvation. It is impossible for sinners to achieve salvation by doing the Law (cf. Romans 8:3). But this instruction is given for the children of light, those God has saved. Even the OT Law is given in the context of Israel already chosen and saved by God. If we look at the Book of Exodus, we will find out right away that the Ten Commandments and the whole Torah was given after Israel was saved from the land of slavery. That’s why the preamble of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 5:6 spells:
2 “I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery.
And this preamble is key to understanding the Ten Commandments. They are not commandments without a context. And the context is salvation. In freedom, therefore, Israel is to obey the Lord’s commandments – the Law. Such is the way of life.
Now, what is the practical way of teaching our kids theology? The Bible is very thick. There are 66 books in it. 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. About 31,000 verses and 1,200 chapters total. And about 774,000 words throughout. It would be a big challenge for people who are not trained in the study of theology to teach their kids theology directly from the Scripture. Especially because there are many difficult passages in the Bible that requires proper interpretation. Now, God has raised some wise people to formulate theology into more systematic and practical teachings for everybody. And we can use them to teach our children theology. Here I want to suggest Heidelberg Catechism or Westminster Shorter Catechism as the tool to help parents to walk through theology with their kids. If we look at how the questions and answers are formulated in those catechisms, we will know right away that they are quite simple. For example, Heidelberg Catechism starts with the question of our comfort in life and death. A question that everyone asks. A practical question that nobody skips. In the similar fashion, Westminster Shorter Catechism starts with the question of the purpose of human life. Also a very practical question that everyone also asks. These two catechisms are designed to be practical, but yet they are filled with important theology that will guard our every step. Again, my suggestion is to pick up either catechism as your tool to teach your kids theology, which will help you teach your kids the way of life as taught in the Bible.
These catechisms can be used even when someone is not familiar with the content of the Bible. The catechisms are equipped with references to the bible verses that you can just peek quite conveniently. In the technology era like what we have today, it is even easier to find the bible verse referred to by the catechisms. You can just google it by typing the bible verse exactly as written, and voila you will be able to read it right there without the hassle of trying to figure out where to find the book of Joel or Jude, for example. As you gain more knowledge and be more familiar with the Bible, you can gradually figure out where the book of the bible is, whether it is in the Old Testament or New Testament, for example you will soon figure out that the book of Hosea is in the Old Testament. These catechisms will work even better if you are familiar with the Bible. For children, familiarity with the biblical stories help big time in understanding more of the discussion in the catechisms. The best thing is that these catechisms can be used repeatedly, with an exciting new sense of knowledge every time you revisit each Q&A. The more you are familiar with them, the more you acquire biblical knowledge and wisdom, the more you are in tuned with theology, the more you understand the truth written in the Scripture.
You can use it every day as devotional time with your children. You can also opt to use it every week. My suggestion is to keep it consistent. A weekly catechism study should be the least. Daily catechism is better. Now, the habit is to leave it to the church to teach our kids catechism and therefore theology. Although this is a good practice, we ought not forget that the primary responsibility is given to parents, not to church leaders, to teach our kids in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Another practical suggestion is to be relax when teaching your kids through the catechism. It doesn’t have to be an hour time of a “have to reflect and completely comprehend” the catechism sort of thing. Sometimes it can just be a reading of the question and answer together. If you feel compelled to explain further, you may. But it is also wise to wait until your children ask you questions about what they just read or heard. When your children ask a question, it shows that they are interested. Interest ties in with motivation. And learning requires motivation for it to occur. If they are not interested, it is okay to just close it with a prayer without further probing. Or you can also sing together a hymn. Children usually like singing. Pick a hymn that reflects the catechism teaching of the day. Pretty soon, once your child adjusts to the rhythm, they will feel more familiar with the teaching, which will help them to be more active in their learning, and thus it would assist your teaching big time. Last but not least, do not forget to pray, pray for yourself, pray for your kids to be open to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Eventually what is the most important is the word of God. Catechism is a tool to help you navigate through the huge volume of the Scripture. As our eagerness to teach our kids persists, we then obey the Lord’s command to teach our kids in the way they should go so when they are old they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:11). In the end our kids will become good citizens of God’s kingdom.