In today’s passage, God tells the Israelites that if they want to see a good future while living in the promised land, they need to follow this value in particular: to honour one’s parents. The starting point of this concept, however, is that human nature is fallen and that we live in a fallen world. We are all sinners. The proof is that we all die. (Romans 3:10; Hebrews 9:27) God has accordingly given us a conscience, and a family, where evil is restrained. We can learn how to become good members of society through our family relationships. In particular, the relationship between parents and children is crucial for learning to love and to trust. The family is a divinely given institution for restraining sinners, where the moral image of God is developed within us.
As parents, we hate it the most when we see our own sinfulness in our children. We want our children to live a better life than us, and so we invest a lot in them. Parents also often tell their children about their own hardships, claiming to know the better way forward. However, parents may also tend towards vicarious satisfaction by living their children’s lives, and by claiming their children’s successes as their own. Some parents say things like, ‘When I was young, my business failed, and so I want you to succeed instead. I’m doing this for you.’ Parents may even design their own children’s lives. Parents should instead equip their children with the ability to live their own lives with blessings before they reach the age of independence. Parents need to be wary about carelessly accepting their children’s sinful behaviour, or investing in things which develop and grow their children’s sinfulness. As parents, we need to teach our children to accept the fact that they are sinners. But we also need to teach them to fight against their sin. If we want our children to live a blessed life, we need to teach our children to have a personal relationship with God. That’s the only way for them to fight against their sin. If they are successful in worldly terms but are unable to fight their sinfulness, their lives will not be happy or peaceful.
Hannah’s method of education/raising children
There are three levels of education that we can see in the way Hannah raised the prophet Samuel:
1. Education in the womb
2. Education in the family
3. Education in the temple
Every child is a gift and treasure from God. This means that we need to take care of the treasure and return it to God. Parents need to realize this fact. Having given birth to her child, Hannah confessed that the boy was given by the Lord (1 Samuel 1:20). We need to let our children know that they are gifts from God.
Many parents idolize their children. This leads to children growing up to be selfish, having an entitled mindset, and being dependent on their parents. Such children will only think of themselves. The family needs to teach the children about caring for others, and the children can learn this by watching the parents. Statistics show that eighty percent of Christian children leave the church after reaching independence. They see no reason for church, nor did they see a true relationship between their parents and God. They have learned, from their parents, that business, studies, and holidays are more important than going to church. How much time are we spending on our children’s studies and extra-curricular activities? We invest so much money for tuition, art, music lessons, and so on. But when it comes to spiritual things, we think they should come for free. As parents, we need to change such thinking and give our children more opportunities to discover the gospel. We don’t want our children to live just a good life, but a faithful Christian life. We need to teach our children the importance of living in God’s grace. Such things cannot be taught with words, but only through our own lives and actions as parents. What example are we setting for our children? They watch us. They know if we live a lie. Are we still joyful in hardship? They watch for our reaction.
Hannah also said that she would bring Samuel to the temple, for him to stay there forever (1 Samuel 1:22-23). If you were Hannah’s husband, you might think she’d gone crazy. But both parents agreed on the fact that Samuel was a gift from God, and both agreed to give him back to God. We need to firmly believe that once we give our child to God, God will look after the child.
Education in the temple. Hannah weaned Samuel, she brought him to the temple with offerings. The usual age for this weaning was three years old. By giving the offerings, she demonstrated to Samuel how to worship God. As parents, we tend to nag our children all the time. But the Bible is what equips our children to be good people (2 Timothy 3:16-17). When Samuel came to Shiloh, God came with him (1 Samuel 3:21). If we raise our children in the Word of God, wherever they go, God will also go with them.
We need to teach our children to share with others and to care for others so that wherever they go, they will show God’s love and care. St. Augustine had lived as a sinner from his youth, but his mother came to Bishop Ambrose and asked for help. Bishop Ambrose said in response, ‘It cannot be that the sons of those tears should perish.’ Later in his life, Augustine came to have great faith and became a bishop.
Faith is trust. As parents, we need to trust in God and pray, believing that God will look after our children. Not a single prayer will go to waste.
As children, how can we honour our parents? (Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3; Ephesians 6:1-3). God commanded us to honour our parents, along with keeping our parents. Anyone who is raised according to the Bible will honour their parents. It’s not biblical for parents to demand gratitude or payback from their children. Such gratitude should come naturally. What is the biblical meaning of honouring parents? It teaches us about order and authority. Without an authority structure, we will not be restrained in our sins. God is the first authority, and the parents the second. It is a God-given structure. God created us, but we also exist because of our parents. Our parents gave us life and saved our lives.
What if our parents don’t believe in God? As their children, we can honour our parents by bringing them to God. We need to invest time, money, and prayers into evangelizing our parents. May we remember our parents also as a gift from God, and let us discover the role God has for us in their salvation.