Teaching Kids Moral Lessons in the Bible
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In this episode of the Foundation Worldview podcast, host Elizabeth Urbanowicz explores the challenge Christian parents often face: balancing the teaching of correct study of scripture and teaching moral lessons from the Bible. She offers unique insights into how the Bible should be used as a tool for understanding God's revelation rather than just correcting behavior. Elizabeth emphasizes the importance of teaching kids to independently read, interpret, and apply scripture, and warns against pulling verses out of context. This episode is essential listening for parents looking to guide their children through a deeper understanding of the Bible.
Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.
Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode tonight. Now today's question says, "how should we as parents balance teaching how to correctly study scripture and also taking time to teach the moral lessons too?" Great question that I think so many people are probably thinking through, how do I correctly read, interpret, and apply scripture with these children that God has placed in my care? So I'm super excited to dive into this question today.
Before we do that would just remind you to please like and subscribe to this content if you found it beneficial to make sure that you don't miss a future episode and would also ask you to consider writing a review and sharing this podcast with those within your sphere of influence because we want to equip as many adults as possible to get the kids in their care carefully evaluating every idea they encounter.
Now, when this question came in, I was really excited because it asks a really important question, how do we balance correct interpretation of scripture and not making every single story a moral lesson while also teaching morality through the Bible? Because we do know that the Bible was given to us to show us how to rightly live. And so when we think through this question, I think that this question really highlights a common error that has been used for decades in instructing kids in scripture. And this error is using the Bible simply as a tool for correcting a child's behavior rather than approaching it as God's self-revelation.
Now, as I mentioned before, we do know that the Bible is very clear in how we are to live and we are to take our cues from scripture in how we are to live and honor God with our lives. However, there's a problem if we are using the Bible with our children just to suit our own purposes as kind of using the Bible as a sledgehammer to pound into our children the right way of living, that we want to make sure that we are approaching scripture correctly.
Now, those of you who have followed Foundation Worldview for a while know that we are very passionate about equipping children to soundly read, interpret, and apply scripture on their own. Just as we are continually equipping our children to become more and more independent, to do their own laundry, to be able to make a meal for themselves as they become teens to be able to drive. We want to make sure we're doing the same thing with scripture, that we're giving our children the tools that they need to soundly read, interpret, and apply scripture on their own. And we recommend that this process start at the age of eight or nine.
If you're interested in finding more information about how to do this, I highly recommend you check out a recent webinar that we did on Teaching Our Kids How to Read the Bible. In that webinar, we go into more detail on how we can do this with our children. And then if you're looking for a systematic guide in equipping yourself and your children to soundly, read, interpret, and apply scripture, highly recommend you check out our Studying the Bible Curriculum. That's for any child over the age of eight, and also for teens and adults just equipping everyone to soundly read, interpret, and apply scripture.
Now this question asks, how do we balance both? How do we balance teaching our kids how to read, interpret, and apply scripture and to understand how they are to live well? A correct application of scripture is going to be a correct way for us to live. So I think a great way for us to start when we're trying to figure out how do we balance these two things is by asking ourselves anytime we're approaching a text, what was the author's purpose in writing this text? Now, obviously we can't know every single purpose that a biblical author had in his mind as he was writing the text, but we can know an author's general overall purpose based on the genre. When we're looking at a Psalm poetry that's written to express someone's heart towards God, we know that the purpose was for the author to lay bear his heart before the Lord, to express everything he was thinking and feeling all of his emotions, all of his praise towards God, and then to ultimately remind himself of who God is.
Then when we're looking at a historical book like 1 or 2 Samuel, the narratives in those books were written for the purpose of recording the history of the nation of Israel and pointing to God's faithfulness throughout that entire history. So we want to make sure that as we are reading a text with our kids, we're staying true to what was the author's original intent for this passage. So if we're reading a portion of history, a more descriptive passage, we want to make sure that we're not just squeezing out some moral lesson that was not in the text.
When I think of my own experience growing up, I think of very clearly how often this was done in my own Sunday school experience where some moral lesson that was not in the text was just squeezed out. And I think a really clear example for me is in the narrative in Genesis chapter 13 where Abraham and Lot, they've become so prosperous and so wealthy that their herdsmen are getting into arguments cause there's not enough grasp for all of their herds to feed on. And so eventually they decide to go separate ways. And so Abraham says, if you go to the right, I'll go to the left. Which land do you want? And the lot sees the planes of the Jordan and how they're well watered, they're closer to cities and he goes, and he takes his family that way. And then Abraham goes off more towards the desert. And then God comes to Abraham and he reminds Abraham of the covenant that he's made with him that his descendants are going to be as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the ground, and that they're one day going to have this entire land of Canaan.
Now, when I was in Sunday school, the moral lesson that was squeezed out of that text was that Abraham was humble and he was good at sharing. He let Lot get the better land. So we want to be like Abraham and we want to be humble and good at sharing and let others get what is best. Now, is it true that we are called to be humble? Absolutely. Is it true that we are called to reflect God's generous heart through the way that we share with others? Yes. Is it true that we should think of others more highly as ours than ourselves and let them get what is better than what we have? Yes, those things are true. Is that what is taught in this text? Absolutely not. This text is pointing to God's covenant faithfulness that God has made these promises to Abraham and God has not forgotten about these promises. Even when Abraham went off to Egypt, God has not forgotten these promises. God is going to faithfully fulfill them in His time. And that's what this narrative is about, God's covenant faithfulness.
So when we're approaching a text like this, we want to make sure you know that even if we want to teach our kids how to share and how to be humble and how to be kind to one another, those are things we can teach them through scripture. But Genesis 13 is not the appropriate text in which to do that because that's not the point of that text. That the point of that text is that we serve a God who is faithful to fulfill every single promise that he has made in his word. And we want to be faithful to that text. And these are some of the things that we go through in that Studying The Bible Curriculum that I mentioned before, that when we have kids read through descriptive passages, we have them ask the question, what does this text reveal about who God is? And Genesis 13 reveals that God is the faithful covenant keeper.
Now, there are other portions of scripture that do teach us how we are to live. When you think of the epistles, the letters in the New Testament, they are full of lots of instructions to the churches on how to live. And so there are very clear instructions there. What we want to be careful that we're doing is that we're not just pulling out some random verses and throwing them in our kids' faces. You know that we're supposed to encourage one another and build each other up. Like yes, we are supposed to do those things, but we don't just want to pull a verse out of context, a very famous passage that talks about how to treat one another.
In the end of Ephesians chapter 4, it says, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ forgave you. Very important lesson for us and for our children to learn, but we want to make sure that we don't just pull those verses out of context and just expect that our children are going to somehow understand how to do those things because those verses were written in a very specific context. So when you look at the book of Ephesians as a whole, the first chapter of Ephesians is all about who Jesus is and what he has done for us. In fact, most of chapter one is one long run on sentence in the Greek describing the amazing works that Christ has done for us. Then chapter two, outlines who we were before we knew Christ and how we were dead in our sins, and then how we were reconciled to God and brought into the body of Christ and how Christ has broken down all of the dividing walls of hostility to make us one as the church.
Then chapter three is all about what God has called us to as the church and the gifts that he has given the church so that the body builds itself up in love. Then chapter four transitions into, okay, now that we know who Jesus is, what he's done for us, who we were, how we've been united to Christ and to one another, and we've been brought into this body of the church, how are we then to live? And chapter four goes through the specifics of Christian living within the body of Christ. Chapter five dives down deep into the specific relationships within the body of Christ, familial relationships of husband and wife, parent, child, then master slave relationships. And then chapter six goes into how are we to live by putting on the armor that God has given us. So when we understand this big context, when we get to that verse about be kind to one another and compassionate, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ forgave us, we're pointing back to look at all of the ways that Jesus has forgiven us, the sins that He's forgiven us for. How has he done this? And then what has he done to make us one in Christ.
That's going to make so much more sense to our kids than just pulling out one random verse, having them memorize it and say, "okay, now you need to do this" because that's not what Paul did. He didn't write the church in Ephesus, one verse and say, okay, make sure you're kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ forgave you. No, he sent them an entire letter with that verse situated in the middle so that they would understand how they are to do that. So we need to make sure that we're putting those verses in context.
Now, behavioral correction for our children is not the primary goal or even a primary goal when we're reading scripture that yes, scripture should transform us. It should transform the way we think, the affections of our heart, the words of our mouth, and the actions of our hands. But transforming behavior is not the primary goal in teaching our kids to read scripture. We want to make sure that our primary goal is helping them understand who God is and the grand story that he is writing in the universe.
Now, obviously, we do have a responsibility to correct our children's sinful behavior. We do. We are called to discipline our children and raise them up in the fear and instruction of the Lord. So just because we're not using the Bible as a sledgehammer to correct their behavior, it doesn't mean that we don't correct their behavior or that we don't root it in scripture. Yes, we should be correcting their behavior and we should be making sure that they understand that this is not just mom or dad's arbitrary rules, but we're trying to help them to honor God and to live in a way that shows love for God and love for neighbor.
We just want to make sure that when our kids view the Bible, they don't view it as some tool that has been used to manipulate their behavior, that they primarily see it as God's self-revelation telling us the grand story of the lengths to which God has gone to reconcile the world to himself.
Well, that's a wrap for today's episode, but as always, as we leave our time together, my prayer is that God would richly bless you as you continue to faithfully disciple the children that He's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.
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