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Discipleship is in the Family from the Beginning
Discipleship in the Old Testament–Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Today I’ll borrow a message preached thousands of years ago, but it is far more relevant today than Fox News. Open your Bible to Deuteronomy 6:1-9, follow along in your outline and as you do, allow me to reconstruct the historical backdrop.
The children of Israel were winding their way through the wilderness and came to a place called Kadesh-Barnea–actually just a wide spot in the road, except for a decision they made there, a decision that determined their destiny. God told them to go directly into the land, but they said in effect, “Look, let’s be practical, God–we should appoint a committee.”
So in committee fashion, they came back with a majority and minority report. The majority said, “We can’t go in there. There are giants in the land–pro-football lineman types (that’s in the Hebrew text). Besides, we’re just a group of little grasshoppers. There were two men who brought back the minority report–just two out of twelve.
American’s think the majority is always right. Nothing could be further from the truth. Frequently, the majority is flat wrong. They were on this occasion, and the result of listening to the majority decision was an entire generation perished in the wilderness. Only two men entered the land–Joshua and Caleb. Even Moses, because of his unbelief, was not allowed to enter the land.
So now in the book of Deuteronomy, after forty years of wandering, Israel is finally ready to enter the land and here you find Moses’ magnificent obsession. It’s an obsession for obedience. He says, “Let’s make sure we do it right this time!” And doing it right this time means making training a priority.
Now this brand new generation has gathered in the mountains of Moab, staring over the Rift Valley, looking right into the Promised Land of Israel. Here Moses delivers three major sermons–a sermon covering the past, the present, and finally the future. These are taught to God’s people in preparation for what lies ahead.
After a brief introduction, Moses launches into sermon number one, reminding God’s people of the importance of obeying God’s Law and highlighting the top ten laws in chapter 5. Then undergirding all the Law is the most important commandment, highlighted in Deuteronomy 6, which is to love the Lord–love the God of the Word.
In the process of describing God’s love for them and their love for Him, Moses calls this new generation to make certain they aggressively train the next generation in order to prevent a repeat of the failure of the old generation. This passage displays the essence of training and the foundation of true discipleship. Here is where God lets you know how to impact others. And what you find is this–training is a gritty, labor-intensive process, requiring God-empowered faithfulness.
Impacting others is not for the fainthearted. Discipleship is hard work. Parenting is just another word for discipleship, and parenting is a demanding toil. Impacting students for Christ, discipling that young couple or older saint isn’t a picnic. Discipleship is grueling, strenuous, challenging, even exhausting labor.
But discipleship is what believers do, because glorifying relationships is who God is. The Old Testament models, teaches and commands believers to impact others with God’s Word because of who God is. You remember who God is, right–the Creator who made you in His image? Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;’ … 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
This is the Triune God–the God who has been and forever will be in a perfect relationship of oneness–three equal persons, yet only one God. The Trinity is the original relationship. The Trinity is the reason we have and can find joy in relationships. The relationship of a man and woman, male and female is based upon the image of the Triune God.
Marriage itself has roots in the Trinity, 1 Corinthians 11:3, and all relationships in the Church are to emulate the Triune God. John 17:11 and 22, “That they may be one even as We are. 22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.” Because all things are done for the glory of God, the goal of all relationships is the glory of God, reflecting His character and His eternal Triune relationship.
Since becoming like Christ is the greatest way anyone can glorify God, then relationships are designed by God to make us like Christ. And discipleship is simply this, intentional relationships for the purpose of becoming like Christ. From our very creation to our new creation, we are to glorify God by becoming like Christ in our relationships, because God Himself is an eternal relationship.
Throughout the Old Testament, the process of discipleship training is prevalent. Relationships for the purpose of godliness, true discipleship, is everywhere in the Old Testament. Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, along with David and his mighty men all provide examples of discipleship. There are also relationships resulting in spiritual growth, like Moses being impacted by his father-in-law, Jethro, or the Queen of Sheba impacted by Solomon, or the influence David had on the King of Tyre and more.
Even though the term discipleship is not used in the Old Testament, it is happening everywhere and nowhere else in the Old Testament is discipleship more pointed or clear than in Deuteronomy 6. As Moses prepares this new generation to succeed where the last one failed, Moses will begin with the training basics in chapter 6, starting with . . .
#1 The EXHORTATION to obey the God of the Word Verses 1 to 3
In the first three verses, Moses exhorts this new generation three ways reminding them of God’s amazing love for them. God’s love is obvious in His desire for everything to go well for the nation of Israel as they enter the Promised Land. Like every loving parent, God wants the best for His children. That, of course, will only work as they cooperate with God’s plans through obedience to His Word.
So in verse 1, Moses reminds the nation that God commanded him to teach them God’s Word. Deuteronomy 6:1, “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it.”
This is a tough assignment–the children of Israel were stiff-necked by nature and had been slaves by profession for hundreds of years. Teaching them would not be an easy task–especially when you remember that teaching in verse 1 is not merely an educational process or intellectual exercise. The Hebrew word teach here means train–God’s goal in commanding Moses to teach here is not to fill their heads with new information, but to change their conduct.
Moses is not to offer opinions, honor everyone’s viewpoint, listen like Oprah, make suggestions, and lay out options–but Moses is to teach them God’s authoritative Word. The starting place of growth for you and maturity for those you hope to influence is to embrace God’s Word as the absolute, final authority for everything.
These commands are the absolute truth. Question, Christian: Is what God says in the Bible always best and right, and every time you disagree with Him in the Word, have you accepted the fact that you are wrong–every time? If you will ever be used of God to impact your children or any other person, it will only be as you embrace the Bible as the rule of life for everything.
In verse 2, Moses exhorts the nation–they will impact the next generation only if they fear the Lord and keep His commandments. “So that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.”
To fear God does not mean to cringe as you consider Him, living as if you are expecting to be struck down or be given a bad day cause you sinned in thought. To fear God is to reverence God in your heart, to exalt God in the highest because of who He is. Israel knew God–they saw their God send plagues upon the Egyptians, while at the very same time they were spared from judgment. If they feared God, then they’d obey Him and teach their family to fear the Lord. So now every generation following can enjoy the blessings of long life and more.
In verse 3, Moses exhorts the new generation to carefully obey God’s Word. “O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Moses says, since the time of Abraham, the God of your biological and spiritual fathers has been promising you this land you now see behind me. So now as you are about to receive this land of promise, make certain you’re careful to do God’s Word.
Make no mistake, Christian–you’re not blessed by what you hear or recall, but by what you do with God’s Word. Blessing is promised to the doers of the Word, not the hearers in verses 1 to 3.Verse 1, “in the land where you are going over to possess it” . . . and verse 2, “that your days may be prolonged.” Verse 3, “that you may multiply greatly, . . . in a land flowing with milk and honey.”
God motivates obedience by promising blessing. God wants Israel to succeed. Obedience brings blessing. This blessing is God’s desire for them to do well. And all of His commands are the result of His love, which has as its source . . . which comes from, the loving character of God Himself.
Moses exhorts His children to obey the one true God who loves them. He’s the God who motivates their obedience, by promising great blessing if they obey. They can’t do this in their own strength, so Moses will encourage Israel later in Deuteronomy 10:20, “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him.”
And Deuteronomy 13:4, “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.” Moses reminds God’s children to cling to Him, to rely on Him, to stick close to Yahweh. And to help this process, God’s children pursue . . .
#2 The EMBRACING of God’s character and loving relationship Verses 4 to 5
Moses declares two mighty truths. Verse 4, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!”
First Embrace an accurate [healthy] THEOLOGY
Verse 4, The Lord is Israel’s God, He is one God and He is the only God. One God is the true God, the faithful God, the worthy God, the one true God. The only true God with a consistent, unchanging character you can trust. He is not many capricious gods, but the one true God–the one who loves you. To train others, especially your children, you must have a healthy theology–an accurate theology. Without it, you can’t help them grow to be like Christ.
Second Embrace a Loving [genuine] RELATIONSHIP
Verse 5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” God is worthy of your entire life given in loving obedience. God Himself freely loves His people, so Moses says God’s people should reciprocate. Love God with all your emotional volition, all your personality and all your mental and physical vigor. Your commitment to your God is to be all in.
No division, no other master, no other first love. God is your one and only. He is one in your life. There is nothing held back–nothing held in reserve. If you want to impact your children or others for Christ, it’ll be as you have a deep and healthy theology and deep and genuine love relationship with Christ.
To train others, remember you cannot impart what you do not possess. I am actually not German, even though my name is Mueller. I am actually Belgian and Irish, which explains my light-colored skin—I’m very fair. It is so white, there are seasons where if I go out into the sun in my shorts, I might burn the retinas of your eyes because of the white glare.
Now with that in mind, can you picture me selling suntan lotion for a living? Even if I was the best salesman, you’d be saying, “Show me your tan and I will buy a truckload of the stuff. But right now, oh pasty white one, I’m not buying it.” Why? Because you cannot impart what you do not possess.
If you hope to impact others for Christ, you need to know Christ and enjoy an intimate relationship with Christ, where you are sold out to Christ yourself–because you cannot impart what you do not possess . . . sound theology and a genuine relationship.
Moses now tells this nation of families how to train their children–there is no New Testament Church in the Old Testament, so the singular unit of training the next generation is parents. The family is high on God’s priority list and discipleship is God’s process to impact your children. We call it parenting today–but biblically, raising children is discipleship.
#3 The ESSENTIAL commitment to train children to obey God’s Word Verses 6 to 9
Now thus far, Moses has taught you to impact the next generation includes . . .
#1 A dependent, clinging, OBEDIENCE to God’s Word in verses 1 to 3
#2a A correct view of God /A deep and healthy theology in verse 4, and
#2b A sold out, all in, deep and genuine LOVE RELATIONSHIP with Christ in verse 5
Now in verses 6 to 9, Moses will command fathers to take the lead and impact their children by following Yahweh/Christ through obedience to God’s Word. In doing so, Moses describes four powerful, must-never-forget methods of training. Moses is showing Israel how to impact their children and others. He is teaching them how to impact the next generation.
Moses is demonstrating for you the process of discipleship. The entire focus in verses 6 to 9 is the home–discipleship starts in the family. Write these four in your Bible. Memorize them. Use them to impact your kids and influence fellow-believers. Do not ignore this essential commitment to train.
First Constant pre-occupation with and SATURATION in God’s Word [MODEL/training] Verse 6
“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” The Ten Commandments were etched in stone so they would not be forgotten. But stone tablets are not enough. Having a Bible is not enough. Coming to a Bible-teaching church is not enough, nor are posters, stickers or embroidery. God’s Word is to be on your heart.
Moses says, God’s truth must be a consuming pre-occupation of the heart—a passionate heart concern. The thought of the Hebrew “on your heart” is a weight, a burden, a concern. “On your heart” refers to something you think about and pay attention to. It’s like cooking in the oven–you think about it. Otherwise it is going to burn.
One of the reasons we’re not investing God’s revealed truth in our families is that God’s Word, His truth, has gone cold in the US. The fizz has gone out of the Coke. Parents, it’s more than showing up occasionally. Students, you can’t maintain a whatever attitude. How did it happen? Simple–you allowed your relationship with Christ to become routine.
Do you want your children to be more thoughtful? It’s not that difficult. Ask God to cause you to grow into a more thoughtful person. Children pattern their lives, unconditionally, after the models in their environment. I used to pray, “Lord, change my children,” and nothing happened. Until one day it dawned on me, and I began to pray, “Lord, change my children’s father.” And to the extent God began to change my life, I began to see spiritual changes in the life of my kids.
Think about what we have covered thus far in this series. When you’re saved, being sanctified, immersed and functioning in a local church, pre-occupied with the Word, saturated in the Scriptures, and dependently filled with the Holy Spirit, Christ will be changing your life. And as Christ changes your life day by day, week by week, month by month, He will change your children.
Both New Testament parenting verses are preceded by the filling of the Holy Spirit. You need God’s Spirit. Ephesians 5:18 is, “Be filled with the Spirit.” But the parallel passage, similar to being filled, is Colossians 3:16 which says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” Impacting your children, training others, discipleship only occurs when you think the Word, speak it, apply it, use it, chew on it, ask about it, meditate on it, talk about it, study it, quote it, and most importantly live by it.
Family devotions are nice, but they are not enough. Bible study is great, but it is not enough. Sunday school is awesome, but it is not enough. Even Bible classes at school can be deep, but they are not enough. God’s Word must be on your heart. Model a passion for Christ’s Word.
When the kids are in the shopping cart, if it’s on your heart, you’ll speak Bible. When students suffer a defeat, if it’s on your heart, you’ll share God’s Word. When your disciple battles with people, if it’s on your heart, show them God’s Word. Keep it simple–you want to show them Christ, then continually speak what Christ would say and continually do what Christ would do, which is only found in His Word.
First Be pre-occupied with and saturated in God’s Word
Second Diligent formal INSTRUCTION of God’s Word [TEACH/training] Verse 7
“You shall teach them diligently to your sons.” Teach is the formal word for instruction–yet greater than instruction, teach means to train. It literally means to point in a direction. You’re showing your kids and disciples which way to go. Moses here is talking about structured, repetitive learning, memorization and application. There is to be a commitment to formal instruction in the home where your children learn the Word.
This teaching happens in true biblical churches and it must happen in every home. Do not fall into the attitude of bringing your kids to church, dropping them off and saying, “You lead them to Christ–you teach them the Word.” No, God has placed on the shoulders of fathers, then mothers—“you shall teach them diligently to your sons.”
A good church ought to be a stimulus, not a substitute for home training. I praise God for the children’s, student and college ministries God has graced FBC with–the next generation is being trained in God’s Word. But if the teaching/training is to be incredibly fruitful, it must be sourced from dad and then mom.
It’s conservatively estimated, the average child will ask between 1/2 and one million questions in the process of growing up. And if you have a 5-year-old, you’re convinced you have already arrived. Moses actually gives an illustration of this questioning in verse 20. “When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the Lord our God commanded you?’”
Verse 21, “Then you shall say . . .”–What? Go ask your mother? Do you see that in the text? Right–that’s the reversed standard version. Your children will ask you questions, which will force you to put down deep shafts in the Word of God to come up with the correct answers. This is a good thing for dads.
Moses adds, “Teach them diligently.” I love the meaning of diligently–it means to sharpen, like a sword, through repetition. Like a whetstone, you sharpen over, and over, and over. Like swinging a baseball bat–a thousand times a day. Or a golf swing–a thousand swings a day. Don’t merely teach them the books of the Bible, teach them the key verses for life and ministry from those books.
Teach them systematic theology. Walk through a current issue or a student problem with your youth every night, and have them solve it biblically. Practice the Word repeatedly like you’re sharpening a sword.
Great coaches run the same plays again and again. Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers ran the same six plays over and over, to the point it became second nature for the players. So every busted play became an opportunity to make yardage or score a touchdown. Seek to pursue diligent, formal instruction of God’s Word.
Third Repetitive, informal APPLICATION of God’s Word [TALK/training] Verse 7b
Moses adds, “shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” He says training is not only formal, but informal–“I want you to teach them but I want you to talk of the Word of God.” Talk is the informal word. This involves spontaneous learning–the most effective learning that ever takes place.
Which points to a misperception about teaching. People often think you have to create four walls and a formal setting–but training is so much more than that. Moses says, “I want you to talk about it.” When? “When you sit in your house”–hanging out at the house. Talk about what’s on your heart–which is the Word of God.
“And when you walk by the way”–when you’re out and about, at school, at work, shopping, doing chores, traveling. Go for a walk and talk about what’s on your heart–which is the Word of God. “And when you lie down and when you rise up”–before you go to sleep and first thing when you wake up, talk about what’s on your heart–the Word of God.
This is a parable perspective–every object, person and event of everyday life becomes a potential biblical lesson to teach truth from God’s Word. The color of fish underwater—“Isn’t God creative, vast and wise?” When you see ants—“We don’t want to be as the sluggard.” A dog—“It will soon return to its vomit.” And a cat—“Reminds us of Satan who fell from Heaven.”
This is practical, down to earth help for dads and moms—everyday, life situations are the place for the most powerful learning while sitting, walking, lying down, and rising. An Israelite father would skillfully weave God’s commandments into everyday life in the Promised Land, while sowing and reaping, while threshing and gathering grain into barns. There would be no daily life situation where a father could not mentor his constantly present sons, preparing them for the spiritual leadership of their own homes.
I used to take my boys out one-on-one and call it a mini-vacation. We’d go out to work on a honey do task, but I’d also get an ice cream or favorite snack and just talk. As you talk, you relate the discussion naturally to God’s Word, which is on your heart all the time. And that’s what Moses is telling Dads to do.
The difficulty in Christian parenting/discipleship is many parents haven’t learned to enjoy God, enjoy life, enjoy their home and especially enjoy their children. Delighting in this training process is when the most fruitful training investment occurs. And the struggle for Christian students today is the Word of God not being the first thing on their heart in the morning, nor the last thing on their heart at night. Something else is–what?
Their phone is the first thing they look at in the morning and the last thing they think about at night. Who has posted what? Their status in their multiplayer game, all the new videos which have been created and how many likes they have. Today begins the FBC phone challenge–for all ages. Ready? This is a game changer.
Read one paragraph of God’s Word on your phone the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night–before you look at Instagram or your game or the latest video—every single day. Make that a habit. Moses says, “I want you to talk about God’s Word first thing in the morning, and the last thing at night.” That’s a Hebrew expression describing the totality of life. As God’s Word is on your heart, God’s Word will be spoken and lived out. Practice repetitive, informal application of God’s Word–the parable perspective.
Fourth Conforming EVERY aspect of life to God’s Word [HABIT/training] Verses 8 and 9
“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Columbia University spent $250,000 in research and their conclusion–there is no force in the life of a child with greater impact than his family. Family will mark them for life.
Moses is saying the home is where habits are formed. Some Jews errantly misinterpreted these statements literally with the mezuzah–a little box attached to the door frame of the house, which contains a parchment with the shema written on it. Nor did God intend this to be literal phylacteries, where a box is fastened to the left arm with leather strips and another fastened to the center of the forehead.
God’s intent here was symbolic–He intended Jewish sons to hear the Scripture and see the Scripture lived out everywhere. That they would be sharpened constantly by godly fathers for the future spiritual strength of Israel. Moses is saying, “I want you to take the truth of God’s Word and bind it on the hands,” because that symbolized the Word of God controlling all of your actions. Everything you did was to be controlled by God’s Word.
Moses said, “I want you to place it as frontals between the eyes,” because that symbolizes the Word of God being in control all of your thinking, attitudes and values. God is saying He wants His children to place the Word of God on the doorposts of their home, because that symbolizes the most personal area of life—your home.
And Moses is saying, “I want you to place God’s commands on the city gates.” In near Eastern culture, the city gate is the place where the courts met and major business was transacted–we call it the marketplace or life. Moses is saying the Word of God is to be so penetrating, so pervasive–not only does it control everything you do, everything you think about. But also the most personal aspect of your bedroom, to the most public aspect of your community life. God’s commands should become the habit of everyday life.
1 You can’t impact others in your own STRENGTH
This series has taught you that you must be saved, sanctified, and pursuing Christ–then immersed in the church environment, both corporately and individually ministering your giftedness. You must be clinging to God’s Spirit only according to God’s Word. Remember God is the one who saves and sanctifies–you are a vessel. You are set for Heaven, but can only live for God’s glory in God’s strength.
2 The zeal of your love of Christ is the foundation for your IMPACT for Christ
As you love Christ with a sold out devotion, as your first love, as your highest love, with a love more than your spouse and more than your children, then your children and disciples will be burned by the heat of your relationship with Christ—impacted. It is only as you love Christ with all your heart, soul, mind and strength that are you going to impact others for Christ, including your children. The first question to ask as you seek to impact your children and others is to examine your heart—“Do I love Christ first, most and zealously?”
3 Training involves PREOCCUPATION and saturation in God’s Word in order to TEACH God’s Word and TALK about God’s Word
The greater your depth in God’s Word and sound theology, the more accurate teaching you can give and the more natural your everyday Bible talk will be. To impact others, you need the regular input of God’s Word into your mind and a systematic approach to study God’s Word in greater depth. To disciple others, make a regular practice of relating every event, person and object to point to a biblical principle.
4 Training is DIFFICULT labor, but promises great reward
Nothing is more difficult than working with people. Nothing is more messy then trying to cultivate an intentional relationship for the purpose of growing like Christ. Nothing takes more time than aiding others to become like Christ. Nothing can be more disappointing than when a disciple turns away or rejects you. Nothing can be more rewarding than when a disciple is used greatly by Christ.
And few things will cultivate greater reward eternally then pursuing discipleship–intentional relationships for the purpose of growing like Christ. Paul even said of His beloved Philippians this amazing statement, “My beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown [they were Paul’s reward]” (Phillipians 4:1). Those Paul discipled are His eternal reward and those you disciple will be yours. Let’s pray.