We were sitting at a traffic light on Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach, Florida early in 1993. I tell you the year because I want to make sure you know that, although we were once “Palm Beach voters,” we weren’t those “Palm Beach voters.” My children were sitting in the back seat when a session of intense fellowship broke out.
I say “fellowship” because of course my children would never argue. Rhonda, who was then five, was getting the better of it, so Bryant, who was then three, was looking for a way to get even. He looked at her with a stern face and said, “You’re a Democrat. No, you’re a liberal Democrat!”
For the life of me I can’t imagine where he got the idea that calling someone a liberal Democrat was an insult.
Of course, you know as well as I do where he got that idea. He got it from his father! At that point in their young lives I hadn’t made a conscious effort to instill my political views into my children. But they had picked up enough during the recently concluded election to realize what my beliefs were. And, without prompting from me, they had internalized those beliefs and were starting to view the world through my political philosophy.
The responsibility of parents
This illustrates the principle of value transference laid out for us in Deuteronomy chapter 6. God’s commands to His people regarding the instruction of their children were crucial because the Israelites had just left a completely heathen culture and were headed toward a land populated by the Canaanites, who were infamous for their loose moral practices—not to mention spiritism and human sacrifice (Deut. 18:10-11).
If the Israelites were going to rear their children to love, fear, and obey God, they were going to have to rear them to swim against the current. Things are much the same for us today. We live in a godless culture that condemns good and is filled to overflowing with evil influences.
In the midst of such a culture however, we can and must prepare our children for godly living. The secret to succeeding at this vital task is found in this passage.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (Deut. 6:4-7, KJV).
The command is simple, yet profound—we are to teach our children the principles and commandments of God. This responsibility is given to the parents. While we can certainly get help from pastors, Sunday school teachers, youth workers, friends, godly teachers, and relatives, the primary teacher for your children is you.
But God does not abandon us after giving us the responsibility for this awesome task. He also gives us a method that is guaranteed to work, if we will faithfully follow what He has instructed us to do.
Principles of value transferrance
There are three basic steps outlined for transferring our values to our children in this passage. The first is found in verse seven. We are to teach our children “diligently.”
1) Value transference requires consistent, dedicated effort. The Hebrew word in the text is the same word used elsewhere in Scripture for the sharpening of arrows. Arrow preparation was a slow, tedious process in Old Testament times. But the value of the bow and arrow as a weapon made it worth the effort. Passing our values on to our children takes time, but there is no more important or worthwhile thing parents can do with their lives.
Value transference is not a quick process. It requires repeated effort. Lessons must be taught again and again until they are learned by heart. While our children are young we can force them to follow our values whether they understand and agree with them or not. But if we do not help them internalize those values while they are young, they will not live by them when they get out and begin making decisions on their own.
This is the reason many Christian parents are heartbroken when their children become teenagers or young adults. Because there has never been an internalizing of values on the part of the young person, the only thing keeping them on the right path was direct parental control. Once that has been removed, they immediately depart from what their parents believed.
The second key to transferring values is found in verse seven.
2) We are to do it as part of normal, everyday activity. Too many people confine God to a Sunday box and never allow their religion to affect their daily lives. But people who do that should not be surprised to find that their children do not view God as real in their lives either.
A recent Gallup poll revealed that more than half of the people in America who call themselves “Christians” do not believe there are any moral absolutes! No wonder our children are struggling with values. We have failed to make God a reality in our daily lives, and as a result, He is not real to our children.
The Israelites were commanded to talk to their children about God’s principles throughout the day. As they were resting at home, as they were walking together, at bedtime and in the morning, there was no time when principles should not be shared and discussed.
I often tell the story of a walk I took with my father when I was just five years old. We went down the street past a house with a huge German shepherd. At least he looked huge to a five-year-old! My father asked if I would be interested in walking over and pulling his ears.
Of course I said no. He then proceeded to explain to me that I was doing something just as foolish when I got involved in the fights between two brothers who lived across the street from us. This is the principle of Proverbs 26:17, “He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.” The principle (and the mental picture of that dog) has stayed with me ever since.
I am in no way opposed to formal instruction, but I believe the most effective way to teach our values is to show how they work in everyday life. If our children see that we are walking according to the commandments of God, and we explain to them the reasons for doing so, they will begin to understand the importance of doing the same for themselves.
3) God’s Word is the third key to value transference. Moses told the Israelites that they were to place “these words” throughout their houses, and even wear them. The power of the Bible in shaping behavior cannot be overstated. Learning and obeying it gives our children the most important tool toward living the lives we desire for them.
We cannot say that we have succeeded as Christian parents if our children have only learned the stories of the Bible. The critical power for shaping their behavior in their adult lives is found in understanding and learning to apply the lessons of those stories as well. It is for discovering the purposes of God’s rules that we are given the stories of the Old Testament (I Cor. 10:11).
One of the best illustrations of the principle of value transference in Scripture is found in the story of Abraham and Isaac. When God commanded Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice, he obeyed without question. Isaac was probably a teenager by the time of this event. Clearly he could have resisted being placed on the altar by Abraham. Or he could easily have outrun his one hundred plus year old father. But the same faith in God that led Abraham to say to his servants that both he and Isaac would be returning from the mountain was in Isaac’s heart as well. He had learned from his father that God could be trusted.
He climbed on the altar, not knowing what would happen, but knowing the God who had led his father out of Ur on a seven-hundred-mile trek into the unknown would care for him. Although the Scripture doesn’t describe the process to us, I can picture Abraham sitting in front of the camp tent night after night, explaining the creation of the world, the fall of man, and the love of God to Isaac.
It is little wonder that a boy raised with God as a real presence in his life would grow up and trust Him when the most difficult test of his life arose. Because God was real to Abraham, God became real to Isaac. And when the crucial test came, Isaac acted based on his own knowledge that God was real.
These three principles are the foundation for transferring our values into the hearts and lives of our children.
Robert Byers has helped produce numerous book and curriculum projects for a wide variety of ministries and pastors. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology (84) and a Master’s Degree in Education (85) from Hyles-Anderson College. Robert and his wife Brenda have two college-age children, Rhonda and Bryant, and live in Tulsa, Oklahoma where he works for a CPA. He is eagerly anticipating the kickoff of the 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide football season.