Building Temples and Raising Children

It takes decades to build a temple.  For example, consider the temple in Jerusalem in which Jesus himself worshiped 2000 years ago.  Solomon’s original temple had been destroyed centuries earlier, and the second temple built by Zerubbabel was 500 years old, small, and run-down.  Herod decided to initiate a massive renovation project which would restore the temple to a grand scale of glory.  And in the second chapter of John’s Gospel, the Jews tell Jesus that the building of Herod’s temple had been in progress for 46 years.

46 years!  And I thought it was slow-going when the construction team took several months to build the house I owned in Texas.  When you want a new place to live, several months can seem like a long time to wait.  But if it took 46 years to build a new house, then most people probably wouldn’t even bother.

The difference is this:

A house is often something we consider for immediate use.  Right now.  It is good for a few years, decades, or maybe even for one lifetime.  But the children grow up and move into homes of their own, we eventually die, and then our old houses are sold to strangers.  You can still occasionally find homes that have stayed within a single family for multiple generations, but that has become quite rare.  We decorate our homes for ourselves, not for our great-great grandchildren.

A temple, on the other hand, is something intended to last for centuries. Instead of merely benefiting a single family for a single lifetime, a temple is supposed to benefit an entire community for multiple generations.  That is why Solomon’s temple and Herod’s temple were not thrown together quickly using cheap materials.  The 100-ton stones quarried for the foundation were meant to last, long after the builders themselves had passed on.

Just think of it . . . many of the people who were young adults when the temple building was started, had children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren by the time the temple was completed.

In one of our lessons today, we read that our bodies themselves are temples of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit actually dwells within us.  Just like any other temple, we are holy places which are intended to last for a very long time.

Contrary to what some would have us believe, there is no moral distinction between spirit and matter, making all ethereal things “good” and all material things “bad”.  As it is written in Genesis, God created all things—including matter—and He “saw that it was good”.  That is why our physical bodies can be temples of the Holy Spirit.

And we will last for a very long time.  The disconnection between our bodies and souls at death is something unnatural & temporary which will eventually be reversed at the Resurrection.  So when all is said and done, your body will be around far longer than Solomon’s temple and Herod’s temple combined.  A temple of stone may last for centuries.  But a temple of flesh and bone lasts forever.

So, how much care should we put into the spiritual lives of ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren?  If we do not take eternity into account, it is all too easy to let the cares of this life take priority, while we haphazardly throw together our spiritual lives using cheap materials like wood, hay, straw and stubble.  Then when the spiritual battles come, we wonder why we and our children are not prepared.  The big bad wolf blows down our houses of twigs and our churches of straw, leaving us out in the cold and next on his menu.  The only way to avoid this is to take spiritual matters seriously, and to use nothing but the very finest materials, materials that have stood the test of time, and that are designed to last.  When it comes to our family’s walk with God, we seriously need to ask ourselves, “Are we building tents, or are we building temples?

In our first lesson this morning, we heard God’s blueprint for building temples . . . not transient temples of stone, but the really lasting temples which are made of flesh and bone . . . In Deuteronomy 6, God tells us what it takes to raise a godly family successfully:

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.  (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

God’s building code is very simple, and it has two parts:

  1. Put God first in your own life, all day long, every day.
  2. Teach your children to put God first in their lives, all day long, every day.

That’s it.  It’s not complicated.  There’s no long laundry list here.  There are not hundreds of pages of rules you need to memorize.  If you put God first, and you teach your children to put God first, then your temple building will be successful.

Now, when I gave the first part of God’s building code, why did I say, “Put God first”?  Why didn’t I just quote Deuteronomy and say “love the Lord thy God”?  I did this because our society has forgotten the meaning of “love”.  Our culture has twisted and redefined that word to the point that it is barely even recognizable.  Today, the word “love” is used in reference to the warm, bubbly feelings that teenage boys and girls have for one another.  Or else the word is used as a synonym for “like”, e.g. “I love ice cream”, “I love summertime”, “I love football”, etc.  Either way, that sort of thinking about “love” does not help us understand Scripture correctly.  When God commands us to love Him, He is not telling us to blush, giggle, and have romantic thoughts about Him.  Nor is He telling us to have generally positive thoughts about Him, as we have about ice cream, summertime, football, and puppies.

This redefinition of love has caused what is perhaps the greatest travesty of our day:  There are now millions of people who are deceived into thinking that they actually love God.  They do have favorable thoughts about God.  They like Him.  They like the idea that He is up there, somewhere, smiling down on them.  And somewhere in the distant future, they like the idea of going to a place called “Heaven”.  Not only that, but these people also teach their children to think positive thoughts about God.  And if we consider our modern culture’s twisted definition of “love”, it is easy to understand why these millions of people truly believe that they do “love God”.

That is why most modern people are not fazed when they are confronted with the two greatest commandments.  When “Love God” & “Love your neighbor” are mentally translated into “Like God” and “Like your neighbor”, they don’t seem nearly so demanding.

But let’s look back at what God said:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.  And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart.

To love God with all of your heart, soul, and strength means to love God with every part of you, with every fiber of your being.  That means you put God first every time you open your eyes, every time you move your feet, every time you lift a finger, and every time you open your mouth.  That means every time you think a thought, make a plan, or even daydream, you put God first.  It means to obey God at all times, whether you are in your office or your living room, whether you are in the bedroom or the kitchen.

Now, what is all this talk about “obedience”?  In our modern society, “love” and “obey” are two very different words.  A woman may have romantic feelings about her husband, and yet she may not do anything that he asks her to do.  Our culture would say that she “loves” him, but that she does not “obey” him.  That is because our culture sees no real connection between these two concepts.  But in Scripture, the picture is far different.  In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  Obedience and love go hand-in-hand.  You may say that you have loving feelings toward God.  But if you do not live your life in obedience to God, then you do not love Him.  You cannot simultaneously love God, and rebel against Him.

The first step towards successful temple-building is to put God first all day long, every day.  The second step is to teach your children to put God first in their lives all day long, every day.  As it is written:

. . . 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.  (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

We must teach our children to love God.  So far, so good . . . I think we all can agree with that.  But there are two very important aspects of this command that we really need to focus on.  And these are things which many modern Christian parents may find jarring:

  1. The godly training of children is a constant task, which must be performed daily.
  2. you [the parents] shall teach … your children”  (Deut. 6:7a)

Deuteronomy 6:7 makes it very clear that Christian education is not an intermittent duty that gets taken care of once a week during “Sunday school hour”.  We are commanded to teach God’s laws to our children “diligently”.   We are told to teach our children both when we “sit in our house”, and when we “walk by the way”.  In other words, we must teach our children both in the home and also outside the home.  And we are told to teach our children both when we “lie down”, as well as when we “rise up”.  That means we must teach godliness to our children both in the morning and in the evening, from the time we get up until the time we go to sleep.  All day, every day, no matter where we go, we are supposed to be about the business of teaching our children to love God and obey Him.  If we worship God three days a week, that means there are four days a week where we are building tents instead of building temples.  We don’t necessarily need to set foot in a church building daily, but we do need to actively worship God on a daily basis.  Any day without prayer, singing, & Scripture is a day wasted.  Every individual, and every family, without exception, needs to set apart time in the daily routine to focus on worshiping God.  This helps us put God first in our own lives, and it is also a fantastic way to train our children to love God.

Deuteronomy 6:7 also makes it clear that the Christian education of children is the responsibility of the parents.  God did not say, “Have the youth-pastor teach your children”, or “Have the Sunday-school teacher teach your children.”  But God did say, “you shall teach … your children” (Deut. 6:7a).  God commands that your children must be diligently taught to love Him and to obey Him; and Dads and Moms, the responsibility for this falls squarely on your shoulders.  Your responsibility cannot be delegated, shared, or reassigned.  You can do your job well, or you can do your job poorly, but you cannot avoid the fact that it is your job.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have help.  By all means, ask your priest, your parents, and your godly friends to assist you.  You can delegate some of the tasks of teaching to people whom you trust.  But even though you delegate some of the teaching tasks, you still cannot delegate the responsibility.  Whether you are teaching your child, or whether your trusted friend is teaching your child, it is still your own responsibility to make sure that your child is being thoroughly trained to love God with all his heart, all his mind, all his soul, and all his strength.  If your child is not taught to do this, you will be the one to answer for it, because the responsibility is yours.

So there you have it.  The task may sound very simple, yet daunting.  God’s blueprint for success is twofold:

  1. Put God first all day, every day, in all that you do.
  2. Diligently teach your children to do the same.

But is all of this really necessary?  Sure, it sounds good, but can’t we honestly slide by with a lot less effort?  Some of you may be saying, “I have always worshiped God twice a week, and look how well I turned out!”  Well, I hope I don’t step on too many toes here, but your assumption that you turned out well may be the very problem!  We need to stop comparing ourselves with our pagan neighbors.  Instead, we need to compare ourselves with Jesus.  You may look righteous when compared with your adulteress coworker or with your ex-con uncle.  But how holy do you look when you compare yourself with Christ?  If Jesus himself spent hours a day praying and worshiping the Father, then how much more do we need to do that?

If you think Jesus would beat you in a holiness contest, then that means you still have more work to do.  You haven’t arrived yet.

And God is not shocked by this.  He knows that none of us here have arrived yet.  He knows we are broken people.  He knows we need help.  And that is why He so graciously offers to help us.  He knows that we need to worship him daily.  And he knows that our children need it too.  He loves our children even more than we do, and he wants our children to be raised in a manner that is even godlier than the way we were raised.

Then, by the grace of God, they will do an even better job of raising their children than we are doing of raising ours now.  Even as we have learned lessons, and are standing on the shoulders of our parents, so may our children learn lessons, so that they may stand on our shoulders.

We are not just “raising children”. We are building temples of the Holy Spirit.  Let us build with great care, with great sobriety, and with great love.  For the temples we build are not temporary.  They will stand forever.  Let us therefore build with godly diligence.

This sermon was preached on Sunday morning, March 7, 2010, at Christ the King Orthodox Church, in Omaha, Illinois, by Joseph M. Gleason


About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in Christian Education, Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Fr. Joseph Gleason, John 14:15-31, Orthodox Homilies, The Orthodox Christian Family. Bookmark the permalink.

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