February 6, 2006

Raising Priests, Kings, & Prophets

Category: Bible :: Permalink

Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Proverbs 2:1-22; Ephesians 6:1-4
(January 8, 2006, Sermon Notes)

[For much of this sermon, I’m indebted to James Jordan’s From Bread to Wine and to Peter Leithart‘s sermons in April and May 2004.]

In Advent, we considered what it means that Jesus is the Christ. “Christ” means “anointed one,” and in the Bible priests, kings, and (in one case) a prophet are anointed when they are ordained to office. We traced the history of these three offices in Scripture, noticing that history moves from an emphasis on priests to an emphasis on kings to an emphasis on prophets.

That historical development by which God grew Israel to maturity until Jesus, the first full-grown adult, teaches us about Jesus. But it also teaches us about ourselves and how God grows us to maturity. For that reason, it also instructs us about how to raise our children to be faithful servants, wise rulers, and then mature adults who shape the world by wise words.


Before we talk about our children as junior priests, kings, and prophets, we should first say something about them as infants. The Bible doesn’t provide us a handbook on raising infants. We do learn something about that task by watching how God treats infants.

From the beginning, God establishes a relationship, a bond of love, with them. David sings about how God made him trust while on his mother’s breasts (Ps. 22:9). Babies learn to trust God by experiencing His trustworthiness through their mother’s love and their mother’s milk.

Furthermore, God welcomes babies. Jesus’ disciples wanted to turn them away, but Jesus got angry and called the children to Himself, took them in His arms, and blessed them. Jesus welcomes and blesses His people’s children. He wants His church to do so, too. And He wants us, as parents, to follow that same pattern.

How do you care for infants? You take them in your arms and welcome them. North American dads sometimes have trouble showing affection in this way, but we ought to get over it. Our babies need to be held and cuddled, nursed and nourished, welcomed and loved.


Infants ought to receive a lot of love and attention and milk, but not a lot of rules. You cuddle newborns and talk to them; you don’t give them detailed schedules and household chores and expect them to obey. But as babies grow up, they become more response-able. They enter a phase roughly equivalent to Israel’s priestly phase.

In the Bible, a priest is God’s household servant. The calling of a priest wasn’t hard. His duties were straightforward, spelled out in detail. He simply had to hear and obey. And that’s how it was for all Israel during this early phase of her history. Even if an Israelite didn’t understand the meaning of a commandment, he still had to obey.

And when Israelites disobeyed, judgment was swift (e.g., Lev. 10; Num. 11, 13, etc.). That was also the case in the early church (cf. Ananias and Sapphira). But that isn’t always the case today. Many times today, there’s a long wait between sin and judgment. But in the early stages of history, judgment comes swiftly. That’s how it is in the beginning: clear, detailed rules and swift judgment for disobedience.

That pattern teaches us something about raising little children. When our children are very little, we don’t leave them to figure out for themselves what they ought to do. We tell them. Little children need clear rules.

The basic one is this: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1). That’s a simple rule, and the other rules which we give to unpack that one ought also to be relatively simple, tailored to the abilities of your child (so that you don’t provoke your child to wrath, Eph. 6:4).

More than that, little children need oversight and they need immediate consequences for their actions — praise when they do well and punishment when they disobey — all within the context of love and trust established already when they were infants, so that they learn to love obeying and to hate disobeying.

Little children are like junior priests, learning to be obedient servants, servants who hear their parents and obey them and who hear God and obey Him. For that reason, parents need to make sure their instruction and discipline are grounded in Scripture, so that they bring up their children in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Children need to hear the stories of Scripture. They need clear rules. They need training in the regular patterns of life: liturgy in church, the rituals of teeth-brushing, and so forth. They need a foundation on which they can build for the rest of their lives.


Our goal must not be to keep our children in the early stage forever. That’s a temptation some parents succumb to, and it leads to immature teenagers who don’t take responsibility because Mom and Dad didn’t give it to them or to rebellious teenagers who are exasperated because their parents don’t give them responsibility. Parents ought to desire their children to mature.

Israel’s history starts with a focus on priests but moves to a focus on kings. Kings have greater authority and responsibility than priests. While a priest’s duties are spelled out in Scripture, a king’s aren’t. Kings don’t simply apply laws; they must exercise wisdom.

Our goal, too, is to raise children who have internalized the commands, stories, warnings, and so forth we’ve given them in their early years so that they act with wisdom. We want our children to rule well when they leave the home. We don’t want to raise children who are goofballs, who joke when they should be serious, whose insensitivity hurts other people, who have no sense of what’s appropriate in this situation.

The emphasis on wisdom as our children reach their preteen and early teen years doesn’t mean they no longer need commandments or discipline. But they should not need the same kind of oversight little children need. They ought to learn to make decisions for themselves. And just as God doesn’t always judge the kings with immediate judgments but sometimes allows them to face consequences, we also will sometimes allow our children to face the consequences of their bad and even sinful decisions.

The path to wisdom is found in Scripture (Deut. 6; Prov. 2). If our children are going to rule well, they need a hunger for wisdom and understanding, and that starts with them receiving their father’s words and treasuring his commands. Fathers need to train children so that they crave wisdom and rule thereby.


The third stage of Israel’s history focuses on prophets. Prophets are God’s council members, God’s advisors and spokesmen, who build up and tear down with their words.

Our goal is not only that our children be obedient servants and wise rulers, but also that they be junior prophets who communicate wisdom to others and shape the world by their words. As they grow older, they provide examples for their younger brothers and sisters and can help train them to be obedient and wise. In this later stage, the later teen years, children ought to know what they believe so that they can communicate it effectively to others.

This stage isn’t the time to clamp down or impose restrictions, which will provoke your children to wrath (Eph. 6:4). The time for that is when the children are little. When they’re older, you should be able to lighten restrictions and move from laying down the law to offering advice and coaching your children through the challenges they face, preparing them to leave your home and set up their own.


What kind of father can effectively train his children to be obedient to him and, more importantly, to the Lord? Only ones who have themselves learned (and are learning) to be obedient servants, following the pattern of Jesus our High Priest.

What kind of father can give his children a love of wisdom so that they search for it and find it and rule well by it? Only fathers who mediate on God’s law day and night and hunt for wisdom themselves so that they rule their families wisely, following the pattern of Jesus our shepherd-king who gave Himself for the sheep.

What kind of father can raise children who will transform the world by their wise words, speaking effectively to God and man? Only fathers who have learned by experience to listen to God and speak to Him, following the pattern of Jesus our great prophet, who speaks God’s Word and intercedes for us.

As parents, you will fail in many ways. You will sin, but because Jesus is the priest, king, and prophet there is forgiveness for your sins. And though you will make mistakes, your Father in heaven is faithful and will care for your children in ways you can’t. But as a parent, you have a calling. You also are a priest, a king, and a prophet, called to obey, to rule wisely, to speak well. And your calling is to raise children who carry out those same callings after the pattern of Jesus Christ.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:55 pm | Discuss (0)

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