Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)
At the center of God’s law is love. It is the great motivator for those who desire holiness before God and wholeness before the mirror. When we commit ourselves to loving God wholeheartedly, our obedience is fruit on the vine. The Shemah (the passage above) is a critical turning point in the lives of the Israelites. They are being reoriented from duty and obligation to love and gratitude. God is leading them into a different relationship than they had been accustomed to. Years of slavery had taught them to obey out of fear – fear of punishment, fear of death. The only fear love provides is the fear of disappointing the object of our love.
It is easy to teach our children to obey out of fear. We can change the fortunes of their life effectively by cutting off resources or diminishing the size of their world. At some point we need to move them from this fretful compliance to an obedience rooted in love. Over time our children should be more afraid of disappointing us than any punishment we might levy against a transgression. This calls parents to an authority over their children that is rooted in love.
That is the catch. Our obedience to God is rooted in love because He first loved us. We cannot lead our children into loving obedience if we do not love first in our authority over them. Anger, frustration and selfishness can undermine that authority very quickly and our children will either obey us out of fear or rebel out of their own anger, frustration and selfishness. Handling the authority God has given to us over our children with love is not a magic pill, however. God’s people still disobeyed after God had blessed them with His love, but God remained unchanged.
A belief in the constancy of God’s love needs to begin with the growing presence of that love in us for our children. An obedient heart submitted to the will of God is nurtured in the presence of love and discipline. May we as parents move our children toward wholehearted love and genuine obedience.
Lord, help me to live a life of love and obedience in the presence of my children. Grow in me the humility and maturity to love my children as you love me. Lead me constantly forward into Your amazing, relentless love. Amen.