Please take a seat and turn to Deuteronomy 6 and also Ephesians 6.4. And a special welcome to teachers, governors, but also parents and carers, grandparents, children's & youth leaders and all involved in Holiday Club this week – as we look at the question 'Why teach?' Why indeed, I used to say to myself when I was teaching and reading things like this in Religious Education (RE) exam papers: "Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread – which is bread made without any ingredients. Moses went up Mount Cyanide to get the 10 commandments. He died before he reached Canada!"
Well, let me begin in true teacher style by asking you a question – but there's no need to put your hand up! What makes a good school? That was the first question put to me in my year of teacher training. The answer given wasn't more money or new buildings but this: a good head teacher. And there's a lot of truth in that. Certainly head teachers are crucial in determining the standards and ethos of a school. But what makes a good head teacher? Someone who has leadership, teaching and people skills and, from what we learn in the Bible, someone who builds on our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and his words, the greatest leader and teacher to ever have walked on this planet.
So can I challenge some of you – what's your ambition? Is it to influence thousands of young people for Christ, helping them to understand that a truly 'successful' life, so to speak, is one built on the rock of Jesus Christ and his words? If so, why not aim to be a head teacher? There's a head teacher here and who'd be willing to mentor you. And if not a head teacher – a teacher or a classroom assistant or a mentor or a governor or involved with the children's work here? Schools, children & young people need you. Now teaching's not easy. One journalist, who taught at a good school as a trial, wrote: "Teaching is the toughest job in the world... I lost more sleep in that one term than in any other job."
There are also the pressures of teaching at a time when the government doesn't want Christian morals taught in schools although the Prime Minister has said that Christians should be able to talk about their faith at work. A number of teachers have asked me, "Am I allowed to talk about traditional marriage in an assembly anymore? And if I do will I lose my job?" And this doesn't just affect schools - the government are determined to regulate church youth groups.
Now I'm in danger of putting some of you off! So let me encourage you, whether you're a teacher already or someone who's considering it: teaching is a Christian vocation – it's not just a job. Yes it can be stressful but you have the opportunity to impact the lives of many children and young people by teaching the truth in love, by being salt and light, and an ambassador for Jesus Christ, by sharing the love God has for them and your love for him, which should impact the whole of our being (Deut 6.4-5). Surely, to come back to morals, we're to teach God's commands in love. Isn't that what Deuteronomy 6 is saying? We shouldn't be ashamed to teach the truth appropriately in love. We've to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves but God comes first. Luther said:
"If I could leave the office of preacher, or were forced to do so, there is no other office that I would rather have than that of schoolmaster. For I know that next to the office of preaching, this is the best, the greatest and most useful there is. In fact, I am not absolutely sure which of the two is better."
But we mustn't forget the importance of parents, carers and grandparents. In fact the most important factor in good education is the involvement of parents or carers. As the Bible makes clear from the passages we had read and from 2 Timothy 1, fathers, mothers and grandparents all have a vital role to play in the education of their children. So first:
1. Teach God's Word to your Children (Deuteronomy 6.7 & Ephesians 6.4)
The Bible doesn't push for indoctrination of children in the home or at school but natural intentional daily communication of the faith. Deuteronomy 6.7:
"Teach God's commandments diligently to your children. Talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise."
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
Fathers then have a particular responsibility to bring up their children in the training or discipline and instruction of the Lord. Paul, in contrast to the Roman authoritarian model of fatherhood, sees Christian fathers as self-controlled, gentle and patient educators of their children, and that human fathers are to care for their families as God the Father cares for his. Yet how easy it is for us fathers to exasperate our children and be often out or away. Perhaps some of us have to re-examine our priorities. Some schools now actually want fathers and grandfathers to help because of the lack of male teachers. But what if the father isn't around or isn't a believer? Well you still want them involved if possible, but in the case of Timothy in the Bible it was his mother and grandmother who brought him up in the faith as his father doesn't appear to have been a believer.
And, of course, mothers are also to be involved. Verses 1-3 refer to parents. Yes, Christian parents can delegate some of their responsibility to church and school, but not all of it! Yes, children spend a lot of time at school, but far more time at home. And when parents do delegate they're still to be involved and interested in appropriate ways. By supporting the church groups and encouraging the leaders, by examining carefully the possible school options, by becoming a governor, by asking what RE they're doing if any. Surely schooling must be a partnership between schools and parents. And even with appropriate members of the community. Many young people lack confidence in class and need support. Not all though – such as the 10 year old who recently applied to be Professor of Lego at Cambridge Unversity! Seriously! He said that he would definitely be the best candidate, and he's probably right!
So according to verse 4 what specifically is to be taught? First, fathers, parents are to train their children by discipline. In Hebrews 12 it's used of both fathers and God the Father who discipline their children for their good. So there's a need for right discipline in the home as indeed there is at school. Proverbs 13.24:
"Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful or diligent to discipline him."
Not discipline in cruel ways but in appropriate, consistent and controlled ways so that the child will not follow a path of destruction. You see in the Bible the 'rod' or 'setting limits' imparts wisdom and promotes a healthy and happy family. And again note that discipline is rooted in love, just as the Lord disciplines those he loves. So parents must be clear about their motives when disciplining. It's always dangerous to discipline your children when you're annoyed, when your pride's been injured, or when you've lost your temper. When you're disciplining a child, you should've first controlled yourself. What right have you to say to your child that they need discipline when you obviously need it yourself? Self-control, control of temper, is essential in the control of others.
Secondly, the Christian upbringing of children also includes instruction. This certainly runs counter to one fashion which encourages parents and teachers to leave children to find their own way. Now some can go to the other extreme and be too domineering. So what's the balance? Well we've to distinguish between true and false education. False education is indoctrination, in which parents and teachers impose their mind and will on the child. But true education is stimulation, in which parents and teachers act as a catalyst, and encourage the child to make his own responses. This they can't do if parents leave the child to flounder; they have to teach, explain and defend Christian values of truth and goodness and recommend their acceptance without coercion, praying and reading the Bible with them, bringing them to church and modelling the Christian life. Then the prayer is that by God's grace they'll come to know Jesus themselves. We greatly rejoice when they do and carry on praying for those who don't. (Lamentations 2.19)
Deuteronomy 6.6 says God's commands are to be upon our hearts and so lived out. Parents are to be examples. So what's the best thing a father can do for his children – love their mother and together bring them to Christ. Children are a gift from God. They don't belong to the state. The prime responsibility of our children's education lies with parents. Proverbs 22:6:
"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he's old he will not turn from it."
Jesus said to his disciples and parents, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." So secondly moving on to school teaching,
2. Teach the Truth in Love
Jesus came at the first Christmas full of grace and truth. He entered Jerusalem to turn the world upside-down humbly riding on a donkey. Paul urges us to speak the truth in love and that's so important in a world of fake news, alternative facts, threatening tweets and angry protests. If Jesus is the truth and Lord over all, then his claims need to be proposed even if not imposed - truth which reveals the truth about ourselves and the world around us. The assumption throughout education authorities is that children are essentially good. But the Bible teaches that children are essentially sinful. Psalm 51.5:
"Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me."
That has major implications for discipline and for learning. You see, what should the aim of education ultimately be? Surely a knowledge of the truth and the answer to that fundamental problem. In John 14.6 and John 8.32 Jesus says,
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me" and "if you hold to my teaching… you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."
Knowing the truth used to be the aim of RE in Newcastle. Today the aim is as clear as mud! But some of you ask, 'Hang on, is this what schools should be teaching?' Well is education merely the path to worldly success? Certainly it's important that academic and skill standards are high. Christians have always pioneered education believing it to be very important. Gospel, education and lift as John Wesley used to say. Samuel Rutherford, a Scots evangelist, brought the gospel and schools to Newcastle – Rutherford School in the West End and the origins of what is now Northumbria University. It's vital that children learn to read, not least so they can read the Bible. But are we in danger of creating what Martin Luther called 'clever devils'? And what will that mean for society? Now this doesn't mean that we don't teach a wide range of subjects and that we're not concerned about the development of the whole person. Luke 2.52 states, "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." Jesus teaches us and shows us how to live, which could be the basis of Personal and Social Education. Because Jesus is fully God and fully man, he shows us what being truly human means.
Pontius Pilate's question to Jesus before his crucifixion, "What is truth?" needs examining in our schools. Jesus says, "I am the truth". The danger of creating clever devils reminds us that a better academic education can't change the heart of a sinful human being but only the "gospel of Christ, which is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). D.L. Moody, the American evangelist, once said, "If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track!" Jesus said to Pilate, "Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." (John 18:37)
Are you telling the truth? And to go back to Deuteronomy 6.6, are you showing the truth and being an example to those you teach? What example will you be tomorrow? One of my former students watched my behaviour for a whole year to see if I was genuine before she would come to the school Christian Union, which brings us to my final point about 'why teach'.
3. To be Salt and Light (Matthew 5.13-16)
If you are trusting in Jesus, you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world, says Jesus in Matthew 5. Salt is a preservative which also adds flavour. So what's Jesus saying? That without a healthy active Christian influence, our schools and society will rot. But if we be who we are in Christ then we can't help but be an influence for good. As schools face the problems of our decaying society, how important it is that Christians are involved and stand in the gap. Yet are we in danger of losing our saltiness in education? Many schools today like to think of themselves as neutral places in terms of belief and morality. But in reality there's no such thing as a neutral classroom. Some schools face very difficult situations. But we can help where there are open doors. So get involved with your school. Add flavour. Offer to support, help run a Christian group - but as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5 there will also be opposition.
And we're to shine as lights. Some will see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Now it's the Holy Spirit who brings people to new birth in Christ, but as Christ's ambassadors you're to both demonstrate and explain the love of Christ. You are representatives of the King of Kings. So go live up to your calling in the power of the Spirit. Be willing to stand up for Jesus, speaking the truth in love. Christ's love compels us.