Help the Children Love the Different People
Racial Harmony Sunday
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
If you are newer to Bethlehem, here is something important to know about us. Since 1993—about 18 years now counting this one—we have focused two messages in January on the same two issues each year—issues that have seemed to us timely and important, and which the Bible addresses pretty clearly: the issue of racial or ethnic diversity and harmony in our country and in our church, and the issue of the sanctity of human life, and the practice of abortion in particular.
Unashamed for Racial Harmony and Human Life
We are unashamedly devoted to Christ-exalting racial and ethnic justice and diversity and harmony. We give a glad-hearted embrace to the increasing diversity in our land—and we hope for it in our church. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2042 (32 years from now) minorities will make up more than 50% of the population. We do not look with alarm or threat on this. This is the way heaven will be. “You were slain [Lord Jesus], and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
And we are unashamedly devoted to the sanctify of human life, in the womb and outside the womb—the life of human beings who are not merely the product of natural processes of procreation, but who are each one created in the image of God. Listen to the way the brother of Jesus argues about how we should speak to each other: “The tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:8–9). We believe that taking the life of these little human beings in the womb is a great sin, except in the rarest of cases, where mom and child are about to be lost.
It has seemed providential to us that Martin Luther King weekend and the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday always fall together in the January calendar. So we take this as an opportunity to listen to what God has to say about these two issues from his word.
So today we focus on racial harmony and next week we focus on the sanctity of human life.
Almost About Disability as Well
The direction I want to go today in addressing the issue of racial harmony is not so much to say new things but to say some old, biblical things in a new context. I want to put some basic biblical truth in the context of how we raise our children to love people who are different from them.
When I felt led to take this approach, I confess that I felt a huge desire to make this message be explicitly about both racial differences and about disability differences. And the reason is that for very little children, other people who are different from them or from mommy and daddy fall into obvious categories like race and disability. Children have to be taught these things. And many of the same things they need to learn in loving people of other races they also need to learn in loving people with physical disabilities.
Listen Between the Lines
But I talked to Noël about approaching this sermon that way, and we decided it would not be a good idea. First, this is Martin Luther King Weekend, and the stated focus is racial harmony. Second, and more important, some people would almost surely say that I was treating race as a disability. Which it isn’t.
So I am going to explicitly apply what I say to racial differences, and trust those of you for whom disability is a more immediate issue to listen between the lines and make the applications wherever they are appropriate.
Mainly Talking to Parents
I am mainly talking to parents in this message, but if you are a child and can understand what I am saying right now, I really encourage you to listen carefully. Your parents love you very much. And I am preaching this message to help them love you even better. If will be a great help to you if you learn from this message one of the ways that God commands your parents to love you.
Parents: The Primary Shapers
I start with the assumption that parents are charged by God to be the primary shapers and teachers of their children’s attitude to racial differences. The key passage behind that assumption is Ephesians 6:1–4:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
So parents—both mom and dad—are to be honored and obeyed by their children. This is the way God has set up the world for our great good. Where this breaks down everything begins to break down.
Specific to Fathers
Specifically, fathers are named in Ephesians 6:4 and have an especially prominent role in shaping the minds and hearts of their children in accord with the Lord’s instruction. Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, . . . bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Part of that instruction is the Lord’s truth about racial differences and how we should think and feel and act about them. So fathers are put there by God, among other reasons, to help their children love people of different races. That’s my assumption in this message, and the rest of what I want to do in the rest of this message is give some examples of how to do that.
8 Ways to Help the Children Love Different People
I have eight ways to help your children love those who are different from them. There is an order to them, and I will try to explain it along the way. The gospel of Christ comes in at number five. And the reason it comes so late is that this is the way it works in raising children. They can understand things about God and about what God commands before they can know the meaning of their own depravity and the glory of the way God worked salvation in Christ.
So these are addressed mainly to parents, but also to anyone else who cares about helping children love people different from themselves. Keep in mind that on every point I am assuming that every parent is seeking to be what he is teaching the children. Teach and model. Teach and model.
1. Help the children believe in God’s sovereign wisdom and goodness in creating them with the body that they have.
Most little children are wonderfully free from fretting about their body. They don’t think about it. If there is no pain, they just go from one thing to the next with no bothersome self-consciousness at all.
But almost all children come to an age when they worry about their bodies. Am I too tall or too short? Too thin or too heavy? Too dark or too light? Cool hair or boring hair? Clear complexion or blemished? These fears, and the craving to be liked, can escalate into destructive dysfunctions and sinful behaviors.
Not Self-Esteem But God’s Sovereign Goodness
What is needed is not the world’s teaching on self-esteem, but God’s teaching on his sovereign goodness and wisdom in creating our children they way they are. Psalm 139:14: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” It doesn’t solve every problem. It’s just massively important. And the teaching and modeling begins when the child is one year old, not when he is 11. You are getting your child ready for adolescence from the day he is born.
And what you want your child to grasp as soon as possible is: 1) God made me. 2) God is very, very wise. 3) God is very, very good. 4) Therefore, we should trust him. The way he made me is good. The battle of adolescence is not mainly a self-esteem issue. It’s a God issue. A trust issue. We are teaching our children from the beginning to trust God’s sovereignty and wisdom and goodness.
The reason I start here is that the next point will have more power if you have built this into a child from the beginning.
2. Help the children believe in God’s sovereign wisdom and goodness in making other people with the body that they have.
This simply takes the first truth and applies it to others. And if you have helped them grasp the idea of being created by God—an amazing and wonderful truth—and being created with wisdom and goodness, then they will not have as much trouble grasping that this is true for others as well.
And if they grasp that others, in all their differences, are created by a wise and good God, then you can draw out all the implications of that. For example, you would not make fun of God’s work, would you? You would not hurt someone by staring at them as if they were made by a foolish god or a bad god, would you? And so on.
3. Help the children believe that they and all other children and adults are made in God’s image.
Genesis 1:27: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Build into your children from the beginning that they are different from all the animals because God made us like himself. This applies to all human beings, all races. We can know God. And love God. And think God’s thoughts after him in the Bible. And talk to God. And reflect God in ways that no animal can.
We teach our children that being a human is an amazing and glorious thing. No race is an exception to this. And here is one of the main implications: What makes us like God (all of us) is infinitely more important than any physical thing that makes us unlike each other.
So we say to our children, if they are pulling away from someone who’s different, “Is he more like you, or more different from you?” And if he says, “More different.” You say, “No, because he’s created in God’s image, and you’re created in God’s image. So you are like each other in that really, really important way. The differences aren’t nearly that important.”
God As Creator and Commander of Love
So the first three ways to help our children love those who are different from them all revolve around helping them know God as their Creator and what that means for their lives.
The next examples of how to help our children relates to knowing God as the God who commands us to love. So first our children meet God as their Creator. And then they meet him as the giver of the law which is summed up in the command to love.
4. Teach the children that God tells us to do to others as we would like others to do to us.
Jesus said, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). This can be very powerful with smaller children who are just old enough to know what it feels like to be made fun of or excluded.
We teach them the Golden Rule to do to others what we would like to be done to us. And we apply it over and over again to their relationships and how they treat others. “Would you want to be treated that way? No. So let’s not treat them that way either.”
Jesus said, amazingly, “This is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). So build this into your children early and often. When someone is different from you and you are tempted to say something or do something to them, ask: Would I want someone to say that to me or do that to me?
Arriving at the Gospel
Now we have arrived at the gospel examples (numbers 5–8), and these are the ones directly related to the gospel of Christ—his death for our sin and his triumphant, death-conquering resurrection. And when these take root, the previous four suggestions I have given are given the power of the gospel.
5. Teach the children and model for them that their own sin is uglier than anybody they think is physically unattractive.
Sin is not an innocent mistake or a funny blunder or a noble flaw. Sin is ugly rebellion against God. Paul calls this sinful generation “a crooked and perverse generation” (Philippians 2:15). The Bible uses words like “abomination,” and Paul describes fallen man in Romans 3:13, “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips.” Sin is abhorrent and ugly.
If our children are ever to grasp the gospel, they must grasp this about themselves. And we parents must! They and we are sinful—dreadfully sinful. Until this is seen and felt in some significant measure, the gospel will not be cherished.
Knowing the Depth of Our Sin
One way this relates to loving others different from us is this: When we are broken not just because we do some bad things, but because we are morally and spiritually perverse and ugly, we will not be given to despise others for mere outward appearances that we may think are unpleasant.
But mainly the way this sense of sinfulness and moral ugliness works is to prepare us for the next act.
6. Teach the children that God loves them in spite of the ugliness of their sin and that he proved this by sending his Son to die for our sins and give forgiveness to all who would trust him.
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is the heart of the gospel. And it’s the deepest source of power for helping our children love others different from themselves.
So we say to our children, “You think they are unattractive or unpleasant? Remember, your sin—your sinful heart, just like mommy’s and daddy’s—is more unattractive and unpleasant to God than that person is to you. And God loves you. God sent Jesus, his own son, to suffer and die in our place, so that if we trust him, he forgives us all our sins and starts to make us into new and desirable people.”
“So if God has loved us this way, shouldn’t we love others this way too?”
7. Teach the children that because Jesus died for them and rose again, he becomes for them an all-satisfying Friend and Treasure.
Paul said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord ” (Philippians 3:8). To know Jesus—to have Jesus as my Savior and my King and my Friend is better than anything.
Help the children make the connection—and of course you have to make it for yourself—that if Jesus is this precious and this satisfying, then you don’t need to be afraid of anyone who’s different from you, and you don’t need to get your happiness by feeling superior to others or by putting others down. You have Jesus. And you are full. And you have something to share. So don’t turn away from people. Turn toward people.
Happy Enough in Jesus to Love Others
Help the children be so happy in knowing Jesus and in being forgiven by Jesus and being loved by God because of Jesus, that they spill over onto others freely with love, rather than getting their happiness by putting others down and running away from others.
Finally, to make sure that the children are grasping the gospel and how it works in their lives . . .
8. Teach the children to love others who are different from them, not in order to be accepted by God, but because they already are accepted by God because of Jesus.
When Paul says in Philippians 2:12–13, “Work out your own salvation,” he adds, “because it is God who works in you.” And when he says in Philippians 3:12, “I press on to make it my own,” he adds, “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
In other words, the efforts that we teach our children to make in working out their salvation—in being good and holy and kind and loving—don’t make them Christians. These efforts don’t get God on their side. If they have been grasped by the gospel, they make these efforts because God is already on their side. And he is on their side because of what Jesus did for them, not what they do for him.
The Power of God in the Gospel
This is the power to love people different from ourselves. This is the key we give to our children. And above all this is the key to the grace that enables us to be this kind of parent. We live day by day from the love of God in the gospel of Jesus. May God grant our children to see it and in the power of it love others different from themselves.