A Word for Mothers on Mother’s Day

In 1900, A. E. Winthrop tracked down fourteen hundred descendants of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards in order to compare them with another notorious family – the Jukes –  whose descendants had cost the New York State over a million dollars in welfare and custodial charges.  The Edwards family and the Jukes family were a study in contrasts.  Of the 1200 Jukes Winthrop studied, only 20 had ever earned a living through gainful employment, whereas the rest had lived on welfare or were criminals.  In contrast, by 1900, “this single marriage [of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards] had produced 13 college professors, 65 professors, 100 lawyers, and a dean of an outstanding law school, 30 judges, 66 physicians and a dean of a medical school, 80 holders of public office” including three United States senators, mayors of three large cities, governors of three states, a Vice-President of the United States, and a controller of the United States Treasury.  Almost all the men in this family were college educated, and many had graduate degrees “in a time when this was unusual.”  

Members of the family wrote 135 books . . . . They edited eighteen journals and periodicals.  They entered the ministry in platoons and sent one hundred missionaries overseas, as well as stocking many mission boards with lay trustees.  One maverick married the daughter of a South Sea Island chieftain but even that branch reverted to type, and its son became a clergyman.[1]

Winthrop concluded that “there is scarcely any great American industry that has not had one of this family among its chief promoters. . .  The family has cost the country nothing in pauperism, in crime, in hospital or asylum service; on the contrary, it represents the highest usefulness.”

How did this family become so great?  Winthrop had a theory, although it is probably not what many would expect.  He said that “much of the capacity and talent, intensity and character, of the more than 1,400 of the Edwards family is due to Mrs. Edwards.”  Though there is no doubt that the genius and spirituality of Mr Edwards rubbed off on the family, Dodds is right when she notes that, “How children turn out is always a reflection on their mother.”

And this is one of the reasons we celebrate Mother’s Day every year.  On this day, we are reminded how much we owe our mothers.  They gave birth to us – which by itself is enough to merit our lifelong gratitude! – but they also put up with our stubbornness and stupidity, fed us and clothed us and nursed us to health in our sickness, protected us and watched over us.  Most of all, they loved us even when we were very unlovable.  Mothers give.  And give.  And give some more.  

In his last letter to Timothy, Paul wants his son in the faith to remember a gift his mother gave him.  “I am reminded of your sincere faith,” he writes, “a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Tim. 1:5).  The gift Timothy’s mother gave to him was faith – faith which had its roots in the word of God.  This becomes part of the basis for Paul’s exhortation to “fan into flame the gift of God” (v. 6).  The impact that Timothy’s mother had on him as a child through this gift reached into the future as a motivation to be faithful in the ministry bequeathed to him by Paul.  The influence of Timothy’s mother didn’t stop when he left the home; it continued into his present life as a powerful motivation for persevering in the faith.  We see something similar happening later in the epistle, when Paul encourages him to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14-15).  Paul recognized that some of the most powerful arguments he could muster to urge Timothy forward were the memories he possessed of the godly education given to him by his mother and grandmother.

One of the reasons Paul only mentions Timothy’s mother and grandmother is because his father was an unbeliever.  Thus, the entirety of his religious education fell upon the shoulders of his mother, who did her job well.  These verses illustrate the blessing a godly mother is for her children when she has bequeathed to them the knowledge of God’s word.  God honors mothers who acquaint their children with the sacred writings which are able to make them wise unto salvation which is in Christ Jesus.  The greatest gift a mother can give to her children is a love of God’s word.  This is what Timothy’s mother had given to him.  As Calvin put it: Paul “sets before him his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, by whom he had been educated from his infancy in such a manner that he might have sucked godliness along with his milk.  By this godly education, therefore, Timothy is admonished not to degenerate from himself and from his ancestors.”[2]

But you cannot give what you haven’t got.  Therefore, let every godly mother who wants to pass on a heritage of faith to her children first give herself to the study of the word of God, the Bible.  Store up treasures of knowledge which have as their content the doctrines of Scripture.  Let the love of truth draw you into the pages of the Bible.  In that way, you will be equipped to do for your children what Timothy’s mother did for him.

So, in light of this, what I want to do this Mother’s Day is to encourage our mothers here to do this very thing.  The best thing I can do for you is to encourage you to give yourself the word of God so that you can in turn pass it on to your children.  I want you to know and love the word of God.  I want the mothers here to be theologians on fire.  So I give you five objectives relating your role as a mother to the word of God.   My hope is that these will send you hungry to the Scriptures, so that with Mary you will choose “the good portion,” which will not be taken way from you (Lk. 10:42), and which you can then pass on to your children.

Mothers, teach your children the word of God.

First, it is the duty of both parents to teach their children the word of God.  The Bible is a very patriarchal book, and it would be easy to conclude from a superficial reading of it that it is only the father’s responsibility to pass on the family traditions and beliefs.  However, this is not so.  Although the spiritual education of the children is the father’s ultimate responsibility (as is indicated in Ephesians 6:4), that doesn’t mean he is the only one involved.  The book of Deuteronomy, which is so concerned about passing on the faith to the next generation, puts both men and women in the audience of those who need to hear the Scripture in order to pass it on:

Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law [including the injunction of Deut. 6:7!], and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.  (Deut. 31:12-13)

According to Proverbs 31, the godly woman “opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (verse 26).  Certainly, those to whom she speaks are primarily those who belong to her household (verse 27), especially her children.  Of course, “wisdom” in Proverbs is not merely genius.  Its content begins with the fear of God (1:7).  In other words, the wisdom which fills the mouth of the godly woman is fundamentally religious, and has as its source the word of God.

One could argue from the oneness of the marriage union, that this would imply both unity and teamwork in the training of the children.  Certainly, as in the case of Timothy, when the father is not able to do this, it falls entirely upon the mother.  It surely is included in “guiding the house” in 1 Tim. 5:14.  

However, you cannot teach what you do not know.  For a mother to teach the word of God to their children, she must know it.  She must read it, understand its themes, its doctrines, be able to discuss and defend it to her children.  So mothers, teach your children the word of God!

Mothers, show your children the word of God

Second, the influence mothers have upon their children is massive.  In the OT, you can see the influence of the mother behind many of the kings of Judah and Israel, either for good or bad.  You cannot help but hear it in 2 Chron. 12:13, which comments that Rehoboam’s mother was “Naamah an Ammonitess.”  You can see the evil that the daughter of Ahab had upon her son, King Ahaziah (2 Chron. 22:3).  On the other hand, the mothers of every king are not mentioned, so when they are, it makes one wonder if it is because of the special influence they had upon them, either for good or evil.  Mothers need to make sure that the influence they exert upon their children is seasoned by God’s word and truth.  You are not only preaching to them when you are directly teaching them out of the Bible, but you are preaching your view of God in every act and response throughout the day.  They will see what view of God you have.  So immerse yourself continually in the truth of Scripture.   Doctrine is important, and it will influence the way you live, the way you react, the way you see yourself and the world, and thus the way your children will see themselves and the world.

The truth of God’s word is commended, not only through its reasonableness, but also through its impact on people’s lives.  We all are aware of people who have come to faith when the deciding factor was not the strength of the arguments for Christianity, but the power of godliness in a believer’s life.  I think of Josh McDowell, who basically argued his way to the Christian faith, but when his father – the town drunk – was converted, the whole town came to faith in Christ because of the impact they saw faith in Christ had for him.  It has been said that one of the drawing points to Christianity in the first few centuries of its history was the love that believers had for each other.  In the same way, a mother has the greatest opportunity to show the power of godliness to her children.   

A mother should see every day as a day to preach the gospel to her children in her words, in her attitudes and reactions, in her decisions, in her discipline, in her play, in her quiet time, in her work – because that’s what is happening.  What Paton said about his father could in many, many instances be said of godly mothers throughout the world: “Though everything else in religion were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, were blotted from my understanding, my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with the victorious appeal, ‘He walked with God, why may not I?’”  But God’s truth will have no impact if it is not thoroughly digested and made a part of the individual.  To get there, you need to be a student of that word.

Mothers, pray over your children with the word of God.

Of all the things a mother can do for her children, I can think of no better thing than for them to faithfully, consistently, and lovingly pray over them.  Though there are no direct passages commanding mothers in particular to pray for their children, what the Bible does say about prayer implies it.  For example, when Paul commands us to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6), this certainly applies to mothers who are often in a position to be anxious about their children!  Or when James tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (Jam. 5:16), we must not think that he is excluding mothers who fervently pray that their children would be made into men and women for God.

In fact, history underscores the fact that a praying mother is a powerful instrument in the hand of God.  A great example of this is Augustine, the fourth century bishop and theologian whose thought has impacted the church from his day until now.  He attributed his own conversion [under the grace of God] to the prayers of his mother, Monica.  

Augustine’s mother raised him in the Christian faith despite the fact that – like Timothy’s mother – her husband was a pagan.  Nevertheless, when Augustine went off to Carthage for school, his mother’s training receded into the background as he wholeheartedly adopted the immoral ways of the city.  And for many years after, Augustine lived an immoral lifestyle and embraced pagan philosophies.  It was not until his thirties that Augustine was arrested by the Spirit of God and his life was changed.  Reflecting on his conversion years later, he wrote this prayer: “My mother, Your faithful servant, wept to You for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than others shed for the bodily death of a son.  You heard her.”[3]

But not every prayer is heard.  Jesus himself pointed out that some prayers are useless: “And when you pray, do not heap empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think [falsely] that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them” (Matt. 6:7-8).  How then should we pray?  The place to start is to go to the word of God, which tells us things like, “Pray then like this. . . .” (Matt. 6:9).  The word of God teaches us how to pray, when to pray, with what words to pray, the manner of prayer, and so on.  It gives encouragements to prayer and examples of prayer.  So if you would be a prayer-warrior, immerse yourself in the word of God.  Let its language and truths fill your mouth with words and your heart with faith and affection.  Mothers! pray over your children with the word of God.

Mothers, glorify God in your lives with the word of God.

The greatest reason, however, for mothers to study the Bible is not unique to mothers but is universally applicable.  The chief end of a mother is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.  Worship is the end for which you were created.  

And in the end, the ultimate reason you are a mother is not so that you can raise good children.  Sometimes, the fact of the matter is that good mothers can produce very bad children.  Not every godly woman has a success story when it comes to her sons and daughters.  Does that mean that they failed in life?  No.  Because God’s first and ultimate purpose for you is not to brag about your children but to brag about God.  

But to worship God we must know something about him, about his greatness and majesty.  Though this is revealed in the world, it is most clearly revealed in Scripture, and especially in Christ – who is brought to us in the pages of the Bible.  Jesus told them woman at the well, 

The hour in coming and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.  (John 4:23-24)

It is impossible to worship God in truth without the source of truth, God’s word.  This is the reason Jesus told the woman – who was a Samaritan – “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22); that is, the Jews had the Bible, and the Samaritans did not.  This made their worship like a blind man trying to describe something he had never seen or like a person trying to feel something they have never experienced.

If you would see God, you must see him in his word.  If you would experience God, you must experience him through the word.  So mothers, glorify God by understanding and delighting in the word of God.

Mothers, put your faith in the Word of God.

I do not mean by Word of God merely the Scriptures.  I mean by “Word” the one who is the ultimate expression of God’s revelation to men, and who is the object of study in the Scriptures from beginning to end.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1).  God has given us his word so that we might believe in his Word – Jesus Christ his Son.   “God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, that whoever believes on him might not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).  

The reason why this is important is because, apart from Christ, we will never teach or show or pray or see the glory of the word of God.  By nature we are all blind and spiritually dead.  It is Christ alone who by his death on the cross cleanses us from our sins so that we can have life and sight and feeling, so that his word is not dead words on a page but living and real.  It is Christ who gives us grace and strength to teach and show and see God’s word.  You need Christ, as do we all.  So look to him and find grace and life in him. 

[1] These quotes and the following come from Marriage to a Difficult Man: The “Uncommon Union” of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, by Elisabeth D. Dodds (Westminster Press: 1971), pages 37-39.

[2] From Calvin’s Commentary on 2 Timothy.


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