Timothy is a classic model in the Bible for Sunday school work. Paul wrote to Timothy: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2Tim 3:14-15).
His grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice worked with Timothy and had the joy of seeing him saved and become a man of God.
Our general mission is to spread the gospel because the Savior said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). We have been directed to take the gospel to big creatures and little ones as well. To realize this general commission with children, we should aim for three specific goals illustrated by Lois, Eunice, and Timothy: Education, Evangelization, and Exercise of gift.
Memorization: Fill the mind
Lois and Eunice poured the Word of God into Timothy and he soaked it up like a sponge. He did not just learn about the Holy Scriptures. He actually knew them. Therefore, learning verses is not some optional “filler” activity. We must use varied and creative methods to drill the Word of God into the minds of children. Our educational system today does not promote memorization as in previous generations. Therefore, it will require work and patience to realize this goal.
Instruction: Touch the Heart
1. With Who God is: When Paul spoke in Athens, his audience knew nothing of God. So Paul began with God’s character: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24). This is how the Bible begins: “In the beginning God.” A proper attitude towards God and His principles and concepts pave the way for accepting His demands and requirements for salvation.
2. With what God says: Timothy learned the Scriptures. He obviously knew the Bible stories Paul referred to in his letter (Adam and Eve in 1Tim 2:13-14; Jacob and Bethel in 3:15; and the tabernacle in 6:16). He also knew specific Scriptures and their correct meaning in their context (5:18). We too should teach the classic Bible stories and clear gospel verses.
Lois and Eunice so taught Timothy that he “was assured” of them. Beyond knowledge, the truths of God and the gospel became deep convictions, or beliefs in his heart. He was not a tape recorder that simply played back his mother’s beliefs. They became Timothy’s beliefs as well. Teach children such that they will believe it too!
3. With why Christ died: Let us never fall short of giving people the key just as Lois and Eunice did, that salvation is “through faith which is Christ Jesus.” Fill young hearts with the significance of the cross as “we preach Christ crucified” (1Cor 1:23).
Preparation: Reach the Conscience
It is easy to be influenced by our results-oriented society and to fall into the trap of measuring children’s work by numbers of professions. But do we want children to profess or to possess salvation? The Holy Spirit was sent into the world to bring conviction of sins. Jesus said, “When He is come, He will reprove (convict) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). We must never bypass this essential work of God in the soul.
What does the Spirit use to bring about conviction? When Jesus wanted the men who brought a sinful woman to Him, to be convicted of their sin, He spoke the word in John 8 and wrote (perhaps the 10 commandments) on the ground. The Bible says, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one” (John 8:9). When we teach children God’s holy standard and even the 10 commandments, we are preparing a heart for conviction of sin because “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20).
Lois and Eunice filled Timothy’s mind with the Old Testament because it was “able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Tim 3:15). The very wording means that salvation came at a later date than the teaching. So, rather than pushing children “to believe,” or “make a commitment,” let us focus on completing our divinely given task to “preach the Word” and leave room for the Spirit to work. Our goal should be to lay a foundation of truth in the mind of the child so that when God’s time to work with that individual comes, the basis is there. It is wonderful to see them saved, but our job is to teach them in Whom they may safely trust.
There is no such thing as armchair evangelism. We are compelled by the Word of God to be like the Thessalonian believers; Paul commended them by saying, “From you sounded out the word of the Lord” (1Thes 1:8). Our mission is clear; we must imitate the Lord Jesus and sow the seed of the Word of God. Evangelism is not a required work for preachers and optional for the rest. We all must reach out to win souls for Christ.
The priority must be, then, consistent interaction with souls. We must first go out and visit homes and invite children in. Then, it won’t be sufficient to have one meeting. It will be the regular echoing out of the Word of God that will produce results. Children’s work requires patience and persistence as you continually and consistently visit homes, have more meetings, and follow up with gospel meetings.
Lois and Eunice taught Timothy when he was a child (lit: young child). When Paul says, “knowing of whom thou hast learned them,” he is very possibly including himself. They taught him and then Paul re-taught the same Scriptures. Year after year, we need to persevere teaching the Word of God over and over again.
Children’s work should always be with a view to expanding the gospel testimony of assemblies. After each missionary journey, Paul always came back to Antioch and gave a report. His work was always in fellowship with an assembly. Children’s work is a means of “sounding out” the gospel in the community as an extension of local gospel testimony. There is no Biblical allowance for mavericks and unaccountable free agents. We must always be laborers together with God.
The saint who does not involve himself in gospel work will become insensitive to perishing souls. The assembly that does not have gospel outreach is in danger of extinction. As F. B. Meyer once said, “A church without a mission will soon be a missing church.” Thank God, outreach to children, and through them to parents, is still one of the most effective means we have in North America to reach souls. As Abner said to the elders of Israel: “Now then do it” (2Sam 3:18).
Children’s work can be an excellent means to develop gifts of evangelism, helps, charity, and others in the assembly. Learning how to express the gospel as simply as possible is an ability to be developed. Teaching a Sunday school class is excellent preparation for brethren who share in the regular preaching of the gospel in an assembly. However, the benefit of personal development will only come to committed believers. Half-hearted workers will produce half-hearted students and half-developed gift. May God help us to progress and develop through this most noble spiritual exercise.
Timothy learned the truth because his teachers lived it. Paul later wrote, “I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also” (2Tim 1:5). The truth was so real and important it was “in them.” It molded their character such that it became one of their characteristics. Can your students sense your commitment? “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Eccl 9:10).