Note: Originally prepared as a talk for moms in my church and then turned into an article, the following content was first published by The Gospel Coalition and can be read here. I’m grateful for the opportunity to partner with TGC and Crossway for my forthcoming book, God Is Still Good: Gospel Hope and Comfort for the Unexpected Sorrows of Motherhood, scheduled for release in January 2023.
With our older sons now teenagers, my husband and I are keenly aware their days living under our roof are numbered. As we prepare to launch them out of the relative safety of our home, we’ve been considering how we can best prepare them to live for Christ in uncertain times.
Through the pandemic, racial tensions, and political unrest of recent years, we’ve been freshly reminded we live in a fallen, broken world that’s ravaged by the curse of sin. But the truth is, we’ve always lived in uncertain times, and none of us knows what tomorrow will bring (James 4:14).
While we can’t know exactly what challenges our children will face, we can still prepare them to navigate the world. I’ve found 2 Timothy to be relevant for parents and churches today. In this epistle, Paul offers four ways we can prepare the next generation to live faithfully whatever comes.
1. Help them understand the times.
Some consider 2 Timothy to be Paul’s last will and testament in which he passes on some final wisdom to his son in the faith. He writes, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Tim. 3:1). The phrase “last days” can have several meanings; in this case, Paul seems to indicate the time inaugurated by Christ’s earthly ministry and continued until Jesus’s return. We live in these last days.
If we want to prepare our children to live for Christ in their generation, we need to help them rightly understand the times. Practically, this begins by acknowledging there will come “times”—or eras—of “difficulty” for believers. Though Jesus won the ultimate battle on the cross, we’re still engaged in a war against sin that takes place on a thorny battlefield.
We need to teach the next generation that their enemy isn’t the unbeliever or the person who thinks differently than they do, but rather it’s the devil. As Paul explains, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness . . . and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil” (2 Tim. 2:24–26).
2. Teach them God’s Word.
Paul tells Timothy that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). We want the children we love to be complete and equipped as they go out into the world, and God’s Word is profitable—fruitful and productive—toward those ends.
This is true of all Scripture, not just favorite verses or select passages. Our children ought to know what the Bible teaches about all manner of issues, from sexuality to suffering, so they aren’t surprised or deceived when they confront these issues in the culture (2 Tim. 3:10–13; 1 Pet. 4:12). Of course, some topics should be nuanced for younger ages, but it’s important for even kids to understand that, while it’s worth it, there’s a cost to following Jesus (Matt. 8:18–22).
God promises pastors and parents alike that his Word “shall accomplish that which [he purposes]” (Isa. 55:11). Even when teens seem apathetic. Even when children’s hearts are hard. Even when a toddler keeps interrupting. God’s Word does its work. We should keep planting its seed in the soil of our children’s hearts and let him bring the growth (1 Cor. 3:7).
3. Set an example for them.
Timothy’s sincere faith was intimately connected to people, namely his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5). Paul exhorts him, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it”—think Lois and Eunice as well as Paul himself— “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).
In Timothy’s experience, relationship and message were connected, and the same should be true in our homes and churches. The Word is delivered by messengers, and those messengers can influence how the package is received.
However, while it’s a privilege to set an example of the Christian life in front of children, it can stir concern in our hearts. What about our quick tongues and inconsistent praying? What about when we parent out of fear instead of faith? A faithful example includes humility toward our children. Confessing sin to the Lord and to them opens the door for gospel conversation. None of us can do it perfectly, but each day offers new opportunities to teach and live out our faith in an attractive way before our kids.
4. Remind them of the reward.
In 2 Timothy 4, Paul is brutally honest about the hardships he faces—and that Timothy will also face. He anticipates “a time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching,” and he urges his young friend to “be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:3–5). Then he goes a step further.
He talks about the reward.
Paul vividly describes the Christian life as a fight and race, but he assures Timothy that he “kept the faith” and looks forward to a “crown of righteousness”—a reward that wasn’t just for Paul the apostle but for all believers (2 Tim. 4:7–8).
Yes, our children may endure suffering (2 Tim. 4:5). Times may become more difficult in their uncertain future. But if their hope is fixed on Jesus, they have an eternal reward to look forward to. And while suffering is real, the reward is also real—and lasts much longer.