The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

A MOTHER'S MOST VITAL TASK

Delivered 5/10/98
Text: II Timothy 1:1-7 (Proverbs 31:10, 27-31)
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

This is a special day. Anytime we can honor our mothers has to be special because they go so UNrecognized most every other day of the year. Mothers tend to be taken for granted except on the second Sunday in May and on the occasional sailor's arm in the midst of a heart-shaped tattoo. And that is not very appropriate considering all the contributions they make to our lives.

Of course, I realize the importance of good fathers in God's scheme of things, but fathers are not the focus this morning, even though what will be said here can be taken to heart by dads as well as moms. Today is Mothers' Day, so the ladies will get the attention.

It is said that by the time a youngster reaches age 18, the mother has had to handle some 18,000 hours of child-generated housework, work that would not have been necessary had there been no child. Being a mother is a hard job. Someone has noted that unless a mother deliberately sets aside a little time for regular relaxation, she will not be able to efficiently care for her family. Therefore, the recommendation is that moms should plan to relax a minimum of one hour and a half every fifteen years.(1)

A Junior High School science teacher was about to begin a unit on magnets, and to introduce the subject, he offered his students a puzzle. It read, "My name has six letters beginning with `M' and I pick things up. What am I?" Half the kids in the class wrote "MOTHER!"(2)

The world knows how important the influence of mothers is. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Men are what their mothers make them." Napoleon said, "Let France have good mothers and she will have good sons." An old Spanish proverb has it that, "An ounce of mother is worth a pound of priest."(3)

They say that man is mighty,
He governs land and sea;
He wields a mighty scepter
On lower powers than he.

But mightier power and stronger
Man from his throne has hurled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
(4)

There are some telling portraits of motherhood in scripture. There is the picture of Jochobed who cared so much for her son Moses that she broke the law to keep him safe and teach him the faith of his people.(5) There is the picture of the mother who appeared before King Solomon who loved her child so much that she was willing to give him up forever rather than see any harm come to him.(6) There was the mother of James and John who loved her boys so much that she wanted them to sit by the Lord's side, one on the right and one on the left, in the heavenly kingdom.(7) The list could go on and on. The pictures that the Bible paints of mothers are not always perfect by any means, but there are always great lessons there.

Scripture has one very brief portrait of motherhood to which I would call your attention this morning. It comes from the pen of the Apostle Paul and is addressed to his son in the faith, Timothy. It is the one line we read in our lesson that says, "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you." We do not know a great deal about those women, but in that sentence we get a picture of two very special people.

Where Lois and Eunice came from we have no idea, but we do know that they eventually settled in Asia Minor, in the rural Roman town of Lystra. They had been born Jewish, but whether or not that meant too much in their home we can only guess. I would tend to think not, frankly, because Eunice married a Greek, a gentile, something just not done even to this day in Jewish families where religion is taken seriously.

But something happened to Lois and Eunice. Somehow, some way, they heard about Jesus Christ. They came to realize their need of a Savior and accepted Jesus as Lord of their lives. THIS faith they DID take seriously, seriously enough to make sure that Eunice's young son knew all about it.

What did Timothy hear? Assuming that he was a normal kid, EVERYTHING! That is the way it works. Despite all the aggravation that our children give us by apparently NOT listening to what we tell them, they still hear, and it does make an impression...for good or ill.

Those of us who have or have had young children are continually amazed at the things youngsters pick up. They see commercials on the Saturday morning cartoons and then, when it is time to go to the grocery store, they are already prepared with a mental list of all the brand names that have attracted them. They repeat words or phrases that they hear around the house, sometimes to mommy's and daddy's profound embarrassment. They remember things that parents quickly forget. They might be naive and easily led, but kids will not be fooled for long.

And just as they are not fooled by anything else, they will not be fooled about religion either. That surely says something to modern mothers. It says that if you really want to share the Gospel with your children you had better take your own faith seriously. Paying lip-service to Christ and the church will never be able to give the proper message. Unless you WANT to let them know that faith is NOT very important, your own life had better reflect a seriousness of purpose and commitment. By your OWN attendance at Sunday School and worship, by your OWN participation in the life and mission of the church, by the effort you put forth in the deepening of your OWN relationship with the Lord, you will determine what lessons about the Lord and the church that your children first learn.

One thing is certain, mothers can never fool their children with a message of "Do as I say, not as I do." Kids are too smart for that. If you tell them that Sunday School is important but you do not participate yourself, what message will your children get? If you tell them that regular attendance at worship is important but you yourself find other things to do on Sundays, what message will your children get? If you tell them that a personal relationship with the Lord is important but they never see YOU opening the Bible or praying, what message will your children get? You know very well! Parents who want to make serious claim on the name CHRISTIAN had better make sure that their faith SHOWS in front of the children.

Apparently Lois and Eunice LIVED their faith in front of Timothy. They made whatever efforts they could in personal study. After all, it is impossible for someone to teach what they do not already know - no food ever came from an empty cupboard. And then mother and grandmother passed on the results of that learning to the impressionable boy. They left him an incomparable legacy.

Timothy DID listen and learn. We know that because of something else that Paul noted in this letter. In a word to him about being careful of false teaching, the apostle wrote, "Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how FROM CHILDHOOD you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."(8) We can be certain that Timothy did not learn scripture from his father - his father was not a Christian; he was not even a Jew. No, Timothy's early instruction came from his mother and grandmother. And apparently, that early training got him well started along the right road.

What kind of instruction did those ladies provide? Aside from the indication of Bible lessons, we do not really know. But according to what Paul had to say, the boy somehow learned about power, love, and self-control.

Perhaps what young Timothy picked up about power was never even verbalized. The lad had seen God's power in the changing of lives. He saw two ladies who had not cared all that much for religious things become absolutely committed to Jesus Christ. That sort of thing does not "just happen." There is an unseen power there, the power of the Holy Spirit. But, as we have said, you cannot fool kids. Just because Timothy could not see what caused the change in Lois and Eunice did not mean the change was any less real to them or him. The boy SAW God's power and, one day was transformed by that power himself.

To be sure, Timothy learned about love in that home. Frankly, if he had not, it would have been hard for him to learn about it anywhere else, church included. It is far more difficult for someone to understand God's love who never knew anything with which to compare it. At an early age, Timothy was able to accept the love of a Savior because he already knew the joys of a loving home.

Finally, Timothy learned about self-control...or discipline. Lois and Eunice had to be disciplined themselves to maintain any kind of Christian walk. It would have been easy to lapse back into the kind of non-religion they had had before. It would have been easy to keep quiet about their faith because, after all, Asia Minor was no hotbed of Christian enthusiasm and Eunice's Greek husband would not have been encouraging. It would have been easy to not bother with personal study. And it would have been easy not to take the time to teach this young boy about the things of the Lord. But Lois and Eunice had disciplined themselves into maintaining a home where Jesus Christ was central, and that discipline rubbed off on their young charge. They gave Timothy the right kind of start, and then, moved by the power of the Spirit, he took it from there.

When it comes down to it, that really is as much as anyone can expect from dedicated Christian mothers - giving the kids the right start. After all, once they are grown and gone, they make their own decisions. It would be wonderful to say that all children who have grown up in Christian homes will turn out to be Timothys, will turn out perfectly, but we know that is not true. So, Mom, you still have responsibility after they have left the nest, the responsibility of prayer, and the responsibility of letting the children know that you are continuing to pray for them.

The influence a mother has on her children concerning the things of the Lord can make all the difference as to what kind of people those kids become. Someone has said, "Mothers write on the hearts of their children what the rough hand of the world cannot erase."

After one of the battles of the Civil War, a chaplain came to see a man who had not much time left to live. He took the young soldier's hand and said, "Brother, what can I do for you?"

The boy replied, "I want you to kneel down and return thanks for me." An unusual request from someone who is dying.

"Thanks for what?" asked the chaplain.

And the soldier said, "Thank him for my mother. Thank him that because of her I am a Christian. What would I do now if I were not a Christian?"(9)

What indeed?

Mom, would your own child be able to ask for that prayer? I hope so. After all, a Christian mother's most vital task is passing the faith on, not only by what she SAYS, but by what she IS.

A minister was in conversation with someone who had come to ask about becoming a member of the congregation. The pastor asked, "What was it that I said that convinced you to join?"

The man answered "Nothing that I ever heard you say. It was the way my mother lived."

Mother, our prayer for you this morning is that you be the kind of woman who takes her task so seriously that, as the writer of Proverbs has it, "Her children rise up and call her blessed...a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" (Prov. 31:28a, 30b). Happy Mothers Day.

Amen!


1. Dan Greenburg

2. Pastor's Professional Research Service

3. James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 379

4. William Ross Wallace

5. Exodus 2:1-10

6. I Kings 3:16-28

7. Matthew 20:20-23

8. II Tim. 3:14-15

9. Walter B. Knight, Ed., Knight's Master Book of New Illustrations, (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans Co., 1956), p. 421

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