“I don’t see the need to ‘teach’ character to my children. They will naturally learn good character through my example and through everyday situations as they happen.”
I’ve heard the comment numerous times from well-meaning parents. The problem is, such an approach is naïve. Furthermore, it does not follow the model God gave us in the Bible.
Modeling good character for our children is an important part of the picture, of course. If we tell them how they ought to behave, but then do not follow through by living out the example of what we preach, our children will see through our hypocrisy. They are more likely to do as Mom and Dad do, than live only by what we say.
But, good character doesn’t automatically rub off on our children as we set the example for them. It needs to be presented systematically, “precept upon precept … line upon line” (Isaiah 28:10, 13). Teaching the concepts of Christ-like character within an organized framework, in companionship with modeling it by example, will bring about the best results in shaping our children in the image of Jesus.
The Old Testament speaks of making a concentrated effort to bring up our children in the ways of the Lord. No doubt you are familiar with Proverbs 22:6‘s exhortation, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Consider also Deuteronomy 6:5-9:
And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be like frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the posts of your house and on your gates.
Notice that we are to teach the Lord’s commands diligently to our children, to talk of them when sitting and walking together, before bedtime, and in the morning when we arise. The Israelites were to bind them upon their hands (figuratively speaking of their actions) and on their foreheads (speaking of the mind), and to write them upon their gates and homes. That sounds like a pretty intense plan for training up children in the way they should go, doesn’t it? Nothing haphazard there!
What about in the New Testament? Well, Jesus was the perfect example of godly character to His disciples. They lived with Him day and night, continually seeing Him portray how to live a life of love toward God and their fellow man. Yet, Jesus did not merely teach them by His example. In the gospels, we see that He spent many hours instructing His disciples in the specifics of how to think, speak, and live. Apparently, He knew they would not “catch” good character only by watching Him live it. They needed the reinforcement of solid expounding on the Scriptures and how to apply them.
The same is true of the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he encouraged the believers, “Be followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (teaching by example). Yet, as we read through the letters he wrote to the churches, we see much detailed written instruction in how to walk out holy lives.
Well-rounded character education is a bit like biology or chemistry: we present information through textbooks and lectures to put a framework of scientific concepts in place, and then we apply that knowledge in hands-on lab situations. In the same way, we should teach character systematically, through a character curriculum or series of character-oriented Bible studies, and then apply that knowledge in everyday life through example and practice.
Without some kind of consistent plan in place for teaching character, we can easily miss important areas of character development in our children. Because we have blind spots, we don’t always see areas of weakness in our children or ourselves, even though those weaknesses may be glaringly obvious to others. By using character training materials, we make sure we touch the areas we could otherwise so easily miss.
In my next post, I will share some ideas of how to do our best at developing Christ-like character in our children.
Character Building for Families,
by Lee Ann Rubsam