Loving children by example
‘Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour’ (Ephesians 5:1-2).
If, as the apostle Paul admonished us, we ‘follow God as dear children and walk in love’, then our children will observe us and learn lessons more powerful than words alone can impart. Loving your child by example is part of your calling as a Christian parent.
As a parent, I realise that God has given me a tremendous responsibility. Of course, it is also an amazing privilege. When I consider the plethora of temptations that my children will face as they attempt to navigate the many moral issues of this depraved culture, it is almost overwhelming.
The proper balance
I see many children being raised in Christian homes. Some parents provide structure and boundaries without love and relationship. This will provoke children to rebellion (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). Many of these children rebel against the godly precepts they were taught from their youth.
Other children are given plenty of love, yet are provided with very little structure and guidance in the Lord. Love without discipline is not true love (Proverbs 13:24; 23:13). Many of these children wander far from God and the church when they get older.
A close study of Deuteronomy chapter six makes it clear that passing on your Christian heritage to your children is a three-fold process. The first one relates to your beliefs: ‘And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart’ (Deuteronomy 6:6).
Next, your core beliefs should be communicated to your children in words: ‘And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children’ (Deuteronomy 6:7). Do they know that they are sinners and need to believe in Christ as their Saviour and Lord? Do they understand the meaning of repentance and of Christ’s death and resurrection?
The third step, and possibly the most overlooked, relates to the aspect of living your faith in a way that is consistent with your beliefs and the words that you teach your children. Your children should observe your love for God (6:5) and your keeping of his commandments (6:17).
Biblical love in a godly home
My recent book Love your neighbour builds on the premise that all ethical dilemmas can be handled by true biblical love. Love is not a soft or weak emotion, neither is it always harsh and strict. It is always consistent with holiness.
For instance, to truly love your neighbour will result in fulfilling the moral law in relation to humans. You will not murder, lie to, steal from, or commit adultery with those whom you love as Christ loved the church. You will not envy or covet the blessings of God as they rain down on your neighbours. You will be happy for them.
How does the idea of biblical love relate to raising godly children? If you truly love your children, you will do everything in your power to provide for them a godly environment in the home. If you want them to grow in the knowledge of the Lord, you will teach them the Bible both in word and deed.
It is important to teach them the Bible but it is equally important to live out the precepts of the Bible. Children and teens easily detect hypocrisy — often faster than adults! If we teach a child that it is wrong to lie, but are then dishonest in our business dealings, our children will learn a tragic lesson. They will learn that it is important to talk a good talk, but not so important to walk a good walk.
Devotions and honesty
Having a personal devotional time is important. Teach your children how to pray by setting a good example for them. If your children never see you on your knees in prayer, it will not matter how much you tell them that prayer is important. When it comes to prayer, your actions will speak louder than words as your children try to model after you, especially in their younger years.
If they never see you reading the Bible, they will not believe you when you tell them that the Bible is alive and powerful and able to change their lives (Hebrews 4:12). Love your children by sharing with them your love for God and his holy Word.
The way you deal with your own sin is also important. No parent is perfect. You will make mistakes and your children will observe. How you handle this is important. If you have sinned against your children, then confess to them and ask for their forgiveness. There is no shame in an honest confession; there is shame if you hide your sins and teach your children to do the same. Love your children by being honest with them and teach them to do the same with God.
Cultivate your own faith
Your own knowledge of the Bible is one of the most important aspects of loving by example. As your children get older, the world will put pressure on them to conform to ungodly philosophies and lifestyles (Romans 12:1-2). These may come through their peers, the media, or other adults in their lives.
Many children will question what they have been taught about church and God as they are exposed to other worldviews. Although this is a natural transition as a child becomes an adult, we still need to reach out and pray for them.
At some point, your children will have to consider whether the God of Abraham, Moses, Paul, and their parents is worthy of their devotion. If you see your children going through this, be patient and pray more earnestly than ever.
It is important that you are there to answer any questions that they have about the Bible. Of course, in order to do this effectively you need to know the Bible yourself. In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul says, ‘Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth’. A good sound basis in proper biblical doctrine and apologetics is important.
Peter exhorts us: ‘be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3:15). Of all people, parents should be ready to provide answers to their children about spiritual things.
If you are not, there are many false teachers out there who are more than willing to fill your children’s minds with false doctrine. Love your children by being there to teach them the truth of God’s Word and by practising what you teach.
Spend quality time with your children. Have fun with them and share with them God’s mercies and grace in your lives. Let them observe your joy and zeal in the Lord, and love and fear for the Lord. You will build positive memories that will draw your children back to a positive frame of mind when they reflect on their childhood.
No matter how positive their church life is, a negative home life can be devastating for children. Love them by being there for them.
Finally, pray regularly for God’s grace for them. You cannot make them love God, but while you cannot force them to believe you can teach them the truth of salvation and model it by a godly lifestyle.
God must do the rest. Dedicate them to God and give him thanks for your children, for they are a blessing. Do not be overwhelmed by your calling as a parent, because God is faithful to equip you and strengthen you to complete every task he has assigned you — as you obey his Word and seek faithfully to fulfill your God-given role. Never forget, no matter how much you love your children, God loves them more.
The author is an Assistant Professor in philosophy, ethics and religious studies at Mountain State University in Beckley, West Virginia, USA. This article first appeared in Maranatha Messenger (November 2007)