“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
In these words, we see a great example of leadership and thus a model to follow for parents. We see a simple three-step process that every Christian parent should be involved in: study the Scriptures, live out the Scriptures, and then teach the Scriptures. When we combine godly character with competent teaching our lives will validate the gospel message we proclaim. On the other hand, when we live ungodly lives, it will inevitably hinder our ability to reach our kids for Christ.
Foundation #9 – The Power of a Godly Example
The importance of living consistent with what a person teaches is emphasized throughout the Scriptures. We see the importance of example when Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:15-16, “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” Paul further instructed his son in the faith, Timothy, this way: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” While the importance of example is clearly taught in Scripture, we also know from personal experience how difficult it is to follow a leader who does not practice what they preach. These verses ought to cause us pause as parents and consider our own conduct before our kids. “If you ask parents what is the most important thing they can do to raise children who will follow Christ . . . they rarely mention example” (William Farley, Gospel Powered Parenting pg. 107). Let’s consider then some important principles to guide us as parents so that our example does not undermine the gospel we proclaim.
We see a simple three-step process that every Christian parent should be involved in: study the Scriptures, live out the Scriptures, and then teach the Scriptures.
In this article I want to discuss three vital character qualities to help us as parents provide our children with a godly example. Those three character qualities are: love for God, humility, and sympathy.
Love for God
To be a godly example to our kids, we have to love God – that’s obvious. But what does it look like to love God? In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” Does that mean our focus should simply be on external obedience to the commands of God? The answer is no. A better way to think about John 14:15 is: “what must I do to cultivate a love for God?” because if I love God then I will obey His commands in increasing measure. I would like to propose three basic things to guide us in cultivating a love for God.
The first is a daily reading of and meditation on the Scriptures (Joshua 1:8-9). Psalm 119:97 says, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
The second is a life of prayer (John 15:4-7). Do we commune with God throughout our day; praising Him and/or seeking His wisdom?
Finally, are we faithful participants in the body of Christ in our local churches (Hebrews 10:24-25; Galatians 5:13-14; Proverbs 18:1)?
The reason these things are important is not only is God worthy of our time and attention, it also demonstrates to our children that God is our first priority. We are communicating by our lives that we need God and are desperate for His fellowship as well as His help. We should regularly be asking ourselves, what am I doing to demonstrate that I love God? Jesus said in John 8:42: “If God were your Father, you would love me.”
The reason these things are important is not only is God worthy of our time and attention, it also demonstrates to our children that God is our first priority.
Consider this quote to help challenge us why we must love God and communicate to our kids that they should love God too:
“This is no matter for mere enthusiasts and fanatics. It deserves the consideration of every reasonable Christian who believes the Bible. Our very salvation is bound up with it. Life or death, heaven or hell, depend upon our ability to answer this simple question: ‘Do you love Christ?’” (J.C. Ryle, Holiness pg. 234).
One of the most obvious ways anyone determines what he or she loves is by observing how time is spent. We will never cultivate a growing love for God if we don’t give Him focused energy through Bible reading, prayer, and actively participating in the life of the church.
A second vital character quality that is essential to being a godly example is humility. “The essence of gospel humility is not thinking more of yourself or thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less” (Tim Keller, “Blessed Self-Forgetfulness.” Sermon, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, NY, February 24, 2002).
In other words, as parents we must be forgetful of self and fight the internal battle of making our children’s behavior about us. It is easy for parents to become angry when a teenager disobeys or is disrespectful. However, we must not personalize their behavior but instead see the behavior first and foremost as a sin against God. We can then humbly view ourselves as God’s servant called to be kind, able to teach, and correct with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
In other words, as parents we must be forgetful of self and fight the internal battle of making our children’s behavior about us.
Another important aspect of humility is that we, as parents, must admit when we are wrong. I have counseled many adults who were still exasperated years after leaving home because a parent would never admit he or she was wrong. One author, speaking of proud parents writes:
“They are unapproachable, and their children know it. Such parents will not admit wrongdoing because their self-opinion is too high. Even if they become aware of their failings, they are too proud to confess them. While we are busy preserving our self-respect, we are losing it in our children’s eyes” (William Farley, Gospel Powered Parenting pg. 116).
One final comment about humility is important. “Remember, it is not your weakness that will get in the way of God’s working through you, but your delusions of strength. His strength is made perfect in our weakness! Point to his strength by being willing to admit your weakness” (Paul Tripp, Age of Opportunity pg. 189). Sympathy
A third vital character quality to live a godly life is sympathy. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Referring to this verse one author writes:
“It is in our weaknesses that Jesus sympathizes with us. The word ‘sympathize’ is here a compound word formed from the prefix meaning ‘with’ (like our English word co-) joined with the verb to suffer. ‘Sympathize’ here is not cool and detached pity. It is a depth of felt solidarity such as is echoed in our own lives most closely only as parents to children . . . His is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain” (Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly pg. 46).
Unfortunately, when teenagers especially start to struggle, many parents do not sympathize with their kids weaknesses. Instead of lashing out in anger or retreating when our kids struggle, we need to follow the example of our high priest and invite our kids to draw near to God and us so we can provide grace and mercy to help them in their time of need. That means we need to make time for conversations where they share their heart and struggles and we gladly listen with great compassion and sympathy.
Instead of lashing out in anger or retreating when our kids struggle, we need to follow the example of our high priest and invite our kids to draw near to God and us so we can provide grace and mercy to help them in their time of need.
One of the primary ways we can sympathize is to honestly remember the challenges we had as children. Not to compare our struggles to theirs, but to remember how we felt during our childhood struggles. None of us had things all figured out. None of us had the wisdom we now possess to handle life’s difficulties. None of us was certain about our future. Instead of comparing our struggles to theirs, we need to be like our Savior who feels our pain and our suffering like it is His own.
A Godly Example
As we imperfectly love God, walk in humility, and sympathize with our kid’s struggles we will have the privilege of being an example for them to follow. Consider the following quote of renowned missionary John G. Patton, as he shares the following words when he parted from his father to head to the mission field:
“I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as He had given me. The appearance of my father, when we parted – his advice, prayers, and tears . . . have often, often, all through my life, risen vividly before my mind . . . It is no Pharisaism, but deep gratitude which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped, by God’s grace, to keep me pure from the prevailing sins, but also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might not fall short of his hopes, and in all my Christian duties, that I might faithfully follow his shining example” (John G. Patton, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides – An Autobiography pg. 25-26).
What an honor and privilege it would be for our kids to see us as examples to follow for the glory of Christ and the furthering of His kingdom. Please join me next week as we revisit the incident of two children fighting over a toy and discuss how God calls parents to die to self. For now, let me close with a few questions for you to reflect on this week.
Questions for Reflection
1. How am I doing at making time for God’s Word, prayer, and being a faithful participant in the body of Christ? Ask God to help you make these important disciplines a priority in your life (1 John 5:14-15).
2. Am I walking in humility as evidenced by a willingness to confess my sin to my children when it is warranted? When was the last time I asked any of my children for forgiveness?
3. How well am I doing at sympathizing with my children’s struggles? Would your children think of you more as a co-sufferer in their struggles or cold and detached?