What are your children learning from your example?
Are they learning the joys and blessings of a life submitted to God’s Word and His will, or do they only hear about your frustrations and disappointments? Do they see you resting in the comfort of God’s sovereignty, or consumed with worry and despair? Are they learning the value of righteousness, faithfulness, and hard work? Or are they learning to be liars, cheats, and hypocrites?
Your children might sit under the faithful preaching of the Word, and you may have faithfully trained them to understand the truth of the gospel. But what are they learning by observing your life day in and day out? What is the testimony of your life teaching them about being godly, faithful men and women?
Teaching Your Children Wisdom
Teaching children the gospel by no means exhausts the parents’ teaching responsibility. Also bound up in the principle of Deuteronomy 6:6–7 is the duty of teaching our children wisdom for life. The gospel is the necessary starting-point, because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10, emphasis added). No one is truly wise who rejects or disregards the gospel message.
But beyond the truths of the gospel are also many vital biblical lessons about character, integrity, justice, prudence, discernment, and all the practical issues of life. Parents are charged with the duty of carefully training their children with godly wisdom in all such matters.
The book of Proverbs is an inspired summary of practical wisdom. The sayings recorded there were assembled by Solomon for his son’s sake. Most of them were actually written by Solomon but some are others’ proverbs, collected by Solomon. The best wisdom of several ancient sages is thus compiled in Solomon’s Book of Proverbs with the seal of divine inspiration guaranteeing that these sayings are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Proverbs is therefore a fitting textbook for parents, and fathers in particular, to teach their children the kind of practical wisdom necessary for successful God-honoring life. It is an inspired book of wisdom from the wisest father who ever lived, a vital compendium of the sort of practical wisdom all parents need to pass on to their children.
Solomon includes an admonition to his own son in the opening verses: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching; indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck” (Proverbs 1:8–9).
Similar admonitions are repeated elsewhere in Proverbs: “My son . . . receive my words and treasure my commandments within you” (Proverbs 2:1); “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments” (Proverbs 3:1); “Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, and give attention that you may gain understanding” (Proverbs 4:1); “Hear, my son, and accept my sayings and the years of your life will be many” (Proverbs 4:10); “My son, give attention to my wisdom, incline your ear to my understanding” (Proverbs 5:1); “My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother” (Proverbs 6:20); and many other verses throughout the book. These were Solomon’s tender admonitions to his own son, urging him to pay careful heed to these lessons about life.
Such admonitions also apply to our children, and if we hope to teach well, we too must master the wisdom of Scripture and live consistently so that these principles of wisdom are reflected in our own character.
The Power of Your Example
Solomon himself is an object lesson about the dangers of an inconsistent life. Solomon was, in intellectual terms, the wisest man who ever lived. First Kings 4:29-31 says of him,
God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men.
God Himself told Solomon, “I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you” (1 Kings 3:12).
So there was no deficiency whatsoever in the content of Solomon’s instruction to his son. Yet by way of example, Solomon failed, and failed miserably. For example, Solomon included numerous warnings about the dangers of being seduced by the wrong kind of women (Proverbs 2:16–19; 5:3–13, 20; 6:23–29; 7:5–27; 22:14; 31:30). But Scripture says this about Solomon’s own life:
King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the sons of Israel, “You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.” Solomon held fast to these in love. (1 Kings 11:1–2)
And partly because of Solomon’s failure to live according to the wisdom God had given him, Solomon’s son Rehoboam rejected his father’s teaching (1 Kings 12:6–11).
The Danger of Hypocrisy
It does no good to teach our children sound wisdom and then live a life that contradicts what we are teaching. In fact, there may be no surer way to provoke your children to despise and discard the wisdom of the Lord. The price of parental hypocrisy is unbearably high.
In Solomon’s case, that sort of hypocrisy not only caused his son to fail, but it also tore apart the entire Israelite nation and led to an apostasy from which Israel never recovered.
Solomon’s instructions to his son were sound. But the example he set nullified his wise counsel. His own life was inconsistent with his teaching. There is no greater mistake a parent can make.
Your household is the most important schoolroom your children will ever know. And the lessons they learn don’t begin and end when you crack open the family Bible. They are always watching and learning from your example—often without even realizing it. That’s a tremendous responsibility and opportunity for Christian parents—one that we must make the most of, for God’s glory and our children’s good.
As we bring this series on God’s design for the family to a close, I want to give you one vital reminder. Whether it’s in your role as a husband, wife, or parent, you will struggle and fail from time to time. Moreover, your spouse and your children will fail you. None of us are perfect, and none of us will perfectly execute the roles and responsibilities God has given us within our families.
In those moments of failure and disappointment, be thankful that you serve a gracious God, and that His grace is sufficient to overcome your shortcomings. You might not have the strength, the wisdom, or the patience for every situation, but by His grace, He will grant you everything you need. In fact, His grace is the reason you enjoy any success at all as a spouse or a parent. And when you fail in those roles, His grace can overcome your failure, or enable you to endure whatever consequences may result.
As Christian husbands, wives, and parents, we need to rest in God’s unfailing grace, and look to Him for strength and restoration when we fall short of His plan.