“Why is my child behaving like this?” has been the anguished cry of many parents. A sign posted in front of a church I passed today provides the answer for many people. It read: THE LIFE YOU LIVE IS WHAT YOU ARE TEACHING. That, of course, is not the exclusive answer. But it is the right answer more often than we might care to admit. The reality is that many parents are oblivious to what they have been teaching until their children begin to “act out”—better referred to as sin or rebel. Parents often say the right things, even quoting applicable Scripture, but their actions belie their words. And children, having a remarkable capacity to sense hypocrisy, frequently react to the discovery that the authority figures in their lives do not practice what they preach by becoming cynical, unruly, and defiant. Few things, if any, can injure a child like discovering that his parent is not trustworthy, which is the case of the parent who says one thing and does another. All sense of right and wrong, all sense of stability and order go flying out the window. The child flails around in a frightening universe having no guardrails to keep him on track. Our world is littered with examples of young lives destroyed by duplicitous parents.
Perhaps we should realize when Proverbs instructs us to “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6) that God has much more in mind than merely saying the right words. In fact, Paul’s instructions to two young pastors suggest how parents, and all believers, should live our lives so that we are teaching the right things in the right way. To young Pastor Timothy, Paul wrote: “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12). And to young Pastor Titus, he advised: “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Tit. 2:7, 8).
Two nearly identical imperatives stand out in those instructions: “show yourself an example” and “show yourself to be an example.” Words and actions must match up. Verbal instruction and character must be in sync. If the showing contradicts the telling, if the pattern of our life does not match our words, we are actually teaching our children either that the words themselves are not true or that we do not really believe them ourselves. In either case, we are teaching our children to behave in a way that will bring them under God’s chastening hand, if not to ultimate damnation.
Space does not permit us to give detailed consideration to the specifics of Paul’s instruction. But let the following observations provide seed for additional thought and meditation on this vital subject. First, what we say is of critical importance: Paul mentions speech first in his instructions to Timothy and when addressing Titus requires his speech to be “sound” and “beyond reproach.” Of course, heeding those admonitions means that what is said must accord with the Word of God, but also includes the spirit and manner with which it is said. Additionally, nothing spoken is truly sound and beyond reproach if it is not supported by a life lived consistent with the words spoken.
Another parallel between the two instructions are the terms “conduct” in 1 Timothy and “good deeds” in Titus. These are broad expressions that encompass every action we might take as well as the activities or actions we should avoid doing. A parent, in particular, who thinks that his children are oblivious to how much time he spends in the Word of God, how much time he spends working, how much time he devotes to leisure and what types of leisure he pursues, and how much effort he gives to serving God is miserably deceived. Without making mathematical calculations of those things, children will consistently reflect in their lives the evidence of what is important to their parents as demonstrated by what we have devoted time and energy to. No matter how proper our words, lives that are inconsistent with those words will lead to rebellion in our children. On the other hand, we need not be expert verbal communicators to teach godliness to our children: they will “hear” our actions and “read” our lives to God’s glory and their blessing if we live the proper example.
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