One day, several years ago, I was contacted by one of our teachers who had her class lined up near our preschool playground. She was very concerned when a preschooler standing near the fence greeted her class with a very bad word. "What bad word?" you ask. Let’s just say it’s THAT bad word. The one you and I hoped it wouldn’t be. Needless to say, we were both shocked. I knew immediately that I would have to contact this child’s parents to discuss the incident.
While I met with these surprised and embarrassed parents, one of them said, “That’s probably my fault. I think he heard that word from me."
How many times, like these parents, have we seen or heard our child do or say something only to hear them say, “...but you do it, Daddy.” We teach our kids more than we'll ever know.
If we were to itemize all that we want to teach our children, I am sure the list would outdo War And Peace in length. This is because what we want our children to learn from us is most likely grounded in our hopes and dreams for them. Studies show over and over again that parents are the most meaningful influence in their children’s lives, but it is always surprising when they learn from us what we DON’T want to teach them.
What if we took that same list and I asked you to pick only two things that you could teach them? What would they be? I imagine they would NOT involve a four-letter bad word. Your short list might include character, honesty, integrity, courage, etc. These things are very good and they would not be wrong, but are they the most important? You may have said faith and biblical values. These are of course, much closer to the best answer.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (ESV)
Proverbs 22:6 tells us that we are to “TRAIN UP” our children up in the “WAY THEY SHOULD GO.” To “train up” means to instruct, or teach. We are told that we should instruct our children in “the way they should go,” or the manner in which they should go. They will know the manner in which they should go because of what we teach them. If we teach them bad words… well, what can I say? :o)
So what are the most important things we can teach our children, things that will reside with them their whole life and frame their worldview, or the manner in which they should go, so that it will not depart from them when they are old?
1. We know that God wants us to teach our children repentance and salvation.
2 Peter 3:9 teaches that the will of God is that none would reject him and that He desires for all to come to repentance.
When we train our children up in repentance and salvation, they will develop as children who understand sin and forgiveness, that we first transgress God’s law and are in need of His forgiveness. This also teaches our children that, as people, we hurt others by our sin and selfishness and are in need of their forgiveness. This teaches that we also need to extend forgiveness to those who hurt us. Our culture teaches us that we are victims and that retaliation and irrational responses are justified. Turn on the news and you see a worldview filled with attempts to correct wrongs with more wrongs. Training up our children in repentance and salvation primarily leads them to a right relationship with God, and then the mindset that we are all in need of forgiveness and need to extend forgiveness to others.
2. We know that God wants us to be conformed to His image.
Romans 8:29 teaches that once we repent of our sin and receive Christ as our Savior, we will be conformed to His image. Romans 12:1-2 says that we must be careful not to be conformed to this world, but that we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds in order to prove (or discern) the will of God. Philippians 1:6 says that once this process has begun, God is faithful to complete it; however, that doesn’t mean it is an easy process.
The Apostle Paul describes his journey towards the image of Christ throughout the New Testament. In Philippians 4:12 he states that "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Scripture teaches us that this is a lifelong process. In order to be conformed to the image of Christ, we must receive correction from Him through His Word, respond to conviction from the Spirit in humility, and obey His commands. This requires us to renew our minds according to His Word. When we teach this to our children, responding to correction shouldn’t be a battle because we will teach them that correction has a positive outcome (Hebrews 12:11). When we teach this to our children, they should grow to understand the concept of self-regulation and self-control (Proverbs 25:28). When we teach this to our children, they will understand that we obey our earthly authority because we obey our heavenly authority (Ephesians 6:1, Colossians 3:20).
As we teach our children the things we want to teach them and a lot of what we don’t, it is important to understand how these TWO MOST IMPORTANT things integrate into our daily routines as parents. Just like we teach our children other things, each and every day, along the way of life, we should be teaching these critical life lessons. When we mess up and drop that not-so-nice word when we are rear ended on the way to the doctor (yes, that happened to me), we are afforded the opportunity to teach how we ask for and extend forgiveness. When our child is struggling to adjust to his or her coach, we are able to teach our children about patience, humility, and perseverance. When we are battling it out with our children over homework, we are able to teach our children that correction is not always easy, but God has a grand goal in mind for us.
By teaching these two most important things to our children, we can leave the rest up to God, as we are promised that when we seek Him first, everything else will take care of itself (Matthew 6:33). Then, maybe they won’t imitate our behavior when our frustration gets the best of us.