What qualities does God want us to develop in our children? No need to guess. Scripture tells us specifically: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to have mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:9). These three requirements are a basis for evaluating our children’s character development:
1. Are my children learning to act justly? That is, to deal honestly and fairly with others, and to respect, care for and intervene on behalf of the weak, vulnerable and oppressed? (Or are they compromising in matters of morals and integrity, and passively accepting society’s mistreatment of those for whom God says we should speak up?)
2. Are my children learning to be merciful? That is, to discern with sensitivity the personal and spiritual needs of others in family, school, community, society and world, and reach out to them in love and compassion? (Or are they part of a clique that snubs the non-cool, or so absorbed in their own activities, interests and possessions that they don’t see or care about the hurting people around them?)
3. Are my children learning to walk humbly with their God? That is, to know Him personally, to have a consistent daily time devoted only to Him, and to exercise a humility that recognizes His lordship and their servanthood for Him and others? (Or are they too busy to spend time with God, and too self-proud and self-sufficient to realize they desperately need God’s help to do all that is worth doing?)
Teaching our children the truth is absolutely necessary, but it is not sufficient. The solid foundation for a life is not just hearing the words of God, but doing them (Matthew 7:24-27). By our own example as their parents, we must teach our children God’s truth, demonstrating it in application and obedience. The truth that time must be spent with God must be demonstrated by the time we spend with God. The truth about Christ’s forgiveness must be shown as we seek and grant forgiveness in our home. The truth that evangelism is important must be demonstrated by our efforts in evangelism. As parents, we must model our stated convictions with courage and devotion. Otherwise what we do will speak so loudly they won’t hear a word we’re saying. Sometimes our children will fail to listen to us. Seldom will they fail to imitate us.
If parents teach children truth with their mouths, without setting the example of righteousness, devotion, wisdom and courage, then children will learn to scorn, disregard or abuse the truth. They will end up as rebels (rejecting the truth), nominal Christians (superficially recognizing the truth, but living like the world) or legalists (treating the truth as a sterile set of rules by which to pass judgment on others).