Building Christian Personalities in Our Children
WANDA’S mother, whose husband had left her, worked hard to build Christian qualities in her daughter. When Wanda was 12, this training was put to the test. At that time, Wanda, together with a younger brother and sister, was compelled to leave her mother and live for a while with her father. Her father was not a believer, so how would Wanda act when her mother was not around to watch?
An eventuality that comes to all Christian parents is the time when their children have to make decisions on their own, testing their own faith. The children may be separated from their Christian parents, as Wanda was. They may face peer pressure at school to do wrong. Or they may be faced with powerful temptations. Christian parents hope and pray that when that time comes, their children will have Christian personalities strong enough to stand the test.
How can parents build strong Christian qualities into their children? Before finding out what happened to Wanda, let us see how the Bible helps us to answer that question. The basis for the answer is found in these words of the apostle Paul to the Christians at Corinth: “No man can lay any other foundation than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood materials, hay, stubble, each one’s work will become manifest, for the day will show it up, because it will be revealed by means of fire; and the fire itself will prove what sort of work each one’s is.”—1 Corinthians 3:11-13.
Why did Paul write these words? He had started a program of building Christian personalities in Corinth, but the program had run into problems. Of course, Paul’s building program did not involve his own fleshly children. It involved those who became Christians through his preaching. But he thought of these as spiritual offspring, and what he said is of value to parents too.—1 Corinthians 4:15.
Paul had come to Corinth some time earlier and had established a Christian congregation there. Those who had responded to his preaching had made big changes in their personalities. Some had formerly been immoral persons, thieves, idolaters, and drunkards. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) But they were able to make the change to Christian thinking because Paul had laid a good foundation, as it were. What was that foundation? “No man can lay any other foundation than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”—1 Corinthians 3:11.
How did Paul lay this foundation as he taught these new believers in Corinth? He tells us: “I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come with an extravagance of speech or of wisdom declaring the sacred secret of God to you. For I decided not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and him impaled.” (1 Corinthians 2:1, 2; Acts 18:5) He did not direct attention to himself or dress up the truth to give it a superficial intellectual appeal. Rather, he directed attention to Jesus Christ and the way this one had been used by God.
In fact, Jesus is a magnificently strong foundation for Christian building. He provided the ransom sacrifice. He is now a heavenly King and as such will soon destroy God’s enemies at Armageddon. Then he will administer God’s righteousness during a thousand-year reign, and as God’s High Priest, he will gradually lift the human race to perfection. What other foundation could a person want?
Hence, in building Christian personalities in our children, we do well to imitate Paul and be sure that they appreciate these vital facts. From their infancy, we should teach our children to love Jesus for what he has done and is still doing for us.—1 Peter 1:8.
However, while Paul had laid this fine foundation, the building work suffered some setbacks after he left. (1 Corinthians 3:10) The problem was not dissimilar to what many parents experience today. They raise their children in the Christian faith and feel sure that the children understand what the truth is. But when they get older, the children drift away or reject the faith. Why is that? Often it is because of the building materials used.
Paul said that personalities can be built with valuable materials: gold, silver, and precious stones. Or they can be built with cheap materials: wood, hay, and stubble. (1 Corinthians 3:12) Now, if a builder uses gold, silver, and precious stones, he must be erecting a superior kind of structure, one of outstanding value. But the builder who uses wood, hay, and stubble is merely building something that is makeshift, temporary, and cheap.
It seems that flimsy spiritual materials were being used in Corinth. Some who had followed up on the apostle Paul’s foundation-laying were building cheaply, not erecting strong, enduring structures. The Corinthians had started to look to men, and there was disunity, jealousy, and strife among them. (1 Corinthians 1:10-12; 3:1-4) How could this have been prevented? By their using better-quality, durable materials.
These represent those valuable traits that are an essential part of a Christian’s personality. What traits? The apostle Peter mentioned one: “The tested quality of your faith, of much greater value than gold.” (1 Peter 1:6, 7) King Solomon mentioned two more: wisdom and discernment, the having of which “is better than having silver as gain.” (Proverbs 3:13-15) And King David reminded us that the fear of Jehovah and an appreciation of his commandments “are more to be desired than gold.”—Psalm 19:9, 10.
These and other valuable materials can be built into Christian personalities to help our children survive tests. How, though, can we be sure we are building with such materials? By paying attention to hearts, both our children’s and our own.
A Successful Building Work
The part a parent’s heart plays in this building work is seen in a command given by Jehovah to parents in the ancient nation of Israel: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart.” Then he went on to say: “And you must inculcate them in your son.” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) Hence, before we can build up others, we have to build up ourselves. Our children should see in the things we say and do that our personality is made of the right materials.—Colossians 3:9, 10.
Then, our teaching has to reach their heart. Jesus, the most successful builder of Christian personalities, reached hearts by using illustrations and questions. (Matthew 17:24-27; Mark 13:34) Parents find that these same teaching techniques are very effective. They use illustrations to make Christian truths appeal to the hearts of their young children, and they use well-thought-out questions to discern what their older children are really thinking, how they are reasoning in their hearts.—Proverbs 20:5.
When Moses was trying to build in the Israelites a desire to remain faithful, he said: “Keep the commandments of Jehovah and his statutes . . . for your good.” (Deuteronomy 10:13) Similarly, parents do well not only to explain clearly to their children what God’s standards are but also to show convincingly why such things as honesty, moral cleanness, and good association are for their good.
Finally, Jesus said: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) When children get to know Jehovah personally at an early age, learn to talk with him about their problems, and have the experience of his answering their prayers, they develop the most vital part of a Christian personality: a personal relationship with their Creator.
Paul found that when the building work in Corinth was not done properly, worldly traits, such as sectarianism and dissension, took root. This was dangerous because, as he explained, “the fire itself will prove what sort of work each one’s is.”—1 Corinthians 3:13.
What is the fire? It may be any test that Satan brings upon a Christian. It may be peer pressure, fleshly temptation, materialism, persecution, even the corrosive influence of doubts. Such tests are sure to come. “Each one’s work will become manifest, for the day will show it up, because it will be revealed by means of fire.” Wise parents build their children’s personalities in the expectation that the children will be tested. But they are confident that with Jehovah’s help, their children can survive the testing. If parents have this attitude, they will be greatly blessed.
Paul said: “If anyone’s work that he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.” (1 Corinthians 3:14) The apostle Paul received a reward. To Christians in the city of Thessalonica, where he had also done building work, he wrote: “For what is our hope or joy or crown of exultation—why, is it not in fact you?—before our Lord Jesus at his presence? You certainly are our glory and joy.”—1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20.
Wanda’s mother had this reward. When 12-year-old Wanda found herself separated from her mother, she cried herself to sleep at first. Then she remembered her mother’s counsel to discuss her problems with Jehovah in prayer. She prayed and soon had the idea of looking through the telephone book to see if there were any of Jehovah’s Witnesses nearby. She contacted them and learned that a family lived right down the road from her father’s house. “Was I glad!” says Wanda.
With the encouragement of this family, Wanda organized her younger brother and sister to get back into Christian activity. “I was responsible for getting us ready for the meetings,” she explains. “I had to wash our clothes, comb our hair, and make sure we were clean and presentable.” It was hard work for a young girl, but she did it. One time her father tried to stop their attending meetings, but the children pleaded with him, and he let them go.
Later, the children were reunited with their mother. When Wanda was 15 years old, she became a baptized Christian, and eventually expressed her ambition to be a missionary. Yes, the work of Wanda’s mother passed the test. She enjoyed the reward of seeing her daughter stand firm on her own for the truth. May all Christian parents have similar success as they work to build Christian personalities in their children.
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While, as this article shows, parents try hard to build Christian personalities in their children, the children themselves also have a responsibility. They, like all Christians, must do a building work in themselves. (Ephesians 4:22-24) Although parents have a wonderful opportunity to help in this, ultimately each individual has to make his or her own decision to serve Jehovah.