Parents, What Does Your Example Teach?
“Become imitators of God, as beloved children, and go on walking in love.”—EPHESIANS 5:1, 2.
1. What kind of directions did Jehovah provide for the first human couple?
JEHOVAH is the Originator of the family arrangement. Every family owes its existence to him because he established the first family and gave procreative powers to the first human couple. (Ephesians 3:14, 15) He provided Adam and Eve with basic instructions as to their responsibilities and also allowed them ample opportunity to use personal initiative in carrying these out. (Genesis 1:28-30; 2:15-22) After Adam and Eve sinned, the situations with which families had to cope became more complicated. Still, Jehovah lovingly provided guidelines that would help his servants to deal with such situations.
2. (a) By what means has Jehovah reinforced written counsel with oral instruction? (b) What question do parents need to ask themselves?
2 As our Grand Instructor, Jehovah has done much more than provide written directions as to what we should do and what we should avoid. In ancient times he coupled written instruction with oral instruction through the priests and the prophets and through family heads. Who is he using to provide such oral teaching in our day? Christian elders and parents. If you are a parent, are you doing your part to instruct your family in Jehovah’s ways?—Proverbs 6:20-23.
3. What can family heads learn from Jehovah as to effective teaching?
3 How should such instruction be given within the family? Jehovah sets the pattern. He clearly states what is good and what is bad, and he makes generous use of repetition. (Exodus 20:4, 5; Deuteronomy 4:23, 24; 5:8, 9; 6:14, 15; Joshua 24:19, 20) He employs thought-provoking questions. (Job 38:4, 8, 31) By means of illustrations and real-life examples, he stirs our emotions and molds our hearts. (Genesis 15:5; Daniel 3:1-29) Parents, when you teach your children, do you try to imitate that pattern?
4. What do we learn from Jehovah as to administering discipline, and why is discipline important?
4 Jehovah is firm for what is right, but he understands the effects of imperfection. So before he punishes, he teaches and gives repeated warnings and reminders to imperfect humans. (Genesis 19:15, 16; Jeremiah 7:23-26) When he disciplines, he does it to the right extent, not excessively. (Psalm 103:10, 11; Isaiah 28:26-29) If that is the way we deal with our children, it gives evidence that we know Jehovah, and it will be easier for them to come to know him too.—Jeremiah 22:16; 1 John 4:8.
5. What can parents learn from Jehovah about listening?
5 Marvelously, Jehovah listens as a loving heavenly Father. He does not simply issue orders. He encourages us to pour out our hearts to him. (Psalm 62:8) And if the sentiments that we express are not exactly right, he does not thunder a rebuke from heaven. He patiently teaches us. How appropriate, therefore, is the counsel of the apostle Paul: “Become imitators of God, as beloved children”! (Ephesians 4:31–5:1) What a fine example Jehovah sets for parents as they seek to instruct their children! It is an example that reaches our hearts and makes us want to walk in his way of life.
The Influence Exerted by Example
6. How do the attitude and example of parents influence their children?
6 In addition to verbal instruction, example has a profound influence on young ones. Whether parents like it or not, their children are going to imitate them. It may please the parents—sometimes it may shock them—when they hear their children say things that they themselves have said. When both the conduct and the attitude of the parents reflect deep appreciation for spiritual matters, this exercises a positive influence on the children.—Proverbs 20:7.
7. What sort of parental example did Jephthah set for his daughter, and with what outcome?
7 The effect of parental example is well illustrated in the Bible. Jephthah, who was used by Jehovah to lead Israel to victory over the Ammonites, was also a father. The record of his reply to the king of Ammon indicates that Jephthah must frequently have read the history of Jehovah’s dealings with Israel. He could quote that history freely, and he showed strong faith in Jehovah. No doubt, his example helped his daughter to develop the faith and self-sacrificing spirit that she displayed in undertaking a lifetime of service as a single woman devoted to Jehovah.—Judges 11:14-27, 34-40; compare Joshua 1:8.
8. (a) What fine attitude did Samuel’s parents manifest? (b) How did that benefit Samuel?
8 Samuel was exemplary as a child and faithful to God as a prophet throughout his life. Would you like your children to turn out as he did? Analyze the example set by Samuel’s parents, Elkanah and Hannah. Though the situation in their household was not perfect, they regularly went up to Shiloh for worship, to the place where the sacred tabernacle was located. (1 Samuel 1:3-8, 21) Take note of the depth of feeling with which Hannah prayed. (1 Samuel 1:9-13) Observe how both of them felt about the importance of fulfilling any promise made to God. (1 Samuel 1:22-28) Their fine example undoubtedly helped Samuel to develop the qualities that enabled him to pursue a right course—even when people around him who supposedly served Jehovah showed no respect for God’s ways. In time, Jehovah entrusted Samuel with responsibility as His prophet.—1 Samuel 2:11, 12; 3:1-21.
9. (a) What influences at home had a good effect on Timothy? (b) What sort of person did Timothy become?
9 Would you like your son to become like Timothy, who as a young man became an associate of the apostle Paul? Timothy’s father was not a believer, but his mother and his grandmother set a fine example of appreciation for spiritual things. This no doubt helped to lay a good foundation for Timothy’s life as a Christian. We are told that his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother Lois had “faith . . . without any hypocrisy.” Their lives as Christians were not playacting; they really lived in harmony with what they professed to believe, and they taught young Timothy to do the same. Timothy proved that he was dependable and that he genuinely cared about the welfare of others.—2 Timothy 1:5; Philippians 2:20-22.
10. (a) What examples outside the home may affect our children? (b) How should we react when these influences show up in the speech or attitude of our children?
10 The examples that affect our children are not all within the home. There are the children with whom they attend school, teachers whose work is to mold young minds, people who feel strongly that everyone should conform to deeply entrenched tribal or community customs, sports stars whose achievements are widely praised, and public officials whose conduct is featured in the news. Millions of children have also been exposed to the brutality of war. Should it surprise us if these influences show up in the speech or attitude of our children? How do we react when they do? Does a sharp rebuke or a stern lecture solve the problem? Instead of giving a quick response to our children, would it not be better to ask ourselves, ‘Is there something in Jehovah’s way of dealing with us that might help in discerning how to handle this situation?’—Compare Romans 2:4.
11. When parents make mistakes, how may this affect the attitude of their children?
11 Of course, imperfect parents are not always going to deal with situations in the best way. They will make mistakes. When children realize that, will it erode their respect for their parents? It may, especially if the parents try to gloss over their errors by harshly asserting their authority. But the outcome may be very different if the parents are humble and freely admit their mistakes. In this, they can set a valuable example for their children, who need to learn to do the same.—James 4:6.
What Our Example Can Teach
12, 13. (a) What do children need to learn about love, and how can this be taught most effectively? (b) Why is it important that children learn about love?
12 There are many valuable lessons that can be taught most effectively when oral instruction is coupled with a good example. Consider a few.
13 Expressing unselfish love: One of the most important lessons to be fortified by example is the meaning of love. “We love, because [God] first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) He is the Source and supreme example of love. This principled love, a·gaʹpe, is mentioned in the Bible more than 100 times. It is a quality that identifies true Christians. (John 13:35) Such love is to be shown toward God and Jesus Christ and also by humans toward one another—even toward humans for whom we may not feel a fondness. (Matthew 5:44, 45; 1 John 5:3) This love must be in our hearts and evident in our lives before we can effectively teach it to our children. Actions speak louder than words. Within the family, children need to see and experience love and related qualities, such as affection. Without these things, the development of a child is stunted physically, mentally, and emotionally. Children also need to see how love and affection are properly manifested toward fellow Christians outside the family.—Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 3:8.
14. (a) How can children be taught to do good work that brings satisfaction? (b) How can this be done in your family situation?
14 Learning how to work: Work is a fundamental aspect of life. To have a feeling of self-worth, a person needs to learn how to do good work. (Ecclesiastes 2:24; 2 Thessalonians 3:10) If a child is assigned tasks for which he has had very little instruction and then is scolded for not doing them well, it is unlikely that he will learn to do good work. But when children learn by actually working alongside their parents and are given suitable commendation, they are more likely to learn to do work that brings satisfaction. If the parents’ example is coupled with explanation, the children may learn not only how to get a job done but also how to overcome problems, how to stick to a job until it is finished, and how to reason and make decisions. In this setting they can be helped to appreciate that Jehovah also works, that he does good work, and that Jesus imitates his Father. (Genesis 1:31; Proverbs 8:27-31; John 5:17) If a family does farming or operates a business, some of the family members may work together. Or perhaps the mother can teach her son or daughter to cook and clean up after a meal. A father whose employment is away from the house can plan to work on projects at home with his children. How beneficial it is when the parents have in mind not merely getting immediate jobs done but equipping the children for life!
15. In what ways can lessons in faith be taught? Illustrate.
15 Maintaining faith in the face of adversity: Faith too is a vital aspect of our lives. When faith is discussed in a family study, the children may learn to define it. They may also become aware of evidence that causes faith to begin to grow in their hearts. But when they see their parents showing unshakable faith in the face of severe trials, the effect may last for a lifetime. A Bible student in Panama was threatened by her husband with expulsion from their house if she did not stop serving Jehovah. Still, with her four little children, she regularly walked 10 miles [16 km] and then rode a bus for another 20 miles [30 km] to get to the nearest Kingdom Hall. Encouraged by that example, some 20 members of her family have embraced the way of the truth.
Setting an Example in Daily Bible Reading
16. Why is daily family Bible reading recommended?
16 One of the most valuable customs that any family can establish—a custom that will benefit the parents and be an example for the children to imitate—is the regular reading of the Bible. If at all possible, do some Bible reading every day. It is not the quantity read that is most important. Far more significant is the regularity and the manner in which it is done. For children, Bible reading might be supplemented by listening to audiocassettes of My Book of Bible Stories if they are available in your language. Reading from God’s Word every day helps us to keep God’s thoughts to the fore. And if such Bible reading is done not only by individuals but by families, this can help entire households to walk in Jehovah’s ways. It is this practice that was encouraged at the recent “God’s Way of Life” Conventions in the drama Families—Make Daily Bible Reading Your Way of Life!—Psalm 1:1-3.
17. How do family Bible reading and memorizing of key scriptures help in applying the counsel at Ephesians 6:4?
17 Bible reading as a family is in harmony with what the apostle Paul wrote in his inspired letter to Christians in Ephesus, namely: “Fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) What does that mean? “Mental-regulating” literally means “putting mind in”; so Christian fathers are being urged to put the mind of Jehovah God in their children—to help the children get to know God’s thoughts. Encouraging the children to memorize key scriptures can help to achieve this. The objective is to have Jehovah’s thoughts guide the thinking of the children so that their desires and conduct progressively come to reflect godly standards whether the parents are with the children or not. The Bible is the foundation for such thinking.—Deuteronomy 6:6, 7.
18. When reading the Bible, what may be needed in order to (a) understand it clearly? (b) benefit from the counsel it contains? (c) respond to what it reveals about Jehovah’s purpose? (d) benefit from what it says about the attitudes and actions of people?
18 Of course, if the Bible is going to affect our lives, we need to understand what it says. For many, this may require reading portions more than once. To get the full force of certain expressions, we may need to look up words in a dictionary or in Insight on the Scriptures. If the scripture contains counsel or a commandment, take time to talk about situations in our day that make it appropriate. Then you might ask, ‘How can applying this counsel benefit us?’ (Isaiah 48:17, 18) If the scripture is telling about some aspect of Jehovah’s purpose, ask, ‘How are our lives affected by this?’ Perhaps you are reading an account that tells about the attitudes and actions of people. What pressures in life were they experiencing? How did they deal with these? How can we benefit from their example? Always allow time to discuss what the account means in our lives today.—Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11.
19. By being imitators of God, what will we be providing for our children?
19 What a fine way to get God’s thoughts impressed on our minds and hearts! Thus we will truly be helped to become “imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Ephesians 5:1) And we will provide an example that is truly deserving of imitation by our children.
Do You Remember?
□ How can parents benefit from Jehovah’s example?
□ Why must verbal instruction of children be coupled with good parental example?
□ What are some lessons that are best taught by parental example?
□ How can we benefit fully from family Bible reading?
[Pictures on page 10]
Many enjoy daily Bible reading as a family