Bringing Up Children in the Lord (Part 3): Parents as Role Models

Bringing Up Children in the Lord

A righteous man who walks in his integrity—how blessed are his sons after him” (Proverbs 20:7).

When we think about raising children, we might immediately think of training them. This is done through instruction and discipline. We will consider this more in the next lesson. However, what we will deal with in this lesson is necessary to lay the foundation for the next. Parents must teach by example – walking in integrity (Proverbs 20:7) – so that their children can see the way of righteousness in practice. If parents fail to do this, children will eventually come to see them as hypocrites, thus making the parents’ instruction seem to be irrelevant. Parents must “practice what they preach.” Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We must let our lights shine, especially to our children.

Role Models within the Home/Family

The first and most basic area in which parents must be role models to their children is in the home.

First, parents must show an example of authority and submission. In the previous lesson, we considered the different roles God gave to men and women in the home. Paul wrote, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church… But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24). However, the principles of authority and submission extend beyond marriage and the home. Paul made it clear that a wife’s submission to her husband was parallel to the church’s submission to Christ, and that the husband’s authority was parallel to Christ’s authority (cf. Ephesians 5:32). These roles are not about superiority/inferiority, but authority. Paul told the church in Corinth: “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Obviously, discipline will help teach children to respect authority (Hebrews 12:9). But the mother’s example of submitting to her husband helps teach this as well. All of this is to instill within children’s minds a respect for the authority of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20).

Second, parents must show an example of sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice shows the love that husbands ought to have for their wives. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). As the head of the household, the husband is not given authority to be a selfish dictator. Instead, he must do as Christ did – put the interest of others ahead of himself, even to the point of sacrifice (Philippians 2:3-8). This requires selflessness, not the selfishness that the world teaches. God expects us to make sacrifices in our lives, including the willingness to “lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16), and, most importantly, to “present [our] bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1). This willingness to sacrifice must first be taught to children in the home by the example of their parents.

Third, parents must show an example of hard work. God expects His people to be hardworking. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Servants are instructed: “Do your work heartily, as for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). Mothers and fathers, though with different roles in the home, must both work hard. Men are to work hard enough that, when necessary, they can provide not only for their immediate family, but other family members who are in need (1 Timothy 5:4,8). Women, in fulfilling their responsibility to be “workers at home” (Titus 2:5), are not to fit the demeaning worldly stereotype of a woman who is a housewife simply because she does not want to work. Properly fulfilling that role, Paul said that being a housewife would prevent idleness: “At the same time they also learn to be idle…and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies… Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach” (1 Timothy 5:13-14). Both parents, in their respective roles, must work hard. If they do, their children will see it and learn from them.

Role Models within Society

Not only must parents be role models in the home, but they must also show their children how to conduct themselves in the world around them.

First, parents must show an example of being good neighbors. Parents ought to show children by example what this means. Paul wrote, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Opportunity means there is knowledge of a need and the ability to provide for that need. Providing such help is an individual responsibility. Jesus explained in the parable of the Good Samaritan how this is carried out (Luke 10:27-37). The man who was a “neighbor” to the one who “fell among robbers” did not call upon some religious “ministry” or seek out a government program that could provide assistance to the one in need. Instead, he saw the need, had the ability to provide assistance, and took advantage of the opportunity to help. Children ought to learn to do this from their parents.

Second, parents must show an example of being good citizens. Peter said that Christians are to submit to civil authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14). However, it is important to note that this was not for the sake of the rulers, but “for the Lord’s sake” so that “by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:13, 15). Children should see their parents submitting to civil authority “for the Lord’s sake.” They should also see them, if necessary, refuse to submit when human laws contradict God’s laws. We need to have the attitude expressed by Peter: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). We submit to civil authorities to the degree that God allows us to submit to them. The Lord possesses greater authority than all human rulers (Ephesians 1:20-21). Parents should teach their children by example that we submit to God first, then to civil government second.

Third, parents must show an example of being different than the world. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). We are to let our lights shine “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Philippians 2:15). It ought to be clear that we are different than the world. We must “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Romans 12:2). This transformation should cover every area of our lives. As Timothy was told to be an example of the believers “in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12), all Christians must exemplify righteousness in these things as well. Parents must be this type of example to their children. Children see more of the parents than anyone else. Therefore, parents must be especially careful that they “show [themselves to be] an example” (1 Timothy 4:12) at all times.

Role Models within the Church

Finally, parents must also be role models to their children in matters relating to the church.

First, parents must show an example in making time to assemble. In emphasizing the importance of the assembly, the Hebrew writer said, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Though some may be in the habit of forsaking the assembly, we must not. To forsake the assembly does not mean to simply be absent because one was prevented from assembling through sickness, travel, or something like that. To forsake the assembly is to be absent from the assembly because one has willfully placed other things ahead of his service to God and his commitment to the local church. Parents must teach by example that service to God comes first; therefore, the assembly takes precedence over ball games, choir concerts, and homework. This is all about teaching children priorities. Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). It does little good for parents to tell their children to put spiritual things first if they are not showing by their example that spiritual things – like the assembly of the saints – are important.

Second, parents must show an example of being an active member in the local church. Paul described the local church as a self-edifying body. He wrote, “The whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Notice he said that “each individual part” had a responsibility. Being active in the local church is not just for preachers, elders, deacons, Bible class teachers, and those who lead in worship – all Christians have things they can do to help the church carry out its work. In describing the church as a “body” with “many members” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), Paul talked about the importance of every member by making a comparison to the human body. In our physical bodies, the foot cannot say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body” (1 Corinthians 12:15); nor could the eye say to the hand, “I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:21). Every part is necessary; therefore, every member must be active. If parents fail to do what they can within the local church, then by their example they are teaching their children that some members are just not important. Parents ought to be active in the church, not only because God expects it, but because it teaches their children the importance of the local church.

Third, parents must show an example of adhering to the truth. Paul told Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). God has given us a pattern to follow in His word. We must respect it and do what He expects us to do. Are we holding fast the pattern? Are we showing our children the importance of doing this? It has been said that the church is just one generation away from apostasy. This is certainly true. Notice what happened when an untaught generation came along after the deaths of Joshua and those who conquered the land of Canaan with the help of the Lord: “There arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals, and they forsook the Lord…thus they provoked the Lord to anger” (Judges 2:10-12). If children are not taught the difference between truth and error, right and wrong, the church of Christ and the churches of men, then when they grow up, they will often depart from the truth. Parents must teach children the importance of doing “all in the name of the Lord” (Colossians 3:17).


Parents, whether they intend to or not, teach their children by example. While giving the correct instruction and dispensing appropriate discipline is important, parents must demonstrate godliness in their own lives. No matter what parents try to teach their children, if they do not live it themselves, their children likely will not listen. Children must be able to see their parents walking in integrity (Proverbs 20:7) and engaging in good works (Matthew 5:16) so they can follow their example.

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