By G.E. Watkins

Fathers! With every step you take, and every word you say, with every book you read, and every conversation with your wife, with every responsibility you take, and everything you neglect, you are teaching your children. Fathers can’t get around it, fathers teach their children.

You teach your children the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12), not so much by instructing them to memorize it, but when you practice it on them, when you decide that their happiness matters to you, and that you’ll listen to their likes and dislikes. They learn it when they know they’re not there just to wait on you, and that you like to tell them “yes” as much as you can and “no” only when you have to, and when they understand that they don’t live by your whim but by your wisdom.

You teach them patience (1 Tim. 6:11) when you remember that instructing them takes time. A child doesn’t become an adult in a day, and instruction and correction over a number of years is the thing that sticks. They’ll be patient with their children without even realizing how they learned it. It’s hard to remember patience sometimes when a child has annoyed the family with the Spongebob laugh for the millionth time, but consistency, over time, is what gets the lesson taught. Patience isn’t letting the lesson go untaught, it’s instructing them, again.

Fathers teach their children to keep their speech clean (Eph. 5:4), not so much by keeping them from every place where they might hear vulgarity, but by the twin lessons of the father’s abstinence, and by correction which goes: “There are some things we just don’t say.” Without the father’s abstinence, the correction is useless.

You teach them discipline and self-control (2 Tim. 3:3), not just when you punish them for infractions of even the most important rules, but when they see that the rules don’t just apply to them. Children learn the discipline of self-control from their fathers when a standard is fairly applied, and when the father lives by that standard as well. 

As God said of Abraham, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment” (Gen 18:19). That phrase, “after him,” is the key one. Abraham commanded himself first.

You teach them what is important when you take action. If you give when there is need, if you serve when there is a call, if you go beyond your usual activities, that is, go the extra mile when the cause is important, the lesson will be learned. What makes you jump will make them jump. If your wife has had a hard day, and you volunteer to do the dishes and bathe the baby, you’ll teach your son how to treat his wife. If you respect your wife’s judgment and encourage her to use her talents without your micromanagement, you’ll teach your daughter that she is to be valued and trusted. If you see someone stranded and in need of help, even when it costs, you’ll teach your children more and better than a thousand sermons on the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

You teach them love (Eph. 5:25) when you love their mother. Tender affection, kind words, quiet conversation, gifts, even fun and games, are object lessons to show your children how to live. Sometimes the lessons are hard. Years of illness may be the background of the lessons on love, but they must be taught. It may be that one’s spouse isn’t altogether lovable at times. Don’t stop the lessons. That’s when some of the best ones are learned. There is so much more: sacrifice, faithfulness, the keeping of promises, all lessons learned through good times and bad.

Fathers teach their children devotion when they are devoted to God. Many have wondered why their children don’t love the church and don’t value the truth when they never learned that lesson from the father. The man that is dressed modestly and reverently for worship at every opportunity makes a powerful statement about devotion to God. His Bible is well thumbed because of constant use (Acts 17:11). He prays often (1 Thess. 5:17). He gives an answer as to what he believes (1 Pet. 3:15).

A father is a walking, talking, breathing, and living object lesson for his children. Children learn what to think and believe, what’s important and what’s not, and ten thousand other things from their fathers. Teaching your children isn’t just curriculum and memory work, and working up a lesson for a family devotion. It’s walking with them and showing them how to live.