By L.A. Stauffer
A distant and rather casual acquaintance is now divorced for a second time and dates a young woman who, like himself, has the morals of an animal. When he invites her to spend the night, the two sleep together as though they had been united by God as “one flesh.”
What, then, was this father to say to his daughter when recently she returned home from college with a boyfriend and requested that she and the lad sleep in her “old room”? He could be nothing but agreeable. He gave his consent and the daughter walked that night in the footsteps of her father.. Although this is a father-daughter relationship, it fits the principle of the proverb – “As is the mother, so is her daughter” (Ezek. 16:44). Or, in other words of a modern saying, “Like father, like son.”
The moral problems of today may not be so much the failure of youth as they are the degeneration of parents. And I suspect that may have always been true. Society is full of self-indulgent, unrestrained, greedy, dishonest, immoral, drug-addicted, lust-driven, irreligious, irresponsible parents who are wringing their hands and wondering aloud “What’s the matter with today’s kids?” The day fathers and mothers control their own urges and set godly, examples before their children, that day the problems of youth will be severely reduced.
Before, as citizens in the kingdom of heaven, parents pass this off as a problem for the world, let them look at families in Christ and calculate how much infidelity, divorce, greed, worldly pleasure, immorality, and religious indifference abounds among them. Let them frankly look at how many of their young people are being caught up in the swirl of the world and are forsaking all commitment to God. And, then, let them ask themselves how much “parental example” is responsible for this fact.
The importance of example must be stressed in any leadership role – whether that leader is the Lord, an apostle, an elder, an evangelist, or a parent. Jesus knew this and set before his disciples an “example that ye should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). An apostle urged the brethren he taught, “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). That same apostle said to a group of elders to “take heed unto yourselves” and to a young evangelist, “take heed to thyself’ (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:16). These orders coincide with elders’ responsibility to make 46yourselves ensamples to the flock” and the evangelist’s role to “be thou an example to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Pet. 5:3; 1 Tim. 4:16,12).
How can any teacher, including the Lord himself, expect his students to exceed the righteousness of his own behavior? So it will be with parents who hold the most intimate teaching role commissioned in life – the nurturing of their children in the “chastening and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Parents who trivialize or minimize the role of example need to read the list of kings who ruled the kingdom of Israel and Judah after the nation divided. Of the many father-son kings who led those ancient tribes, few avoided the evils of their fathers who ultimately corrupted the two nations with idolatry and immorality. Over and over again the Scriptures record: “And he did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin where with he made Israel to sin” (1 Kgs. 15:26). Why should parents today think it will be any different with their children if they walk in sin?
A classic example is the partiality Isaac and Rebekah showed their sons – Isaac toward Esau and Rebekah toward Jacob. Isaac loved Esau, who was a hunter, because he ate of the venison his son brought from the field. Jacob was a quiet boy who stayed around the house and became the darling of his mother (see Gen. 25:27-34). Rebekah went to great lengths, even deception, to see that Jacob received the birthright and the blessings of the firstborn. It is, therefore, no accident that as a parent Jacob himself showed partiality. What he learned from the example of his mother he practiced toward his favorite son Joseph (Gen. 37:3). Teaching children righteousness is a basic parental responsibility (Prov. 1:8; Eph. 6:4), but that instruction is easily obscured by unrighteous examples they set as fathers and mothers. The essence of the problem is captured by an unknown author in the following poem:
The Bad Example
He whipped his boy for lying,
And his cheeks were flaming red,
And of course there’s no denying
There was truth in what he said
That a liar’s always hated.
But the little fellow knew
That his father often stated
Many things that were untrue.
He caught the youngster cheating
And he sent him to bed,
And it’s useless now repeating
All the bitter things he said,
He talked of honor loudly,
As a lesson to be learned,
And forgot he’s boasted proudly
Of the cunning tricks he’s turned.
He heard the youngster swearing
And he punished him again
He’d have no boy as daring
As to utter words profane.
Yet the youngster could have told him,
Poor misguided elf,
That is seemed unfair to scold him
When he often curses, himself.
All in vain is splendid preaching,
And the noble things we say,
All our task is wasted teaching
If we do not lead the way
We can never, by reviewing
All the sermons on the shelves,
Keep the younger hands from doing
What we often do ourselves.
Let’s be specific, brethren. Parents who refuse to deny ungodly lusts and who five unholy lives should not be amazed that their children devote themselves to carnal appetites. Parents find pleasure in “sexplicit” movies and TV shows that use crude language and make light of morality – then wonder why their kids dress immodestly, tell suggestive or filthy jokes, and turn up pregnant or father a child before they graduate from high school. How can fathers and mothers who use the Lord’s name in vain, gossip, lie, deceive, and shout angry invectives at family members expect something different from their children? Unforgiving attitudes, refusal to acknowledge wrongs, unwillingness to apologize, physical abuse and constant nagging are unhealthy qualities that children frequently see for the first time in the home.
To make a bad situation worse these same parents show no genuine interest in spiritual activities. They assemble only sporadically with the saints – skipping services when on vacation, missing a night of the gospel meeting to bowl, and urging the kids to do homework or attend school functions on Wednesday night. Many fathers and mothers could not tell you the last time they read the Bible as a family, had an evening prayer together around the coffee table, or discussed the problems of evolution or the immoral implications of values clarification that are inculcated into the kids’ minds at school. And few children have ever seen their parents visit the elderly, mow the yard of a shut-in, or take food to widow or widower who is sick in bed.
Brethren, what God expects of parents he commended in his faithful servant Abraham. “For I have known him to the end that he commanded his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of Jehovah, to do righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19). The ancient patriarch ordered his family to follow him in the paths of righteousness. Any leader, whether Abraham, Jesus Christ, or Gandhi, can command a crowd of followers, even his family, when he himself walks where he instructs them to walk. Fathers and mothers undermine the job of commanding their households “to do righteousness” when they refuse to walk that way themselves. Joshua spoke for himself as well as his family when he said: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah” (Josh. 24:15).
The apostle Paul illustrates this important principle in the life of his most dedicated son in the gospel. Of Timothy the apostle spoke glowingly: “For I have no man like-minded, who will care truly for your state. For they all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:20,21). The explanation of Timothy’s unselfishness, according to the apostle, is found in the lives of his grandmother and mother. The “unfeigned faith” that was in the evangelist, Paul says, “dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice” (2 Tim. 1:5). Timothy had been a witness of sincere faith and devotion to God in the intimacy of his home and it paid its dues in his own life. He was the one co-worker that Paul could trust – unreservedly.
Institutionalism, denominationalism, and modernism ripped asunder the body of Christ in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, but the cares, pleasures, and riches of this world are gnawing away at the “unfeigned faith” of brethren in the ’80s. Husbands are working two jobs to keep up with the Joneses, mothers are leaving children in day-care centers to further careers or pay for vans and boats, and neither the parents nor the children have the slightest inclination to fill out a few simple questions for the Sunday Bible class. Family time is consumed with daddy’s golf, momma’s bowling and shopping, the kids’ soccer and little league, and family “devotionals” to Cosby, Roseanne, and Mr. Belvedere.
The “unfeigned faith” that children are seeing is trust in the American way – the way of greed, instant gratification with things and pleasure, and the security of CDs and IRAs. Trust in God, contentment with basic needs, the joy of unselfish service in the kingdom of God, study and memorization of Scriptures, prayer, and interest in the souls of sinners are relics of the past that children of today have seen only with a passing glance. Gone with the departure of “unfeigned faith” in God that a man like Timothy possessed is the spiritual beauty of holiness, godliness, and righteousness. Children no longer see parents adorning their souls with the gospel of faith, hope, and love – and what they do not see they cannot be expected to practice. The proverbs are still true – “As is the mother, so is her daughter” and “Like father, like son.”
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 12, pp. 364-365
June 15, 1989