By Terry Magee
Both skills and character values are important to help our children or grandchildren mature. Skills are beneficial for everyday living, from tying shoes to managing a checkbook. We can also train our children in academic and intellectual areas to supplement their schooling and help them prepare for a vocation. Also God instituted the family as the means through which values are imparted to the next generation. Here are five character values we can pass along: identity, self-comfort, contentment, purposefulness, and humility.
Understanding who we are is the first step in maturity. This does not mean what we do, such as our vocation or hobbies. Neither does this refer to our position relative to others, as in a parent or spouse. Our most important sense of identity is understanding who we are in relationship to God.
Many people grow up with a false and distorted view of themselves. It could be body image, poor comparisons to others, or persistent lies they believe. We need to replace that destructive thinking with biblical truth about our identity.
First, we must know that we are God’s creation: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). God has created us anew, so that we are no longer under the old system of sin and death. Christ has created us for life.
Next, God commissioned us for work in his kingdom: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). God has chosen us and we are special to him! But he has also charged us with declaring his praises to a lost and dark world.
Finally, we are more than just workers to God: “He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:5). God brought us into his own family. In Christ, we are not just God’s helpers, we are God’s children.
How do we teach this sense of identity to our children? We stress these three basic concepts: 1—You are God’s creation. 2—God created you for a special purpose. 3—God has adopted you into his family. Keep reinforcing and expanding upon this view of identity.
Once we begin to accept who we are in Christ, we can address being comfortable with our person. The term self-comfort asks the question, are we really comfortable in our own skin? We can understand who we are but not be happy with who we are.
Children might perceive their gifts and abilities as less desirable. They might accept the lie that some gifts are less valuable than others. That thinking contradicts biblical teaching about gifts working in the church: “From him [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).
The phrase “as each part does its work” drives this passage. All the pieces are necessary. The body of Christ can be likened to a jigsaw puzzle. It might consist of 1000 pieces, but if the seemingly least important piece to the overall picture is missing, the gap is noticed.
Mastering this concept can be difficult. Many people enter adulthood wishing they had a different set of abilities or gifts. Churches can exacerbate the problem by encouraging a hierarchy of gifts from more to less valuable. Counter that thinking in your children. Help them find their sweet spot regarding passions and abilities, and guide them to thrive in those areas. Remind them that God created them for a special purpose.
Contentment refers to the sense of accepting one’s current circumstances or situation in life, embodied by Paul’s declaration in Philippians 4:11, 12: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
This does not mean we must be happy in our circumstances, nor should we avoid efforts to try and improve our circumstances. But we should not despair if we find ourselves in a difficult season of life.
Contentment is not the same as fatalism, to passively accept our situation. Paul often worked to improve his lot and on different occasions resisted what he saw as unfair persecution. He did that not out of discontent, but to be in the best position possible to reflect Christ. Teaching this to children is walking the thin line between fatalism and dissatisfaction. They must accept their current situation in life while continually looking to see if God has something better planned for them.
Many people drift aimlessly through life, existing rather than living. Their lives become a series of distractions without having any real direction. These people are living without a sense of purpose. Paul stated our primary purpose: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
Next, we see a reason behind these good works: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). These good works will serve others and build up the body of Christ.
Finally, we are challenged “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). Knowing our purpose is not sufficient. We must go out and live our lives in a manner consistent with our purpose.
Help children understand that they cannot live life at random. Building on their sense of identity, self-comfort, and contentment, remind them that God has a special purpose for their lives. Without applying excessive pressure, instill in them a sense of purpose and meaning.
If our children grow in these values, experiencing a sense of meaning and purpose, a risk of pride can occur when comparing themselves to others. They may see themselves as having their lives more together and figured out than their peers. This is where they need a healthy balance of humility.
This is not a sackcloth-and-ashes, woe-is-me humility, but a realistic assessment of themselves, demonstrated by Paul in Romans 12:3: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
God has blessed us and gifted us, but it is all God’s doing. Our part is to accept God’s gifts and let them be reflected in our lives. As seen in Philippians 2:3, our attitude must be that of Christ, not grasping to advance ourselves, but seeking to always point others to God.
This value can check any pride seeping into our children’s lives. If they are struggling with their sense of comfort and calling, humility is generally not the issue. But since pride is a common human sin, be sensitive if you begin to see it in your children and balance it with a realistic helping of humility.
These five values build on and balance each other. There is intentional overlap as they work together to develop maturity in our children.
Like any lasting character trait, these values will develop gradually over time. We must repeatedly invest by teaching our children biblical truth to help these values flourish. We will see times of rapid growth and other times of struggle and even apparent reversals.
Then there will be times where nothing appears to be happening, because all the work is occurring in their hearts. Our goal is to teach these values that God may use them as instruments of transformation, as our children “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is ultimately God’s work. We are God’s tools used to shape and mature our children into his likeness.
Terry Magee and his wife live in Pennsylvania where he teaches at his church and is planning for postretirement ministry (terrymagee.net).