Raising Men of Character

Near the end of the 19th century, on the heels of a bloody civil war Josiah Holland wrote, "God, give us men! A time like this demands strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands"—The Best Loved Poems of the American People, p. 132.

Throughout history, long before the Marines, God has been looking for a few good men: "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him"—2 Chron. 16:9a. "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap..."—Ezek. 22:30a.

Did God find men with strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands? Did He give us such men? Yes!


God, give us men! How did He do it? The reality is that God does not give us men in maturity—He gives us boys, men in the making. In other words, God gives the task of forging these boys into men to us, as parents and fellow church members. We have that responsibility. To help equip us for that task, God has provided the book of Proverbs, largely the advice of a father to his son. Proverbs is our text for man building! For men who did not receive adequate training and nurture as sons, this book of Proverbs provides a catch-up course for training in how to be the man God desires!

Therefore, from Proverbs we will glean teaching that is essential if our sons—the boys of a Christian community—will ever grow up to be the few good men God is looking for. If we look at Proverbs, what is the first area of teaching that will help to train boys, or to help men catch up to God's plan?


Prepare a boy/man to walk the right path with the right friends—or to stand alone if needed.

The right path may be a lonely path—Prov. 1:10-16.

"My Son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them. 11] If they say, 'Come along with us; let's lie in wait for someone's blood, let's waylay some harmless soul; 12] let's swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; 13] we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; 14] throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse'— 15] my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; 16] for their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood."


Notice the three commands:
  1. Do not give in (v. 10)
  2. Do not go along with them (v. 15)
  3. Do not set foot on their paths (v. 15).
Notice also who the passage is addressed to—sons. Essentially, the father is saying to his son that if the crowd strays from God's path, then follow God's path and not the crowd's. In other words, Proverbs puts a high value on the right path, and


The right influence

Here we see the need to teach our sons the importance of standing up for biblical convictions, even when that means standing alone. Listen, this doesn't come naturally or easily—it has to be taught by word or example. As we all remember, a child's peer group exerts a relentless pressure to conform and follow the pack. So if pointing out the right path isn't enough, perhaps standing alone, or a change in peer groups is also necessary: "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm"—Prov. 13:20.

Moldy bread, for example, has a way of spreading its degenerative spores to all the other slices in the loaf—especially when they're bunched together in the hothouse of a plastic bread bag. So too, your son's companions, or the companions of a man, can have an unbelievable impact on him. So teach your son to stand alone, or to change his peer group.

As a general rule, sons become like the boys they spend time with—or if your son is a leader, he influences his friends to be like him.


The right choice of friends

Understand what I mean: Raising a strongly principled son does not preclude him from having friendships with others. We don't want that. We are not to raise another generation of self-sufficient individuals who care less about others. We don't need to isolate, but to insulate our kids.

Raising a strongly principled son may, however, necessitate a decision to change the crowd of friends with which he presently associates. This can be a painful experience for the child, but a necessary one, and we may need to help him do it. I am shocked by the number of parents who know little about their children's friends. How can you help a child choose the right friends?

First, teach him what a good friend really is. In light of this, have him evaluate the friendships he has; then have him set his sights on the type of friends he would like to have. Draw from your own experience, as well as various Scriptures, the qualities of a good friend… friends who might have these qualities:

Write them down and teach him how to be a good friend, choose a good friend, or make a good friend.

Second, remind him of the consequences of wrong friends—where he might end up with his friends. It's our job to to convince our children the consequences of sin are severe.

The success of the non-Christian can be very enticing to a young and impressionable young man, unless he sees the whole story. Psalm 73 does a good job teaching us not to envy wrongdoers but to consider the consequences of their actions:

Psalm 73:2-3, 17—2] "But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3] For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked"…17] "till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their [the wickeds'] final destiny."

What turned the understanding for the Psalmist? Sin looked great until he was in church one day and got his head together. It was there he realized that things in the world were not as good as they appeared. (Read vv. 17-20.) Since children are young and impressionable, showing them the end result of wrong behavior is essential for them to be able to withstand the pull of their peer group.

We once took our kids to skid row in Seattle and talked to them about the consequences of sin—not in a scary way, but in a way that was fitting to their age. More consistently, we kept them in the sanctuary, the church, for those times of inspiration and perspective.

On the other hand, it is very helpful to children to see the end of the life of the righteous. "He who walks with the wise grows wise…'—Prov. 13:20. Give them good books—stories about real life failures who became heroes (e.g. John Benton books). Read them biographies at their age level.

Chuck Swindoll suggests books for young men—books about

(Swindoll, page 106).


Teach him how to receive God's counsel and wisdom.

Why will he need God's counsel and wisdom? The answer is obvious. Because of the enticement hewill receive, he needs to know how to resist—Prov. 1:10. "My Son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them. . ." Because of the testing times they will go through, they will need to know how to endure—Prov. 17:17; 24:16.

Prov. 17:17 tells us, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Prov. 24:16 says, ". . . for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity." Because of the discipline they will go through with God, they will need to know how to respond—Prov.3:11-12. (See also 6:23).

"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12] because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in."

How do we teach him how to receive God's counsel and wisdom?


Teach him to respond to God


Teach your son that being sensitive to God is a good thing.

Teach him it is a hallmark of manhood to develop a heart that is sensitive to God, because developing a sensitive heart toward God will save him an unbelievable amount of grief and pain. Some men think it's manly or masculine to be stubborn before God. What arrogance!

"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12] because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in."

Masculinity is not being proud before God, or despising or resenting His rebuke. It is one of the greatest, yet rarest qualities of manhood to have a tender/responsive spirit before God.

As a sidelight to this discussion, let me point out that women deeply respect a man with this quality of sensitivity; and boys are deeply impacted by older men and fathers who are "tough and tender." It gives them a model of how to show their emotions. David, the great warrior who is described to be as fierce as "a wild bear robbed of her cubs" (2 Sam. 17:8) is also described as "'a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do'"—Acts 13:22.

David was sensitive and open to God's counsel and did not reject God's correction—Ps. 32, 51.


Teach him how to respond to your counsel—Prov. 1:8-9; 3:1-4; 4:1-4; 7:1-3.

Prov. 1:8—"Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. 9} They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck."

If he treasures your counsel and sees it as godly, he will continue to treasure God's counsel in his adulthood. It is an awesome thing to realize that our counsel, if in line with the Scripture, is in fact a way that God uses to counsel our children.


Help him see the value of other people's correction and instruction

Prov. 9:8-9—"Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. 9} Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning."


.If he learns to respect the correction of his teacher, coach, youth leader, Sunday school teacher, employer, and others around him, it will be a natural response to respect God's correction later in life. Teach him to value the authority of the policeman, the wisdom of the teacher in the classroom. Help him to respect his employer. Teach him to consider the counsel of his fellow students, especially those who walk with God.


If on the other hand a parent undermines the correction of another adult by belittling it, questioning it, or ignoring it, the child will do the same thing.


Share the experiences of your life with him—Prov. 4:3-4.

This is different than counsel. This is story time. "This your Life. . ."


Prov. 4:3—"When I was a boy in my father's house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, 4} he taught me and said, 'Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live. 5} Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them.'"


Here Solomon gives a personal picture of his life with his father David and why he asks for wisdom from God. These two verses explain why Solomon was so wise and successful. Likewise, we should share both the positive and negative experiences from our lives and what we learned from them.



Teach him how to deal with temptation

Interestingly enough, there are only two areas of temptation mentioned specifically in Proverbs: the temptation arounsed by the opposite sex; and the temptation of food and strong drink.


Sexual temptation

Prov 5:1-5 advises:

"My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight, 2] that you may maintain discredtion and your lips may preserve knowledge. 3] For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; 4] but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. 5] Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave."

As parents, we must extol the lush, Edenic beauty of romantic, marital love (Song of Solomon) and explain the dangers of the forbidden fruit of sexual relationships outside of marriage (Prov. 5:1-5). As in Eden, temptation comes from the center of the garden—our hearts (Matt. 5:28). Whether your son is a victor or victim of lust is determined on the daily battlefield of his heart. Furthermore, your son needs to realize that overcoming temptation is a continual battle of the flesh—Rom 6-8.

How can we keep our children, in particular our sons, from temptation to sexual sin?

Let your children hear often what a godly and great marriage is all about—premarital counseling should start very young. Let them hear you talk of the beauty of romantic, marital love—in an age-apppopriate way. Let them see your affection for each other—the hugging and kissing. Let them hear you say the "I love you" to each other. Let them hear your apologies and the verbal reaffirmation of your love, and how much you value your mate.

Make sure they understand that sex in marriage is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Solomon sure did this. Proverbs 5:15-19 very specifically, yet in picturesque language, explains how a husband should get his sexual satisfaction from his wife.

"Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love."

Is that clear enough? Get the idea? This is sex education, Hebrew style. There is no withholding of information here, but the wonderful thing is that it is coming from a parent, in the loving atmosphere of the home/family. Sadly, most Christian parents don't do this. Romantic love is one of the most beautiful things God has provided for man, yet parents don't talk about it often. Kids are usually informed by their peers or a teacher.

By the way, Solomon's advice in Proverbs remains good advice for single men and husbands. If you are struggling in your sexuality, make Prov. 5:15-19 your goal and prayer.

In addition to this passage, when it is age-appropriate, explain that the Song of Solomon is a celebration of marital love. All this makes the point that as parents, the best thing you can give your children is to tell them what real love is and to model that love with your mate. The best prevention of immorality in children is a healthy and loving relationship between mother and dad.

On the other hand, if you are divorced from your child's mother or father, then make sure your children know that you value sexual purity—and show it by your present actions and your words.

More than accenting the positive is needed, however. The wisest man of Israel explained the other side as well. Let your children also hear an overt explanation of the destructive nature of sexual relationships outside of marriage. When the majority of their peers are saying yes to immorality, they need strong reasons to say no. Solomon has much to say about this in the first nine chapters. He doesn't leave his son guessing. Proverbs 2:16-19 is a sampling—

It (wisdom) will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. For her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life. Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous.

See also


In addition to these Scriptures, there are a number of other ways that we might get the point across about the destructive nature of immorality.

Letting your children see the positive aspects of a loving marriage, and the destructive results of an immoral lifestyle is a good start, but it's still not enough. In addition, we need to let our sons know how to handle the sexual temptation that will come their way:


Inform your son that sin is both an "act" which is done and an "attitude" which is expressed.

Inform your son that temptation can come and sin can be completed before the "act" is carried out.


Your son will need to understand that the sexual drive isn't initiated in the abdomen, but rather in the brain. The whole area of sexual temptation has to go back to the thought life. How does that take place?


Inform your son of the process of temptation.

Tell him the process includes:

  1. Suggestion—this is not sin. It happened to Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11.


  2. Meditation—this is entertaining the suggestion; mulling it over; thinking about it. Meditation is indicated in Gen. 3:4-6 by the words saw, good, pleasing and desirable.


  3. Consent—this is where sin is committed! This happens when we agree with the suggestion and decide we will disregard the restrictions and purpose in our heart that we will do the "act." The "looking" turns into consent, when "lusting" begins in the heart—Prov. 6:25; Matthew 5:28.


  4. Commission—this is really a byproduct of the third step of the process, which eventually results in carrying out the deed or act already consented to in the heart. For the young man in Proverbs it was just a matter of time after he began to lust after the prostitute—Prov. 6:25. "Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes. . ."


Note: Having an understanding of this process will help him to know how to combat it. After he understands the process of temptation, you will need to


Inform your son of ways to control his meditation—his thought life.

Let him know of the damaging effects of visual stimulation—Prov. 5:25. Discuss the films/the television he should watch. Discuss pornography. Teach him about the importance of a pursuit of wisdom as a protection—Prov. 2:12, 16; 5:1-2; 6:20-24; 7:1-5. Specifically teach him the importance of memorizing Scripture—Prov. 2:1-22. Teach him not to go near temptation; to stay away from tempting areas—Prov. 7:7-8. Inform him that temptation is a continual battle he will face, and assure him of your support and understanding. Don't talk down to him or preach to him. Keep the door open to communicate.

Besides sexual temptation, there is another area of temptation that Solomon taught his son:


Temptation to excessive indulgence

With regard to food and drink, Proverbs has some pointed advice:


"Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. 20] Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, 21] for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags."


Verses 29-35 finish the discussion on the dangers of overindulgence and of letting the search for pleasure dominate your life. If you become its slave, it becomes a harsh and exacting taskmaster. Solomon had some pointed advice here—Prov. 23:19-21. "Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags."


Solomon shows us that it is the parent's job to warn his children of the dangers of excessive indulgence. "It may look attractive, son, but you will be a ragged old man if you continue in this vein." He continues in verses 29-35:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!

This sounds like an ancient Hebrew commercial, but as in our day, all is not as it appears in the commercials. What's the end result? (vv. 23-35)

In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. "They hit me," you will say, "but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?"


Here is a miserable and painfully familiar picture, the story of someone who does not know how to handle the problems and the temptations of alcohol. Obviously, it is a national problem. What's the answer?

The answer to this problem is right where Solomon is addressing it—in the home. What will be the temptation of the average boy in this culture? What will happen to your children if you do not instruct them? Parents will either establish a corrective therapy or a preventive therapy. We will deal with our sons before the fact or after.

Families from Christian homes are not immune. The voices that are saying, "It's exciting, rewarding, wonderful. You only go around once—enjoy," are very strong, persuasive and repetitive. The voices that are saying, "It's not worth it; it may cause great harm; watch out," are few. The place that will best convey the dangers of alcohol abuse and the way to resist temptation is the home.


Teach him how to handle money

The subject of finances covers four areas: teaching a boy how to give, how to earn, how to spend, and how to save. He should learn to honor the Lord with his income by making giving number one on his priority list (Prov. 3:9-10), especially giving to the poor (Prov. 22:9). In order to do this, the boy must first learn some skill with which he can derive an income (cf. Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:6-13). How he should wisely spend and invest his money is exemplified in the woman of Prov. 31 (especially vv. 14, 16, 21, 24). Finally, the principle of saving is best seen in Solomon's illustration of the ant in Prov. 6:6-8.

See also The Influence of AffluenceThe Toughest Thing to Talk About in Church, and Don't Sit on Your Minas.


Teach him the value of hard work

Two passages from Proverbs underscore the value of hard work:

"Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. 5] He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son"—Prov. 10:4-5.

"The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied"—Prov. 13:4.

In a nutshell, hard work pays off. Hard, diligent work in raising your son also pays off. After years of planting, watering, weeding, nourishing, and patient waiting, the harvest of your diligence will be evident in your relationship with your son. And if you have led your son to walk with God's Son, your barns will then be truly full, and you of all people will be most prosperous.

See also Working Hard or Hardly Working...


Further Affirmation

We've studied the need to prepare a boy to walk the right path with the right friends and to stand alone if needed. John Benton in his book Do You Know Where Your Children Are? asks and answers this question: "What do you do if your children run with the wrong pack?" (Here is a man with a lot of experience with kids. He's been a Teen Challenge director in New York and is presently the president of the Walter Hoving Homes in N.Y. and Pasadena.)

He suggests three things: 

  1. Make sure they go to a Christian camp every summer. He says this is important because it changes behavior patterns. When a child/young person goes to camp, he/she is surrounded by the right influence. Here the peer group is having a good influence. It's only once a year, but over a period of years, a Christian camping experience can have anaccumulative effect that is very positive.
  2. Plan activities to counteract Saturday night and other activities that are negative. Whatever the age of the child, there are certain nights and particular activities you don't want them to participate in, but it isn't enough to say no. We must find a yes for them in place of the no. Benton suggests church activities, sports activities, opening your house for after-school activities, etc.
  3. Be firm about those your children go with. He says sometimes it is necessary to sit down with your children and explain what kinds of people they should select as their best friends. Parents, be careful at this point. It is all right for them to have non-Christian friends, but make sure they are counteracted by strong Christian peers. We have already given to you the passages that make the reasons for this very clear—1 Cor. 15:33; Prov. 12:26; 13:20; 18:24; 22:24-25.

Let me wrap this up by saying: Parents, we have an assignment, and we had better not mess it up.

An interesting study was done in the city of Chicago amongst several thousand men (businessmen) who gave themselves a test. The study, sponsored by a secular corporation, attempted to discern some meaningful statistics in the amount of time spent between a father and his son, beyond eating together. An incredible result came to the surface. An average of six minutes a week was spent with each boy by his father! Other studies have concluded the amount a parent spent with their child that was not corrective or directive was five minutes a day.

We as believers must be off the chart, or we are guaranteeing our children will be enticed and they will go on the wrong path.