Teaching character to students should emulate how God teaches us. He does so using His Word, He is merciful toward us, patient with us, gives us a lot of grace, is persistent with us, uses trials suffering to teach us, and helps us learn from our mistakes. He does not demand perfection, but wants us to strive toward it. He does not burden us with rules, but has rules for our own good (we can tend to use a lot of rules in an attempt to please Him, which is called legalism, which he was upset at the Pharisees over). He understands we mess up, but grants repentance, mercy, and forgiveness, and asks us to humbly try again in the direction of righteousness. Oh, and remember to “lighten up”. God is not a kill-joy, he wants us to be joyful, and to remember He loves us more than we will ever know.
One essential method of teaching character to students is by using the acronym T.E.A.C.H., which is Thinking, Emotions, Actions, Character, and Honor. Here is how it works:
Whenever any situation comes up in life such as a decision to be made, or a response to some sort of a stimulant such as harsh words spoken to the person, or an occurrence such as a change of plans or another driver cuts you off, there is a process that takes place:
- Thinking. A person must think what their reaction will be to the situation or stimulant. This is the proper first step, and it takes self-discipline to do this. This first step usually does not come naturally; it has to be taught to students. Most everyone’s reaction to a stimulant begins with the second step (emotions), but thinking must occur prior to an emotional response. Thinking how to handle the situation biblically is the goal here, so use biblical examples when teaching this.
- Emotions. In nearly all situations, your thoughts are to control your emotions. That statement is hard to do; therefore it must be taught and understood by the student. God created emotions, and they are wonderful. However, improper emotions, and uncontrolled emotions can be detrimental to the person and to others. Reacting to a “bad” situation or occurrence can, by our (sinful) nature, almost always evokes emotions such as anger, worry, or fear, which are all sins according to God’s Word. Learning to control those bad emotions at the onset of the situation is a must, and then think about it logically, rationally, and biblically.
- Actions. This is the acting out of your thinking or your emotions. We can all recite a sad situation where a person’s emotional reaction (action) to a situation was not good. We can also recall how impressed we were when a person handled a situation thoughtfully with actions of grace and good character (biblically). Students need to be taught to react to a situation by pausing and thinking about that situation, how they will respond, and how they can glorify God in their response.
- Character. A person’s character is defined and displayed by how they handle a situation. Their actions will generally show their true character, which comes from how they thoughtfully or emotionally deal with a situation. As a person matures, the process a person goes through in their mind prior to their action becomes quicker, and more natural. So have patience with students as they work on this.
- Honor. Just as a person’s character is defined by the acting out of their thinking and emotions, a person’s honor is defined by their character. Honor is the outpouring of your character on others, and God, as well as yourself. It is what other people, and God, think of you. Honor is something you have to pretty much constantly work on. You work on it by solidifying your beliefs, having confidence in your beliefs, and then using those beliefs in the process of thinking about a situation and your reaction to it, controlling your emotions in that situation, and by acting responsibly to the situation. When a person acts honorably, they bring honor to God.
Remember most people react to a stimulating situation by bypassing thinking and going straight to emotions. And, most of the time, the results are less than desirable. Jesus handled every stimulating situation by thinking first, and His thoughts were controlled by His “biblical” knowledge and wisdom, and so should we. So if you are a teacher or parent, teach that to students. How do you teach this? Teach the self-discipline of pausing briefly, take a step back in the mind and look at the situation as a whole, ask “what would please Jesus”? Sometimes playing out different scenarios in your mind can be good, if the student can do that, but most kids have trouble processing things that way in their mind. In any situation it is good to ask, does this please Jesus, or does it please self? It is always best to please Jesus, which is better than any fleeting pleasure or satisfaction that He would not approve of.
Ed Welch, a Christian Author and Biblical Counselor wrote: “When principles or steps wander from Christ himself, they become self-serving guidelines. They make our marriages, families, friendships, and work go better, but the goal is our own betterment more than the glory of God… ‘Be good’ and ‘Do right’ are fine messages, but when they stand alone they have more in common with the Boy Scouts’ Handbook than Scripture. Remember that in the Bible, ‘This is who God is and what He has done’ always precedes ‘this is what you must do.’ Action follows our knowledge of God and trust in Him. It is as if God has said to us, ‘Now that you have seen who I am, you will want to love Me in return…’”[i]
Character is patterned after God’s Word, and our character grows more pleasing to Him when the more like Jesus we become.
[i] Addictions: a Banquet in the Grave. Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel. Edward T. Welch, P. 155, P&R Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey 08865