Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
The big picture of parenting helps us to know if we are on the right track.
Ten years ago, Sally and I were married but had no children. Hard to believe! That summer we went with a team of athletes to the Czech Republic and Slovakia for a ministry trip. While there, the father of Sally’s friend who was from Slovakia took our team to see an old castle. We really enjoyed seeing that castle and learning more of its history. Later when we returned to the States, our friend gave us a gift. It was a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle featuring the castle we had visited. The puzzle sat on our shelves and survived a couple of moves. This past summer I finally opened it up and tried my hand at it. It was harder than it looked. Now imagine someone dumping 500 puzzle pieces on your kitchen table but took away the picture. How much harder would it be? You might get the edges worked out (if you were lucky) but even then you would have to know what it was that you were trying to put together!
Parenting can be very puzzling. Have you ever asked yourself any of these questions?
- Is the baby crying because she is hurt, hungry, bored, or tired?
- Should I let my child play at the new neighbor’s house when I can’t see them from the front yard?
- When do I talk with my daughter about the birds and the bees?
- What do I tell my teenager when they don’t want to go to church anymore?
Obviously, our answer is found in Scripture. If parenting is a puzzle, then the Bible is our picture on the box top and we should keep it consistently in view. Our text this morning is one familiar verse in Proverbs. Look with me at chapter 22, verse 6, “Train a child in the way that he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
After looking at a few details pertaining to this well-known verse, I want to help you understand the big picture of Christian parenting. Undoubtedly, most of us have gotten confused and failed to understand how the pieces fit together. My goal is not to give you a checklist of dos and don’ts but some truths that will help you know if you’re on the right track.
If you remember, most of the proverbs were written by Solomon who was King David’s son. Solomon was the wisest man of his day. His reputation as a wise man went far beyond the borders of Israel and he made some profound observations on life. Like most proverbs in his writings, this verse has two parts. It reads like a statement of cause and effect. In it, he gives us a mental picture to illustrate the truth he is trying to communicate. In the first part, Solomon describes a parent’s responsibility using the imagery of a path or way that a child should follow. Last year Andrew and I took a few morning to cross the creek at Don Fox park and walk the wooded path. He had never been there before. I had. It was important for him to listen to my voice and stay on the path.
In the first part of this verse, Solomon emphasizes three things.
First, parents are to train children in the way of wisdom. In the Old Testament, the word for train is used in other settings for temple dedication. Gleason Archer, an Old Testament scholar, suggests that the word “train” in verse 6 this gives the following range of meanings: “Dedicate the child to God, “ ”Prepare the child for his future responsibilities, “ ”Exercise or train the child for adulthood.” So parents have work to do.
Second, parents are to train their children during their formative years. This word is also used in a variety of contexts and can refer to someone who is an infant (Exod 2:6), a weaned child (1 Sam 1:24), a young child (Jer 1:6), a lad (Gen 22:12), an adolescent (Gen 37:2), or a young man of marriageable age (Gen 34:19). These are the formative years and the years during which parents are to exercise their influence.
Third, this verse tells us there is a way a child should go. I think the fundamental meaning of this phrase does not refer to a person’s personality, gifts, or temperament although it is wise to understand how God made your child. Fundamentally, though, the way a child should go is the way of wisdom or the way of life as described in Proverbs. The way of wisdom stands in contrast to the way of the fool. It is the path that leads to life.
Another thing I want you to understand is that this verse is not an absolute promise but an observation from life and an encouragement to do the same. He’s saying, “if you do this, chances are great that your child will remain committed to that way of life when he is old.” One of the reasons this is not an absolute promise is because God himself served as a parent to Israel. The prophet Isaiah, speaking for the Lord, wrote, “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.” (Is 1:2b)
Even bigger than the concept of childhood training is the concept of parental influence. This is really what I think the verse is addressing. When you move from becoming a behavior control specialist to a parental influencer, you’ve done a good thing. A behavior control specialist works on the exterior while a parental influencer works on the interior. It’s really an inside job. And during these formative years, a parent’s authority goes down while their potential influence goes up. If you can recognize this, you’ll understand better how to adjust your parenting as your children grow.
What I just gave you are just a few details of the verse. Now let’s step back and look at the big picture of parenting! What truths do I need to consistently keep in view so that I won’t get lost in the puzzle?
First, The Gospel is central in understanding and helping people grow. From the very beginning, speak to your children of God’s holiness and rulership over the world. Explain to them what sin means and what the eternal consequences are. Tell them that God has provided a Savior, a spotless Lamb, Jesus Christ, to take away our sins, and that we must trust Christ in faith. Teach them that it is only through the Gospel that they can receive a new heart and the power of self-will can be broken. It is through the Gospel that we receive the help of the Holy Spirit and special grace is poured out upon our souls so that we might become more like Jesus. And one other thing. The Gospel is still needed even after a child becomes a Christian by faith. The Gospel is central in understanding and helping people grow.
Second, the heart of your child is the target. Behavior is important but it is secondary. Why is this true? Because it is the heart which determines behavior. Behavior, attitude, and performance are all by-products of the heart. Two verses are especially instructive.
“Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life.” (Prov 4:23)
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’” Matthew 15:16-20 (NIV)
So what does this mean for parenting? It means that when your children have disobeyed you, broken God’s command, acted foolishly, or hurt someone else, you deal with the externals so that you as a parent will understand the problem, but you ultimately seek to influence the heart and improve a child’s biblical self-understanding. That is, you help them to see themselves and their problem from a Christian point of view.
Third, there are two sides of child training: teaching/training, rebuking/correcting. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the [child] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
This verse reminds us that there is both a positive and a negative side to parenting. Positively, we teach and train. That means you as a parent are always engaging your child, looking for and being aware of opportunities to build into their life. You’re wanting to be their biggest cheerleader publicly and privately. Negatively, we rebuke and correct.
Keeping these two sides of child training in balance is the challenge. Some of us lean too heavily on the rebuking side. Some of us never go there or don’t like to go there.
Fourth, the foundation of all child training is love. First Corinthians 16:14 says, “Do everything in love.” Love puts the child’s need above your own. It is far too easy to resort to authoritarianism and unrighteous anger. Love reminds us that children are a blessing from God and we should treat them as such.
How do I train a child in the way of wisdom? (The parents’ responsibility and practice)
• Acknowledge your humble dependence on God everyday. (Prov 3:33-34; James 4:6)
• Possess what you want to impart. Have integrity. Train yourself in godliness. (1 Tim 4:7, 8; Deut 6:6)
• Spend time together. (Deut 6:7-9; Mk 3:14; Acts 4:13)
• Use the Bible as your primary textbook. (2 Tim 3:16) In other words, make sure that the truth content of the Bible is being imparted.
• What I have just told you can be summarized in this way: prayer, personal example, precept ... in that order
Proverbs 3:33-34 says, The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.
QUOTE: Every autumn I have a spate of letters from fond parents, teachers, guardians, and monitors, appealing to me to follow up on such and such a youngster who is away from home at college for the first time, and who has to be hunted, followed, shadowed, intercepted and driven to Christian meetings. I have scarcely ever known this desperate technique to work. I understand the panic of parents and guardians, but it is too late then to try high pressure tactics. Prayer, example and precept, in that order, are the means of bringing up children and young folk in the faith. Nor will high pressure tactics and brainwashing techniques avail when young folk have gone off on their own. Some young folk, alas, will have their fling and sow their wild oats, and come at last to heel, sadly, like the prodigal son. It is where Christians pathetically put their trust in external techniques and artificial stratagems that young folk go astray. Nothing takes the place of the realism of holy living and secret wrestling before God in prayer for our youngsters. We must commit them to God so utterly that we dare not interfere or tamper with their precious souls."(William Still, late Pastor of Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen, Scotland)