Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Family

Part 6 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 22:6

You can listen to this sermon here.



Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6). 


What Does Proverbs 22:6 Mean? 

If a Christian parent “train[s] up a child in the way he should go,” is that child guaranteed to stay on the right path? In other words, is Proverbs 22:6 a command (“Train up a child in the way he should go”) with a promise (“even when he is old he will not depart from it”)?

To properly answer that question, we must identify the literary genre of Proverbs 22:6. [1] Identifying the literary genre of Proverbs 22:6 is easy. It’s a proverb. But what is a proverb? An example of a popular proverb that is not found in the Bible is, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” When we say that proverb, do we believe it’s a promise that everyone who eats an apple a day will never be sick? No. But the proverb does contain a general truth: healthy eating generally leads to good health.

We should interpret biblical proverbs in a similar way. Richard Pratt writes that biblical proverbs are “adages that direct us toward general principles that must be applied carefully in a fallen world where life is always somewhat out of kilter.” [2] This means that proverbs are not promises.

Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise. 

Tremper Longman writes,
[Proverbs 22:6] sounds like a promise, but a proverb does not give a promise. The book of Proverbs advises its hearers in ways that are most likely to lead them to desired conse-quences if all things are equal. It is much more likely that a child will be a responsible adult if trained in the right path. However, there is also the possibility that the child might come under the negative influence of peers or be led astray in some other way. The point is that this proverb encourages parents to train their children, but does not guarantee that if they do so their children will never stray. [3]
Correctly interpreting Proverbs 22:6 is extremely important for a Christian parent. What happens when Christian parents believe that Proverbs 22:6 is a promise and diligently “train” their child, but the child ends up choosing a wrong path? They either lose confidence in the Bible, or they feel tremendous guilt as a “bad” parent. According to Bruce Waltke, Proverbs 22:6 “must not be pushed to mean that the [parent] is ultimately responsible for the youth’s entire moral orientation.” [4]


How to "Train Up" a Child 

Though Proverbs 22:6 isn’t a promise, it does contain a general truth. This means it’s vital that Christian parents “train up” their children in a biblical way. How should parents “train up” a child?

1. We should continually teach our children.

Children need to be taught many things, but it’s essential that they be taught to understand and obey God’s word. Waltke states that “train up” refers to “religious and moral direction, not professional activity.” [5] Much of Proverbs is written as a father teaching his son. Proverbs 1:8 says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” It’s important not only to tell our children what is right and what is wrong, but also talk to them about the benefits of doing good and the consequences of doing wrong.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Moses urged the people of Israel to teach God’s word to their children during the various activities of each day:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 
Timothy was a man who benefited from being taught God’s word while he was a child. The apostle Paul mentioned this in his first letter to Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom [6] you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (1 Tim. 3:14-17). 
2. We should lovingly discipline our children. 

Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who loves [his son] is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs speaks of “the rod of discipline,” which is unpopular today. For example, Proverbs 22:15 states, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of disciple drives it far from him.” But any form of discipline can be abusive if it’s not administered in love. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4; cf. Col. 3:21).

3. We should consistently model Christ-like behaviour. 

Joel Miller writes, “If you’re looking for a gauge to measure how un-Christlike you are, try raising kids.” [7] Children notice when their parents don’t practice what they preach. A bad example can undermine good teaching.


[1] “There are many different genres in the Bible—songs, prophecies, proverbs, laments, visions, speeches, parables, historical narrative. Identifying the genre is very important to how we interpret a passage” (Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach, Dig Deeper, 105).
[2] Richard Pratt Jr., “Broken Homes in the Bible,” http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/broken-homes-in-the-bible/.
[3] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, 405.
[4] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, 206.
[5] Ibid., 204.
[6] The Greek for “whom” is plural. It could refer to Timothy’s mother and grandmother (see 1 Tim. 1:5).
[7] Joel J. Miller, “What to See How Un-Christlike You Are? Try Raising Kids,” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ joeljmiller/ 2013/03/ parenting-need-grace/.