Text: Proverbs 22:6
Perhaps we should begin with a question: “Do you believe the Bible?” If the Bible says whosoever calls on the Lord shall be saved, does it mean maybe, sometimes, or some folks? Are we “usually” or “maybe” forgiven? Of course not! When the Bible says something is a spiritual fact or promise, it is 100% true! You believe that, don’t you? Of course you do – yet this verse is hard to take at face value; you’ve seen too many apparent contradictions of it. Solomon may boast in the teaching of his father (Proverbs 4:1-4) and crown it with our text – “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it.” But it was no so in his own life (1 Kings 11:1-4). So what shall we make of this verse? Its promise is not always true in the same sense that the salvation facts the apostles proclaimed are true. The book of Proverbs is a collection of sayings: proverbs by which a person’s life can be rightly directed. These proverbs give us common sense principles for life.
Train Up a Child
So When we read Proverbs 22:6 and say a child who is trained up in a godly fashion will always return to his roots, no matter how far he roams, it is true as a general rule, but not absolutely and always true, because every child has his own free will. But there is enough promise in this verse to let us know, when we are raising our children, that it is not in vain; enough promise to comfort the faithful and broken heart when the child strays.
Children are the source of great joy: Proverbs 23:24-25; Psalms 127:3-5; Proverbs 17:6. They can also be the source of great sorrow. The same man who spoke of children as a joy, as arrows in a quiver and said, “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them ” – this was David, who also moaned those heartbroken words: “O Absalom, my son, my son. Would to God I had died for you! ” His son Solomon would have broken his heart, too, if David had lived to see his idolatry. Rebekah said twice in Genesis that the marriages of Esau were a “grief of mind” and that she was “weary of life” because of him.
The waywardness of children is no respecter of persons. I think of a dear friend in the ministry who had a child on drugs, wandering over the country for years. No parent can point a finger at any other parent, for children are not robots who can be completely controlled, even by a loving Christian parent. And I do not wish to heap a pile of guilt on parents who have done all they could to train up their children right, and still the result has not been anything to write home about. There are no perfect parents, but most Christian parents I know truly desire to impart their faith to their children, and do the best they can.
The Conviction of This Verse
I do wish, in this sermon, to point out the truth of this verse. The first truth is the conviction of this verse: early training shapes later life. We have a secular proverb about that: “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” That conviction plus concern for children’s souls is what keeps Christian parents teaching Biblical truths; keeps Sunday School teachers teaching little children week after week. The Catholic church used to say, “Give us your children for the first five years, and we will have them for life.” What a testimony to this verse! That is what happened with Samuel and Moses. Early years were spent with their parents, then they were taken away – but their feet had been set on the right path.
The conviction of this verse is that if we train up the child in the way that he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it. Part of the problem in our society today is that so many of our children are not being trained up in God’s way.
What does it mean to “train up” a child? The Hebrew verb here has the original idea of putting food in the mouth of a baby. The verb is kin to the word Hanukkah, the name of the Jewish Feast of Rededication. So, to “train up” means to dedicate the child, first of all. To declare our intentions before God; to give over the child to the grace and love of God.
“In the way that he should go.” This phrase has several meanings in this verse. It can mean “train up” in the trade the parents have chosen for him, his future calling. It may also mean “train up” according to the individual nature of the child, for each child is different. It also refers to “train up” according to the ability of the child to grasp instruction. And, surely it means to “train up” a child in the moral and religious sense, according to the truths of God.
The Command to Parents
Along with this conviction is the command of God to the parents to undertake the training of the child, a command seen here and in Deuteronomy 6:5-7. Children are going to be trained, filled with good and bad ideas, influenced and directed. The question is, who will train up your child?
The Challenge to Parents
So here is a challenge to parents. Will you train up your child, or will someone else? Will you impart the basic attitudes toward life, and the philosophy of life he or she has – or will someone else? Today in America most of the training of our children is not being done by parents, nor by the church, nor by public or private school – but by television! From these folks our nation’s children get their ideas of right and wrong, ideas about God, sex, marriage, family, and life in general. When our son was about 3 years old he wandered into the road in the small Kentucky village where we lived. When his mother scolded him and warned that a car could run over him, his television-conditioned response was, “Don’t worry, Mama, Superman will take care of me!”
Too many parents cast the children out on the street, or shove them in front of a television and expect them to be trained in God’s way. The drug pushers, the pimps and the prostitutes will train the kids all right, but not in God’s way. Which is why this church and others need to be at work in apartment complexes and elsewhere, training kids in morality and righteousness.
There is a difference in simply raising children. Animals raise their own quite well. You must impart to your children eternal values in life. In our present society, we unfortunately emphasize making a living, but not how to live!
This past Monday morning we had as our speaker at our monthly Men’s Fellowship breakfast, Deputy Chief Walter Crews of the Memphis Police Department, one of our own members. Walter spoke on the topic “Why We Have Delinquent Children.” He described the segment of American population that we lump as children: every 47 seconds a child is abused or neglected; every 26 seconds a child runs away from home; every 7 minutes a child is injured or killed by a gun; every two days 25 children are killed by guns (enough to fill a Sunday School class); every 53 minutes a child dies from poverty; every day 100,000 children are homeless; every day 135,000 children bring a gun to school; every day 6 teenagers commit suicide; every day 2,989 children see their parents divorced. It’s tough being a kid these days.
Walter gave three causes for this situation: failure of the family, depersonalization of the neighborhoods, and poverty. The answer? Work at being good parents and grandparents, and accept the fact that all children are our responsibility, not just our own children.
I heard about a hog at a state fair some years ago. That hog was about all a hog ought to be. His hair was parted in the middle and combed. His hooves were manicured in a way to make a movie star envious. Everybody who saw that hog realized the man who raised him knew his business. Now, the boy whose job was to look after the hog seemed to have been chosen to further emphasize the beauty of the hog. He was a little, sour-faced, hollow-chested, hatchet-heeled fellow who sat there chain-smoking. The startling fact is that the owner of the hog and the father of the boy were one and the same! In the hog-raising business he was a roaring success but in the boy-raising business he was a total flop!
The “How” of Training
How should a Christian parent go about training up a child? There are two basic ways to train up your child: by word and by deed. By precept and by example. Both take time. It is both quicker and easier to flip on the TV than to read Bible stories to your children, or make sure they have good books around even before they can read. It takes patience.
Susannah Wesley, mother of 17 children – one of whom was John Wesley – showed an amazing patience in teaching her flock. One night her husband, Samuel, expressed his wonder, saying that he counted her teaching a truth 20 times to one little child before it was grasped! To which she replied, “If I had stopped with 19 times, the whole labor would have been wasted!” Are we willing to take patience and time to train our children in the way they should go?
What are you training your child to believe? Do you have a clear idea of the importance of God in your life? Is the church important to you? Are honesty and integrity just words with you? If you are not clear on your own moral values, the set of your sails, you will not pass any clearer values to your child.
Children Need Training
We see the conviction, the command, the challenge, and now see the children of this passage. We find some profound truths about our children here, too. First, a child needs training (Proverbs 22:15; Proverbs 23:13). Without direction and discipline, a child becomes a self-willed dictator, a spoiled brat. I suppose every parent sooner or later hears the complaint, “Don’t you trust me, Daddy?” And my answer was always, “Sure, I trust you” – to be a child, or a teenager. A child needs training and deserves Christian parents.
The verse we just read spoke of the rod. Are children to be disciplined? Of course they are. In love, with firmness. For the text points out that we are to train the child in the way that he should go; not necessarily the way in which he would go. While I never did as a child buy the idea that my punishment hurt my parents more than me, it is a fact that Christian parents have the welfare of their children at heart.
I read somewhere – or maybe it happened at my house – about the little boy who deserved a spanking and was sent out into the yard to bring back a switch. He soon came back, long-faced, without a switch but carrying a large rock. “I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a wok you can frow at me.” Parents aren’t in the business of “frowing woks” at children, but rather in the business of instilling faith, decency, courage, and honesty.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”