Dear radio friends,
We return today to our series on love for the stranger, love for our brethren, and, especially now, love for our children. For God is pleased to gather His people not only from among men and women, but also the precious heritage of the Lord: the children that God is pleased to give to His people.
We want to focus on that today by considering the clear Word of God in Proverbs 22:6, where we read: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Consider this, really, as introductory to some sermons on Christian parenting. I have found, as a missionary, that God’s people who come to repentance and faith have many questions with regard to the rearing of their children. Training our children is one of the most difficult tasks of a godly Christian parent. I bring this aspect of the series to you not because I think I have all the answers, but because I believe the Bible does. My wife and I have been blessed with eight children, ranging in age from 7 to 20 years. We have learned many things as we raised these children. We have opened the Scriptures together and have found that the Word of God has much instruction for us. Much comfort, too. Psalm 127:3 reminds us, “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” We saw last week that Peter declared in Acts 2:39, “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Therefore, it must be emphasized: Our children, too, belonging, first of all, to God, must be loved and must be well trained.
Our text (Prov. 22:6) not only commands us to train our children, but also comforts us with the promise that when the child is old he shall not depart from it. Christian parents who take their calling to raise their children in the fear of God seriously may find good comfort in this Word of God.
Let us, then, consider this Word of God: Training our children. The chief principle in the training of our children is that of discipline. The word “train” in the Hebrew means “to narrow,” not to broaden, not to let loose, but to discipline. While all of us as parents love to see our children walk in a godly way and in the fear of God, I’m afraid that not all of us are willing to exercise ourselves in loving discipline for our children. It is in the nature of children to walk the broad way of sin, for they, like us, are prone to sin. The worldly and ungodly philosophy of education is: Let the children go; let them express themselves; let them explore. Godly parents must recognize that this is wrong. We must recognize that our children, just like us, must be governed by the principles of the Word of God. This is not to say that we are blind to the fact that God is pleased to give our children different gifts, different personalities, so that we must give time and space and patience for growth into maturity. Nevertheless, we must train our children, we must discipline them, so that they will not walk the broad way of destruction. That is why God has given these precious children as tender lambs to godly parents. That is why fathers in Ephesians 6:4 are exhorted: “Provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The fifth commandment teaches us that we must love our children, even as it exhorts children to honor father and mother. Both parents, then, are involved in that training.
Yes, it is the responsibility of both parents — father and mother. Both must train their children, whether toddlers or teenagers — the young child as well as the older child and young people. Our text in Proverbs 22 uses the general word for child that refers to a child from infancy to adolescence.
I want you to notice that this text is indeed a call for us to love our children by exercising discipline. It is not only a promise, but also a serious warning. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. God uses means, the means of godly Christian parents. They are the most powerful means that God uses, even from the cradle on, to teach the child the ways of God. Such a child will not depart from the faith.
But the text is also a warning. If you let the child go, if you do not train the child, if you do not narrow the way but let the child go in the way that he wants to go, in the way of sin, in the way of disobedience, in the way of rebellion, then do not imagine, “Well, they are still young. As they grow older they will realize…. Now they can lie and they can cheat and they can do all kinds of things. But, oh, when they come to years of discretion, they will be fine.” Instead of narrowing the way with loving discipline, you let him or her sow some wild oats, so to speak. “After all, if he is a child of God, God Himself will work repentance and faith in that child, will He not?” I say to you then, that you are in danger of losing that child in the way of destruction, rebellion, and wickedness.
The means that God uses is the diligent training given to children by godly parents and by teachers and by elders. There are different methods, of course, of that training: spanking, grounding. And there must be also a place in that training where we show pity and understanding and we listen to the children. All those things are important. But the basic principle of discipline, of narrowing the way, directing them in the right way, must not be forgotten. I believe that in our day of much tolerance and lack of discipline, this must be emphasized. The lofty purpose for such training is to direct the child in the way he should go. Not in the way that he wants to go, but in the way he should go. Not in the way that the world wants our children to go, or what might be politically right or acceptable, but in the way the child should go. Do not forget, I remind you again, by nature our children are no different from us. They are by nature sinners, prone to hate God and to love sin. You believe that, do you not? In foolishness we must not be overly protective of our children and begin to think that they are so innocent, so nice, so cute, so good. When they come home from school complaining that the teacher is such and such, we believe our children and we say, “My child wouldn’t do that! My child is not that bad!” Truth is, only by the grace of God are they the children of God. We must not imagine that they will walk in the way of faith and repentance by the way of compromise.
There are only two ways that children will go: the way of sin and destruction, or the way of grace and glory. Godly Christian parents are duty-bound to train their children in the ways of the Lord. They are commanded to lead these children in the narrow way, instructing them and leading them by example.
Which way are you training your children? Are you training them in what the Scriptures call “the way,” that is, as revealed in Scripture: the way of Jesus Christ, the way everlasting, the way unto the Father, so that they know with you that when we are saved by grace in Christ then we walk in the way of godly faith and gratitude?
Or are you letting them go in the way of death, the way of the world, of sin and darkness, so that there is in your home an environment where sin is taken lightly, the Word of God is taken lightly, church attendance is despised, and there is the idea that guidelines and rules are made to be broken?
Godly, Christian parenting must have this as the main goal: that our children may walk in the way of God. We pray and we desire that this is indeed the way that they will wantto go as they grow up, that they themselves begin to desire that way as the Holy Spirit works faith and repentance in their hearts. We must train them with that purpose and put before them clearly the way that they should go.
Now, does all this mean that godly Christian parents have no interest in other aspects of the child’s development? Of course, they must also give careful attention to the other spheres of life. The child needs to grow physically. The child needs to grow psychologically, emotionally, mentally. That is all, of course, part of the training that godly parents must give their children. They must insure that their children are taught at home and then at the Christian school. They must not say, “It is not important which school our children go to.” They must make sure that what the children are being taught at school is in line with the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and with what is taught at home. In fact, I believe that the Christian school is an extension of the home. It is the parents’ responsibility to train up their children. They must not just give up that responsibility to some school board or, worse yet, to a public school. They must make sure that they are involved in the instruction of their children. Not all parents are able to do that at home. And it is, I believe, a very good thing that ever since Old Testament times, godly Christian parents have banded together and employed teachers to focus their attention on the instruction of children in Christian schools. I believe that is proper. But it is still the calling of the parents to make sure that their children are being well educated.
All this, after all, whether it be in the physical, psychological, mental, or spiritual realm, must be for one purpose: that the child might go, not in the way of the world, not in the way of humanism, but, ultimately, in the way they should go — in that way that is pleasing to God. We must teach them that all things, whether we eat or drink, we do for the glory of God. We should not have an environment at home where our children are learning that it is only in church on Sunday that we do things for the glory of God. We must teach our children that in every sphere of life they must do all things in the service of almighty God. That is the way of God — the way of the Scriptures.
How much time do you spend training your children in the way of God? Do you read your Bible with them, pray with them, listen to their questions and seek to answer their questions? Are you at home enough so that you are able to listen to your children and spend quality time with them? Is it not interesting that the houses that we build today are far larger than the homes people had in the past. Yet, very often, those very large palaces are empty. Home life is so little nowadays. That is sad. To see a family sitting around a table daily to have family devotions, to eat together, to pray together — what a delight and what a blessing! Yet, we find that that is not something that is commonplace today, not even in Christian homes.
Do you take time to make sure that your children know their catechism lessons, by reviewing the work with them? Does your church even have catechism classes for these children, so that you might, during the week, instruct them, and so that you might send them to these classes to continue to be instructed in the ways of God? After the worship service on Sunday, do you discuss the sermon with them?
We focus on parental Christian instruction because it is so important that we not forget this love for our children while we zealously do the work of missions, loving the stranger and even loving one another in the church of Jesus Christ. It all begins here — do we take seriously our calling to teach our children the wonderful works of God? Do we realize that we have been adopted as the children of God and we know the gracious covenant of God so that now in turn we look at these children and treat them as God has treated us?
God disciplines us, does He not? Do we discipline our children? God pities us, does He not? Do we pity our children? God loves us, does He not? Do we love our children? Is Christ the Head of our homes, or is it simply a show piece, you know, like a plaque on the wall, “Christ is the head of our home,” while we, as tyrants, seek our own whims and fancies, treating our children with indifference or, worse yet, with hatred and sinful anger? Are we gone from the home so much and leave our children for others to take care of, so that really our children are more a burden to us than a blessing?
Train up the child in the way he should go. Administer careful, loving discipline to your children, so that indeed the purpose might be accomplished that your child, your son or daughter, and perhaps also your children’s children, might continue to walk in the way they should go, even the way of God through Jesus Christ.
God promises that if we train up our children in the way they should go, then when they grow up they will not depart from it. Even worldly psychologists know that a child’s formative years are the ones that have the most lasting impact on a child. If a young child learns a certain way, when he is old he will go that way. If children, at a young age, learn the ways of God, as they grow older they will not easily depart from those ways. They will tend to walk that way. Not always. But as a general rule. Oh, they might loudly say that it is not the way they want to go. But ultimately they will go that way. For God is pleased to use godly Christian parenting for the gathering of His own. That is the way He is pleased to gather His church — even in the line of generations.
This is not a blanket statement, that if we do our part, God will do His part, as if somehow salvation depends on us. We must be careful with that, you know. Sometimes, even though we faithfully raise a child, he might turn out to be ungodly. God does not promise to save each and every one of our children. The important thing is that we must have a good conscience before God, that we have trained up our children in the fear of God. For God does promise that in that way He is pleased to gather His people. Then, if it does not please God to save all of our children, if some of our children walk in the way of rebellion, we must not be crushed. Even then we must continue to pray for our children. Who knows if that child is a prodigal who will yet return? Who knows if that child will not in later years remember the things that he learned in his formative years and turn in faith and repentance? For, you see, this is usually the way that God is pleased to save His children. This is the way, through godly Christian parenting, through training, that He gathers His children in the line of the covenant.
Maybe you will be a great grandfather with a cane or on a bed of affliction, and then you will have these children and grandchildren sitting around you singing the praises of God. What a blessing and what a joy. May we, who have brought our children for baptism, walk in that consciousness and remember our vows. May we remember that the promise is to us and to our children. And may God give us grace to train up our children in the way they should go, so that when they are old they will not depart from it.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee that Thou dost give to us and to our children Thy precious promises in Jesus Christ. And we thank Thee for that awesome calling that we should train up these children in the way they should go. We commend our children, O Lord, to Thee, the precious heritage of the Lord. Love them and be gracious to them. Help us parents that in the love of God we may love our children and train them for Jesus’ sake, Amen.