The Word of God in Proverbs 22:6 speaks to us of the duties of parents. There we read: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Perhaps you disagree with that Word of God. Perhaps you would take exception to it. Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it? Experience and examples from the Word of God show that that is not always the case, do they not? There are those who have received the godly rearing and grew up to renounce it and to depart, even to throw it back in scorn in the face of their parents and to make plain that they want nothing to do with their Christian upbringing. There are examples in the Bible of children who received a godly upbringing (Esau and Absalom) and who rejected that instruction. It simply is not true, perhaps you would say, that all those who are raised in the way they should go remain faithful to it in their adult years.
This Word of God in Proverbs 22:6 is absolutely true. It not only bores down to the very heart of our calling as Christian parents before God, but it gives to us encouragement, much needed encouragement in a very difficult calling, a calling in which we see our weakness.
First of all, this verse speaks of a true, covenant child. The training of a believing home blessed by the Holy Spirit to the heart of that covenant child is used of God actually to place that child on the way of eternal life. But more. The truth of the verse is this: the molding influence of a Christian home fixes the child for time and eternity. God has made parents a mighty power and influence over the child. And the influence of a believing rearing cannot be outlived. That influence must testify to a child to save-or to leave that child without excuse. If a child rejects this biblical training he cannot run so far as to escape its voice. This is the truth. The godly nurture of believing parents leaves a permanent and inescapable mark on a child.
Do you hear that Word of God?
God has made believing parents instruments to mold His children in godliness and to mold them for time and eternity. This is an ordinance of God. What an awesome thing it is to be made a parent! And what an awesome thing it is to receive a Christian upbringing. The molding of a parent is undeniable. For good or evil, whether I am conscious of the fact that I am molding my child or not, it is there. You do not wake up one day as a parent and say, “Well, my child is five years old and I want to start to mold him today.” Oh, no! You have been doing that from day one. This is a truth which drives a believing parent to his knees, begging God for grace. And it is a wonder. God is pleased to use parents to do something which cannot be undone. We know this.
Perhaps many of us who are hearing this broadcast are well acquainted with this Word of God. It is very familiar, and we quote it to each other often. But do we regard it? Do we live as we ought before its solemn truth? Do we do that personally as parents? Are we not, often, quick-sighted as eagles concerning the defects of other families and blind as bats to the defects of our own home?
We must bring this Word of God to ourselves. And we must fortify ourselves in its promise. For this Word of God applies to all. It applies to all because few can say that they do not, in some way, influence the training of a child. Your very presence leaves an impression upon a child. This is God’s Word to you as a parent. And this is God’s Word to all of us as believing people. We must be conscious of the fact that we are molding and preparing our children. The years will fly by very quickly. Soon, one day, the child must leave your home, and soon you, and all parents, must stand before God in the last day. And in that day God will not ask: Did you know what your duty was? Not, Did you know what the latest philosophy of child-rearing said? But this is the word that He will ask: Did you, in loving faithfulness and dependence upon Me, train your child in the way that he should go?
We have a commandment here: Train up a child in the way that he should go. Now, God is speaking of a child. The word “child” here is a general term covering an infant, as well as all stages of development until adulthood. The child is entrusted to the parent. And that child is a miracle of God’s hand. A child is a wonder of His grace. We read in Ecclesiastes 11:4 that our children are not simply the product of biology, but they are made by the fingers of God and given a never-ending soul. God forms the bones of the child within the womb of its mother. And we read that when God creates a child within us, He has created a soul. A child can never cease to exist. A soul comes forth which must exist either in heavenly glory or in eternal woe. The soul that is brought into existence cannot be crushed out of existence.
And that child is impressionable. The child is created to be moldable, soft to impressions, especially to first impressions. The child is made by God to respond to the influence of the parent as clay responds to the hand of a potter. That comes out in Proverbs 22:6 when we read, “Train up a child (literally) at the mouth of his way, at the spring or opening of his way.” A figure is being drawn. A river can be directed if you get at that river at its source. But once the river has begun in its stream and current, it is almost impossible to change its direction then. A tree can be formed if you get at the tree in its first springing life. But not if you wait until it stands as a mature oak. Train a child at the first opening of his way, the first opening of his intelligence. The earlier the training begins, the more effective will be your work. What is early learned, what is first learned, is most tenaciously retained. Do not wait until you think that your child can understand you. You can begin too late, but you can scarcely begin too soon. The enemy is ceaseless in his activity. The devil and the world arise early in the morning. They are after the child at the first crack of dawn. So the believing child of God as a parent must also, at the dawn of his child’s life, train his child. Be at the mouth, at the spring of their way. That is what God is saying.
I have heard it said that you should not require anything of a child which he cannot understand, and that you should give the child a reason for everything you desire him to do. I warn you against that. I solemnly and plainly tell you that that is unsound and unbiblical. Yes, it is foolish to make everything a mystery to your child. There are many things you must explain to him and show to him the wisdom of why you require him to do it. But to bring him up with the idea that he must take nothing on trust, that before he can consent he must have from you the whys and the wherefores is a fearful mistake that you make. Your child is a child. The child understands as a child. He must be brought up to believe and to do what you say because you as his parents say so. Train up your child at the spring of his life.
The word “train” comes from the verb “to narrow,” or “to choke.” Narrow-down the child; that is, be specific. Love is specific. And a godly training is specific. A godly training does not simply inform a child of the various options, making the way as broad as possible. Godly training does not simply inform the child that any way he might fancy is suitable. That is not love. That is absolute cruelty and pride. No, the Scriptures tell us that we must stand before our child and point to him in the love of God the way that he must go. Before us and before our child is the broad way, said Jesus. And there are many who go therein to destruction. But, it is the light of the Word of God that points out the good way, the way of Jesus Christ. Narrow down the child to that way. Good instruction is not vague generalities. It gets to the heart of issues and, in the love of God, lays those issues before the child.
What is that good way they must go? In one word, the good way is the will of God revealed in the wonderful Scriptures. It is the will of God in the Scriptures which make plain for them how they must live toward God and toward man and what purpose their life must serve. The good way is the Word of God which makes plain to the child who made him and what he is to do in response to this great and glorious God in every area of his life. Train the child patiently, lovingly, persistently so that in every area of life the child learns the will of his God written on the pages of Scripture and seeks to glorify God in what he does.
That is the duty. Train up the child. Train him in such a way that he is equipped to take up his God-given place, to be a Christian father, to be a loving mother, to be a member of the church of Jesus Christ, to be a Christian in this world. That is what Abraham did. In Genesis 18:19 God speaks of His confidence in Abraham, that Abraham will command his children after him, that they will walk in the way of God. Teach your child the right view of God from the Scriptures, the right view of authority and respect, the right view of law.
Then there are people who say to me as a parent, “Well, I’m just a housewife; I’m just a computer programmer; I’m just a painter; I’m just a carpenter; I’m just an accountant.” Oh, may God open your eyes, parent. You are training the members of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. You are preparing soldiers for His army, perhaps shepherds for His sheep, servants of the King of kings to serve Him now and eternally. And every day that passes brings that child closer to the moment when he must be prepared to leave your home and to stand on his own in Christ’s kingdom. Are you making him ready? Neglect this work and no one can make up the slack. Oh, yes. God is gracious. He gives us pastors and fellow saints. But, all other things being equal, no one can make up the slack if parents neglect their duty.
This means that God uses us as parents. Now I know that God is sovereign and that all of our works avail nothing unless He puts His hand to it. But this Word of God presses upon us the urgent and the astounding responsibility of a parent. Train your child in the will of God.
That training, you understand, must be very practical. You should read the book of Proverbs. You should read it from the point of view of a parent. The book of Proverbs is written by a parent for his son and daughter. He speaks to them in very practical and blunt language about work, about sloth, about sex, about industry, about friendship. You cannot find a better manual for a parent than the book of Proverbs.
We train a child, first of all, then, by our consistent example before the child. It is not enough simply to tell a child. You must show the child the way that he must walk. You must live that out before them.
Another characteristic of a child as God has made him is that he mimics. He emulates. He becomes what he sees. In Ephesians 5:1, 2 that is applied to us as children of our heavenly Father. We read: “Be followers, be mimics. Imitate your heavenly Father.” We are to imitate our Father who is in heaven. We must be like Him. Your child learns more by the eye than by the ear. What he sees in you holds a much stronger effect than what you tell him. You sin before your child, and you sin double if your life is inconsistent with your words to the child. You must strive to be a living epistle of Christ such that your children can read. Far before they learn to read, they ought to learn to read the will of God in your life. Be an example to your child of reverence for the Word of God. Be an example to your child in prayer. Be an example to your child in your conduct on the Lord’s day, on Sunday. Do not expect your child to go to Sunday School, do not expect your child to go to church, if you are off on the golf course. Be an example to him. Be an example in your temper, that you restrain your temper and you confess your sinful temper. If you expect your child to be humbled under your admonition when he has a temper, you must walk before him controlling your temper. Be an example in diligence, in love, in patience. Your child will practice what he sees you do.
Many of your words he may not understand yet. But he will understand your life. Do not simply say to your child: “Go, do this; be this way.” But say to the child: “Come, walk as I do. You see in me? You see the joy of salvation in me? You see the willing, loving service of God in me? Live as I live.”
If you are evil with your wife; if you bark at your wife like a dog, and you are edgy and touchy and irritable and you do not repent of that before your children; if you are yelling at your wife and the phone rings and when you answer the phone you can be Mr. Nice, changed as if a button has been pushed, nice to the stranger, but when your wife asks you a question you bite her head off, then you are teaching your children that God’s Word has no binding authority. All of your words about respect and kindness you may just as well keep in your mouth.
Wives, when you talk back to and will not honor your husband, and you sulk and will not show the reverence that God has called you to show, do not be surprised when your child becomes indifferent to the Word of God. Let us not preach to our children what we do not intend to practice. Let us not think that a child will walk on a path that we are not walking ourselves.
We must train our children also in a climate of openness, spiritual openness. We must be diligent, as parents, to live out our faith. This is the lifelong lesson of our earthly life, is it not? We must walk consciously with our God and we must encourage in our children from their earliest days a freedom, an openness, to speak of spiritual things and of the Word of God. I have seen homes where I am afraid that the only discussion of spiritual things happened at family visitation, and then it was like pulling teeth. They could talk about TV, sports, and work. But they were very uncomfortable to talk about their souls and to talk about their soul’s concerns with their children, their spiritual struggles and the lessons that they were learning from the reading of the Word of God. Cultivate your speaking with your children of spiritual things. Train your child.
One of God’s most merciful arrangements is that God has made children like clay to receive an impression. Let them receive from us the impression of a warmth in spiritual matters, of an openness, a joy, a delight in spiritual things. Call upon God to give you strength. But do not neglect this. Do not neglect this in the earliest days of your child’s life. Do not neglect to do this throughout all the days that your child is in your house. For once you, parent, have let it slip, it is gone forever.
We will return to this passage next time. Let us now bow our heads in prayer.
Our Father, how awesome are Thy ordinances of being a parent and being a child. We have no grace and strength of ourselves. We need, O Lord, Thy Spirit and Word to be in us. We pray that we may be as the heavenly Father and that we may train our children in the way that they are to go. In Jesus’ name, Amen.