By Keith Ward
Solomon declared, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). A boy raised to be honest will not steal or lie; a child raised in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” will not apostasize once free from parental power; a girl taught modesty will not become a bra-burner.
Parents who have failed object that the proverb is general and not absolute. To illustrate the general nature of proverbs, they cite those where opposite courses are enjoined (26:4-5), and those with obvious exceptions; e.g. we know of poor people who ungraciously badmouth prospective help (18:23). “If true, it would be a violation of free will ” some cry. Considering the number of those who claim to be exceptions, perhaps the general statement should be opposite, “Train up a child in the way he should go and he will depart from it as soon as he gets away from home.”
What “Way” Do We Teach?
Rather than make excuses, parents ought to examine their lives to see if their actions undermine their verbal teaching. A lesson on honesty falls flat when the child remembers the story Dad told the state trooper to avoid a ticket. Soon the child learns the real lesson being taught-morals are useful words and make good conversation, but they are an impractical way to live.
Does your child hate church? Does he boast, “When I am on my own, I won’t go?” Perhaps this attitude extends the complaints he has heard every time the preacher went overtime, reflects the excuses Dad made when called on for service, stems from the greater interest Mom shows in pleasing the baby in front of her than in pleasing God in worship, recalls the number of Dad’s naps followed by a hearty, “Good sermon today” to the preacher.
If he thinks all Christians are hypocrites, it results in part from the numerous cuts and slurs he heard from the back seat. The bulk of the evidence rides in the front seat.
Inevitably, the child leaves and the parents ask, “Where did we go wrong?” or declare, “We raised him better.” When approached, the now grown child replies that Mom and Dad made him go to church, that he does not have to go anymore, and therefore will not.
Obviously, no amount of verbal teaching can ever overcome the training given by the parents’ example, If a boy or girl from a family like this is saved, it will be by the influence of someone else and in spite of his parents’ “training.”
Trained in the Way
Proper raising combines teaching with training by example. My parents set high standards to live by so they could show us the way. Though too young to read, I was instructed, “Sit up and listen to the sermon; you may not understand now, but will remember it when you are older.” It is amazing how much I do remember; of course, the main lesson was reverence. That my parents listened, I had no doubt because they dissected the sermons on the way home to bring pieces down to our level. Their major complaint was (and still is) “too much story telling and not enough Bible.” Dad was available for service and often drove distances to help when a small church had only one man. Attendance was automatic which upset non-christian families when we would not go “to church” with them or skip services for get-togethers.
I rebelled for a time, but patterns carved so deep, seed so carefully sown and tended does not die.
An Attitude That Profits
The only way to treat the proverb is as if it were absolute. With prayer and trembling care, train your children up in the Lord’s way. The parallel with grace is strong. Every Christian must obey the New Testament strictly as if works do save; then in trusting faith depend on God’s grace. The parent must treat the proverb as absolute in the way he approaches child training. If the child departs, he ought to feel that somewhere he failed instead of justifying himself as an exception to the rule and with much soul-searching and prayer, wait on God’s judgment and grace.
Truth Magazine XX: 49, p. 780
December 9, 1976