"Train up a child in
the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
This tremendous admonition and
promise is for parents, prospective parents, grandparents, relatives, and
anyone else who has a heart for children! It is absolutely reliable, since "all
the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by
us" (2 Cor. 1:20). The true and living God, who cannot lie, will
keep this promise; our responsibility lies in the first word, train. But before
we get to that, we must consider the way.
Some interpreters understand
this to mean "his way," that is, the child's way. They say that
parents and teachers must learn the natural inclinations of the child and
direct him thus. To prove that this is the wrong explanation, we need only
consider Isaiah 53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have
turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of
Since the verse says, "All
we," that must include children. Every child has already turned "to
his own way;" he does not need to be trained in it. Worst of all, the Lord
describes "turning to our own way" as "the iniquity of us all,"
and reveals the outrage of that iniquity by telling us that it was what Christ
bore on the cross. Clearly, then, we do not need to train up a child in his own
way, which in God's sight is sin.
Charles Bridges said that when a child is born, two ways lie before it: the way in which he WOULD go, and the way in which he SHOULD go. That says it succinctly!
Psalm 58:3 teaches us that the child begins going his own way, which is iniquity, immediately after birth. "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies."
How often does the Scripture
teach that we are born sinners! All the more reason for training the child in
the way that he should go. The way is God's way.
A parallel verse, Gen. 18:19,
also shows this. "For I know him, that he will command his children
and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do
justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath
spoken of him." God knew that Abraham's children would keep, not
their own way, nor some counselor's way, nor the world's way, but the way of
The significance of this phrase
will be seen when we consider the fact that many people do not believe Proverbs
22:6, because they have seen some child who was brought up in a Christian home
turn out to be less than perfect. We seem to think that Prov. 22:6 is a promise
of sinless perfection, so that if a child does anything wrong, either the verse
is not true, or the child's training was not scriptural. That mistake will be
recognized and forsaken when we realize that "the way he should go"
is the Lord's way, but it does not mean sinless perfection. How can we be sure?
By remembering that God said that Abraham's children would keep His way; then by
reading about the lives and doings of Isaac and Ishmael. They certainly were
Thus by comparing Scripture with
Scripture, we have learned, so far, that "the way he should go"
is not his own way (Isaiah 53:6), but the Lord's way (Gen. 18:19), and that keeping
God's way does not mean sinless perfection. What, then, does "keeping
the Lord's way" mean? It describes the worship of the true and
living God. Both Isaac and Ishmael did some things wrong (see Gen. 16:12 &
26:7), but they never went after a false god.
Another good example is David.
Even though Scripture records several of his sins (see 1 Sam. 27:8-12 for
example), God describes his whole life in 1 Kings 15:5 by saying, "David
did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any
thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter
of Uriah the Hittite." Since "all scripture is inspired of
God," (2 Tim. 3:16) this must be a true description. There will be no
problem if we remember that when God speaks of someone who has kept His way, or
who has done right in His eyes, He is speaking of the worship of the true God
as opposed to idols. David never turned aside from worshiping God and His
commands regarding such.
To prove that "keeping
God's way" means worshiping Him as opposed to worshiping idols, we need
only consider the description of Amon, in 2 Kings 21:21-22. "And he
walked in all the way that his father walked in, and served the idols that his
father served, and worshiped them: And he forsook the Lord God of his fathers,
and walked not in the way of the Lord," Clearly, "walking
not in the way of the Lord" was equal to "serving
For an opposite example, let's
consider 2 Kings 22:2, describing Josiah; "And he did that which was
right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father,
and turned not aside to the right hand or the left."
CHILD TRAINING OFTEN NOT 100%
SUCCESSFUL Another mistake which is
often made regarding the promise in Prov. 22:6 is thinking that someone is
either 100% successful, regarding the training of his children, or 100% a
failure. We have already seen that God does not look at it that way, when we
considered Isaac, Ishmael, and David.
A little common sense and
observation will teach us that parents may succeed in training their children
to believe the right doctrine, but fail in teaching them to pray every day.
Likewise, some parents succeed in training their children to be faithful to
church, but they fail to teach them to be soul winners. There are degrees of
success and failure. Real life shows us that there are faithful church members,
even church leaders, who are not holy. And, some are more holy than others.
These are good examples of the fact that there are degrees of success and failure.
Parents are responsible to train
their children in all that is included in "the way of the
Lord." That one way would include many ways. We often forget that,
assuming that one or two things are all that important.
We must not only train them to
be saved, but also to be spiritual. Training is necessary if they are to know
the Bible, if they are to get answers to their prayers, if they are to be soul
If parents fail to train their
children in some particular way, they will be letting the world do the
training. If we fail to teach our children to live holy lives, we will be
letting Hollywood train them to be unholy.
There is no way to prevent their
exposure to Hollywood. Even if there is no television, no movie-going, no rock
music, children will learn about those things by simply being in this world.
The influence of Hollywood is pervasive; no part of life escapes it. How much
more, therefore should godly parents train their children in matters of
holiness, to offset the evil influence which they will naturally receive.
If we fail to teach them the
misery of drinking wine, Hollywood will convince them that wine is a necessary
part of a tasty meal, especially if it is to be romantic. Unless we teach them
biblical morality, Hollywood will convince them that adultery and various other
forms of immorality are the normal way of life
Even though we cannot prevent
their exposure to these evils, we can certainly counteract them with the power
of scripture! And that is where the word train comes in.
Why did the Lord say,
"Train?" Why not, "Lecture?" In all sports, there is a
trainer. It is not training when the athletic director lectures the players
that they should go out and become stars. It is training when the person who
already knows what to do shows others how to do it; then, when the player does
something wrong, the trainer corrects him and shows him how to do it properly.
In most cases, the player must practice the particular play several times
before he becomes proficient at it. In other words, it is a process of
teaching, showing, correcting, practicing, and repetition. Usually, there is a
lot of trial and error.
There probably has never been an
athlete who did everything perfectly; all make mistakes. The trainer does not
give up after one or two mistakes. The player is not kicked off the team for
one or two mistakes. The trainer is not considered a failure when a player
makes a mistake. We should think of these things when we consider the Lord's
admonition that we should "train up a child in the way he should go."
WHEN SHOULD CHILD TRAINING
When should we begin? Hannah
gives us a good example, in 1 Sam. 1:24, "And when she had weaned
him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and
a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the
child was young." Some commentators say that the Jews, at that
time, did not wean their children until the age of two or three years. That may
seem like a long time to us, with our modern ways, but it might have been,
especially when we consider that milk would not have been as available to them
as it is to us. Even if that explanation be accurate, Samuel was still very
young to be surrendered by his mother to live in the house of the Lord!
Samuel was born into the
priestly line; but according to Scripture, the priest did not assume priestly
duties until the age of thirty. If Hannah had been like many mothers, she would
have forgotten all about religious training until just before Samuel turned
thirty! To the contrary, she began early; she "lent him to the Lord"
at the age of two or three, to begin learning the ways of serving God as His
priest. Waiting until thirty could be too late; Samuel could have been set in
the ways of wickedness and have no interest in the things of God. Hannah was
wise; let us imitate her godly example.
We must not consider working in
the nursery and other children's classes to be a glorified baby-sitting job,
but a scriptural opportunity to train the little ones in the ways of Christ. We
must not consider mothers who give their lives to the training of their young
children to be unintelligent, or incapable of having a "career" in
this world, as so many think today. Training young children is scriptural,
challenging, and extremely wise! It does require much thinking, praying, and
preparation; perhaps that is why so many look for ways to avoid it. But there
is no greater challenge than that of teaching biblical truth to little ones. If
a person cannot put the truth of the gospel on the level of a child, that
person does not understand the gospel very well.
Every Christian parent would
like for his/her child to turn out like Samuel; if that occurs, we must do as
Hannah did and begin early.
HOW OLD IS OLD?
If we begin early, we must repeat the training, according to Prov. 22:6, until the child is old. But when is one old, in biblical language? In many cases today, people think that, after children become teenagers, you cannot do anything with them. Yet, ask a twenty-one year old man if he considers himself to be old and see what he says. Ask a thirty-year-old woman if she is old! Both common sense and Scripture teach us that old does not mean the teenage years.
Genesis 42 and 43 give us
examples of Jacob's commanding his sons to go to Egypt to get food. Egypt was
several hundred miles away and that trip would have to be made by walking, or
riding some animal, or in some uncomfortable wagon. Every one of those sons was
married and had children, yet Jacob did not hesitate to command them to make
such an arduous journey; and, as far as the scriptural record is concerned,
there was no resistance on the part of any son to that command. Jacob did not
believe, as many do today, that you cannot do anything with them when they get
grown. Of course, people today object to this reasoning by saying that these
events occurred in another time when customs were different. While we admit
that this is true, we should remind ourselves that God gave us details such as
these in His Word for "doctrine, reproof, correction, and
instruction in righteousness," (2 Tim. 3:16). We will not find a
better example than those given in the Bible.
Hannah continued her concern for
Samuel. 1 Sam. 2:19 says that she brought him a coat from year to year, when
she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.
Another proof of the fact that
God hold parents responsible to keep training their children, even after they
are grown, is found in 1 Sam. 2 & 3. In 2:22, we learn of the sin of Eli's
sons: "Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto
all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the
tabernacle of the congregation." It is obvious that these sons
were grown men. We learn later that they were married. God tells us, in 3:13,
that Eli was both responsible and negligent regarding the actions of his sons:
"For I have told him
that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because
his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not."
Eli's responsibility was so
great, in the eyes of God, that He pronounced judgment on his house because Eli
made no effort to restrain them. We must carefully note that it was not Eli's
fault that they sinned, but rather that he restrained them not. Did he say, as
so many do today, that nothing could be done with them after they were grown?
God showed him to be wrong!
ALL CHILDREN HAVE SOME
The fact is that all young
people rebel against righteousness; some to a greater degree, some not so much.
Solomon is a good example; he was taught by his father and mother, according to
Proverbs 4:1-5 and chapter 31, but he rebelled in many ways. When he repented,
he wrote Ecclesiastes to record his confession and repentance. He was speaking
from experience, when he wrote the words of Eccl. 11:9-10, "Rejoice,
O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy
youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but
know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.
Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for
childhood and youth are vanity."
He knew that young people like to be happy ("let thy heart
cheer thee"), that they like to do whatever they desire ("walk
in the ways of thine heart"), and that they like to do what they
see immediately, not caring about the unseen future ("and in the
sight of thine eyes").
Because this is true of all
young people, they will do wrong. The desire of their heart is sin, according
to Jer. 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and
This describes the heart of
every single person who has ever been born, except Christ. The testimony of Psa.
33:15 is that "He fashioneth their hearts alike." We are all
alike, in the evil of our hearts. That evil does not always express itself in
the same way, but the basic evil is there. All young people sin, no matter how
good their training.
When the young man walks "in
the ways of his heart and in the sight of (his) eyes," he is
sinning, because the verse ends by saying, "for all these things God
will bring thee into judgment." Every young person rebels! Some do
it outwardly and brazenly; others keep it inside. When the rebellion shows
itself, many parents think they are failures, or that the Bible verse is not
true, or is not for our dispensation, or that scriptural training did no good,
or some other such depressing reaction. To the contrary, when we see the
rebellion, or learn later that it existed in the heart, we should realize that
this simply proves the Bible!
Another proof of this is found
in Heb. 12:2, where Christ is called "the author and finisher of our
faith." Most of us realize that we cannot be the author of
someone's faith; we cannot make people believe. We give the Word, but God does
the work which results in believing (see John 6:29). We also need to realize
that we can no more be the finisher than we could be the author! Our witness
and our training are necessary, but we do not finish anyone's faith. That is
the work of Christ, and He continues to work all through that believer's life
to accomplish it.
Solomon was trained right, but
rebelled in his youth. Then, when he was old, he did exactly what Prov. 22:6
promises: he did not depart from the training of his early days.
Another example is Manasseh, the
son of godly king Hezekiah. Hezekiah was certainly not perfect, but he was a
praying man (read Isa. 37 & 38), and a humble man (2 Chron. 32:26). Most of
us would like to get answers to our prayers in the spectacular way that he did!
He must have trained Manasseh correctly, besides giving him some good examples
to follow, because we read that even though Manasseh committed some awful sins
when he was young (2 Chron. 33:1-10), he did repent when he was old. Verses
11-19 give us these thrilling words:
"And when he was in
affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before
the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was entreated of him, and
heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom.
Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God...and he took away the strange
gods...and he repaired the altar of the Lord...His prayer also, and how God was
entreated of him...behold, they are written among the saying of the seers."
In the light of all these
scriptures, let us realize that the heart of every young person has the seed of
rebellion in it. The training which is spoken of in Prov. 22:6 is required
repeatedly, until he is old. It is when he is old that he will not depart from
it; and "old" does not mean sixteen, or twenty-five.
THE TRAINING MUST BE WITH
This training must not only be
repetitious, but it must be with Scripture. Lois and Eunice, Timothy's
grandmother and mother, are good examples. 2 Tim. 3:15 says, of Timothy,
"From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
We should teach children the
doctrines of Scripture, helping them to memorize key verses where these
doctrines are found, as well as verses which promise victory and encourage
faith. Children can memorize easily, much more so than adults; therefore, let
us teach them to memorize the Bible in their early years.
John Newton was converted as an
adult, after many years of sin, directly because of the Scripture which his
mother had taught him to memorize before he was seven years old!
Some parents try this briefly,
then stop because they do not see immediate results. Again, Scripture will
correct this error. Lois and Eunice taught Timothy, but he was not saved until
he was a teenager, and that was through the preaching of Paul (see 1 Tim. 1:2
and 1 Cor. 4:15). God's word always has its promised results, although they may
not come immediately, or in the way that we anticipated. Are we willing for
someone else to win our children to Christ, to reap where we have sowed? Sometimes
that is God's way (John 4:37-38), and we certainly cannot improve on it.
Faithfulness to obey the Lord
always brings the fulfillment of His promise in His time and His way. It takes
parents and preachers and teachers and witnesses. Paul had no children, but he
reached the children of others.
Taking the children to church is not enough. It is vital, but it is not all that God requires. We must teach them the Scripture, a responsibility which is found not only in the New Testament, but also in the Old.
Psalm 78 gives us good
(1) We should teach our children what our parents taught us. Verse 3, "...Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us."
(2) In teaching children Bible
stories, we should emphasize the power of God. Verse 4, "We will not
hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of
the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done." When we tell about David and Goliath, for
example, let us not only mention David's courage, but the power of God in
giving that great victory. How often is the credit given to David, or to luck!
Likewise, Samson's great strength was not due to his long hair, but to his
obedience to God and God's resulting power.
(3) We should tell the children
that one of the purposes for which God gave the Bible is that we might teach it
to the little ones. Verse 5, "For he established a testimony in
Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they
should make them known to their children." God wants the little
ones to know that the Bible is for them.
(4) They should learn it so that they can teach it to their children. Verse 6, "That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children."
(5) We should teach the children to set their hope in God and not repeat the sins of their ancestors. Verses 7-8, "That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: and might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation."
Thus we are to teach children
the Scriptures and the reasons for learning them.
BEWARE OF HYPOCRISY IN CHILD
In doing all this, the proper
attitude is vital. Children can see through the hypocrisy of adults easily.
They learn to know what we are like before they can even understand our words;
they read our facial expressions, they notice our actions, they see our
priorities. They learn to discern people before they learn language! When they
learn to speak, then to read and write, they do not lose that ability. They
still notice the tone of voice and the facial expressions of others; it is a
result of several years experience. Even when they are teenagers, they can spot
a hypocritical adult almost immediately. Anyone who has worked with them knows
Therefore, we must have the
proper attitude. Christ emphasized this in His stinging condemnation of the
Pharisees and scribes:
"Well hath Esaias
prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with
their lips, but their heart is far from me." (Mark 7:6). What was the end result of such hypocrisy? Vs. 13, "Making
the word of God of none effect through your tradition," (which was
an outgrowth of their evil hearts). If we are not genuine in our obedience to
the Lord, our teaching of the children, taking them to church, etc., such
hypocrisy will nullify Scripture.
If we teach our children to
pray, they must see us praying. If we teach them that the Bible is God's Word,
they must see us reading it and loving it. If we insist that they go to church,
we must go with them and always speak constructively about the house of the
Lord before them. If we teach them about hell and heaven, they must be urged to
repent and believe on Christ for the salvation of their souls. If we see them
misbehave in church, we must be sure that our correction is from a motive of
wanting them to do right, rather than from being embarrassed before others. If
they hear us praise the Lord in church, they ought to hear us praise the Lord
in the business world, and in the hospital, and at the cemetery.
Titus 2:7 emphasizes this very
responsibility, by saying, "In all things shewing thyself a pattern
of good works ... sincerity ... sound speech that cannot be condemned."
Who would receive even the choicest food from a leprous hand? The condition of
the one who gives the word is important. The prodigal son assumed that his
father would receive him; had he seen that attitude before? No doubt the father
had shown forgiveness many times in that young man's life, perhaps toward him,
perhaps toward others, so much so that he did not even entertain the
possibility that he would be rejected. That speaks volumes for the father's
Almost everything we learn is
from an example. How long would it take for a child to learn to tie shoe laces,
if he only heard a lecture on it?
Children learn to pray from
hearing others pray. Parents ought to take their children with them when they
try to win lost souls. They will learn to witness and win people to Christ by
seeing it done. They will learn daily Bible reading by being a part of that as
they grow up. They will learn to pay attention and get something from a sermon
if they see parents doing it, then hear them discussing the message later. They
learn tithing when they see the years of blessing on their parents who have
thus obeyed the Lord.
PRAYER IS CRUCIAL IN CHILD
All of these suggestions and directions
will be energized by prayer.
Without prayer, they will
probably have little effect. A good example is Manoah, the father of Samson, in
Judges 13:12. After the angel had revealed to his wife that they would have a
son who would be the deliverer of Israel, he prayed for directions in training
that child. "And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. How
shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?" We note
that the angel did not merely say, "Use the Bible," but gave him
specific directions to be followed. The vow of a Nazarite was not for everyone,
although it was a part of Scripture.
We must pray about each child.
There are Scriptures which all should obey: there are others for specific ones.
We may not know what the future holds for each of our children, but the Lord
does. If we seek Him, He will direct us to those portions which are needed by
each one. God knows whom He will call to preach, or to teach, or to be a
deacon; He knows who will be a father or mother; He has plans for some to be
leaders and some to be followers. Beside that, each child is an individual, not
only in his personality, but in his particular needs and problems and
temptations to sin. Why are some people slaves to alcohol, while others may
drink "moderately" and never get drunk? Why are some slaves to
gambling, while others may take it or leave it? We do not have the answers, but
we know that God has perfect knowledge of each child and can direct the praying
parent and teacher to the specific verses which would meet that child's
need. How many mothers have known that
a newborn boy would be a preacher? We have heard such testimony. Is it not
likely that she would have taught that boy all along, with that in mind? What
if the Lord revealed that a boy or girl would be a missionary. Would not those
parents do their utmost to keep that child from having any racial prejudice?
Sunday school teachers should
also pray for the children, individually. It is also helpful to visit in the
homes, trying to know them a little better, so that specific teaching may be
given. We know very little about people when we see them only in church. Our
prayers are limited. This is a good lesson for preachers, also!
WHAT TO DO WHEN DISCOURAGED,
OR WHEN WE FAIL?
After all this, a parent or
teacher may be overwhelmed. This may seem like an impossible task. Also, one
may be conscious of failure and be quite depressed. Sometimes, we think we are
doing very well, then, without warning, everything caves in, sin is committed,
and we think that we completely failed. But, we must remember that we will all
fail, to some extent. What then shall we do?
The Holy Spirit inspired the
book of Ecclesiastes to show us exactly what to do in such a situation. If
there was ever a failure, it was Solomon! He rebelled against all his training
and even disobeyed divine revelation, but one thing can be said in his favor:
he did confess that failure and repent of it, then he showed it by exhorting
others not to follow his example.
In Eccl. 7:26-28, he confessed
that he had disobeyed God by marrying seven hundred wives and three hundred
concubines (see Deut. 17:17). He confessed that he was a sinner when he was
taken in by them. His sinful attitude made him look for the wrong kind in the
first place, and he found them. Then, in 9:9, he corrected that, exhorting
others to "live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days
of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee ..." We note
that he did not say "the wives," but "the wife."
And he emphasized that it should be the wife "whom he hath given
thee." Here, then, was a preacher who went wrong, but has
repented; now he is instructing his children not to follow his example, but to
do right in God's eyes. He has explained to them the misery and heartache of
sin. He has not tried to cover up, or make excuse. Such is true confession and
More evidence is found in
12:9-14. Instead of brooding about his backslidings and failures, he not only
confessed and repented, but made a sincere effort to warn others. "And
moreover, because the preacher was wise (remember that God had given him this
wisdom, and that God's gifts are without repentance, Rom. 11:29), he still
"taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set
in order many proverbs." This required a lot of work. Are we
willing to work that hard in teaching our children?
He tried to get just the verses
that each child needed (vs. 10, "The preacher sought to find out
acceptable words."). He taught them that God's word will motivate
us (vs. 11, "The words of the wise are as goads"), so
that they would seek the Scripture when they are discouraged, or backslidden.
He emphasized that the Bible would give them stability ("and as
nails fastened by the masters of assemblies"). He stressed that
the Bible, even though written by many men, actually all came from the one true
God ("which are given from one shepherd").
The Lord, who is our shepherd,
has given us His words, which will do everything for us that we need. How
necessary it is that the child learn who the Author of the Bible is: He is the
Good Shepherd, who gave His life for the sheep. A shepherd never leaves his
sheep; children need to learn that if they know the Lord Jesus Christ as
personal Saviour, they will never be alone!
People drink alcohol because
they are lonely; they take drugs for the same reason. Likewise, some people
sell their bodies, while others commit suicide, all because they are lonely.
Knowing Christ, the Good Shepherd, would prevent all that. He said, "I
will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is
my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." (Heb. 13:5-6)
May the Lord help us to believe
Prov. 22:6 and obey it, sincerely expecting the promised results.
She could not give her children
gold so she gave them faith to have and hold. She could not give them royal
birth ... A name renowned throughout the earth. But she gave them seeds and
garden spot and shade trees when the sun was hot. She could not give a silver
spoon or servants waiting night and noon. She gave them love and a listening
ear. And told them God was always near. She could not give them ocean trips aboard
majestic sailing ships. But she gave them books and quiet time, Adventures
found in prose and rhyme. She could not give them worldly things but what she
gave was fit for kings. For with her faith and books and sod She made each
child aware of God.