A foundational thing that Christians need to learn is child discipline. The next generation is very important to the cause of Christ. Children belong to God, and they are given to parents to be fashioned as sharp arrows and sent out into the world to engage in spiritual warfare as pilgrims and ambassadors of Christ (Psa. 127:3-5).
Both married and unmarried believers need to learn about child discipline and training. It is better to learn about it before marriage and enter into marriage informed and forearmed than it is to try to learn it after the kids have come.
God has encouraged Christian parents that they can train their children in such a way that they will continue in the right path (Proverbs 22:6).
I personally believe that Proverbs 22:6 is a promise, and I have seen large numbers of parents who have had the joy of seeing their children walk with Christ and raise future generations in godliness.
Following are other similar promises from God’s Word:
“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell” (Proverbs 23:13-14).
This is an amazing promise. To think that parents can discipline their children in such a way that they will be saved and escape hell is a most incredible thought, and this is exactly what this Proverb promises.
Of course, we know that salvation is an individual matter and it is a supernatural thing. The new birth cannot be inherited or caught, but godly discipline prepares the way for salvation by teaching the child the holiness of God, the seriousness of God’s Law, and the reality of his own sinful nature, thus emphasizing to his heart his lost condition and urgent need of a Saviour. This provides fertile soil on which the Holy Spirit can work.
God has a special concern for the family. It is the first human institution that He created at the dawn of man’s history, and He has always had a special interest in it.
Consider the promise of Psalm 127:
“Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate” (Psalms 127:3-5).
This is a promise, but it becomes reality only when a father and mother are committed to God’s Word, when the father is the priest of his home and the mother is his devoted help meet. Children do not become effective instruments (“arrows”) against the enemy just because they are born into a Christian home and are brought to church; they become that when they are raised properly by a father and mother that are “mighty” in the spiritual sense and are devoted to shaping and sharpening their children by the guidelines of God’s Word.
BUT IS PROVERBS 22:6 A PROMISE?
Many disagree with me on this and argue that since the child has a free will, the church and family can do everything right and a child could still turn out wrong. They point to families that seemingly did things right but the children didn’t “turn out right.”
I understand that thinking and sympathize with it from a human perspective. One of my children went into the “far country” for awhile and it broke our hearts. I could have said that his rebellion was entirely a matter of his own will, that we did everything right and yet he still rebelled, but the fact is that though his rebellion was definitely an act of his own will, I know that I had a clear role in the matter by neglect and other factors. I didn’t stay close to him. I allowed his heart to be stolen. I simply wasn’t there in the right way when he needed me. I wasn’t the father that I should have been at that time.
I am convinced that the failures only prove that Christian homes aren’t always as spiritual and consistent as they might appear and that Christian parents that love the Lord and that do some things right, even many things right, might not be doing an effective job in raising disciples for Christ. David was a true man of God, a man after God’s own heart, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, a man as passionate about God as any natural man that has ever lived (e.g., “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God,” Psalm 42:1). But David failed as a husband and father.
Consider some fundamental lessons about this from Proverbs 22:6:
First, the parents must fulfill the first part of the verse - “train up a child in the way that he should go.”
There is a lot encompassed in these few words of Scripture. Biblical child training is a broad, far-reaching activity that involves many things, and there are many ways that the training can be ineffective.
For one, the discipline and training can be weak, inconsistent, and not thorough enough. Many parents do right in some areas but fail, even miserably, in other important areas. Many parents seemingly love the Lord and are faithful to church and have other good Christian qualities, but they are very weak in discipline and child training. Consistency and thoroughness is essential. In the book Keeping the Kids we have covered a wide range of things that are included in the business of child training, and wise parents will seek to be effective in all areas.
Another thing that can cause the training to be ineffective is a carnal spirit. Parents who allow themselves to be carnal in the home can affect the children in a negative way. One father recently told me that his wife and daughter call him “old grouchy.” I can see myself in that. When my kids were growing up, I was too often grumpy, irritable, and angry. Such character traits are carnal and selfish, and parents must guard their spirits so as not to spoil their child training efforts. The little foxes can spoil the vine. If you fall into grouchiness or anger or some other carnal spirit, get alone with the Lord and read His Word and ask Him to give you a right spirit and then return to the family circle. And don’t hesitate to confess your sin to your family when necessary. Public sin should be confessed publicly.
Another thing that can cause the training to be ineffective is neglect on the part of the father. Ephesians 6:4 emphasizes the fact that it is the father who must take the lead in discipling and training the children. He doesn’t do everything, but he oversees everything. He is involved. He is engaged. He knows what is going on. He is making all of the important decisions in conference with his wife. He is not an absentee in regard to the rearing of his children.
Fathers are the key. There is a saying, “Get the man right, and you get the home right.” Consider the promise given to the Philippian jailer,
“And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:30-31).
This verse bears out the observation that if a child or even a mother comes to Christ, there is not necessarily a large chance that the rest of the family will come to Christ, but if a father comes to Christ there is a great chance that the entire family will be saved. This is because God has put the man at the head of the home and has given him divine authority that can be exercised when he takes his responsibility seriously.
A mother approached me at one of my youth discipleship conferences and was weeping about how that her children are being neglected by both her and her husband because both work full time. She said that she sits her children before the television and video games so that she can get some sleep. She was weeping about the fact that she has facilitated the children’s addiction to video games. The Lord had awakened her about her responsibility to train up her children in the way of the Lord, and she was asking where she should start in trying to rectify things, but an even deeper problem is that the husband isn’t interested in these things and will not support her if she tries to change the status quo. He professes to know Christ, but he is lukewarm at best and doesn’t want to be “fanatical” about religion. This dear mother must begin doing everything she can on her part to raise her children right, but she is greatly hindered by the condition of the husband, who should be the one leading the way but instead he is a real hindrance.
The main thing that a woman must and can do in such a situation is become a prayer warrior, exercising earnest prayer with fasting (Matthew 17:21) for a spiritual change and revival in the husband’s heart and in the hearts of the children, trusting that the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). And that goes for a righteous woman, too!
My maternal grandmother was a prayer warrior, and she told me how that the Lord had mightily worked in her husband, my grandfather, after he had gotten drunk and been arrested for disturbing the peace. Through her fasting and prayer, the Lord took that evil completely out of his life and it never returned. A woman of God is not without resources if she is on “praying ground.”
Pastor Terry Coomer, who deals with many rebels from Christian homes, says:
“Notice that the first part of Proverbs 22:6 is a command, specifically stated to fathers! This is commanded activity; it makes us responsible. ... The lie that many Christians have bought into is that it is not their fault if the children turn out wrong. It is a good rationalization of sin, and it is really hurting the cause of Christ. The Bible says do it right, train him up right, and the promise of God is he will not depart from living for God. My question: is God a liar? No. Then what is the problem? I mean why are we having an epidemic of children who grow up in Christian homes and do not serve God? Not only do they not live for God, but many live like barnyard animals. ... It is the fault of the parents, specifically the father. My purpose is not to be unloving or to be mean, but God said this; I did not” (Rearing Spiritual Children, pp. 31, 32).
Another thing that can cause the training to be ineffective is if the parents raise the children in a weak, shallow, worldly church that undermines their efforts. In the book Keeping the Kids and in the youth discipleship course The Mobile Phone and the Christian Home and Church we deal with the type of church that is required to “produce” godly young people for the Lord. Parents should relocate, if necessary, in order to raise their family in a strong church that is truly separated from the world, where the preaching/teaching ministry is solid and effectual, where the leaders are qualified and wise, where the music is spiritual, where bridges are not being built to the contemporary music world, where the standards for all of the workers are spiritually and doctrinally high.
Another thing that can cause the training to be ineffective is neglect. If both parents work full time and aren’t with the children enough, there is little likelihood that things will turn out right. By faith, the parents need to put this matter first and foremost in their priorities and do whatever is necessary to spend enough time with the children to train and discipline and disciple them. The mother should be a keeper at home (Titus 2:5). But fathers also need to spend sufficient time with their families, and if a father finds that his job is causing him to neglect his family, he should do whatever is necessary to change that situation. Parents must put God and His business first and trust Him to meet their needs as He has so wonderfully promised to do (Matthew 6:33).
Another thing that can cause the training to be ineffective is secular education or education in a worldly Christian school. 1 Corinthians 15:33 warns that “evil communications corrupt good manners.” Psalm 1 warns God’s people not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of the scornful, and those things are an exact description of the character of the public school system throughout the world today. 2 Corinthians 6:14 commands us not to yoke together with unbelievers. Too many times the training of a Christian home is undermined by the negative influence of a school.
Second, God’s Word says “and when they are old they will not depart from it.
The term “old” here is a relative term. It differs from child to child and situation to situation. This means that there is no promise that a child will not go through some rebellion or struggles. There is no promise here that a child will be perfectly and quickly conformed to God’s will. Each child has his own will and must make his own choice in regard to salvation and surrender to God.
I believe that every child goes through some rebellion, though it might not take the form of the Prodigal Son going into the far country. Our oldest daughter never ran away or gave us trouble in the form of open rebellion, but she has testified that she was a secret rebel at certain points in her life and went through a time of struggle with surrendering to God and having a right attitude toward authority.
Third, this verse does not promise that my children will be passionate disciples of Christ.
Proverbs 22:6 simply says they will come to the place in their lives wherein they do not depart from the training they have received. Passion and fruitfulness in the Christian life is a matter of the individual’s will and level of surrender. Some bear 100 fold fruit, some 60, some 30 (Mark 4:20). This is why Paul beseeches the child of God to present his body as a living sacrifice to God (Rom. 12:1). God wants devotion to be an act of the individual saint’s free will. I can be as passionate about loving and serving Christ as I want to be. Therefore, in a family we sometimes see a wide variety of spiritual devotion in the lives of the children.
In the same family children can exhibit dramatically different responses to the discipline and training. I know that this has been true with our four children. A missionary who has several children wrote:
“Some children are more responsive than others. Some come into understanding their responsibilities sooner than others, and this can cause problems. My 17-year-old son likes to compare himself with the older children, but my older children were more responsible. He’s not as responsible as I would like him to be; therefore, he doesn’t have the same privileges the others had. Sometimes he thinks that’s a double standard, but it’s not. I told him just recently, ‘Son, you’ll have as much privilege as you want if you show responsibility; with privilege comes responsibility.’”
The issue of whether or not Proverbs 22:6 is a “promise” or “guarantee” is really not the issue that we should focus on. That can be an unprofitable and distractive sidetrack. What we should focus on is the fact that God has a lot to say about child training, and every Christian parent should focus like a laser beam on that task.
The higher we aim, the farther we can go. To fail to aim high is to guarantee a mediocre outcome.
It is incontrovertible that if parents try passionately and wholehearted to raise their children for the Lord, using every principle from God’s Word and every resource available, it is much more likely that the outcome will be good than if they are halfhearted and inconsistent about this business.
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