Parenthood and the Wisdom of God (Proverbs 22:6)

On Sunday September 9th we were unable to livestream our sermon…but never fear!  The GGBC Blog is here!

You can read the full manuscript below.  See you back soon for a sermon rooted in God’s Word.

There is a list that has appeared in a variety of publications over the last 60 years called “The Best Way to Raise a Delinquent.”  Its most notable version is attributed to the Houston Police Department.  It offers a list of 12 ways to a raise a child that will end up in jail.  Let me offer this list.

  1. Begin with infancy to give the child everything he wants. In this way he will grow to believe the world owes him a living.
  2. When he picks up bad words, laugh at him. This will make him think he’s cute. It will also encourage him to pick up “cuter phrases” that will blow off the top of your head later.
  3. Never give him any spiritual training. Wait until he is 21, and then let him “decide for himself.”
  4. Avoid the use of the word “wrong.” It may develop a guilt complex. This will condition him to believe later, when he is arrested for stealing a car, that society is against him and he is being persecuted.
  5. Pick up everything he leaves lying around—books, shoes, clothes. Do everything for him so that he will be experienced in throwing all responsibility on others.
  6. Let him read any printed matter he can get his hands on. Be careful that the silverware and drinking glasses are sterilized, but don’t worry about his mind feasting on garbage.
  7. Quarrel frequently in the presence of your children. In this way they will not be too shocked when the home is broken up later.
  8. Give the child all the spending money he wants. Never let him earn his. Why should he have things as tough as you did?
  9. Satisfy his every craving for food, drink, and comfort. See that every sensual desire is gratified. Denial may lead to harmful frustration.
  10. Take his part against neighbors, teachers, policemen. They are all prejudiced against your child.
  11. When he gets into real trouble, apologize to yourself by saying, “I never could do anything with him!”
  12. Prepare yourself for a life of grief. You’ll surely have it

This list perfectly illustrates our text in the Book of Proverbs this morning.  “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

If there was a list of the most misunderstood and twisted Bible verses, this one would be on it.  How often have we heard it quoted?  How many parents have ever felt guilt from hearing this verse?  What do we do when we see parents who seemingly do everything right, yet have children who end up wayward?

This morning we consider Parenting in our study of the Family from the Book of Proverbs.

This morning we will consider “The Definition of Training”, “The Responsibility of Training”, and “The Result of Training.”

First, we should note that this text is far more about student-aged kids than it is about babies.  The Hebrew word used here is used elsewhere in the Old Testament for Joseph when he was 17 years old.  It is far more something that denotes a child growing up more than an infant.  I read one writer who commented that this is “a youth group verse, not a nursery verse!”  I think that is very helpful.

So, what does it mean to “train up a child”?  It isn’t quiet what you are thinking.  In fact, the translation “train up” somewhat misses what Solomon had in mind.  The word in the Hebrew is used in other places in Scripture to mean “Dedicate.”  The word is used in Deuteronomy 20:5 to speak of dedicating a house.  1 Kings 8:63 described dedication of the temple.  To “Train up” a child is to dedicate them.  What does this mean?  Dedication requires celebration, instruction, representation, and discipline.

First, dedication requires celebration.  Certainly, children are not buildings, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate!  We teach our children more by what we celebrate than by what we condemn.  In fact, have you ever thought of life as moving from celebration to celebration?  We enter school, we up in grades, we celebrate.  We celebrate when they begin driving and getting independence.  We celebrate graduation and we celebrate marriage.  We celebrate every step- at least we are supposed to.  But, believers, aren’t we so bad at celebrating?  We are so focused on what might go wrong, or how our child might not be ready that we don’t take time to celebrate with them!

Consider this: Do we parent our children out of superiority or out of celebration?  Just because you know more than them doesn’t mean you have to flaunt that before them.  Parenting that flows out of our love and affection and spills out of our pride in our child and their progress will be far more effective than parenting that comes out of “I know better than you do.”  Superiority will get you nowhere, celebration will bridge the gap.

Before you push back, there is Scriptural support for this.  Have you ever considered how God the Father corrects His children?  Take time to read the book of Ephesians and you’ll see one thing: 3 chapters of teaching on God’s love for His children and how God delights in us out of mercy.  3 chapters all about God’s delight in us through the work of Jesus on the cross before three chapters of life correction.  Romans does this also, doesn’t it?  11 chapters about the glories of Jesus and His work on the cross before 4 chapters of Divine Parenting.

Do your children know you love them?  Not just have you told them but do they know that you do.  Do they recognize you are proud of them?  Do they recognize that they are not trying to earn parental affection and are we freely giving it- just like the Lord does?  Dedication begins with celebration.

Second, dedication requires instruction.  Celebration is the foundation of dedication, but dedicating our child also means instructing them, right?  In fact, the whole book of Proverbs is Solomon fulfilling God’s command to instruct our children.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says,

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Do you see that?  Teach your children, both in a formal setting, “to do so diligently”, and in an informal way, “when you walk by the way”.  Parents, teach your children.  Make the most of moments with them- such as times when you are just around the house.  Make the most of milestones and times of celebration.  Often, this can be done through telling about our own mistakes and experience at the same milestone they are celebrating.

Do we make the most of these moments?  Solomon did.  The whole book of Proverbs is Solomon writing down the lessons he taught his children.  If you look back at Proverbs 1:8 he writes, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching…  See it?  These are wise parental instructions.  Proverbs is Solomon’s obedience to the commands of Deuteronomy 6.  Dedication requires instruction.

This isn’t just an Old Testament command either.  Consider Ephesians 6:4, Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  We should notice a few things about these commands.  First, these commands are given to the parents.  God’s design is that children would be instructed in the things of the Lord by their parents.  This isn’t to say that pastors and other church members do not play a role, but it is to say that the primary responsibility to instruct your children in the Lord is YOURS.

Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations begins in the home.  Your household is where discipleship the nations begins.  What do your children learn from you through instruction?  When was the last time you sought to instruct and to be intentional to open up God’s Word with them or informally through teachable moments and celebratory milestones?  If this is something you desire to do- brothers and sister, the church body will help you.  But we do not know your need it unless you ask us.

Train up a child- dedicate them.  Through celebration and instruction, but also through representation.  Dedication looks like representation.  The best translation of this verse is to say that we dedicate a child “in their way.”  Meaning that this can be taken both as a call to instruct the child in the right way, but also a warning that if we dedicate them in the wrong way, they will continue into their old age.

What do we represent?  What do we model?  What do we teach through our lives?  Your children are watching you- what you do, they do.  In fact, I would argue that whatever you do will ultimately propel your child either against or away from your values.  Your children will either be more dedicated to the way you model, or they will come to absolutely reject it.  If you are Lukewarm about things you model, it will produce ones that hot or cold!  What you celebrate, they will come to value.  What you treat with indifference they will come to reject.

This is why parental hypocrisy has such an impact on children.  If you profess that faith is important, but live everyday as if it doesn’t, why would your children want to embrace that sort of faith?  If you profess the evils of something that you gladly participate in, what sort of values will that instruct your children in?  Hear me parents: Your children will not remember much of what you say, but what will absolutely remember how you live.  We must, in the words of Paul to Timothy, we must watch our life and doctrine closely.  A Lukewarm faith in you will produce absolute rebellion in the next generation.

Dedication means we must also dedicate ourselves to proper representation.  How we doing?  None of us will be perfect, but do we represent Christ in our life?  Do we represent Christian values in our life?  Let me offer two practical out-workings of this.

Do you model humility through apologizing?  When was the last time you repented to your children?  I mean, not just said you were sorry, but actually displayed sorrow over wronging them and sought to live better before them.  Friends, if they don’t see YOU repent, why would they see the need for THEM to repent?  Do they see repentance as meaningless because they never saw it profound ability to restore through you?

Second, consider suffering.  Have you let your children see you weep?  Have you taught your children how to cry and how to pick themselves up?  Have we taught our children the “adult” thing to do is to cover up our weakness?  Yet, the Word of God would declare that in our weakness: We are strong!  In our weakness, we find grace.  How you suffer is profoundly educational for your children.  What are you teaching them with how you live?

Dedication means celebration, instruction, representation, and finally it means discipline.  This comes right out of a later Proverbs, right?  See Proverbs 22:15, Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.  Discipline- always a controversial topic, but something the Scripture is clear about.  There is a time to celebrate, a time to instruct, a lifetime to model, and a time to discipline.  In fact, discipline is a type of instruction that must be carefully applied.  Over and over the Proverbs call us to consider discipline.  Here these Words from the Lord:

Proverbs 10:13- On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.
Proverbs 13:24-Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

Proverbs 23:13-14- Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.  14 If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.

And this is only the beginning!  This sort of discipline is physical, but never done out of anger.  Spanking can be good, but there is a line we must always beware.  Ephesians commanded us not to tempt our children to anger, remember?  Consider Proverbs 3:11-12: the Lord disciplines us and He does so out of His love and care!  So, should we!  Discipline, when done in love, builds up.  Discipline, when done for any other reason, is destructive.

Are we being diligent to discipline?  Are we making sure it is never done in anger but rather out of affection?!  Friends, a sore bottom is nothing compared to a destroyed life.  Parents are charged to teach our children right and wrong through discipline- this is a heavy, but necessary task.

Brothers and sisters, we have the necessarily task of training.  This means we must dedicate our children to a way.  This is done through celebration, instruction, representation, and discipline.

But we also must recognize the responsibility of training.  I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, parenting is an enormous God-given responsibility.  It is not something to treat like a game.  This child is not like your puppy, this is a person.  We’ll be looking more next week at what God says about the value and purpose of children, but God’s word is serious about the care of children.  One of the main themes of Proverbs is God’s care for the poor and His hatred of injustice.  He says this in Proverbs 22:22-23, “Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the LORD will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.”  Who is poorer than a child?  The LORD will plead the cause of the child and He is will rob the life of those who rob children: this is a serious warning.

Every parent has a responsibility and a duty to their children.  But, this can often be misunderstood as “a children-first attitude.”  The Scriptures don’t seem support that idea.  In fact, hear this, while your children should not be last on the list, they should not be first on the list either.  Because to put your children first means to put your marriage on the back burner.  Some people go so far that they remain married solely for the kids!  This is dangerous.

Married believer, your spouse is the highest earthly priority you have.  Brothers, your wife is above your kids, why?  Because one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is a good marriage.  One of the best representations and instructions they can get is how you love a woman and how a man should treat a woman!  Brothers- date your wife!  Sisters- date your husband.  Seek to win your spouses heart every single day!

Can we be honest?  When the last time you went out?  Enjoyed yourselves?  Have some fun- enjoy being married!  Your kids will benefit.  God’s Word for some of you men this morning is to get dressed up and take your honey out on a romantic dinner.  Wine and dine your bride for the glory of God!

This is important because of how this text ends.  We’ve seen the definition of training.  The responsibility of training.  Last, we should recognize the result of training.  Notice, whatever way they are set on “When they are old they shall not depart from it.”

The verse skips right from 17 years old to someone who is a grandfather.  When it says “old” it is in one place used to reference Abraham and Sarah when they were 100!  This takes us to the end of one’s life and they are holding fast.

I love that the verse doesn’t speak much about the journey in-between. It doesn’t tell us about if they have a period of their life when they wander.  It doesn’t tell us about any crisis they might have that might cause them to question their upbringing.  It doesn’t speak about what specific age someone makes the way they are dedicated to their own.  This verse provides hope for the parents with prodigal children.  Why?  Because of the gap.  In that gap may be all sorts of things, but the end result is the goal- ending the race in faith.

As a Proverb, this is a general principle that proves true, but leaves enough room for the variety of human experiences.  This verse is certainly a stern warning: All of us devote our children to a path.  Even if we live completely passively in their life, that is a path.  What path are you dedicating them to?

This calls us to give ourselves fully, completely, and actively into our children’s lives.  It is a call to reconsider our priorities and to lay our families down at the altar.  It will mean not getting what we want so that we can develop the family we are called to have.

Finally, this verse is a call to fling ourselves on the mercy of Jesus.  Many of us think this can’t possibly be about you- you might even think, “you don’t know my kid!”  But Solomon’s kid was far worse.  You can read more about him from 1 Kings 11-14.  In short: his son split his father’s kingdom by warfare, he led the people into idolatry, and led generations of kings on a pathway to destruction.  Solomon needed the mercy of Jesus, he was not a perfect parent, and neither are you.

The Good News of the Gospel is that we have a perfect Heavenly Father who loves his sinful, estranged children so much that He sent His Son to die for them.  He placed the punishment due His sinful sons on His perfect sons and through our repentance and faith today He will swap our records.  Our sin placed on Christ, Christ’s perfect sonship given to us.  Longing to be a better parent?  Turn to your Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ!  Longing to receive better affection than your parents could ever give you?  Turn to your Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ the Son!

See, Jesus tells us a parable of a Son who runs away from home.  The son ran away from home and had squandered his father’s inheritance.  He would rather have had his father’s stuff than his father’s love.   He pursued his own way and ended up in the pig pen.  He ended up so destitute, the Scripture says he was jealous of the pigs!

But, the son repented and turned back to his father.  He desired to come back as a simple servant- he recognized how far he has strayed and how he did not deserve to be a son any longer.  Do you remember what happened?  He returned home and while he was still a long way off the Father saw him and ran to him!  Instead of being brought in as a servant, the Father embraced him as a son.  Brothers and sister, that is how God will meet you when you turn in repentance and faith.  The Son didn’t even get close to the Father’s yard before the Father met him out of compassion.  Will you turn to your Heavenly Father today?  He can meet you.  He will come to you, empower you, and welcome you into His family.

Are you an imperfect parent?  Turn to your Heavenly Father and He will forgive you and teach you.  Turn to Him and He will embrace you as His own.  He can wipe the slate clean just as the father did with the Prodigal Son.  He will rejoice over you- but only through repentance of your sin and faith in Christ Jesus.

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