From the Blog: Train up a child and they’ll do what?

Several weeks ago I finished reading Andreas Kostenberger and David Jones’ book God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation.  It was insightful and informative on many accounts.  One account was their interaction with Proverbs 22:6 which reads, “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This verse has been interpreted and preached in a myriad of ways and I believe Kostenberger/Jones do a good job of dispelling the inaccurate interpretations, which many times cause parents to be discouraged as they think “I taught my kids the gospel; I sought to put into practice the practices of Deut 6; I prayed for my child/children and now little Johnny (who is now 18) has walked away from the faith–what happened?!?”

This verse should not be interpreted as a guarantee that when your children get older they will continue in the faith, if they even started down that path as a child. However, “it is the product of keen and solid observation of what usually occurs in life, and this should be taken seriously.”[1]

So understanding the genre of the particular proverb you’re reading will undoubtedly help Christians, most notably Christian parents in this instance, to rightly interpret this grossly misinterpreted and misapplied verse.  A proverb is a short statement that is generally true.  Most of the time when we use the word proverb we are typically referring to the type of literature we find in Proverbs chapters 10-31.[2]  However, there are other instances in the Book of Proverbs that are always true. Two examples will suffice:

  • Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” This is true 100% of the time, regardless of whether or not we “feel” like our path is straight. If we are truly looking to Christ and the guidance that the Word brings God will make our path straight.
  • Proverbs 11:1 “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord; but a just weight is his delight.” Is it always true that deception is dishonoring to the Lord? Yes. Is it always true that God delights in justice and honesty? Yes.

So, what does this mean with regards to Proverbs 22:6? It means that generally speaking, children will follow in the path that was laid before them as a child. It is not a guarantee, as many parents can soberly attest to.  Conversely, there are many parents who did not inculcate in their children a love for the things of God (most notably the gospel) and have seen their child go on to live out a life of faithfulness. In the end children have to make a decision which way they will go, but generally speaking they will follow in their parent’s footsteps. For this reason it is vitally important that parents take seriously the responsibility to be faithful in the areas of discipline and instruction, particularly in the younger years of their children.

Kostenberger/Jones give a helpful list of things that parents are to teach their children.[3]

  • Diligence and industriousness
  • Justice
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
  • Self-control, in particular their speech and temper
  • Righteousness
  • Truthfulness and honesty
  • Discretion in choosing friends, in particular a spouse
  • Caution and prudence
  • Gentleness
  • Contentment
  • Integrity of character
  • Humility
  • Graciousness
  • Forthrightness
  • Restraint
  • Faithfulness in friendship
  • Purity
  • Vigorous pursuit of what is good and right
  • Skillfulness in work
  • Patience

This list is comprehensive and to be quite honest, a bit daunting. Just as a reminder, the God who graced you with children is the same God who graces you with the ability, as you live in light of the gospel, to parent your children in a way that is reflective of what the Scriptures teach.  Lean on Jesus and the grace that unceasingly flows from Him.

[1] Kostenberger, Andreas J., Andrew Jones.  God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation.  (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 94.

[2] Longman III, Tremper . Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms: Proverbs. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 31.

[3] Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 95.


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