The Bible is not a flat one-dimensional piece of literature. Throughout its contents, from Genesis to Revelation, it is chocked full of various literary genres. From poetry and narrative stories to apocalyptic accounts and exhortative epistles, Holy Scripture provides a many-sided look at the unfolding drama of God’s redemption toward humanity. Included in this is the book of Proverbs, a collection of wise sayings to help people navigate God’s big world.
The chief reason we must know that the Bible contains different types of literature is so that we can read it and interpret it well. A proverb is a short pithy statement of experiential truth. It is not the same as the commands of the law. In other words, a proverb is designed to point out, all things being equal, that this is how the world works. So enter one of the most misused verses in the Bible: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Many a parent has been made to feel unrelenting guilt over a wayward son or daughter, believing that somehow they have failed. The reason they have such feelings is that they treat the book of Proverbs as clear promises to claim. Biblical proverbs simply were not meant to be stretched in this manner.
Rather, the proverb is meant to communicate to us that if we as parents are diligent and faithful in raising our kids that in all likelihood this training will never leave them; it will always stick with them in some way, shape, or form. It is also true that many a parent has rejoiced over an adult child coming back to his/her faith after a sojourn in the muck of the world. Important to that return is the foundation laid years ago.
So, this proverb is meant to encourage us, not with an ironclad promise, but with the hope that all the blood, sweat, and tears that parents put into their children will someday likely bear much fruit of a responsible life that contributes to both church and world. Therefore, do not give up; keep persevering knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Wise God, for Whom all things are known, encourage me today and always in the knowledge of your ways so that I not lose heart in training my kids and others in the way of Jesus, my Lord. Amen.