As a pastor, I have seen my share of parents broken over their particular son’s or daughter’s lifestyle and/or behavior. In some cases, the parents have a great deal of work to do in their own lives in order to deal with shortcomings. But in many other scenarios there are godly Moms and Dads who have experienced the heartache of a wayward child through no real fault of their own. Yet, some of them feel tremendously guilty because of a famous (or infamous) verse tucked away in our Old Testament lesson for today: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
It must be borne in mind that there are many different literary genres in Scripture. Narratives, parables, gospel, epistles, poetry, and even apocalyptic literature all occur in the Bible. The book of Proverbs is a collection of wisdom sayings. A proverb is a short pity statement of experiential truth. In other words, a proverb expresses a general truth in which, all things considered, a particular outcome will likely occur. Proverbs were never designed to be ironclad promises of how things always are; they were meant to teach wisdom.
So, when we come to the verse about training children, it cannot be claimed that if a parent does a certain set of practices and disciplines that the child will always come out living a certain sort of way. Neither people, nor Scripture, operates in that manner. What the proverb is designed to do is place the emphasis on the necessity of training children, and instructing them with intentional focus in the ways of God. And, more than likely, that training will kick in when the child is an adult and living on their own. But it is not a guarantee.
Even God had rebellious children, and he was the perfect parent. What Proverbs wants us to do is encourage us to put significant effort into developing children to be responsible people. Like God, we teach, train, exhort, live by example, and discipline our kids. We do it all because we seek to be faithful, and we live with the hope that our efforts are not in vain. So, it is good for parents, teachers, and all who work with kids to have a plan for training those children. As we do so, we trust God who is the One who ultimately does the needed renovations of the heart, and transformation of the mind.
Gracious God, you are the Lord who alone can change lives. Give me wisdom so that I might always pray intelligently, live circumspectly, and speak lovingly to all the children in my life for Jesus’ sake. Amen.