Proverbs 22:1-21 – Teach and Train the Children

Priest teaching children the catechism by Jules-Alexis Meunier, 1898

Choose a good reputation over great riches;
    being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.

The rich and poor have this in common:
    The Lord made them both.

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.
    The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.

True humility and fear of the Lord
    lead to riches, honor, and long life.

Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road;
    whoever values life will avoid it.

Direct your children onto the right path,
    and when they are older, they will not leave it.

Just as the rich rule the poor,
    so the borrower is servant to the lender.

Those who plant injustice will harvest disaster,
    and their reign of terror will come to an end.

Blessed are those who are generous,
    because they feed the poor.

Throw out the mocker, and fighting goes, too.
    Quarrels and insults will disappear.

Whoever loves a pure heart and gracious speech
    will have the king as a friend.

The Lord preserves those with knowledge,
    but he ruins the plans of the treacherous.

The lazy person claims, “There’s a lion out there!
    If I go outside, I might be killed!”

The mouth of an immoral woman is a dangerous trap;
    those who make the Lord angry will fall into it.

A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness,
    but physical discipline will drive it far away.

A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor
    or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty.

Listen to the words of the wise;
    apply your heart to my instruction.
For it is good to keep these sayings in your heart
    and always ready on your lips.
I am teaching you today—yes, you—
    so you will trust in the Lord.
I have written thirty sayings for you,
    filled with advice and knowledge.
In this way, you may know the truth
    and take an accurate report to those who sent you. (New Living Translation)

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 with their own shortcomings. In many other scenarios, there are godly mothers and fathers experiencing 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, to train children in the way they should go, and when they are old, they won’t depart from it.

Keep in mind, there are many different literary genres in Holy 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 or will be. Rather, they are meant to teach wisdom, to give guidance in how to apply reality to a range of life circumstances.

So, when it comes to directing, guiding, and training children, it cannot be claimed that if a parent does a certain set of practices or disciplines that the child will always come out living a certain way. Neither people, nor Scripture, operates in that manner. 

Biblical proverbs on parenting are designed to place emphasis on the necessity of intentional training and instructing children in the ways of God. And, more than likely, all things being equal, that training in the law of God will kick-in when the child is an adult, living on their own, needing wisdom to navigate a difficult world. Yet, remember, it is not a guarantee.

Even God, as the perfect parent, had rebellious children. 

Adam and Eve disobeyed and went their own way. The ancient Israelites, God’s people, were often fickle about their commitment and obedience to the God who consistently showed them steadfast love.

Proverbs encourage us to put significant effort into developing children to be responsible people who live into their full humanity. We teach, train, exhort, live by example, and discipline our kids. We do it all because we love them and seek to be faithful in our own faith commitments.

And we live with the hope that our maternal and paternal efforts are not in vain. So, it is good for parents, teachers, and all who work with kids to have a gracious, wise, well-thought-out plan for training those children. 

As we do so, we trust God, the One who ultimately does the needed renovations of the heart, and transformation of the mind.

Lord of life, you shape us in your image, and by your gracious gift the human family is increased. Grant to all parents everywhere the blessing of teaching and training children. Fill them with wisdom and love as they care for their family, so that they and their children may know and love you. Give us all, whether parents or not, wisdom so that we might always pray intelligently, live circumspectly, and speak lovingly to all the children in our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Malachi 3:16-4:6 – Turning Hearts

Then those revering the Lord,
    each and every one, spoke among themselves.
        The Lord paid attention and listened to them.
Then a scroll of remembrance was written before the Lord
        about those revering the Lord,
            the ones meditating on his name.
On the day that I am preparing,
says the Lord of heavenly forces,
        they will be my special possession.
        I will spare them just as parents spare a child who serves them.
You will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked,
        between those serving God and those not serving him.

Look, the day is coming,
        burning like an oven.
All the arrogant ones and all those doing evil will become straw.
    The coming day will burn them,
says the Lord of heavenly forces,
        leaving them neither root nor branch.
But the sun of righteousness will rise on those revering my name;
        healing will be in its wings
            so that you will go forth and jump about like calves in the stall.
You will crush the wicked;
        they will be like dust beneath the soles of your feet
            on the day that I am preparing,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
Remember the Instruction from Moses, my servant,
        to whom I gave Instruction and rules for all Israel at Horeb.
Look, I am sending Elijah the prophet to you,
        before the great and terrifying day of the Lord arrives.
Turn the hearts of the parents to the children
    and the hearts of the children to their parents.
            Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse. (CEB)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, twenty-five million children in America — one out of every three — live in biological father-absent homes. The National Fatherhood Initiative reports that nine in ten American parents agree this is a “crisis.”  Consequently, there is a “father factor” in many social issues today. Children with involved fathers do better across every measure of child well-being than their peers in father-absent homes.

From a biblical perspective, the relationship between fathers and children is hugely important not only for the well-being of family and society, but for God’s people.  Fathers in ancient Israel were the primary instructors of God’s covenant to their children.  This responsibility was critical to ensuring success in Israel and obeying their God. 

The fact of the matter in the prophet Malachi’s day was this: The fathers blew it.  The last verse of the Old Testament ends on a note of coming judgment. However, that is not the end of the story because the prophet Elijah will come to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and vice versa.

John the Baptist, Jesus said, was the Elijah to come:

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 11:12-15, NIV)

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to the people. Therefore, fathers who follow Jesus have a sacred responsibility to gently guide their kids to Christ. It is important for Christian dads to take up the mantle of teaching children the ways of God especially as expressed by Jesus.  

God is on a mission of restoration, and a good place to begin is with restoring relationships between fathers and children. In fact, it behooves all fathers to step back and slow down enough to consider what the nature of their family relationships are really like – taking action to instruct kids in both word and deed.

The word catechism derives from the Greek language and means “instruction.” Ever since the start of the Protestant Reformation, learning about God has often taken the form of catechetical teaching. Catechisms vary in length with a pedagogical question and answer format. Typically included are explanations on the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

Question and answer 104 of the Reformed Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, says this:

Q. What is God’s will for you in the fifth commandment?

A. That I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me; that I submit myself with proper obedience to all their good teaching and discipline; and also that I be patient with their failings – for through them God chooses to rule us.

Here is a simple observation: Children cannot obey what they have not been taught. Underpinning all submission and obedience of both divine and human authority is the basic assumption that parents will instruct their children in the way of sound theology, biblical ethics, and religious piety.

What is more, we are all spiritual fathers and mothers to a host of children in our sphere of influence. This is a foundational way of relating to one another, and so, deliberate intention and effort needs to be placed here. Otherwise, there is religious decline with neither social nor familial cohesion.

So, let us love one another through careful training, effective teaching, and gracious tutoring so that righteousness will shine like a cloudless dawn and rise to warm the world with the love of God.

Gracious God, thank you for the gift of children.  Teach me your ways of grace so that I might pass them on to children in the merciful name of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Matthew 12:46-50

            There are several metaphors and images provided in Scripture that communicate a close connected relationship between God and his people.  Shepherd and sheep; head and body; cornerstone and building; and, in the Gospel lesson for today Jesus uses the opportunity of his mother and siblings showing up to say that everyone who does God’s will is his mother, brothers and sisters.
             This is not a deprecation of Jesus’ own family.  Rather, this is an amazing statement of a new order being established – a covenant not based on being a certain kind of person.  The religious elite, the wealthy, the ones having always had clean living do not have the corner on being God’s special people.  Any and all persons can come into a close familiar relation with God.  So, we see folks like prostitutes, lepers, the blind, tax collectors, and anyone on the margins of typical mainstream society becoming the center of a new Jesus movement.  One comes to God simply by doing his will – which means for Jesus that people acknowledge that he is the way, the truth, and the life.  In other words, belief in Jesus constitutes the true work of entering God’s forever family.
             You or I need not attempt to clean up our act in order to come to God.  Instead, we must come humbly to Jesus acknowledging our great need and receive grace – the mercy of entering into close relation with God in Christ.  Just as we did not choose our earthly family of origin, so we do not and cannot move in and out of God’s family as if it were based on our choice.  God makes outsiders insiders and vice versa.  It is all about God and his wonderful grace to people through Jesus.  This is truly good news!
             O God, thank you for your amazing grace to me in Christ!  I praise you for adopting me into your family and making me a part of your church.  I pray that this wonder will stick with me as I take advantage of all the family privileges and responsibilities I possess through Jesus.  Amen.