Q: How are we to understand the verse, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,’ when there are numbers of youth formerly from good Christian homes that now are on the wrong path?”
A: In commenting on this verse, Dr. J. Temple in his excellent book, Know Your Child, appropriately states: “Each of us can probably make reference to our own families or to other people whom we know whose children have been ‘reared in the church,’ as we say, and have had every good opportunity in life, but have just gone wild. They have just ‘gone to the devil,’ so to speak. They give no evidence at all that they were ever trained correctly…. The usual reaction to such a situation is to think that the parents of such a child were too strict; they should not have made him go to church so much. This type of reaction is usual for any promise in the Word of God that apparently has not proven to be true in a particular situation.”
But the promise of God’s blessing on Christian education in Proverbs 22:6 is similar in nature to the promise attached to the Fourth Commandment: “…that it my be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.” Just as examples can be found where one had proper respect for parents and superiors and yet lived a relatively short life, so also examples can be found where the love of Christ was in the instruction at home and yet a certain child who had been so blessed strayed from the faith when he was older. Take a look at the difference between Adam and Eve’s boys, Cain and Abel. Note the account of the twins, Jacob and Esau. Again, think of two of David’s children; one of them was Absalom, a murderer, and the other was Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. Nevertheless, these “exceptions” to the rule (or shall we say, this PROMISE), certainly do no not destroy the general truth, that a child “reared” in the Lord will not be quick to “rear up” against that devout training and admonition.
Another case in point is the promise given by our God in Isaiah 55, when he says that his Word will not return to him “void.” Does this mean that every time we present the Gospel to someone, it will automatically work beneficial results? No, for we know that the Word accomplishes what God desires at his time. But those who serve as his instruments in bringing instruction of the truth to others are to know that the “message” they are dealing with is an extremely powerful one. Results will take place, but at God’s time.
What does it really mean to “train up a child in the way he should go?” It certainly does not mean to have the attitude prevalent among many parents today: “I don’t want to ‘force’ religion on my kids but want them to be free to choose their own way,” and then use this to excuse themselves from teaching their children little or nothing from the Bible. We know the sad results of that kind of teaching method as seen in the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinheas (I Samuel 2:12 ff). Nor does “train up a child” mean to be heavy-handed with the LAW, so that the child grows up thinking about God only or mostly in terms of the Ten Commandments. There are times and places when the rod of chastisement is needed. But too often today parents simply equate “strictness” with what is termed “Christian education.” If the child who matures views his past home life as being characterized with the “rod,” then it appears obvious that his upbringing did not see the Gospel predominate, and then any so-called “Christian education” is sham.
Every child ought to be led to do things not out of fear of punishment, but out of love for Christ the Savior. Even when parents may have to “dish it out” as the occasion may warrant, it is to be done in the context of Christ’s forgiving grace and his desire for repentance and restoration.
But after all is said and done, we parents need to remember that much of training is praying and example setting. Trust God to bring about the results at his time.