“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
But how do I train up a child in the way he should go? What of moments when, with my young children, I just don’t know how to train in a certain situation? What if I ruin my child with my poor parenting moments? Could God really “redeem the years the locusts have eaten”(Joel 2:25), even if the locust has been me? And what if my child is grown — so I’m not training much anymore — but is not walking with the Lord?
How are we to understand and live out Proverbs 22:6?
Whether you’re thinking through training up your child as God wants you to, and yearning for your child to follow Jesus for the first time, or the hundredth, John Piper’s explanations help:
“… I doubt that the second half of Proverbs 22:6 (even when he is old he will not depart from it)…intends for us to take that as an absolute promise with no exceptions. And I have got three reasons for why I don’t think it is a foolproof process that if you bring up your child in a godly way, he will never depart from the faith.
1) When you read the history of the kings of Israel, a good and faithful king is sometimes followed by a bad son and a bad king is sometimes followed by a good son. And there doesn’t seem to be any effort on the part of the inspired writer to say, “Faithful fathers have faithful sons and unfaithful fathers have unfaithful sons.” There doesn’t seem to be any effort to do that. The writer seems to be okay pointing out that this godly king is going to have an ungodly son and vice-versa.
2) The only perfect Father who ever was had a son who went astray. Israel is God’s son and was rebellious almost its entire existence in spite of all God’s fatherly ways with his child…the whole history of the Old Testament shows that this son is rebellious.
3) I think this is the most important point contextually. Proverbs 22:6 is a proverb. And proverbs by their very nature are generalizations about the way life usually is rather than promises about the way it will have to be all the time…For example, in 22:29 it says, “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings.” Well, really are we going to force the writer to mean that every carpenter, every stonecutter in Israel who does his job well is going to get a chance to go to the palace and stand before the king? That is surely not the way we should take the proverb, and many others.
How then are we who love the Lord to raise our children? How do we understand and apply the wisdom of Proverbs 22:6? Piper again:
1) In general, bringing up children God’s way will lead them to eternal life. In general, I think that is true.
2) This reality would include putting our hope in God and praying earnestly for our wisdom and for their salvation all the way to the grave. Don’t just pray until they get converted at age 6. That is not very smart. Pray all the way to the grave for your children’s conversions and for the perseverance of their apparent conversions.
3) Saturate them with the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
4) Be radically consistent and authentic in your own faith — not just in behavior, but in affections that kids need to see how precious Jesus is to mom and dad, not just how he is obeyed or how they get to church or how they read devotions or how they do duty, duty, duty. They need to see the joy and the satisfaction in mom and dad’s heart that Jesus is the greatest friend in the world.
5) Model the preciousness of the gospel. As we parents confess our own sins and depend on grace, our kids will say, “Oh, you don’t have to be perfect. Mom and dad aren’t perfect. They love grace. They love the gospel because Jesus forgives their sins. And I will know then he can forgive my sins.”
6) Be part of a Bible-saturated, loving church. Kids need to be surrounded by other believers and not just mom and dad.
7) Require obedience. Do not be lazy. There are so many young parents today that just strike me as being so lazy. They are not willing to get up and do what needs to be done to bring this kid into line. So we should follow through on our punishments and follow through especially on all of our promises of good things that we say we are going to do for them.
8) God saves children out of failed and unbelieving parenting. God is sovereign. We aren’t the ones, finally, who save our kids. God saves kids and there would hardly be any kids in the world if he didn’t save them out of failed families.
9) Rest in the sovereignty of God over your children. We cannot bear the weight of their eternity. That is God’s business and we must roll all of that onto him.”
Link to John Piper’s entire podcast on Proverbs 22:6, and its transcript here. And for other posts with multiple links on parenting: a mother’s wings, the tearing of a mother’s heart and Help for mommy (or daddy) guilt.
Painting: Grandfather telling a story, by Albert Anker, 1831-1910