Many would consider Proverbs 22:6 to be the key verse in the entire Bible about raising children. It says, “Train up a child in the way he should g and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” 

About 20 years ago, a troubled mother came to talk with me one day. Her older teenage son was not doing well. He was regularly out late at night with an unsavory group of friends. He was drinking, smoking, and listening to rock music. His outward appearance was disheveled and rebellious—an indication that something was wrong inside his heart. She was having trouble getting him to come to church, even though she had raised him to attend regularly.

In the middle of the conversation, she said to me, “Well Pastor, I guess that one verse in the Bible just isn’t true, is it?” Startled and taken aback, I asked, “What verse are you talking about?”

She replied, “You know, that verse that says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’” She continued, “I have trained up my son to go to church and to do right, but look at him now.”

I replied, “Ma’am, the Bible is true. You and I may not understand it, but the Bible is all true.”

There’s a typical, often-taught interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 that goes something like this: Take your children to church, teach them what is right and wrong, read the Bible and pray with them occasionally, and if they do stray away from God at some point, you can rest easy because when they get older they will eventually come back.

Now, I would not object to any godly mother or father claiming this verse in relation to a wayward son or daughter and praying that their child would return to God. However, I really do not believe that is the main meaning of the verse. I also do not believe that my understanding of this verse years ago was really on target.

My thinking for most of the years my children were being raised was this: If a father and mother will generally do what is biblically right in relation to a child, then that child will turn out right without ever going far astray.

Please understand me. No one dare ever take a verse of scripture like this and become haughty and proud about raising children. None of us know it all. All of us make mistakes. I failed as a father. I have failed as a grandfather. And I’m sure I will fail again.

Nevertheless, I believe there is a specific conditional truth in Proverbs 22:6 followed by a strong promise.

So what does the verse mean? I believe there are a few key truths we need to take from this passage.


Start Early

Some people think that the actual training of children does not begin until they are three or four years of age. But I want to tell you, if you wait that long you have waited far too long—years too long!

I remember a day when one of my married daughters and her 9-month-old son were in my office. Little Joshua was reaching for something his mother didn’t want him to have. He reached, and his mother said “No, son.” He reached his little hand back again. Again she said, “No,” and caught his attention with a light little slap on the hand. She wasn’t being mean to him: She was simply being a diligent parent making sure her son learned to obey.

Joshua was nine months old, but it’s important to start even earlier than that. I believe a child is learning in his or her spirit from the time of conception.

Babies have been born already addicted at birth to drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. I also believe babies have been born already addicted to television, dirty movies, rock music, and on and on you could go. I have also seen with delight babies who seemed to have a love for God and holiness already developing in them. Luke 1:15 says, “. . . and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.”