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Parenting with a Diligent Hand, Part I

  • Dr. S. M. Davis Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jul 29, 2011
Parenting with a Diligent Hand, Part I

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.”

Remember that Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” In the original Hebrew, that phrase “he should go” has to do with the mouth. One commentary I read said it was a picture of how a Jewish mother would take olive oil or crushed dates on her finger and rub the palate of a newborn baby to create in the infant a desire to nurse. This is teaching us that a child raised properly is encouraged to develop an appetite and a desire for spiritual things.

A child trained in the way he should go is not only drinking in his mother’s milk, he is also drinking in his Heavenly Father’s love.

One of the most foolish philosophies you will ever hear taught is this: “I’m just going to wait and let my child choose for himself what he may want to believe about God and the Bible.” I want to tell you that this philosophy isn’t found in the Bible. Instead, the Bible teaches that we should be helping our children develop a desire and appetite for spiritual things from their earliest days.


Build Good Habits

A second truth we can glean from Proverbs 22:6 is that we must work diligently to teach and train our children to establish good habits in life.

The human soul is designed by God in such a way as to be able to set itself into patterns. Somebody defined character as “doing right until it becomes a habit.” Parents need to help their child develop proper patterns in key areas of life such as honesty, cleanliness, diligence, orderliness, attentiveness, obedience, Bible reading, prayer, respectfulness, and so on.

A child has to be taught almost everything and then checked up on until those good things become habits in his life.

By the way, good habits are enjoyable after they are developed. It’s not always easy or enjoyable to develop them, but they are enjoyable after they are developed—far more enjoyable than bad habits.


Determine the Path 

A third truth from Proverbs 22:6 is that you need to determine the path for your child—you don’t let the child determine the path for himself. Proverbs 29:15 says, “A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

“Train up a child.” The word “train” means “dedicate, initiate, inaugurate.” The parent dedicates the child to God not only in prayer when they say, “God, I want to dedicate my child to you,” but also when they train the child by putting him or her on the right path.

Parents who simply try to restrain a child from doing wrong are not as likely to raise good, godly children as those who actively put their children on the right path. Godliness is primarily positive, not negative. Some people think there are many paths a child may take and be all right, but the Bible says “Train up a child in the way he should go.”


Keep Them On the Path

One of the most vital truths concerning this verse is this: Do not let the child get off the right way for any reason.

The right way is a narrow way, and parents must always be alert and watchful. Satan is continually using pressure and deceit from all kinds of sources to get the child off the right path. If you turn your back for a moment, your child will take himself or herself off the right path without you doing anything.

Proverbs 22:6 does not require perfect parents, but it does require parents who refuse to let their children get off the right path for any reason.

     •   It requires diligence. Sometimes it can be extremely hard work.

     •   It requires watchfulness. The parent must be like a guard who is always on duty.

     •   It requires perseverance. You cannot quit even when you feel like it.

     •   It requires a firm hand rather than a slack hand.

There’s another tremendous verse from Proverbs that ties in with this. Proverbs 10:4 says, “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.”

The slack hand is a lazy, lax hand. There is a picture drawn in this verse of two kinds of workers: One is slack and lazy, and the other is diligent and hard-working.

Have you ever watched someone who worked with a slack hand and just wouldn’t diligently tackle the job and get it done? Perhaps you’ve seen your own children approach their schoolwork with a slack hand! There’s hardly anything more frustrating than watching someone toy around with their work instead of just buckling down and getting it done.

Proverbs 10:4 is telling us that someone who works with that kind of slack hand ends up poor, while the one who works diligently will be rich.

The interesting thing to me about this verse is the word “diligent.” Six times in the Bible, the Hebrew word used here is translated “gold.” It occurs in Proverbs 8:19 where it says, “My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver.”

Five times the word is translated “diligent,” and twice it’s translated “decision.” It’s as if we’re being told that the hand of the diligent person is a decisive, golden hand that makes them rich.

Now realize this: It is far more important to apply the principles of a diligent hand as a parent than it is to apply them as a worker on the job.

What is a slack hand that produces poor character in children? It is letting children get by with something when they should not get by. It’s failing to have a firm grip on what is going on in your child’s life.

Let me illustrate what I’m talking about. A child approaches her father and asks, “Dad, can I spend the night at Cheryl’s house?”

A dad with a slack hand might say, “Sure, I don’t care. Spend the night.” He might go a little further than that and say, “When are you leaving? When will you be back? Have a good time.”

However, a diligent dad won’t stop there. There are several approaches he might take. He may have a rule that his children don’t participate in sleepovers at all. If he does, every other family should respect that rule and not criticize it.

If the diligent dad does allow his children to spend the night at a friend’s house, he may have some rules that he makes sure are in place. For example, he may have a rule that his children can only go if there will not be anyone of the opposite gender present anywhere near their age.

That was the rule we had for our girls, and our only wish is that we had developed that rule before any of them had ever been born. By the way, that rule is best not just for sleepovers, but for children going to someone’s house at any time without Dad and Mom going with them. Even if the entire family visits another family, the diligent father will probably wisely look at his children and say, “Now boys, you don’t go in any girls’ bedrooms here, and girls, you don’t go in any boy’s bedrooms here. You don’t close doors on any room but the bathroom, and you go in there by yourself.”

The diligent father will want to know more about the situation, and may lovingly ask his daughter:

     •   When are you leaving?

     •   How do you plan to get there?

     •   When will you be back home?

     •   Have you asked your mom what she thinks about it?

     •   Who else is going to be there?

     •   Will any guys be there at all?

     •   Were there any problems the last time you went?

     •   What did you do the last time?

     •   What will you be doing this time?

     •   By the way, what would you do if they started to watch a movie that you shouldn’t watch? Do you know what to do? Let’s go over that again.

     •   Here is a really big question for girls: “What are you going to do if they start talking about boys?” It is so destructive when girls go to each other’s houses, spend the night, and sit there for hours talking about boys.

     •   What kind of pictures does your friend have on the walls of her bedroom?

     •   Will you honestly give me a full report of everything that went on while you were there when you get back home?

That is an example of diligent-handed parenting. The parents aren’t simply leaving things to chance. They’re active, they’re watchful, and they’re on guard against anything that could threaten to take their child off the right path. The golden hand of the diligent parent is far more likely to produce the riches of charactered, happy, obedient, respectful, godly children than the slack hand. The slack hand just does not get it done.

There are those who claim that we lose our children to the world because we’re too strict. In reality, most parents who lose their children do so not because of strictness they should have loosened, but because of looseness they should have made stricter.

Now, let me clarify something here. When I refer to strictness, please understand that I’m not talking about harshness. Too often we get those terms mixed up. Strictness doesn’t have to be harsh. Instead, it should simply be a matter of upholding good, decent standards for our families out of love for God and love for our children. The problem comes when we don’t have our children’s hearts closely enough to institute and keep the right standards.

It’s tempting to take the easy way out and be slack in our parenting. However, we need to realize that we’re not talking about some insignificant task here. We’re talking about molding and shaping our children and nurturing their eternal souls. It is literally one of the highest callings on earth.

The slack hand results in poverty. However, when we approach our parenting with a diligent hand, we can expect to see the beautiful riches of happy, godly children in our homes. 

Coming in Part 2: Dr. Davis will continue his discussion of parenting with a diligent hand by looking at some of the things that can take our children off the right path and at how diligent parenting can keep them going in the right way.



Dr. S. M. Davis has been the pastor of Park Meadows Baptist Church for 33 years. He and his wife, Rae Jean, have been married for 38 years and have four children and 11 grandchildren. He also speaks widely in churches and at homeschool conventions on family-related issues. For more information about his ministry, visit or call 800-500-8853.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally preached as a sermon by Dr. S. M. Davis and is specially edited and adapted for publication in Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information about Home School Enrichment, or to request a FREE sample issue, visit