Training Children to Refuse Evil and Choose Good
- 2008 16 May
One of the greatest hopes of Christian parents should be that their children will choose right over wrong, good over evil, and wisdom over foolishness. One of the most heartbreaking experiences for Christian parents is when they see one of their children making damaging life choices with seemingly no interest in doing right. What can we do to help make sure that our children refuse evil and choose good?
One of the most powerful statements I’ve ever seen in my life is this: “If you want your ideas to last for years, write them on paper. If you want them to last for decades, write them on brick. If you want them to last for centuries, write them in stone. If you want your ideas to last forever, write them on the heart of a child.”
It is the privilege and responsibility of a father and mother to train the soul of a child who is going to live for eternity. God could have chosen angels to provide perfect teaching and training and care for children, but He did not choose to do that. He could have delegated that responsibility to the government, but He did not do that either. Instead, He gave that responsibility primarily to mothers and fathers. Thankfully, however, He didn’t just give us that responsibility and then leave us alone. He gave us some instructions in His Word that, if we will only follow them, will guide us on our way to raising godly children.
In Isaiah 7:14-15 we find an interesting passage that is seldom, if ever, used in reference to child training; but I believe it contains a vital truth that we can apply to raising our children. It says: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.” Just imagine for a moment how wonderful it would be to have children who consistently choose to do good!
Another verse that ties in with this is the familiar Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
So how do we raise our children to refuse evil and choose good?
Culture the Right Appetite
An appetite is a natural or habitual desire to satisfy some want or need. It may be a natural appetite, or it may be one which we have created for ourselves.
In Proverbs 22:6, the Hebrew word for “train up” is usually translated “dedicate.” It means that we should pay whatever price we need to pay—in time, attention, love, discipline, self-sacrifice, etc.—in order to fully dedicate our children to the Lord and raise them for Him. The phrase that occurs later in the verse (“in the way he should go”) is the Hebrew word peh. In other places in the Bible, that word is translated “mouth” or “eat.” “Train up a child in the way he should go...”—in the way of his mouth. Sort of strange, isn’t it? What it’s telling us is that we should train up our children with right appetites. Don’t let them taste the wrong things. Why? Because they might develop an appetite for those things.
Just like your mouth goes after the foods for which you have already developed an appetite, so your child is going to follow after the things for which he has developed an appetite.
Whatever you develop an appetite for, that’s what you’re going to want. That’s true not only in relation to physical appetites, but also to the appetites of the soul, mind, will, and emotions. Your child has appetites and is going to follow them, whatever they might happen to be. As parents, it’s our responsibility to help our children cultivate the right appetites rather than the wrong ones. A child either has parents who will pay the price to dedicate him to God and train him to develop the right appetites, or he has parents who will not pay the price. This child feeds on the wrong things, develops an appetite for them, and then keeps going back after them.
Proverbs says, “But the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.” His appetite reaches out after foolishness.
Your body can develop a taste for something that will destroy you, and so can your soul. Why are appetites important? Because they determine the direction you’ll choose for yourself in life.
In Isaiah 7:14-15, we see that the
Messiah would have an appetite for butter and honey. Why butter and honey? The
immediate historical context of the passage is referring to the time after the
Assyrian army would overrun
If you’re too poor to be able to give your children everything they might want (or if you could afford it, but choose not to), congratulations! You qualify to raise wise, godly children. You don’t raise wise, godly children by feeding them on the complicated things of life, but on the simple things.
However, there’s more to this “butter and honey” diet than simply the fact that it was the common man’s food. To fully understand it, we need to look at another phrase from the Bible that is very similar to this one, and which occurs 20 times in the Old Testament. In Exodus 3:8 we read, “And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.” Later, in Numbers 13, when the 12 Israeli spies came from checking out the land, they said,“We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey.” Now wait a minute. The verse in Isaiah said butter and honey, and this says milk and honey. What’s the difference?
I thought I understood the concept of milk and honey, but as we already noted, Isaiah 7:15 does not say “milk and honey,” it says “butter and honey.” We know God says what He means, so why the difference in this passage? We find the answer just seven verses later, in Isaiah 7:22. “And it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk that they shall give he shall eat butter: for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the land.”
There it is. Where there is an abundance of milk there can be butter. Butter is a by-product of milk. Butter and honey is a step beyond milk and honey. In other words, if we want our children to know how to refuse evil and choose good, we should not just give them the best, but the best of the best.
Romans nails this down further. “I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple [the word means ignorant] concerning evil.” This truth clashes with the prevailing philosophy of our day. People say, “Well, you know, you can shelter your children too much.” I want to tell you that you are not likely to shelter your children too much. You shelter them so that they get the best of the best, and then you go with them into the world to impact the world for Jesus Christ until they are strong enough to stand on their own and go out without you.
Now, let me tell you something that is very important here. A child will not automatically choose good and refuse evil. The Bible tells us that a child left to himself will bring his mother to shame. A child left to himself will automatically and naturally choose evil and refuse good—not the other way around. But if you will keep him on a simple diet of outstanding spiritual things rather than fleshly things, he will know how to choose good. He will develop such a taste for those simple, outstanding things in the developmental years of his life that the Bible says he will not walk away from that taste for the rest of his life.
I heard Elizabeth Elliott being interviewed once, and she shared some profound statements that I jotted down. She said:
“There were six of us children. I asked the others and none of us ever remember challenging our parents’ authority in our teen years. Our lives were so shaped before that there were no problems. We grew up in the Great Depression in a very modest home on a very modest salary. Often my father would call home in the afternoon and announce that dinner guests were coming home that night. I have the guest book from our home. I have 42 different missionaries that came to our home at that time.”
The interviewer said to her, “You know, you make raising children sound easy.” Elizabeth Elliott replied, “Not easy, but simple.” A butter and honey diet, the best of the best, with the influence of God.
Think about King David. He became
You must protect a child against developing the wrong appetites. If your child already has some wrong appetites, then remember this thought: The way to increase an appetite is to feed it. The way to decrease an appetite is to starve it.
Be careful of those things which hamper creativity and imagination, such as television and video games. Without these things, children will have the opportunity to read, stretch their creativity, interact with others, and exercise their young bodies and minds more constructively.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have some of the electronic devices of our day. But it is so incredibly easy to abuse them and develop an insatiable appetite to have more and more. We need to carefully guard our children’s appetites.
I have parents of young teens call me and say, “I don’t understand why my child is like he is. He wants to run with his friends. He has bad habits and no appetite for spiritual things. He listens to wrong music. He feeds on dirty movies and magazines, and I think he’s probably into other things that I don’t even know about. We’ve gone to church all his life.”
The question is not so much about what these parents did, but what appetites they allowed their children to develop. I’m thrilled if you go to church regularly, but going to church for an hour and a half on Sunday morning will not train children to refuse evil and choose good. It’s all about the appetites they develop.
Put your children on a butter and honey diet and they will know how to refuse evil and choose good. God’s way is the best way in raising children. May we have the courage, the kindness, the discipline, and the strength to go against the tide of our society and develop the right appetites for ourselves and our children.
Dr. S. M.
has been the pastor of
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 the Mar/Apr ’08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Learn more at http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com