What Does it Mean to Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go?
By Brent Rinehart
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
What a seemingly simple, but overwhelmingly complicated verse! It’s one of the most quoted – and often misquoted – verses in the Bible.
People often use this verse as a guarantee that if you raise your children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), they’ll always stay on the right path. That interpretation can be problematic, particularly for the “good parents” I know who have seen their older children stray from the faith. We all know that we can try our best, and sometimes the results are different than we would have hoped. God has given us free will to make our own choices, after all.
I’m no theologian or Bible scholar, so I’m not an expert in these matters. I am a parent however, and I do know that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Regardless of the camp you may fall in on the interpretation of this complicated verse, I believe there are several important implications we should all be able to agree on.
You have a responsibility as a parent. Throughout Scripture, God is pretty clear about the responsibility He places in the hands of parents.We are to teach our children what matters to God. It doesn't mean forcing them into a certain set of beliefs or rituals; rather, it means demonstrating a real faith – one that puts the focus on loving God and loving others. In my view, there's not a greater purpose we can have in life than reflecting God's image for our children to see.
You have influence as a parent. Children are sponges. And, my kids seem to soak up everything – good and bad. They often mimic the mannerisms of my wife and me. They’ll do and say the same things we do from time to time. And I can certainly tell who my daughter has been hanging out with by the phrases she says or the songs she sings.
I’ve often thought about it this way: the moon reflects light from the sun. And just as the moon reflects the sun, as a Christian, I should reflect the Son. We were made in God’s image, but we are not perfect like Him. We are works in progress. As we grow closer to Him, there should be some family resemblance between us and our Father. The things I say and do should be characteristic of Him. And, here’s why that’s important. If I truly reflect Him and shine His glory, others will, including my children. “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
You will have results – either good or bad – as a parent. The years our children are in our homes are critical. These are the formative years when they are developing their entire worldview. The majority of adult Christians became Christians before turning 18. Actually, many follow Christ between the ages of 4-14. On the other hand, we’ve all seen the troubling numbers of young people (the “nones”) who are much more likely to lack any religion at all. Belief systems tend to form early, and while they can – and do sometimes change – it’s critical for parents to have an active role in a child’s spiritual development early on.
It’s not likely that Proverbs 22:6 is a guarantee of success for committed, Christ-following parents. But, it is important to recognize the truth the verse contains. God has given us an incredible responsibility by placing children in our care. The family is a primary mechanism God uses to grows His kingdom and grow His people. As a result, it’s our duty to teach our children about God. We are in an influential position, and what we do today will matter in our kids’ lives tomorrow.
Editor’s Note: Part of this devotional was taken from What Does it Mean to Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go? by Brent Rinehart. You can read the full blog post here.
Listen to our FREE Christmas Podcast: The Characters of Christmas - The Surprising People in Jesus' Family: