In Proverbs 22:6 Solomon says,
Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
The word "train" that Solomon uses here is interesting because it is only used twice in the entire Bible. The first time in Genesis 14:14 where Abraham rushed to Lot's rescue bringing his "trained" servants. And this time in Proverbs in reference to training up a child. The word originally meant something that was narrow, in some instances it meant to choke with a rope. It eventually came to mean to train by disciplining, by narrowing other options down to only one - obedience. Jesus speaks of this kind of spiritual discipline when He talks about believers following the narrow rather than broad way in Matthew 7:14.
Solomon says that a child that is given this training, this narrow path as a young person will remain with it even after you are gone and no longer providing the way. Of course this passage says a lot in two verses and for the admonition here to work there are several factors that Solomon also assumes that are there as well:
- That there is proper training in God's way, which is the way one should go.
- That the child actually accepts and follows the way, receives the training, does not depart from the training.
The promise is not that if you give the training, the child will automatically receive it; will always be faithful to it; will return to it if he/she abandons it. The promise is that if you train a child properly and that child receives and keeps the training, you can be sure that even after you're gone, that child, man, old man will remain on the way even without your help or encouragement. What Solomon doesn't do, however, is tell you how to train up a child. For this we need to go to Deuteronomy. In this fifth book of the Bible, we receive teaching from Moses on how to train up our children so they may follow the narrow way into eternity.
Training for Eternity
The book of Deuteronomy contains Moses' final teaching and warning to the Jewish people before he died. He had led them in the desert for 40 years and now they were poised to enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. Before they left he reviewed their stay in the desert and also repeats the important commands and warnings that he had made throughout their wanderings in the wilderness.
In Chapter 4 of this book he turns his attention to the teaching of the children and he warns them that they should both live and teach in such a way that not only their children will be faithful but also their children's children will be faithful. This admonition to teach beyond one generation is important for several reasons:
- Each generation is in danger of forgetting, and if they do, the following generation won't learn.
- Faith is taught and modeled, not inherited genetically.
- Satan is at work to break the cycle of faith from one generation to the other.
- He wants the next generation weaker, not stronger. (Ask yourselves, will your children be stronger than you?)
- Generational teaching is necessary because each generation must come to faith in the same way as the previous one.
- From the very beginning everyone has had to believe and obey God, put aside the world and commit themselves to holy and dedicated living.
- There's no easy or automatic way to do that - it must be handed down through the teaching and training of each generation.
So for these reasons Moses is exhorting the people to teach and train their children and grandchildren diligently. In verse 9 he provides the time tested method to achieve this task:
Before you train your child it would be a good idea to review your own life, your own training - are you in good spiritual shape? When my son, Paul, was in the military, he told me that all the marches and battle drills are led by their Sergeants. He runs every mile, he crosses every river, he sleeps in the same mud that Paul does. The sergeant is in as good if not better shape than the men he leads. Moses begins with this idea when he talks about training in God's way. He says that parents or leaders must:
1. Give heed to yourself
Review your own conduct, attitude, spiritual maturity before training another. You not only have to know it, you have to model it for them to believe and want to follow. Some parents think that if they provide the theory and get someone else like the minister or Bible teacher to provide the model, this will work. Kids do and react primarily to their parents - all others are a distant second as far as role models are concerned.
2. Keep your soul diligently
It's not the ideas that you're a perfect parent, or that you've done everything the right way that impresses them. It's that you really care about doing the right thing. It's that you really care about your soul. This makes them care about theirs. Parents who neglect their spiritual lives, don't put any effort into growing spiritually but are really concerned about their children's spiritual life - don't get it. If you don't care for and preserve your own soul diligently, why should they? Some children will not respond no matter what you do, but you can be absolutely certain your child will not follow the narrow way if you are not diligently seeking for it yourself.
3. Grow in your knowledge of God
In those days the knowledge of God that they had to pass on to their children were the things they had seen Him do. The miracles, the experiences in the desert, the teaching from Moses. They had to continually recall and review these things so the memory of them would remain fresh and they could accurately pass them on to the next generation. Today, of course, we have God's word recorded and readily available in the Bible.
The record is different (a written versus a visual one) but the admonition is the same. Those who train must themselves have the ready knowledge constantly before them. You cannot have your child read the Bible if he/she never sees you read. Furthermore, you cannot have your child live the narrow way if you are not able to teach him daily about life - daily life - from the Bible.
When there are questions and conflicts parents need to be able to explain what the Bible says that they must do. The only way to teach them God's way and word is to have that word close to your own heart so that the words you speak in directing your child are words that come from God's word, God's way, God's will. And so in order to properly train up a child one must first train themselves by taking care that their conduct and speech, their spiritual life and training is in line with God's will as found in His word.
Once you've trained yourself:
Train Your Children
Moses gives this instruction because it's easy to let ourselves think that our children will simply "soak up" our faith or our moral positions. In order for them to be trained in the faith they must be taught the faith and this requires effort on the part of the parents:
They have to make time to do those things that will nurture faith (Bible Class, camps, home devos, little talks about Christian living). Teachable moments come up but if you're never home or preoccupied when you're there you will miss opportunities. Parents have to develop habits that reinforce the narrow way. Mid week meetings. Praying at home. Bible reading, serving at church. Things that help a child put into practice what they learn.
Parents need to keep the world out of their homes by monitoring T.V. and music and books and the computer. They need to help young people to love and serve and support the church. All these activities require parents to be proactive and aggressive in training their children in the ways of Christ and the Christian lifestyle. If we don't train our children, someone else will and it won't be in the Christian lifestyle.
You've trained yourself, your children:
Train Your Grandchildren
They say once you have children your work is never over because you try to help raise and influence your grandchildren. Solomon says in proverbs,
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children.
- Proverbs 13:22
Moses adds the following idea: "A wise man brings even his grandchildren to the Lord".
I really appreciate the grandparents in this congregation who take special care in teaching and training their grandchildren. Some are doing it because their children are neglecting to do this. Others are building a strong third generation of faithfulness in their families. Either way I commend and encourage these grandparents who, when it is possible, become involved in the training up of their grandkids. I tell you that a family with three generations who follow after the Lord usually find that their descendants don't depart from the way established by parents and grandparents. - Just as Solomon said in his proverb.
As I close I have a question that we should ask ourselves as Christian parents: How long will your family call upon the name of the Lord when you're gone?
Will it be like the majority of Jews in the Old Testament who never remained faithful for more than one generation at a time? Or will your family be like the one Moses and Solomon describe - who because they have trained themselves and consciously have trained their children to train their own children - remain faithful generation after generation.
My prayer for my family has continually been that there is a Mazzalongo descendant calling on the name of the Lord when the Lord finally comes - whether it be in one generation or one hundred generations. For our future generations to be faithful we must dedicate ourselves today as parents and grandparents and great grandparents that we will train our children towards this end - encourage their children to do the same. Won't you commit to this today?
If you need to become a Christian or strength to begin training yourself so you can train others in your family come now.