Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
This verse has been inaccurately interpreted and therefore often incorrectly misunderstood by many parents. Historically, we have interpreted this verse to mean, “if you raise your child correctly, they will love and serve Jesus, but if they don’t follow Jesus, then you blew it big time.” That interpretation may be a bit exaggerated, but it comes close to the way many teach the verse.
Is that really what this proverb is saying? Is God placing the burden for the spiritual direction of the child solely on the ability of the parent to train them correctly? Could this verse have another meaning?
1. This saying is a proverb and not a promise.
A proverb is a short saying that expresses a general truth for practical, godly living. It speaks of a truism, not a guaranteed reality. More often than not, what is said in these proverbs is the case, but it is not always assured. Thus, you cannot say that a child trained in godliness will always stay on the path of faith, nor can you say that a poorly trained child will never be on the path of faith.
Too often, this verse has either caused parents to boast of the way they raised they children, or beat themselves up for the mistakes they made in raising their children. That is not what Solomon is communicating. What then is the proverbial truth that is being taught?
2. The admonition is to put your children on the right path.
The term “train” comes from the Hebrew word with means “to start on the right path, to begin well, or to inaugurate.” It carries the idea of starting a child’s life along a particular way, specifically the way of wisdom (Proverbs 1:2-7). The principle truth being that if your children begin their life fearing the Lord, seeking after godly wisdom and avoiding foolish sins, they are more assured to live a life that honors and pleases God. What does this “right path training entail?
- You should instruct your children.
Proverbs 1:3 – To receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice and equity.
Those are tremendous principles for your child to learn. They are all founded upon biblical truth. Wise dealing speaks of acting, reacting and responding with prudence and discretion (Proverbs 19:11). Righteousness speaks of that which is just, right, and in line with God’s Word and His will (Proverb 21:21). Justice speaks of correct actions, which are governed by righteousness (Micah 6:8), and equity is impartiality. It means to treat everyone equally, as made in the image of God (I Peter 2:17).
Imagine if your children, from a young age, understood these truths and put them into practice. Wouldn’t that put them on the right path? Remember that this responsibility to instruct falls on you – “Train up (your) child in the way he/she should go.” What an awesome responsibility!
- You should model a godly lifestyle.
Proverbs 1:8 – Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Remember that children not only learn by what they hear, but also by what they see. If they hear you as a parent say one thing, but your actions say something else, that sends them a confusing and mixed message. Often we live by the adage, “Do as I say and not as I do.” Frankly, that will not cut it with kids. They want to see consistency and not hypocrisy. You must exemplify wise dealing, righteousness, justice and equity.
- You should demonstrate for them a love and passion for Jesus.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is for them to see that you love Jesus with “all your heart, all your soul, and all your might” (Deut. 6:5).
3. Finally, remember that ultimately, the training of your child is the work of the Holy Spirit.
You cannot make your kids to be followers of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the Agent of spiritual change. You can put your children on the right path, model godly behavior and show them what it means to truly love the Lord, but only the Holy Spirit can work in their lives. So fervently pray for your kids and trust the Holy Spirit to do a powerful work in their lives.