“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
The training of children is done in two ways – by instruction (teaching them what is right) and by discipline (punishing them for doing what is wrong). Parents must take their responsibility to train their children seriously. Failing to train children in the right way will bring shame upon the parents. The wise man said, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15). So let us consider how parents ought to train their children.
Primary Responsibility of Parents
The primary responsibility for raising children does not lie with other family members, churches, or the state; it belongs to the parents. Paul wrote: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). As a man’s wife is to be his “help meet” (Genesis 2:18, KJV), a mother is also to help in bringing up children (1 Timothy 5:10). Others can help with the training of children – Paul implied that Timothy’s grandmother helped raise him (2 Timothy 1:5) – but except in cases of loss or desertion of one or both of the parents, such help should be secondary.
While it is important to raise children to be productive members of society when they are grown, it is more important that parents bring them up in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). The goal must be to raise them to be faithful Christians. This thought will be discussed more in the final lesson. But we need to have this in mind as we consider the training of children. Parents should certainly want to train their children to be good workers, citizens, friends, and family members; but it should all be within the context of being a good Christian.
The responsibility of parents to train children must be taken seriously. Jesus made an important point about offending children when He compared a citizen of His kingdom with a child:
“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:5-6).
The instruction and discipline that parents give to their children, as well as the example they show them [see previous lesson], must help lead them to the Lord. If parents, by the way in which they raise their children, stand between them and the Lord – causing a hindrance to their faithfulness – they will be held accountable for that. It is certainly true that a parent may do everything right and a child will still refuse to obey the Lord (Ezekiel 18:5-13), but the parent must be careful not to contribute to such unfaithfulness.
Training Through Instruction
Generally, parents understand the importance of their children receiving instruction as part of a secular education (math, history, science, etc.). But as important as this type of education is, it is far more important that children receive a spiritual education. Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). His point was that while it is necessary to take care of our physical needs, it is far more important to take care of our spiritual needs and responsibilities. Therefore, instructing children in the way of the truth should be a parent’s top priority.
The primary source of such spiritual instruction must be the word of God. Paul reminded Timothy, “From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). The term “sacred writings” has reference to the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16). The word of God shows us what is true (Psalm 119:160) and directs us in the way we should go (Psalm 119:105). As Timothy learned the word of God, he learned the way of wisdom, salvation, and faith. Parents must teach their children to know the Bible.
As parents instruct their children in the ways of God, this instruction must be regular and consistent. Notice the command given in the Old Law:
“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk to them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
While this command is part of the Old Law, it was still “written for our instruction” (Romans 15:4). The lesson we can take from the passage above is that our lives, and the lives of our children, must be saturated with the word of God. Spiritual instruction given to children should not be limited to one or two Bible classes a week at the local church. Parents, as the ones with the primary responsibility to teach them, must teach their children regularly and consistently.
The parents’ instruction must not only show children the truth, but also prepare them for those who would promote error and wickedness.
- Prepare them for human philosophy – “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). The wisdom of the world is contrary to the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:21). Parents must teach children the difference between right and wrong, truth and error, wisdom and foolishness – not as the world would define those concepts, but as they have been defined in God’s word.
- Prepare them for “science” – “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’” (1 Timothy 6:20). One of the strongest attacks against the truth comes from those who promote the godless theory of evolution. It is called “science,” but it is not. Anything pertaining to the origin of the universe is a matter of faith. Yet from an early age, children will be taught in school that they must reject what the Bible says about the origin of the universe (Genesis 1) and accept what “science” says about it. Children must be warned and prepared for this.
- Prepare them for mockers – “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3). Those who oppose the truth and refuse to submit to God will ridicule God, His word, and His followers. Parents must prepare their children so that they do not fold when they are bullied and pressured into rejecting God and His ways.
- Prepare them for evil influences (peer pressure) – “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood, let us ambush the innocent without cause; let us swallow them alive like Sheol, even whole, as those who go down to the pit; we will find all kinds of precious wealth, we will fill our houses with spoil; throw in your lot with us, we shall all have one purse,’ my son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path” (Proverbs 1:10-15). Children want friends. They want to fit in. But they must be taught that it is not good to be friends with those who would lead them into engaging in wicked behavior. Paul warned, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33). If parents do not prepare their children to resist peer pressure, then the good instruction they gave them could be lost.
Training Through Discipline
If parents are to bring up children in the Lord, they must instruct them in regards to the truth. However, instruction alone is not enough. Even setting the right example (which we noticed in the previous lesson) is not enough. Sometimes corrective discipline is necessary. The wise man said, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).
In order to understand how to administer discipline, we must understand what “the rod of discipline” is. Though this may not require that parents use a literal rod, they are to use something (a hand, a belt, etc.) that can inflict pain. It may result in the children “crying” (Proverbs 19:18, KJV) and produce “stripes that wound” (Proverbs 20:30). These passages do not justify child abuse, which would be sinful, but are meant to show that discipline should cause some pain for the child so as to reinforce the instruction given by the parents.
It is important that discipline is carried out in love, not in anger. Discipline that is rooted in anger and hatred results in abuse. Discipline that is rooted in love is the type of correction that is commended to us in Scripture. Notice what the Hebrew writer said as he compared earthly fathers with our heavenly Father: “For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:10-11). Discipline must be done for the long-term good of the child, not as a way for parents to vent their anger or blow off steam.
Notice a few passages from the book of Proverbs that give us instructions regarding the discipline of children:
- “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24). Some parents contend that it is more loving to refrain from disciplining their children. But true love does not withhold discipline/punishment from a child, but strives diligently to drive away the foolishness that is bound up in his heart (Proverbs 22:15).
- “Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death” (Proverbs 19:18). Discipline must be administered in the hope that the child will be better for it. The wise man does not instruct parents to discipline their children because they are angry at them or because they need a way to vent their frustrations. It is for the good of the child. It is not abuse (desiring his death), but is to help lead him toward the truth and away from evil.
- “Stripes that wound scour away evil, and strokes reach the innermost parts” (Proverbs 20:30). Discipline, when properly administered, will cause pain for the child. This is necessary so that the parents’ message – the instruction that we discussed earlier – sinks in and the children learn that they should not forget or ignore it.
The goal of discipline must always be to direct the child in the way of truth. “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol” (Proverbs 23:13-14). Discipline must be administered in order to reinforce the instruction that is given.
The training of children is done primarily through instruction and discipline. It is meant to do two things: (1) to lead them away from the evil influences of the world, and (2) to lead them to the way of God. The final two lessons will expand upon these ideas: (1) raising children in a wicked world, and (2) raising children to be Christians.