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In a previous article, I had us reexamine Proverbs 22:6. In this proverb, God states, Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. 

Clearing Up Misunderstandings
Years ago, this verse was understood as a discipleship verse. Parents thought, “if I train up my child in the Christian faith, then when he is older, he will not depart from that faith.” It was understood as a promise. As a result of thinking this way, when young people walked away from the faith, these parents felt guilt. “What did I do wrong?” they asked themselves. Others, who believed this mechanistic view of salvation, also thought these parents must have done something wrong.

In that earlier article, I pointed out how this verse is a proverb, not a promise. And it applies to child-raising not discipleship. At the end I highlighted another article in which a prominent scholar argues that we are translating the verse wrong but it still makes the same point. Dr. Gordon Hugenberger writes that the verse should be translated, Train up a child according to his [sinful] way (by being passive) and when he is old he will not depart from it (those sinful habits). Read in this way, the verse becomes a warning. In other words, a child left to itself disgraces his mother.

Whether positive encouragement or negative warning, the point is clear. It is generally true that how a child is trained stays with him or her. There are multiple exceptions to every proverb. But they are just that, exceptions to the rule.

Because of this past misunderstanding, this verse has fallen out of favor. I have not heard any parent mention it in a very long time. This is unfortunate. It is still God’s holy and helpful word.

I would suggest a younger generation needs to study, meditate on, and recover the importance of Proverbs 22:6. How?

By recovering the importance of training! 

Training My Child
Training is not words. Training is positive and negative action to develop the habits and character of a child. Training is building muscle memory and values by repeated action. In fact, in Ephesians 6:4 it is one-half of our tool set as parents. Fathers are to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord.

I fear that young parents who desire to “shepherd the heart” and “focus on the gospel” in their parenting have lost the emphasis on training. In the process we have lost molding the character. While character training in children cannot regenerate the heart, it does shape it. Intentional Christian parenting will both speak the gospel and shape the will.

And that brings us back to our verse. To paint with a broad brush, younger parents today think that “children must be children.” Indeed children are not adults. But in this statement is also an unwillingness to impose and train the will. This idea of “not messing up” our children comes more from Rousseau than from the Bible.

Train, Train, and Retrain
As parents, we are called to train, train, and retrain. Build muscle memory even before there is understanding. Although we did not do everything right by any means, here are a few things that Sharon and I trained our young children to do that I think have borne good fruit.

Appropriate to their age, we tried to train them:

  • To stand and sing in church; to sit and color quietly during church.
  • To give part of their money to the church in the offering plate.
  • To greet adults with a handshake while looking them in the eye.
  • To sit at the dinner table with some semblance of manners.
  • To ask to be excused when leaving the dinner table.
  • To walk through some type of apology and ask forgiveness.
  • To ask us the right way for something.
  • To interrupt us politely.
  • To come when called.

Think about it. If you don’t start training them when they are young, when will you start? How old must they be before they say “Hello” and shake hands with adults? How old must they be before they need to interrupt you politely? I know it is a long process of training and retraining. And yes, one can train too early. But that does not characterize our country’s younger parents.

Training to Shape the Will
Training the character and the will is not against the gospel. We don’t wait until a child professes Christ to start shaping the will. Furthermore, shaping the will of our child will not squash their innocence or their creativity. Instead, it will shape their character in a godly direction before the sin nature shapes it in another direction. Habits are hard to develop and break. How much better to give the Holy Spirit a character pointed in the right direction?

Dad and Mom, train up your child in the way he or she should act and when he or she is older, it is very likely that much of that training will stay with them.