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A Little Ocean Ambiance
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Doctrinal Writings
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Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
Vassar, Michigan
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
One of the most encouraging and helpful verses in the Bible has become one of the most controversial among Christians in our day! Couples have claimed Proverbs 22:6 over many years, as they brought up their children with the hope that following God's plan would produce positive results. Yet now almost everything written or said about it serves to debunk this verse and rob it of its significance. People are saying that it does not mean that godly parents can train a child to turn out right, even though that is exactly what it seems to say! Bible teachers haven't always taken this approach to Proverbs 22:6. Many of us were encouraged by preachers of the past to claim it as a promise, and to rear our kids on the basis of the idea that if we train them God's way, they will serve the Lord as adults. One wonders why so many have abandoned this hopeful interpretation of what the verse says. Some assert that Proverbs 22:6 is not really a divine promise, and some go farther to tell us that there are no real promises in the whole Book of Proverbs! Very little application of Proverbs 22:6 is going on today, and the results are hurting God's people badly.

It is important that we all see what the verse says. "Train up" is a good English translation of the Hebrew word chanak, which has the idea of initiating a person or getting him off to a good start. In the original language, Proverbs 22:6 says that if we start a child on the right path he'll end up there! Proverbs has a lot to say about "the way" or path a young person follows. Chapter one warns him of the consequences of following sinful "ways" (verses 15-19, and 28-32). Chapter two commends "the paths of judgment" and "the way of his [God's] saints" (verse 8), promises God's help in understanding "every good path" (verse 9), offers protection from "the way of the evil man" and "the ways of darkness" (verses 10-15), and points to "the way of good men" and "the paths of the righteous." The importance of what path one follows is repeatedly emphasized (See Proverbs 3:6, 17, 23; 4:10-19, 25-27; 6:20-23; 7:24-27; 8:20; and 9:6). The message of Proverbs 22:6 is that if parents will "train" their children according to "the way" that is right for them, parental influence will direct their wills to such a great extent that the pattern will be followed throughout life! The Old Testament scholar Delitzch said that such training establishes a pattern that is "imprinted, inbred, becomes accustomed." The verse says that if you train them right, children will turn out right!

To say this, however, is worrisome to many. They seem to fear for God's reputation since many who were reared in Christian homes have grown up to live wickedly. In a sense, these re-interpreters of the verse are well-meaning, although one might suspect that they are more concerned about protecting parents than protecting God! The popularity of the disarmed explanations of Proverbs 22:6 has grown as the number of preachers' kids gone astray has grown. Several speakers on the subject of Biblical child-rearing have altered their "take" on this verse as their own offspring have taken disappointing directions. But the arguments against the plain meaning of the verse are empty.

It has been asserted that while Proverbs 22:6 does present a valid principle, it does not really contain a promise. The principle is good, but there are no guarantees. But does not every valid principle contain a certain degree of promise? Notice the principle in Proverbs 22:8.

"He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail."
This principle is found in the New Testament, too.
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." (Galatians 6:7-9)
Since "you reap what you sow" is a valid principle, can we not expect that sowing to the Spirit will eventually bring a good harvest, and that sowing to the flesh will bring a bad harvest? Is there not a promise in the principle? Let us consider the principle in Proverbs 22:9.
"He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor."
This principle is also found in the New Testament.
"Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." (Luke 6:38)
If this principle is valid, then cannot one who gives expect to be "given unto"? Does not the principle contain a promise? Every valid principle implies a promise. If the principle of Proverbs 22:6 is reliable, cannot we expect a child who is trained right to follow the right way, even when he is old? If not, then what on earth is the principle of Proverbs 22:6? In what practical way does it work if not in Biblical child-rearing producing positive, predictable results?

This verse is not saying, as some claim, that children brought up under the influence of Christianity will sometimes stray from their moral and spiritual roots but will always come back to them, at least when they are old. One problem with this interpretation is that you would never get it by reading the verse in the original language. Another problem is that, if it were true that the strays will always come back by old age, then God would be promising old age to them! Of course, the Lord has made no such promises to rebellious children, and actually He seems to say the opposite in Ephesians 6:1-3!

Actually, very much in the Book of Proverbs is based on the concept that parents who are diligent in following God's child-rearing plan can expect their children to go the right way!

"A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother."
Here in Proverbs 10:1 we are taught that the future happiness or heaviness of parents is conditioned upon how their kids turn out. The same truth is taught in Proverbs 29.
"The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." (verse 15)
"Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul." (verse 17)
Now if a person's future well-being were conditioned on an outcome determined largely by chance, life would be a frightening thing, would it not? If our children's manner of life were strictly a matter of their personal choices and if the influence of their parents can have no deciding effect, parenting would be a terrifying business, would it not? To think that our "senior years" will be blessed or cursed by our adult children more than by any other factor, but that there is nothing we can do to ensure the positive outcome, is an idea that would discourage Christian couples from becoming parents! Is it not? And it is an idea foreign to the book of Proverbs.

"Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rood of correction shall drive it far from him." (Proverbs 22:15)
It sounds as if God's plan will work, does it not? Anyone who reads the Proverbs can see that it is about a father imparting wisdom to a son. Simply stated, the Biblical formula for training a son to be a wise man combines three essentials: delight (Proverbs 3:11-12, 4:3-4), instruction (Proverbs 4:1-2, 5:1-2), and correction (Proverbs 13:24, 19:18, 22:15, 23:13-14). Implementing this plan will require time, sacrifice, prayer, effort, consistency, and cooperation. It is a big task. Training up a child in the way he should go is much more than just taking him to church or enrolling him in a Christian school. It is more than teaching him Bible verses or sending him to summer camp. It involves the dedication and focused energy of both parents, but its reward is that it works! Christian parents must learn to have family Bible reading daily, to spank effectively, to live as good examples, to pray for their children, to maintain Biblical standards, to respect God's authority system, to teach the right things, to have the right priorities, to love their kids, and to aim them down the right path. Certainly the "children of godly parents" often go astray, but not the ones that are trained the Bible way! Godly people often do not know how to bring up their kids, but people who practice godly child-rearing get results. Notice the principle taught in Proverbs 29: 21!
He that delicately bringeth up his servant from a child shall have him become his son at the length."
Apparently the method of bringing up a child taught in Proverbs will be effective even with a youngster not related by blood! Since the proper training of children can be expected to send them down the right path, parents are held responsible in the Bible for the behavior of their kids.

"And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." (Genesis 18:17-19)
"In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not." (I Samuel 3:12-13)
"A bishop then must be . . . one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) . . ." (I Timothy 3:2, 4-5)
It is not only Proverbs 22:6, but actually all of Scripture, that says there is a way to train children to live God's way. Denial of this truth has had several serious consequences. Christian parents have become less diligent in learning and implementing the Biblical plan for rearing their kids. With every excuse for a child's misbehavior now being supported and accepted by their brethren and their teachers, they have less concern and feel less responsible for how their kids are turning out. Couples are missing out on one of life's greatest ventures of faith: rearing children based on the Bible, and believing that what God says will work! The Christian family is suffering because the promise of Proverbs 22:6 has been lost to so many.

Christians have become too dependent upon "the system" as the means to see their children live for the Lord. The Bible teaches that parents who implement properly the three aspects of Christian child-training can influence their children's wills so thoroughly that they will choose the right path. Yet most parents still think that the character of their kids will be shaped to a large degree by influences outside their family. Christians took their kids out of the public schools because "the system" was not working. It was the right thing to do, but not for the reasons many had for doing it. The new "system" for many families was to keep them in church, get them into the Christian school, put them in the youth group, and send them to a Christian college. This "system" was supposed to turn them out right. However, very often even the new "system" failed, too.

So now many are scrambling to devise a new "system" to turn out godly children. Maybe it will involve home-schooling, and maybe even with home-churching. The bad kids at church or school must be corrupting our kids! Maybe the new "system" will take them out of Sunday School or youth programs and keep them in the family pew. The Sunday School teachers and youth leaders must be misguiding the children. The public school "system" didn't work; the Christian school "system" failed; therefore we must try a new "system" for the kids' sake. Yet the main problem in all of this is the thinking that credits any school or church system with bringing up the kids! Church and school have important roles to play in child-rearing, but successful upbringing always centers in the home. Church or school problems that undermine Biblical training by parents must be addressed, but to think that any "system" outside the home is responsible for successes or failures with youth is to miss the point of Proverbs 22:6. Changing "the system" is not the answer; parental responsibility is!

Spiritual problems of every kind in the churches have been caused by the neglect of Proverbs 22:6. People learn to respect authority, to resist temptation, to love the Lord, and to work with others at home! Homes without the faith that children can and should be trained to do right are failing to give us the kind of young people and adults that our churches need. Both school and church discipline problems come ultimately from bad upbringing. Rebellion in kids and in church members results to a great degree from failure at home.

Older Christians are neglecting to influence their wayward adult children because of false ideas about Proverbs 22:66. It's hard to take responsibility for wrong things our children do, but it's the right way to handle the problem of sinful kids. "Senior saints" find in their hearts the humility it takes to admit that they didn't eat right, exercise enough, save enough money, or make correct career decisions when they were young. Why can they not admit that they failed in some aspect of the training of their children? To deny responsibility for the behavior of an adult child often leads one not to take responsibility to try to influence that child now! The misinterpretation of Proverbs 22:6 is often seen as an attempt to protect God, when it is usually really an attempt to protect ourselves. Yet if we failed our children while they were young, this is no reason to fail them now. They need the influence of their godly parents all of their lives! Admit your mistakes, and do all you can to bring them back to God.

We really must revive faith in Proverbs 22:6 among God's people! Rediscovering this promise should not lead to cockiness among young parents. It will not take long for them to realize that nobody does everything right all the time. We do not sustain perfection in other areas of Christian living, and we will not avoid mistakes in Christian parenting either. Christian parents must lean on the Lord for the power to follow the Book of Proverbs. They must pray hard for God to overrule their weakness and work mightily in the lives of their kids! Godly offspring are not strictly the products of their parents' hard work. The secret is God working through the faith of their parents, and through the commitment to His plan that results from this faith in the promise of Proverbs 22:6.

DID YOU KNOW? The new book by Dr. Rick Flanders is available from Preach the Word Ministries (P.O. Box 242, Menominee Falls, WI 53052). The title is BACK TO NORMAL: Understanding Revival, and the cost is $7.00.
Monthly Article
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
(517) 823-7848

Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data

Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)

Articles published in the;
Sword of the Lord
Baptist Preacher,
Christian View of the News,
Pulpit Helps,
Maranatha Watchman
Church Bus News,
and other national periodicals.

His Majesty's Service
In His Service,
Teaching the Word
To Glorify Our Lord
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