Here is probably one of the most well known proverbs that there is. It has to deal with how to rear a child. Too often it is quoted more like, raise up a child and church - and he won't rebel or depart from going to church or doing the church thing. Many a devastated parent reads this verse and wonders why little Johnny doesn't go to church any longer - or want anything to do with the Lord. Let's take a close look at this verse to see what is DOES say and what is DOES NOT say to us as we seek to rear our children for the Lord.
The word train is very important to know here - as we see that the "training" of the child in the way he should go is imperative to the blessing of him not departing from that way when he is old. This word is the Hebrew word, "chanak" which means to train or to dedicate. The root word for "chanak" means to narrow something - thus to initiate, discipline, or train it to that narrow path. Ah, here we begin to see what God is saying to us about child training. We are to narrow the child's way - by training and instruction - so that the child's way conforms itself to God's way. This narrowing had to do with the opening of a path. It was a constricting of that opening so that someone went a specific way as they sought to enter the path before them. Let's take a moment and talk about how this is applied to child training.
When we talk about "narrowing" a child's way - we are talking about discipline. When they are little it means instructing - but also if necessary corporal punishment (spanking if you will) in order to train the child that there are certain things you just do not do. If you choose to do these things there will be punishment. It means we MUST correct our children when they act out in a way that is contrary to God's way. When we refuse to do this - we are not helping our child find his way - we are confusing them. Study after study has shown that children desire boundaries - and that they will test the ones that are imposed to see if they are truly boundaries or not. Create godly boundaries for a child (oh, and by the way, live by them yourself as well) and a child will have a great deal of stability in his or her life. In many ways, to rear a child in this way is simply to prepare him for a life of discipleship later. Jesus calls us to "Make disciples of all the nations." This means our own children as well. When we teach them that disicpline is the "way of life," we prepare them for the reality that reward and punishment - really are the way of life. They will face such things all the remainder of their days. It is best to begin young teaching them such things - and showing them through our discipline that there are very real consequences for actions outside of the Scriptures.
Too many see child reading in this permission society as letting a child find his own way in the world without the parents doing much to get in his way. This is a sure way to lose a child - to have them follow after their own sinful nature and ruin themselves by indulging their flesh and walking in an ungodly path. Adam Clarke spoke of this passage as teaching a child how to narrow the opening of his path so that he was directed in God's way, no matter what chioce he had to make. Clarke spoke of how we needed to show the child the path - instruct him on the duties, dangers, and blessings of the path - and then do all we can do guide the child so that he takes God's path. Thus when a child faces the reality of life in this world - and the choices that are placed before Him - then that child will be able to reason from the Scriptures and know how to conduct himself or herself in the world.
We are told to train up this child in the "way" he should go. Way is our old Hebrew friend, "derek" and it means a path, a way - and was probably the word used most often to speak of choices someone would make that would lead to a lifestyle - or way of living. Note here that we are to train up this child to the lifestyle and way - the path of life in which he "SHOULD" go. Here we face a very serious problem when we present this to the average worldling of today. A way in which someone "should go" indicates that one way is superior to another - something this world finds anathema to their worldview. They think all lifestyles and all paths are the same. Thus to say a child has a way he "should go" rather than to just let the child find his own way and follow his own heart until he knows his own path - that is nothing more than legalism and a domineering way of rearing a child. The worldling parent is not supposed to care if the child goes in a way that is not acceptable to the parent. The child will find his own way - and besides, it is the height of arrogance to think we KNOW how someone should go!
The Bible has a much different view here. God gives us a Law that guides us into the right way and away from the wrong way. There are certain moral choices that are soundly right - and others that are horribly wrong. There are choices in the area of sexuality that are the right way to live - and others that are wrong (not just an alternate lifestyle - just wrong). Taking the time to teach a child these ways - and guide them into these paths - that is what child training is all about. There is a right way - God's way - and that is how we are to teach our children to walk. We are to train them that right way - and also to instruct them on the consequences of walking in the wrong way. We should show them, not just God's instructions, but also God's judgments on certain ways of living and certain choices that they might make.
Then there is the promise. It is a bold promise. Even when he is old he will not depart from it. As the child grows older - with instruction, discipline, warnings, encouragements and everything else a parent should use to teach him - that child will not depart from God's way. The example of the parent is also vital here because we teach not just with words - but with our actions as well. When they see these things - hear these things - watch these things modeled before them - then then will know the way in which to walk.
This proverb involves so much more than just taking a child to church and youth group. It involves serious child training using God's Word as our blueprint. It involves selling out on how we live ourselves and laboring to teach our children God's Word on morals and meaning. We labor - striving to show them God's way - striving to help them see the forks in the road - but also the consequences of taking the wrong turn there. These are the things that matter if we are to be successful in rearing children for the Lord. If we instruct and lead in a way that narrows their choices into the wise and godly way - we can be assured that when they grow old, they will not depart from the way in which they were instructed. It is a promise that God's way - taught in God's way - modeled in God's way - will provide results as a child chooses His way as His own way in life.
POSTSCRIPT: Recently, individuals have quoted articles from this section and stated that we teach child abuse at Calvary Chapel Jonesboro. To this I feel the need to respond. First, biblically, we are told that if we have a problem with our brother to go to our brother - not the internet - and confront our brother. To date, these individuals have yet to contact me to discuss these things. That should say volumes in itself.
Second, we do not teach child abuse at our fellowship. This blog is an endeavor to teach what is in the Bible for the edification and upbuilding of God's people. Anyone who has been to our fellowship knows that in our classrooms we administer NO physical discipline. We correct with words and with "time outs" and eventually with a report to parents. From our nursery throughout every age group our people are instructed NEVER to administer physical discipline. We believe this right alone belongs to a parent. Even then we teach the following about any application of physical discipline.
Discipline is about the heart of a child. Physical or corporal punishment is ONLY to be administered in a spirit of love for the child. Teaching and loving verbal correction is key - as is prayer for the child's eventual salvation in Jesus Christ. Any physical punishment administered due to anger or rage is out of line and wrong. The parent is to discipline the child with appropriate discipline - not abuse. In the end the child should be taught - and in every circumstance hugged, loved, and prayed with after any physical punishment to assure them of our love. The idea of a "beating" is completely out of step with what the Scriptures are teaching. Instead the idea of loving discipline is intended.