In December 2014, Caitlyn Ricci won a court case to receive tuition for her college education. Court cases are won and lost every day, but what made this case interesting is that Ricci won this case against her parents. Ricci believed that she was entitled to college education and her parents were obligated to foot the bill[i]. This may be an extreme example of American entitlement, but it is a great picture of the foolishness that is bound up in the heart of a child. And even more amazing than this youthful foolishness is the fact that two separate judges would affirm her self-will and entitlement forcing her parents to pay up. We are no longer living in the Age of the Enlightenment, but the Age of Entitlement.
How did we get here? How did we get to a place where a child could sue her parents for thousands of dollars demanding that they pay for her college education and win the courts? How did we get to a place where we live in an age of entitlement rather than an age of service? There are many reasons, but one of the biggest ones is the failure of parents to impart wisdom to their children. We are bearing the fruit of foolishness. We have a society run adrift with a lack of sense. Our nation has turned its back on God and God has given her over to bear the fruit of her folly. Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” In God’s good design, he has given parents to rear children away from folly into wisdom.
How can you fix the nation? Beloved, we will only be as good as the families that comprise the nation. And the only way to change the family is through the fear of the Lord. We can recover wise principles of child rearing through the pages of Proverbs. Proverbs gives parents wisdom on how to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Every home may apply these principles slightly differently, but every home should strive to intentionally implement biblical wisdom in how they raise their children.
The Wise Desire of Child Rearing
Before we can get the practical instructions of parenting, we first must establish the goal of our parenting. When you begin a journey, it is wise to have a final destination in mind. If I invited you over to my house for dinner, you will need the address to get to my house. So if we are going to be wise parents, we have to know where we are going with our kids. Or maybe another way to put it, how would you define successful parenting? At the end of the parenting journey, how would you measure if you are a successful parent? How you answer these questions will inform the practical steps you take to get there.
The goal of all Christian parents is teach their children the fear of the Lord. If a child fears the Lord then everything will flow in the right direction. Listen to these Proverbs,
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:10)
The fear of the LORD prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short. (Proverbs 10:27)
In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. (Proverbs 14:26-27)
The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm. (Proverbs 19:23)
The fear of the Lord is the river that waters the valley. The fear of the Lord is the steel frame that supports a mighty tower. And to fear the Lord is to know Jesus Christ. He is the one that saves from death (Col 1:21, Prov. 14:27). He is the one who prolongs life (John 3:16, Prov. 10:27). He is our refuge (Prov. 14:26). He leads to life and satisfies our weary soul (Matt 11:28, Prov. 19:23, John 4:14). Is your deepest desire for children that they may know Christ and make Him known? If this is not your desire, then pray for your own heart to fear of the Lord for your sake and your children’s, for if your children to the fear of the Lord, the rest will fall into place. This is our goal. And this goal should impact our day to day lives. How does this or that activity support the goal of fear of the Lord? Or what about our educational choices? Television shows? Books? Technology? Sports? When sports are played?
The main problem I see in the church is not that we do not want our kids to fear the Lord, I believe they do, but they set up systems in their family’s life to divert from that mission. The problem is that most people are not asking the right questions. So two questions that you can honestly discuss this afternoon, “Do we have the right goal?” and “Does our family life reflect that goal?” And be honest with yourselves. There are some of you who need to make some changes in your family life. Please do not skip over these questions.
The Wise Direction in Child Rearing
I never shot a gun before I moved to the south. And the first time I shot a gun, we didn’t start with shooting. We started with picking a target and working on aiming at that target. You don’t start shooting until you know what you are shooting at. So if you are know your aim is the fear of the Lord, how do you shoot to hit the target? There are four primary ways God has given to directing our children in the fear of the Lord. I won’t spend a lot of time on the first, even though it may be the most important. The most important aspect of wise child rearing is to live a wise life. It is impossible to teach the fear of the Lord until you first possess the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Remember the fear of the Lord is the river that nourishes the value and which supports the mighty tower. Proverbs 20:7, “The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him!” Imitation is the greatest form of flattery and children have an innate sense to follow what they see in their parents. He who walks with the wise is wise. If you are wise, the odds dramatically increase that your children will be wise. And that gives you the drive to do the next 3 things.
Secondly, to direct you children to the fear of the Lord, you must instruct and teach them wisdom. Children are born precious, but they are also born sinners. Children come with righteousness not included. They have to be taught and instructed in the way of righteousness, and this instruction fills the pages of proverbs. Listen:
Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. (Proverbs 1:8-9)
Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life. (Proverbs 4:23)
Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. (Proverbs 8:10-11)
Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. (Proverbs 8:33)
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray. (Proverbs 10:17)
A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (Proverbs 13:1)
There is this refrain over and over again to the youth to listen to instruction and teaching. Let me draw a couple of principles here. First, children listen to your parents. Remember the book of Proverbs is written to young people and its chorus is “Listen!” Listen and hold tight to your parents’ instruction. You need to develop a “yes ma’am and yes sir” mentality. Do not speak back to your parents. Honor them by how you listen to their words and respect their insight. When you do not listen to your parents, you are hurting yourselves. Would you ever take a hammer and smash your thumb on purpose? Well, Proverbs says that when you do not listen to the wise instruction and teaching of your parents it is like you are hitting your thumb with a hammer on purpose.
The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:31-33)
Do not hurt yourself on purpose, listen to your parents. God takes that very seriously.
Secondly, parents instruct your children. You have to be intentional in how you instruct your children. Put down your phones and talk to your children. Take walks and teach them about the diversity and beauty in God’s world. Set aside daily time to read the Bible together and pray. Sing with kids. We have excellent opportunities for your children to learn while they are here during our gatherings, but our church will only be as strong as the families who come. And families will only be strong if parents are intentional about instructing their children in godliness. Beloved, please care more about your children’s godly character than their athletic success. 1 Tim 4:7-8, “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Do not short-change their spiritual lives by setting their minds on earthly pursuits. Sports and the arts have a place, but should never have the primary place.
The world is teaching and instructing your children. It is training your children to focus on the here and now. Philippians 3:17-20,
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Remember the first way to learn the fear of the Lord is by watching and imitating) For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Listen to how Paul defines the enemies of the cross of Christ) Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:17-20)
Do not set your mind on earthly things, but set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
One of the most famous verses on child-rearing is 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 misunderstood greatly. Literally verse 6 should read, “Train a child in his way and when he is old he will not turn from it.” The question is who the “his” is referring too. Most people usually read that as referring to God’s way, so train a child in God’s way and when he is old and he will not turn from it. Most scholars believe it is referring to the child. Train a child in the child’s way and when he is old, he will not turn from it. So one reading is a blessing while the other reading is a judgment. We also have to remember that proverbs are not meant to be promises, but they are wisdom sayings, which means that this is typically the way things work. Commentator Bruce Watke believes that if we train up a child in God’s way than that training will make an impression that is inescapable on the child. It does not necessarily mean the child will walk in the training, but the training will never leave him. Regardless, we have to understand than molding is best done when the cement is still wet. Take advantage of the early years of your children. The instruction of the earliest years will leave a permanent impression.
The Wise Discipline of Child Rearing
The third way we can be wise in our children rearing is through discipline. The word for instruction and discipline are the same Hebrew word, but when it was written in the context of physical instruction it was translated discipline. If verbal instruction is given to prevent folly, then discipline is physically instructing the child from continuing in folly. There is a progression of instruction. It begins with a verbal instruction and, if not heeded, it extends to physical. Listen to the importance of discipline (physical instruction) Solomon gives,
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24)
Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death. (Proverbs 19:18)
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. (Proverbs 23:13-14)
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (Proverbs 29:15)
Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart. (Proverbs 29:17)
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child” means that children are naturally bent to folly. And we have to expand our normal way thinking about folly. For example:
Fools reject wisdom and instruction (15:5; 1:7, 22, 32; 10:8; 18:2; 30:11, 17; 20:20); Fools don’t respect their parents (19:26; 30:17); Fools choose foolish and wicked companions (13:20; 14:7; 22:24); Fools talk too much (12:23; 13:16; 15:2; 18:7; 29:11, 20); Fools are boastful (27:1–2); Fools are proud (14:16; 28:26); Fools justify their sin (12:15; 28:26); Fools are self-centered (18:2); Fools are quick-tempered (12:16, 18; 14:17, 29); Fools are argumentative and quarrelsome (18:6; 20:3; 26:4–5; 29:9); Fools gossip and tattle (11:13; 20:19); Fools get into mischief (10:23); Fools mock at sin (14:9); Fools are stubborn (17:10); Fools are unreliable (26:6); Fools flatter and manipulate (29:5); Fools are lazy (10:5); Fools lie (12:22; 26:18–29); Fools steal (28:24); Fools are unwise with money (14:24; 28:24); Fools are immoral (7:22; 29:3); Fools abuse intoxicating substances (23:29–35); Fools are gluttons (28:7).[ii]
Children are naturally prone to foolishness, so physical correction (corporeal punishment or spanking) is a tool that drives folly from their hearts. The rod has the power to awaken our children to the fear of the Lord, which brings them to true wisdom.
Physical instruction or spanking is a tool given to parents by God drive out foolishness and lead our children to wisdom. To neglect the rod is to leave our children in foolishness which is not love, but hate. To spare the rod is to hate the child, because it leaves the child in foolishness and eternal danger. Physical discipline has been under attack in recent years because parents have abused the rod. Biblical spanking should be done in love. The point of discipline is love, therefore it should never be done in anger. Spanking should always be done in a way that shows a special love for our children as a special creation made in the image of God[iii]. Our discipline should model the Lord’s discipline. Proverbs 3:11-12, “My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” The goal of discipline is to turn our children from folly (in its many expressions) back to the wise way of the Lord.
We exercise discipline in the Spirit of Jesus who took our discipline. Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement (discipline) that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Jesus took our discipline. We were all once foolish and disobedient, but when the goodness and loving kindness of our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of our works done in righteousness. He saved us by his own mercy. We must discipline our children in the spirit of the Gospel knowing every time we use the rod, we have had one who took the rod on our behalf. This should discipline in love and humility. We have been healed by the wounds of another and our discipline to our children helps them learn the fear of the Lord and to be saved by the same wounds. Hebrew 12:11, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Let our discipline yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness as we train up our children in the way of the Lord.
Susanna Wesley wrote a letter to her son John Wesley on July 24th, 1732 explaining the importance of discipline for the foolish self-will in a child. She writes,
Self-will is the root of all sin and misery, so whatever nourishes this in children, insures their later wretchedness and irreligion. Whatever checks and mortifies it, promotes their future happiness and piety. This is still more evident, if we further consider, that religion is nothing else than the doing the will of God and not our own will. Self-will is the one grand impediment to our temporal and eternal happiness and no indulgences of it can be trivial, no denial unprofitable. Heaven or hell depends on this alone. So that the parent who studies to subdue it in his child, works together with God in the renewing and saving a soul. The parent who indulges it does the devil’s work, makes religion impracticable, salvation unattainable, and does all that in him lies, to damn his child’s body and soul for ever![iv]
Discipline is loving. It is not, however, loving to ignore laziness, anger or lying. Do not nourish the self-will and entitlement that keeps a child against the Lord. Our world does not love wisdom, so there is no doubt that the tools that God has given for wisdom will be under attack. Laws have already been proposed to make spanking illegal, but we press on in the wisdom of the Lord, setting our minds on heavenly things. We work with his tools to train our children in the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (If you would like more information on the rod, I would recommend Shepherding a Child’s Heart, by Ted Tripp or Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard.)
The Wise Dependence of Child Rearing
There are no perfects parents. We are going to mess up, and when we recognize our inability to parent perfectly, it is a sign of wisdom and it will drive us to depend on God. The fourth way of wise child rearing is dependence on God. There are godly and wise parents whose children have walked away from the Lord into foolishness. We train a child, but the child is still accountable for his actions. Therefore we pray and pray and pray that God would show his grace to our children. We pray they would walk with wise. We pray they would listen to our instruction. We pray for the strength to lovingly teach and discipline our children. Child rearing is not something we are called to do in our own strength. Whatever we do we do for the glory of God through the strength he provides. We do what we train our children to do, Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
The Wise Delight of Child Rearing
There are few greater tasks then rearing a child in the faith. There will be days that you will feel that you are burdened beyond your strength, but God’s grace is sufficient. And the journey is worth it. The delight that comes with laboring with the Lord for wise sons and daughters is a precious gift. I am still in the middle of my journey, but I have seen the joy in a mother’s and father’s face when their children are walking in the truth.
My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right. The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice. (Proverbs 23:15-16; 24-25)
Let us be wise parents and labor for the hearts of our children. I pray in our last days, we will echo words of the Apostle John who said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4)
[ii] Newheiser, J. (2008). Opening up Proverbs (pp. 149–150). Leominster: Day One Publications.