“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6
Here’s what many think Proverbs 22:6 is saying: “If I raise my child in a godly home, then he or she will never fall away. And even if my child does fall away, he or she will eventually come back.” Which would imply that if a child strays, even after being raised in a godly home, and never comes back then the parents must have done something tragically wrong in the rearing of that child. There are books that teach this principle. There are blogs that support this principle. There are preachers who deliver sermons and conduct seminars espousing that this principle is absolute truth. Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is. Sadly, not all godly children grow up to be godly adults. And there are parents, perhaps even sitting and reading this blog, who are currently dealing with the pain of having a wayward son or daughter. Although they raised their child in a home that glorified God, their children have chosen not to glorify God in adulthood.
Here’s a point we cannot afford to miss—PROVERBS ARE NOT ABSOLUTE TRUTHS! Proverbs are principles, not promises. They set forth general rules for living. They are great words to live by, but they are not iron-clad rules. In the book of Isaiah, it reads: “Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; for the Lord speaks, ‘Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have revolted against Me (Isa. 1:2).'” God often referred to Israel as His children. Here, in Isaiah 1:2, He calls them “sons.” God’s “sons” revolted. What does this say about the heavenly Father? There could never be a more perfect father than the Almighty God. Do we dare accuse Him of being an unfit parent because His children rebelled? Do the actions of God’s children mean that God failed as a Father?
Regardless of how ideal the environment, rebellion can still occur. Adam and Eve lived in paradise. Their abode could not have been more perfect, yet they still rebelled. Was their failure God’s failure? Of course not. Early in our child’s life, we exert a lot of influence, but as they grow into adults, our power and influence becomes less and less. The devil has influence, but even he did not force Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit. God had influence over Adam and Eve, but He did not force them either. Today, teachers, coaches, peers, and the world can exert tremendous influence, but none of them control us against our will. We make our own decisions.
It bothers me that we lay all the burden on the parents, namely the father, but give the child a hall pass. We often look at the actions of the child and point the finger of judgment in the direction of the parents. However, scripture is clear that children have a God-given obligation to obey and honor their mother and father. In Ephesians 6:1-3 Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is not the first time we read the divine command for children to honor and obey. As part of the 10 Commandments given to Moses, Commandment 5 clearly states: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you (Exo. 20:12).”
Before “Do not commit adultery.” Before “Do not steal.” Before “Do not murder,” God tells the people, “Honor your father and your mother.” Why? Because God understood that the home is where it starts. Parents have a responsibility to teach their children the ways of the Lord. Children, in turn, have a responsibility to follow that teaching. If each family member fulfills their God-given responsibility, then guess what? The other commandments are much less likely to be a problem. If God is truly first in the household, then His commandments will be written on the hearts of the family members and idolatry is not an issue. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is less likely to be a problem. Remembering His day won’t be a problem. Theft, adultery, covetousness, murder, are things that are rarely an issue in a house where God reigns and rules.
I want you to notice something else concerning Ephesians 6:1-3. Notice that there is no time limit. Parents who raise their children in the Lord should be honored for a lifetime, not just while they are at home. In fact, godly training should be heeded most when the child leaves the home. If the parents have fulfilled their God-given roles, then the children should honor their parents’ training throughout their lives, even after their parents are deceased. And what better way to honor your parents than by living a godly life? Of course, there is a caveat to this. When a child comes of age and is capable of making his/her own decisions, he/she is not obligated to compromise their faith. An allegiance to God always comes first. A child is not required to honor unrighteous practices promoted by the parents.
Let’s face it, raising children is tough. It’s both the hardest task and the greatest honor. I’m not trying to get parents off the hook, but I’m also not trying to saddle them with unnecessary guilt. I want to encourage all parents to show Christ to their kids. Whether your children are young or old, be like Jesus. Illustrate for them what living faith looks like. Train them up in the way that they should go, and pray that they will not depart from it. If they do, pray that they will return. And pray for peace in your own life so that you can better cope with the guilt that you may feel. God bless our parents. God bless our children.