Train up a Child

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)1 Sometimes it is troublesome navigating those precarious moments of parenting your children effectively. Namely, this subject or the labeling of anything “biblical” can present itself just as vague and confusing for the average parent. If you are lost in the grandiose of opinions circulating this hefty topic, you are not alone. “The Biblical role of a parent is to be a good steward of the children God has placed in our care. Parents have the responsibility to care for the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of their children. The most important biblical duty of a parent is to teach their children about Jesus in action and word.”2

Walvoord asserts, “This is perhaps the best-known verse in Proverbs on child training.”3 This proverb is not a sure formula for success in child rearing; it is an assurance of how profound a parent’s influence can be though that influence might be rejected. The Proverbs provide reliable guidance but they do not address every contingency encountered in a sinful world. Therefore, Christian parents are encouraged by scripture to be wise parents who invest in a child during the crucial early years because such care typically has godly results. But even the best parenting can result in prodigal and prideful child (see Luke 15:11-32). Ultimately, the way a child “should go” (Proverbs 22:6) is not a college or career choice, but an eternal choice to live for God through Jesus Christ. Such a way is profoundly influenced by parents’ actions, but essentially determined by the child’s heart. 

The Training

The opening phrase “train up” means to dedicate the child to God (see 1 Samuel 1:27-28), so this instruction given raises the question of the parent’s own commitment. The parent’s dedication is sustained by remembering that the Lord himself is committed to that family. Romans 8:32 reads, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”4 Once a Christian family is truly dedicated to the Lord, the questions of child rearing find their place. A wise parent is realistic about a child’s innate folly (Proverbs 22:15). Occasionally, deep inside a child wants to demand their own way. In spite of that, “the rod of discipline” will drive that folly out. Even so, our Father in heaven disciplines us all as shown in Hebrews 12:5-11, proving thereby he cares for us. Wise parents discipline their children with the same love they themselves have received from their gracious heavenly Father. 

“Wise parents discipline their children with the same love they themselves have received from their gracious heavenly Father.”

Vernon Thomas

Deuteronomy 6:4-7, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” In its original context, the Shema set the Israelites apart from their surrounding nations. The chronic temptation of Israel to adopt pagan gods was unyielding, therefore, YAHWEH affirmed His matchlessness prior to the inhabitation of Canaan.5

Our dilemma is mutual, though God has bestowed his love upon us by claiming us as his own, we too are tempted by outside systems. Like the nation Israel, we must safeguard our children in God’s ways. Parents, the Shema is for you. Looking closely we see three truths communicated: first, our God is the One true God, creator of all things. Second, we are to love God completely (i.e. heart, soul, and might). If we embrace the first two commandments, then the third shall follow easily which is to teach your children diligently to love the Lord. One of the primary charges we are given as parents is to disciple our children in the way of the Lord, but fear not, for God has laid out detailed instructions concerning the roles for both mother and father to accomplish this task in harmony. 

One Biblical truth that we must wrestle with is that our children belong to the Lord. Psalms 127:3 reads, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”6 As Christians who share in the responsibility of parenting, we are gifted with the opportunity to steward the children God has gifted us. So, if God’s Word is the ultimate authority in your home, then spend nominated time with God through prayer and reading the Bible. The transferal of Biblical knowledge from parent to child is mandated, it is only hard to instruct in what we ourselves know not. This directs me to my next point, family worship. 

Family Worship

“Family worship is not merely a religious discipline; it is a meeting with the triune God in spirit of adoration.”7 Three things ought to take place for it to be constituted “family worship,” such as: Scripture reading, singing of songs, and prayer. First, scripture reading is a way the family can worship our Creator collectively. While reading the scripture, it is God who preaches to us. He reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can see this by reflecting on the gospel. It is the Father who sent his Son to die for us (John 3:16), it is the Son’ willingness to take our punishment upon himself (1 Peter 2:24), and the Holy Spirit who seals us until the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14). This message is not just information, but also exaltation. 

Secondly, families should worship through song. The Psalmists convey the importance of worshiping God through song as it is mentioned over 150 times (see Psalm 150). The New Testament also gives an example of this which is found in Colossians 3:16. Third, families need to worship through prayer. Prayer is the primary way to show our thankfulness to God, our prayer should reflect a heart of worship, because of Christ and what he has accomplished on our behalf. Through prayer, we are able to speak to the Father and build a personal relationship with Him.

It is said that, “Family worship is an indispensable instrument for instilling both old and young with a consciousness of the Lord.”8 Regularity is key, for it conveys to children the importance of scripture, because what God’s word says on life and family can be trusted. Children are smart, they learn more by watching than by instructions they are given, so they notice when worship is reduced to once-a-week observance. We should take better notice of biblical patriarchs and how God calls them in their youth. God works mightily in the life of a young person, often a result of the parents faithfulness in family worship. 

“The Puritans regarded family worship as a duty,” Challies continues, “Puritan pastors ensure that fathers were carrying out this duty.”9 The 1600’s Puritan pastors endeavored in teaching their congregants the blessing of family worship. To ensure the continuity of spiritual growth this was rendered through sermons, writing of books, and the development of catechisms. The pastors did not estrange themselves to the concept of family visits. This included sharing a meal, afterwards the minister lead family worship. This visit would reveal the father’s commitment to disciple his children because the father is responsible for the spiritual well-being of their family.10

Fathers Are Shepherds

Men are to be shepherds in the home. “What the preacher is in the pulpit,” Lewis Bayly declared, “the same the Christian householder is in his house.”11 Bayly’s argument is strengthened, because scripture shows it is not artificial. To illustrate, Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instructions of the Lord.”12 Family devotions are a practice that most Christians would agree is vital to a healthy spiritual life. Stinson asserts, “Because of the brokenness of our world, family members do not do naturally what they ought to do. Members of Christian families must be instructed and trained in their obligations to one another. Husbands and wives must be reminded to love their spouses and children in Christ-honoring ways (Eph. 5:22–33; Titus 2:4).”13

God appoints all Christian fathers to be shepherds to their wife and children calling them to lead, manage, and nurture their families. In western society, this imagery is not portrayed in our culture, and rarely preached from our pulpits; nevertheless,  the words from the prophet Ezekiel foretells the character of Christ, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep. I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered. I will feed them. And I myself will make them lie down. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak“ (Ezekiel 34:11-16).14 

Mothers Are Nurturing Disciple Makers

“Motherhood is spoken of throughout scripture as a highly important calling. God uses motherhood as a metaphor to describe the fervent love for His children (see Isaiah 66:13).”15 Not only is this truth articulated in scripture, but we have examples from church history. For example, Monica (331-387) had a considerable influence on Augustine of Hippo, the great theologian of the fourth/fifth century. Tradition states, the fervent prayers of a mother led Augustine to the Lord. In his personal autobiography he states,

But you [God] sent down your help from above and rescued my soul from the depths of this darkness because my mother, your faithful servant, wept to you for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than other mothers shed for the bodily death of a son. For in her faith and in the spirit which she had from you she looked on me as dead. You heard her and did not despise the tears which streamed down and watered the place where she bowed her head in prayer.”16

These word beautifully illustrate the nurturing yet unyielding love a mother has for her children. Scripture explains, the mission of mothers is to raise children to follow God. Thus, in His omniscience, perfectly designed is the family by which children are cared for, loved, and trained by biblical mothers. The church should adulate biblical motherhood. She encompasses kindness but still underscore biblical expectations. 

Conclusion: One Flesh

All the family is one flesh as scripture portrays in Genesis 2:24. If this is true, if the very nature of the family is ecclesial, then the mission and structure of the church has been found, in an appropriate form, in the family. Jesus affirms this in Mark 10:8-12 which reads, “and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.“17 Scripture denotes that marriage is not merely a human agreement but a relationship in which God changes the status of a man and women from being single (they are no longer two) to being married (one flesh). From the moment they are married, they are unified in a mysterious yet spiritual way that belongs to no other human relationship, having all the God-given rights and responsibilities of marriage. 

Leave your thoughts, questions, and suggested followups in the comments below.

Note: The views of CITC articles do not necessarily reflect the views of all CITC contributors. 

1 Crossway. (2016). ESV Study Bible. Crossway.

2 Dronen, C. [Gentle Christian Parenting]. (2021, April 28). Bible Verses About Parenting-What Are You Missing? Gentle Christian Parenting- Parenting In Christ

3 Walvoord, J. The Bible Knowledge Commentary (1st ed.). Victor Books. 1983

4 Crossway. ESV Study Bible. Crossway. 2016

5 Estelle, B. (2013, May). Israel’s Creed. Ligonier Ministries

6 Crossway. ESV Study Bible. Crossway. 2016

7 Boekestein, W. (2020, March 27). Family Worship 101. Ligonier Ministries

8 Boekestein, W. (2020, March 27). Family Worship 101. Ligonier Ministries

9 Challies, T. [Challies]. (2013, September 26). Worship Like A Puritian.

10 Challies, T. [Challies]. (2013, September 26). Worship Like A Puritian.

11 Stinson, R. Trained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective. Kregel Academic & Professional. pg, 176, 2011

12 Crossway. ESV Study Bible. Crossway. 2016

13 Stinson, R. Trained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective. Kregel Academic & Professional. pg,176, 2011

14 Crossway. ESV Study Bible. Crossway. 2016

15 Wolstenholm, J. [Minno]. (2021, May 4). What Does The Bible Say About Motherhood? Minno Life

16 Lelen, J. M. (1997). Confessions Of St. Augustine. Catholic Book Publishing.

17 Crossway. ESV Study Bible. Crossway 2016

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