Proverbs 22:6 (NASB)
Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Train up a child
The first thing we can take from this verse is that it is necessary to train up a child. Children do not raise themselves. They need to be trained. God has placed the privilege and responsibility of training children upon the parents. This is why children are to obey their parents. Their parents are to be instructing them in such a way that it requires the child to obey.
Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Colossians 3:21 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.”
We see in Ephesians and Colossians that parents are not to lord it over their children and exasperate and anger them in the way that they parent. But they are to practice disciplining them and instructing them in the Lord.
Discipline is not the same as punishment. Discipline is more closely related to discipleship. It is providing structure that aides the child’s training and obedience. Instead of rescuing the child from the consequences of their actions, it is letting them experience the consequences in a safe environment that produces the learning of responsibility.
For example, if the child does not eat his dinner, he goes to bed without it and experiences what it feels like to not have eaten as he should have. The loving parent does not remove the consequence by allowing the child a different food option before bed so that he is not hungry. If the child does not do his homework, the parent does not do it for the child or send a note with a made up excuse to the teacher. The child must face the teacher and the consequences both at school and at home.
Using punishment as a means to stop your children from getting on your nerves is not discipline. If they are unruly to the degree you cannot tolerate them, they have suffered from a lack of discipline for an extended period of time. If they are on your last nerve on a consistent basis, they need training not punishment. If their relationship with their parents is mostly adversarial, it will be difficult to switch gears into training them up in the Lord.
Parents love their children when they bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Discipline is for the benefit of the children so that they learn how to function in life in a way that honors the Lord. It is a side effect benefit to the parents who enjoy the fruit of obedient children who love the Lord.
In the way he should go
We see in the next part of this verse, that there is a way for a child to go. It is in that way that the child is to be trained. Children, when left to themselves, will go the wrong way. They will not eat properly. They will not sleep properly. They will watch too much TV. They will not play outside enough. They will not treat people right. They will behave and smell like animals instead of people when left to their own desires.
There is a general way that all people ought to go. Many things are not left up to the individual child. Every child needs to brush his teeth. Every child needs to eat nutritious foods in the appropriate quantity. Every child has to obey his parents. Children have bed times because it gives the child a good night’s rest and consistent stability in life. Children do not get to be night owls.
However, there are things that are particular to a child in the way that he should go. One child may have a talent for artistic expression and that can be nourished as they grow. Another child may have a knack for mathematics and excels academically. These particular ways are part of training a child in their own individual way. But if we confuse these things with the fundamentals of life we will produce children who cannot function properly in life.
Even when he is old
When we train children in all areas of life they continue in that vein throughout their life. When parents train their children they are training them for adulthood. If they do not train them in life as children, they will not grow into healthy functioning adults. They will be stunted. Even when they are old, their upbringing will affect them for the good or for the bad.
He will not depart from it
When this training has occurred the child will not depart from it when he grows up. The way of life is ingrained in them and it sustains them throughout their whole life. It is from this that they grow up and train their own children in the way that they should go. When we get this wrong, we have generations of untrained children, who as adults, lack the knowledge to train their children.
When children depart completely from the way they were raised, there may be reason to question the way they were raised. This does not give the adult child a reason to continue to squander his life. Nor does it mean the parents have extraordinary responsibility to the child who failed to function as an adult. To continue to parent the adult child in the manner in which did not make them a functioning adult is to maintain their handicap to their detriment.
When we realize we missed the mark in parenting we are to adjust our course. To continue to do the same thing will only produce the same results. Parenting longer will not make an adult child any more mature. If what you did or are doing is not working, it is time to try something you have not done.
There is no condemnation for having parented poorly, but once you have learned what went wrong, you have the responsibility to not continue the error.
When we have a nation of adults who have not been trained in the way that they should go who similarly have children they are not training, we have an undiscipled nation. We have adults who are not patient, self-controlled, kind, considerate, un-selfish, and humble. We have adults who seek to feed their own desires at the expense of their spouses and children. We have broken families and marriages. We have dysfunctional employees and bosses.
We are in a critical situation where we must learn how to live again. The Church has lost the idea of what discipleship really is. It is not just teaching new believers to read their Bible, pray, and live morally. It is teaching nations how to function. When God took the Hebrew people and made them into a nation, He taught them law, government, justice, sanitation, agricultural practices such as resting the land, economics, relationships, and how to worship. He did not berate them for not knowing these things by common sense. They had no way of knowing without His revealing it to them. Then they were made responsible for knowing it. After that they were responsible to teach their children these ways generation after generation. In the same way Jesus said we are to teach everything He taught. We cannot do life on the fly. It only works when we do it on purpose.