Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Train them up!

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6

Many of you know this passage by the King James translation which begins with "train up a child in the way he should go..." I actually like the way the New International Version translates it better. It draws out what the Baker Commentary on the Bible has to say about this verse. It notes that the word for "train" can also be translated "dedicate." It also says that the phrase "the way he should go" is more literally translated "on the mouth of his way." I am not skilled enough in language studies to confirm this, but it seems to be in keeping with the meaning of the passage. Interestingly enough, the word for "way" can mean not only "path" or "road" but also "manner" or "habit." (edited by Walter A. Elwell. Proverbs commentary written by R. K. Harrison,  p.424).

All of this taken together gives us the general thrust of this proverb. I liken it to a sharpshooter aiming at a target that is a long distance off. Even if your aim is only a degree or two off, over such a long distance it is multiplied so that you miss your target altogether. But if you are careful to eliminate the smallest of errors in the beginning, then you have a much better chance of hitting your target. So too with our children. We must do more than merely lay a solid foundation in their early years and hope for the best. We must go far beyond this. After we have laid that foundation we must be diligent to watch for deviations from the path of righteousness and correct their course whenever needed. A minor step away from the Lord at the age of 8, 10, or even 15 can take your child far away from the faith by the time he is 25 or 30.

This reminds me of a saying from one of the early church fathers. Chrysostom said, “To each of you fathers and mothers, I speak: Just as we see artists fashioning their paintings and statues with great precision, so we must care for these wondrous statues of ours. Painters, once they have set the canvas on the easel, paint on it day by day to accomplish their purpose. Sculptors, too, working in marble, proceed in a similar manner; they remove what is unhelpful and add what is lacking. You should proceed in the same way. Like the creators of statues, give all your leisure time to fashioning these wondrous statues of God. As you remove what is unhelpful and add what is lacking, inspect them day by day, to see with which good qualities nature has supplied them so that you can increase these qualities, and to see which faults so that you can eradicate them” (quote taken from Perspectives on Family Ministry by Timothy Paul Jones, p.20).

It is important to remember that the proverbs are not promises. They express what wisdom has found to be generally true. Unfortunately there are those children who will decide to walk away from God in rebellion even after their parents have done all they can do. But on the whole, if we are diligent to dedicate our children to the path of righteousness at a young age and keep them on it, then they will never depart from it, even in their old age after we have gone to be with the Lord. So I charge you to be diligent in raising up your children for the glory of God.

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