Training Children. Colossians 3:20-21; Ephesians 6:1-4
Notice that each of these admonitions in this section of Colossians focuses back on the relationship with the Lord. The ultimate motivation in every area has to do with the Lord. Colossians 3:21 NASB "Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart." We see that the real matrix of life biblically is what happens inside the home—the marriage and then the family. These are the second and third divine institutions that come out of Genesis chapter two focusing on God's provision for prosperity.
We could even go so far as to say how goes the family, so goes the nation. When there is marital breakdown and failure and there is family breakdown and failure that will ultimately lead to national breakdown, because what we see in the Scripture is that the cocoon for training and education of the next generation is the family. And it is the health or the disease in that family that prepares the next generation. Now that doesn't deny individual volition. It is interesting as we study history that sometimes volition seems to have a generational impact. There are generations that seem to be much more positive than other generations. There are some generations in history, for example the generation of Jews that came out of Egypt in the exodus seemed to be negative in their obedience to God. They were negative and brought divine discipline on that generation. The next generation, the conquest generation, was a generation that grew up under the divine discipline on their parents' generation in the wilderness, and they demonstrated great faith and trust in God as they entered into the land. So there was one generation that was predominantly negative and one generation that was predominantly positive. There are other periods of time in history in other nations where this kind of thing took place.
That does show that even within a home, for example in the exodus generation, there is a negative generation. They failed in many ways. They failed spiritually in many ways and it is probably a fair conclusion that they failed as parents, yet their children demonstrated positive volition. So just because parents are failures doesn't necessarily mean that their children will be spiritual failures, because they ultimately have their own volition. On the other hand, there are generations where the parents are positive but the generation that comes up after them are negative. This may not be due to the parents' failures at all. They may do many things that are right but that next generation comes up and they exercise negative volition: they reject the values of their parents, and this seems to run throughout an entire generation. So it is not all on the parents.
Colossians 3:20, 21 NASB Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart." These two verses focus on the responsibility of parents. The word "fathers" here is also a word here that is used of parents. In Ephesians 6 this is expanded a little. Verse 1 "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.  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
A couple of points about the first verse in Ephesians 6. Contextually there was also within the Mosaic Law in Exodus that if the children were disobedient and disrespectful and exceeded a certain level of respect, they could be taken out and stoned as juvenile delinquents. The reason was because if they failed to learn respect for authority and to be a respectful member of society then that was viewed as a malignant disease within the body of the nation, and they were to be removed. This shows the significance of parental training in preserving the spiritual health of the nation. So that is why there is that promise that "if you honor your father and mother you will live long," because if you are disrespectful then you will come under the laws for capital punishment.
But there is another aspect to this, and that is the concept of honor indicates humility and respect for parents. As a child grows up the parents are responsible for training that young child so that they learn respect for authority and respect for others and others' property. It is fundamental to humility to be able to submit to authority. Nobody is a law unto themselves.
So parents are to train their children to show respect and to show honor and respect for their parents. This is extremely important because as children grow up into adulthood and when a son enters into a marriage or a daughter enters into marriage then there are certain responsibilities towards one another. The wife is to submit to her husband. But if she hasn't learned authority orientation as a child then it is too late to learn it when she gets married. If the son has not learned authority orientation and humility as a child then when he becomes a husband, a father, a leader, it is a difficult lesson to learn at that point. A good leader also is a good follower. The reason is because to be a good leader you have to recognize your own limitations and you have to have humility, and if you haven't learned humility as a child you enter into adulthood operating on arrogance and the result is going to be disastrous in all of your relationships.
There is a general rule that is accurate. If you watch young people—a prospective wife, a prospective husband—and you observe certain relationships in their life it will tell you a lot about their potential success as a husband or as a wife. Look at how they relate to their pets, how they show love for them. It tells a lot about how they will show love for others. But something that is even more instructive is to see how an adult son, and adult daughter, relates to their parent of the opposite sex. That tells a lot about how they will relate to their future spouse. A son who honors and respects his mother will probably be one who honors and respects his wife. A son that does not honor his mother and is disrespectful is probably going to be a husband that is not respectful of his wife. A daughter who is not respectful and honoring of her father is probably not going to be respectful and honoring of her husband when things get difficult, when there is conflict. A daughter who understands that authority relationship and respects her father is one who will also honor and respect her spouse. This is a good barometer. Children need to learn humility and they need to be trained so that this becomes a significant part of their life.
As we get into the Old Testament we learn a lot about the background of how parents are to implement this. There are a couple of verses in Proverbs that we need to take a little time to think about. They are popular verses for parents and they are often misunderstood and misapplied, especially the first one we are going to look at. 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." One of the things we should always remember about the book of Proverbs is that this is the instruction of a father to a son, and this is important. As we talk about the family and important thing that we can do is do a little exercise with sons or grandsons, and that is to read through the book of Proverbs and categories the Proverbs. The Proverbs aren't written like other books of the Scripture where there is a context. There are parts of Proverbs that are that way, the first seven or eight chapters, and generally focus on broad themes and large chunks of those chapters relate to the same theme; but in the majority of the book of Proverbs there are simply one verse or, in some cases, two verse sayings that represent a wise principle. Sometimes it talks about money, sometimes about leadership, sometimes about parenting, different issues of spirituality or morality, work, how you handle money, many different things. So we can go through the book of Proverbs and categorize these and list all the verses that deal with each particular theme. And this could be an exercise that is done in the family that can be used for family Bible study, to teach as you teach and train your children.
When we come to Proverbs 22:6 it is one of a number of verses in Proverbs that focuses on child training. But it is a verse that has a couple of problems with it and it is often misquoted and misused, and it becomes a disappointment to many parents because they think it means something that it doesn't mean. If we read it in almost any translation it translates the main verb as with the English word "train." Unfortunately that is not what the word means in the Hebrew. So the first problem that we have is a poor translation here at the very beginning.
The second problem that we have is a misunderstanding of the nature of Proverbs. Even what we are saying next is debated some among some of the foremost scholars of Proverbs. But a proverb is a wise saying, and a wise saying is something that is true most of the time but it is not a promise. A promise is when God says: You do X; I will do Y. For example, if you confess your sins God says, "I will forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness." That is a specific promise. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ you will be saved. That is a specific promise. A promise is not a proverb. A proverb is stating that if you generally follow these principles you will generally get these results. But there are proverbs that focus on working hard and working diligently in storing up and saving treasure for hard times in the future. But what if you are just entering into the work force during a time of great depression? What if you are someone living in a Communist country like Soviet Russia in the 30s? No matter how diligently you apply these principles in Proverbs you are not going to as a Christian in the 1930s Russia experience the kind of prosperity that the verse suggests that you will because there are extenuating circumstances.
So we have a proverb here on training up a child in the way he should go "and when he is old he will not depart from it." Parents have latched on to this when they have seen their eighteen, nineteen and twenty-year-olds today who completely reject everything that the parents have taught them, everything that they have learned in Sunday school and in church, and they have become atheists, agnostic, and have absolutely dumped everything related to Christianity, and are pursuing their own life in rebellion. And yet they hold on to this as if when they have trained them up right they're going to come back. Generally speaking that is true, but it is not a promise; don't hold on to it like a promise.
The word "train up" is the Hebrew word chanak. If we are thinking a little bit, what does chanak remind us of? It is the same root as Hanukah. The word chanak does not mean to train or to discipline. It has the idea of dedication, initiation or inauguration. In an Arabic cognate it refers to the practice among the Arabs of taking honey or something else and rubbing it on the gums of a newborn baby in order to initiate or inaugurate the desire for food in the newborn baby. It is used in just a few passages in the Scripture. In other passages where it is used it refers to dedicating a house (Deuteronomy 20:5); it is used in 1 Kings chapter eight when Solomon dedicated the temple. It is used in this primary sense, to get someone accustomed to doing something. That is how it is used in the term Hanukah because this is a feast of dedication when temple was rededicated after it had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes and the Syrians. So this is the primary sense of the meaning of chanak. And so the parents' role is to—using the analogy from the use of the Arabic of rubbing the gums to inaugurate a desire, and to begin training the child to desire food—initiate or inaugurate a course of action in the life of the child. It has an ongoing sense because the parent does this through that period of the child's life where they are under the authority of the parents. The parents set guidelines for the child. It is very important that you train a child and dedicate the child to a certain course of action. For example, from the very beginning you bring the child to church. It is important for parents to initiate this habit pattern into the children from the very beginning and to build these priorities. It is never too early to start this kind of training—training related to manners, self-discipline. If you wait until they are five or six years of age you have really waited too long. These things need to be instilled as soon as possible in the life of the child, to initiate that behavior in a particular course of action.
The second word that is important to understand here is the word "child." This isn't a word for an infant or necessarily a young child, it is the word naar in the Hebrew which refers to a child from infancy to adulthood. So in the Jewish context this would be from birth to the age of thirteen. During that period of time the parent is to continue to initiate and to train the child. The result of this generally is that when he is old he will not depart from this. This should take place as early as possible and it moves the child forward in a particular direction; it sets a particular course up.
The next verse that we see in this chapter that is important is verse 15. It is related this whole concept of initiating, inaugurating, directing a child on a particular course. NASB "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him." Again, this is not a promise. If it were, it would say, If you discipline your child correctly then you will, drive his sin nature trends far from him." We all know that is not true. But it is generally true that if you as a parent study and learn your child, teach them to discipline themselves in terms of the trends of their sin nature, then as they grow older you will have set a course of action and a pattern. Now they may reject that of their own volition when they go out on their own when they are older, but you have done your job in setting the course and initiating that from the very beginning.
But one of the first things we should note in this verse is in the first line. This is what is under contention in our society today. The biblical view is that the child is born as a lovely, cute little baby; all he is is a sin nature wrapped in the flesh, and the heart of that child is evil and wicked. Because he is a sinner who is fallen, who is spiritually dead, and his whole orientation is towards just serving his own personal needs. He is born in rebellion against authority and that is the orientation of every baby's soul to one degree or another because of the principle of total depravity and human sin. We are born that way.
So if a child is left alone without instruction and without direction then their decision-making process in life, the things they choose to do, is going to go in the path of the trends of their sin nature. And that will manifest itself in a number of different ways. The role of the parent is to teach that child to control the lust patterns of his sin nature and the trends of his sin nature, and eventually to train them spiritually by giving them the gospel and then providing them with the Word of God.
The starting point biblically is that a child is inherently evil and left to his own resources is going to go in the direction of wickedness and evil and sin nature control—self-absorption, arrogance and everything else that we talk about in relationship to sin. That is the orientation of the heart of the child. The solution is correction. Most of us when we heard the word "correction" would have thought in terms of a negative corporal punishment of some type. That is not what the word actually means. The basic verb denotes correction which results in education. The word is used more often in a positive sense of instruction than in the negative sense of corporal punishment. It is not negative primarily, it is the overall context of training and discipline and instruction. It is related in many cases to the Hebrew word torah, which is the word normally translated "law," but that is kind of a mistranslation in one sense because torah has the idea of instruction; it's core meaning is instruction in the way of life and how to live well so that God is pleased. Other words emphasize how that instruction is implemented in the life of a child.
We see some example of how it is used. Proverbs 1:2 NASB "To know wisdom and instruction …" Fathers, this is your responsibility as a parent to teach wisdom, to train children in terms of biblical truth and wisdom. Wisdom is the Hebrew term chokmah which isn't the concept that comes out of Greek philosophy. As westerners we think of wisdom as abstract philosophical thought. But in the Hebrew mind wisdom is a skill at doing something. In this context it is skill at living, being able to live life skillfully, to know how to make good decisions once the child is out on their own, how they can live in a way that avoids the traps of life so that they can go forward successfully and do well in their education, their jobs, their families, training them in how to handle money, how to handle temptation, how to handle different circumstances in life, etc. Instruction is the Hebrew word musar. It is discipline in one sense, though discipline is often thought of in the negative terms of chastisement. But discipline almost always has a positive sense. If you are going to engage in athletics you have to discipline yourself in terms of your schedule and your physical training. That is a positive thing. If you are a well-disciplined athlete there is not a sense there of chastisement. It is control and it is focused on achieving an objective. That is the primary idea. Occasionally, when we get out of line, there needs to be negative consequences but that is not the primary focus of the term. The focus of the term is on the positive control and focus on achieving an objective in the sense of self-discipline and removing the distractions and negatives in life.
Proverbs 1:3 NASB "To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity…  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction." Notice the contrast here between the wise and the fool. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. Foolishness is the result of living according to the sin nature; wisdom is the result of living according to the standards of Bible doctrine. Bible doctrine comes into the soul because you respect and fear the Lord, and that is that humble subordination to the authority of God which is the beginning of knowledge. Fools reject that, they are asserting their own authority, their own independence, and so they despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:8 NASB "Hear, my son, your father's instruction And do not forsake your mother's teaching." So again it has that positive sense. But then we see a negative sense in Proverbs 3:11 NASB "My son, do not reject the discipline [chastening] of the LORD or loathe His reproof." In the synonymous parallelism in that verse chastening and correction are synonyms, but here it is a negative. The point to be made here with this word is that it is not inherently a word that means negative chastisement or punishment. It is a word that involves instruction, which emphasizes primarily the positive but doesn't leave out the fact that there has to be negative consequences for failure.
Proverbs 22:15 NASB "Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him." It doesn't say correction will remove it far from him, it says the rod. The rod is described by the genitive of correction, so it is the corrective rod. It is the rod that drives it far from him. Today we live in an era when the whole concept of corporal punishment is rejected by much of modern society. In fact, over the course of the last thirty or forty years there have been a number of different movements internationally by the UN to outlaw any kind of physical punishment on the part of parents. The reason that there are these movements and laws against it is because modern man has as its core assumption that there is a) no such things as sin, and b) people are born basically good, not basically evil, and so you can just let them naturally follow their own inclinations and they will basically do good things. And all you are going to do if you physically punish them is abuse them. It is defined as abuse.
The problem is that there are a number of people who don't know how to appropriately physically discipline their children. Physical discipline of a child is not the first resort for disobedience. It should be towards the end of a disciplinary process. It should not be done out of anger; it should not be done out of hatred or bitterness, which sometimes happens; it needs to be in an environment of learning and teaching and instruction and objectivity where the child understands why he is being punished. That may not apply to a one-year-old or a two-year-old. Nothing helps a one or two-year-old correct their behavior quicker than a tap on the butt from the parent. But as they get a little older you can explain what it is that is going on and why, and what the correction is. It is a process of training, not the response of anger.
The idea that we have corporal punishment as being legitimate from Scripture is based on understanding that the basic nature of a child is oriented towards foolishness and sin, and that the role of the parent is not be a friend to the child—you can be a friend of your offspring when they get out of college—but to fulfill the responsibility to train that child so that when they reach the age when they leave home they can live independently and successfully. So this idea of corporal punishment is necessary and it is not only validated in Scripture; it is instructed in Scripture that this is what parents are to do.
Proverbs 10:13 NASB "On the lips of the discerning, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding." This is the idea that for the person who lacks understanding, i.e. the fool, that which gets his attention is the rod.
Proverbs 13:24 NASB "He who withholds his rod hates his son …" Proverbs teaches that the Lord disciplines a son whom He loves. A sign that you love your child is that you are willing to discipline and chastise them and apply the rod of correction if necessary. If you don't do that then biblically you don't love your child. Because you are operating on your own fantasy that somehow they will figure out how to be good without having to hurt yourself by spanking them. But that is not what the Bible teaches. This isn't saying that you need to go around whipping your son, spanking your child every time they disobey. That is over using corporal punishment. There is a time and a place for it and it is not every day or every act of disobedience. "But he who loves him disciplines him diligently [promptly]." It needs to be at a time when they remember what it is that they have done, that it is applied in a timely manner.
Proverbs 23:13 NASB "Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die." This is for the parents who think that if they spank their child that it is going to do irreparable harm. God says no, it is not going to do irreparable harm no matter how much the liberal parenting guides say that it will harm them if you spank them. God says those people are just liars and are living in their own fantasy world. You have to decided as a parent whether you are going to operate on God's Word or on the general opinion of a lot of people who don't understand the first thing about human nature, which is that it is basically sinful.  "You shall strike him with the rod And rescue his soul from Sheol." Here it is not talking about sotereology; this is not another gospel. "If you want to avoid going to hell then beat your kid," is not what this is saying! It is saying that you will keep him from experiencing all of the horrible consequences of self-indulgent behavior. So if you train them and you appropriately use physical punishment the result will be that when they are older they will not make the kind of decisions that will bring a hell on earth into their life.
Proverbs 26:3 NASB "A whip is for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools." What does the whip and the bridle do? It restrains behavior from going in an unproductive, unrestrained manner in order that the objective will be achieved. It channels their energy in the correct direction.
Proverbs 29:15 NASB "The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother." So if you want to make sure that you are going to have a child that grows up as a failure, as self-indulgent and arrogant, then the first thing that you do is make a decision that you are never going to spank your children. That is a guarantee of failure for your children when they become adults.
So what we see in the Scripture in Proverbs is that there is a pattern of instruction from a father to his son on how to be a wise parent in training the children that come along.
Scripture is very clear that the framework for training children is in the home, and this goes back to the Mosaic Law. Training is God's business in our life. There are always these comparisons between the discipline of the Lord and the chastisement of the Lord. Chastening is a form of love towards the object of God's love. The same thing is true of a parent. "Whom the Lord loves He chastens," and whom you love as a parent you need to also chasten. There is a place for punishment. This is seen ultimately at the cross where God punishes: not us for our sin but punishment has to take place so that judicial punishment is laid out on Jesus Christ. It is a horrible thing, but as a Father He punished His Son instead of every human being for the sin of the world. This whole concept of punishment is inherent in the way God has structured and built human society and all of it works together and is ultimately seen in that work of God's judgment of Christ on the Christ. Disobedience requires punishment.
If you as a parent choose to follow the path of modern parenting guidance then that at its very core is also another subtle form of attack on God's justice and on God's role in bring that punishment on His Son. It is because Christ died in our place on the cross that God's justice was satisfied and we can have salvation as a free gift, because the price has been paid.