6 ¶ Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
This is one of the most popular verses in the Bible, oft quoted and misquoted, but one from which parents derive a lot of comfort. The first thing I would say for Christians is that the only way to train up a child in the way he should go is to live before that child as the kind of Christian you want them to be. The Bible also says very explicitly things you are not to do and things you are to do with regard to raising a child.
Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Notice the second part of the verse, to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Nurture and admonition carries with it the idea of care and instruction. John Gill agrees that it is the parents’ responsibility to educate their children in God’s ways.
This Proverb says that things taught soundly early on will remain with a person when they have grown old. We all know so many stories of young people, raised in a Godly environment, who left the care of God and went out on the power of their own flesh and the enticements of the world only to return to their faith when they were sick of themselves or had children whom they wanted to be raised right.
What we do in early childhood has an impact on our whole lives. My father had been in the military and when he was young and I was a toddler it was his practice to get up very early in the morning and do calisthenics before he started his day. My earliest memories are of trying to imitate his pushups, situps, and jumping jacks. I was never much of an athlete myself, never very successful at any sport, however from that time I learned a habit of regular exercise and a love of it that has lasted my entire life. While others, high school athletes in particular, sit around and talk about past glory and busted knees I look forward to working out on my own as I get old. This is because of the care that my Dad took when I was so small to instill in me a love of exercise.
What a sad state it is that Christians don’t care more for their child’s education in Christ. They expect the church to teach their child about our Lord and that is just pure laziness. The church body worships as a group, corporately, and does things for Christ that the individual can’t always easily do on his own. The sermons and lessons are to edify the believer and strengthen him to walk closer with God. However, letting God speak to you through His words, speaking back to Him in prayer; praising and have fellowship with Him, is essential every day. Worship itself should not just be at times when the body of Christ meets but each and every day.
Christians miss out on a great way of life by not having daily devotions with their family as a little church, with father as Pastor. Daily prayer and Bible reading when the children are very young are absolutely essential and important for establishing a firm foundation on which the child can depend when they are older. Well, you say, I have never taken much concern about my child’s spiritual education. I left that up to the times he or she attended church and he’s fine, she’s doing well. Well, I’d say back to you that you are probably a very carnal Christian and so will your child be. In fact, probably right now, in all likelihood, your adult child, like yourself, whom you never allowed to miss a church service, even forbidding him or her to play soccer on Wednesday nights is probably standing with both feet firmly planted in the world, in worldly Christianity if they are in church at all, in worldly pursuits, with worldly aims and goals, and worldly expectations. And there are things they are doing that they would never want you to know about.
To young Christian parents, just starting out, if you will hear me, start praying with your spouse today, and pray with your children. Read the Bible to them every day in small enough doses that they are able to hear but in large enough doses for it to have meaning to them. If your devotions are in the evening then talk about what God has done with you and for you today and how He has used you and refrain from complaining about what the boss, a customer, or some thoughtless motorist or coworker did TO you. Experience a life with Christ and share it with your child.
To those Christian young people who are courting, getting to know someone in the right way with the intention of marrying before God and their church family and starting a family either by natural means or adoption, start praying together today. Read the Bible together. Share your individual concerns with God and each other. This is the one thing missing from most Christian advice about courting and marriage. There is no time when it is inappropriate for two people to pray together, with family around, to learn and grow in the Lord.
Train up your child in the way they should go. When they are old they will not depart from it. It will be a real and powerful part of their life that will sustain them through every crisis and lead them to a closer relationship with their Creator and Saviour each day. Give them that firm foundation.
On the other hand, you can train your child to be a selfish, spoiled Christian brat who gripes about God and the failings of everyone else in their life, who treats the Bible with disregard, rarely darkens the door of a church building, and has a relationship with Christ much like children of secular minded people do with the Santa Claus at the mall, and unless God has mercy on them they won’t depart from that when they get old either.