What Does It Really Mean to Train Up a Child?

by Chris Borah March 2, 2016

I just heard from the other room my 3 year old son tell my wife, “I’ll protect him!” This is a pretty common phrase around here and he’s an awesome little boy, but I don’t want you to believe for a moment that he’s an exception to the rule (you know the rule: toddlers are insane and unruly little monsters).

My super sweet 3 year old has plenty of teachable moments and is growing up every day. He learns from his (many) mistakes, sinful dispositions, and everything else that comes with being a 3 year old. Every moment of our day-to-day parenting choices are shaped by the obedience of the Son as is revealed to us in Scripture. But 98% of our teaching moments are not Bible lessons. And I believe that’s biblical.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. — Proverbs 22:6

Common Evangelical Interpretation (CEI)

The CEI of Proverbs 22:6 varies in degree but not in kind. The interpretation is generally:

“train up” = Bible reading and Bible memory

“the way he should go” = to church

“when he is old” = when he goes to college

“will not depart from it” = once trained, always saved

More Helpful Interpretation (MHI)

The MHI of Proverbs 22:6 at the very least takes into account that this proverb could be obeyed pre-printing press. Indeed, Old Testament saints as well as most followers of Christ throughout church history didn’t have a personal bible(s) or even a family bible. The MHI is as follows:

“train up” = watch me love, and hear me as I tell you how to live & repent (this involves the Bible too)

“the way he should go” = what kind of person you were created to be: a lover of God and others

“when he is old” = tomorrow, and the next day, and the next

“will not depart from it” = his baseline religious and relational instincts will be godly

What This (Practically) Means

I love to pray through the Voice of the Martrys Prayer Calendar with my boys. I love Advent readings, adult-Bible and kid-Bible reading, and Christian virtue stories of all kinds. “Family worship” is awesome and should be encouraged. But family worship does not equal fulfillment of Proverbs 22:6.

Proverbs 22:6 involves “little things” like demonstrating self control, repenting towards mommy and towards children, and teaching my 3 year old why I require him to eat all of his veggies and baby brother is simply allowed to play with them. Before he expresses the exasperation that comes with being held to a higher standard, I want to teach him why I hold him to a 3 year old standard and not a 1 year old’s. As he demonstrates responsibility and understanding, we give him more and more opportunities to learn age-appropriate obedience:

“Yes son, being older has perks: cookies, staying up later, and root beer among other things.

But son, we must always remember that being older has more responsibilities too: an expectation to sit still longer, required first time obedience (every time), and the responsibility to protect his younger brother and not hit mommy (or girls).”

Every child is different and knowledge of healthy child development is essential to success. Expecting my 1 year old to sit still in church sets him up for failure and sets me up for physical and emotional exhaustion (and later in life, a lot of counseling).

What I’m Not Saying

I am not saying that Bible reading, Bible memorization, family worship, or regular church attendance are unimportant. To show and teach our kids what a renewed mind thinks requires us to renew our minds. We cannot say we value the Body of Christ and not actually prioritize being with them. At the same time…

Get On The Floor

We must get on the floor with our kids and teach them how to be fully human in every moment of their Lego-filled existence. Getting our “family devo time” in at the dinner table and then checking out for the duration of the evening isn’t Proverbs 22:6.

We don’t enforce biblical authority by threats of punishment (or withholding rewards) for sinful behavior (that is Gentilish authority, Mark 10:42ff). We enforce biblical authority when we behave as our God does: he doesn’t lord over us as the Gentiles do. He walks before us, shows us the way, invites us onto his lap, doesn’t allow us to destroy ourselves in our wickedness and pride, teaches us obedience as sons and daughters, and gives us realistic goals that he knows we can attain (because he knows us).

By all means, avail yourself of the resource that God has so graciously given you (I’m talking about the Bible)! But you should get on the floor too.

This article was originally posted at ChrisBorah.com