By Richard J. Boone
The death of Dr. Benjamin Spock has reminded many people of his work in instruction on child rearing through several editions of his books. While one may or may not agree with his philosophy of child rearing, the sales of his books reveal a desire for guidance in raising children.
Along with his books, there are numerous secular books on the market on raising children. While I am not opposed per se to secular books, it is interesting that we often put our confidence in secular materials and/or their authors. This is a constant challenge for Christians (1 Cor. 2:1-5).
The Book of Books – the Bible, God’s word – was written “for our good always” (Deut. 6:24). It furnishes us completely unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We should not be surprised, therefore, to find information on raising children to be happy, productive citizens, and most importantly faithful Christians, in it If any one Bible book does this, it is Proverbs.
In several short statements, Solomon gives us the best guideline on raising children to be found anywhere. In a simple, direct approach, we will focus our attention on several Proverbs and the practical parenting lessons we learn from them.
Solomon on Child-Rearing
Prov. 3:12: “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.” This teaches us that discipline is a natural part of the parent-child relationship. This discipline is motivated, not by anger or hatred, but by love, the kind of natural affection parents should have toward their children. This proverb is quoted in Heb. 12:5-11 (go ahead, pause here to read the passage) with the following practical points: (1) Correction is to bring children into subjection under their parents (v. 9); (2) Correction is to produce reverence of the child toward the parent(s) (v. 9); (3) Correction is for the profit of the child (v. 10); (4) Correction is not pleasurable to the giver or receiver of it (v. 11); and (5) Correction gets results (v. 11). Every parent needs to remember these helpful observations, all of which are found in Proverbs.
Prov. 13:24: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” “Rod,” as used here and in other passages. can take various forms – a literal rod for spanking, or some other form of corrective discipline toward a child. Lest we lapse into a tangential discussion of what the “rod” in this passage is, though, note what the proverb is actually teaching: (1) Failure to discipline our children is evidence of a lack of love for them. (2) Loving discipline, to be effective, must be administered promptly. While this is not a call for rash action, it is a call for timely discipline which correspond to the nature and time of an unruly act. Though it has many applications, Eccl. 8:11 should also be considered in the realm of this brief study.
Prov. 19:18: “Chasten your son while there is hope, and do no set your heart on his destruction.” I have stated publicly many times here that as parents we have, for all practical purposes, about 20 years to raise our children properly. Along that 20-year time line, where are you with your child(ren)? This proverb teaches us to instruct and correct our children while we can have influence on them – there will come a time when we won’t! A failure to discipline (as the second half of this verse is rendered by the NKJV) allows the child to continue on a destructive course. But note who sends the child on this course – the parent(s)!
As render in the KJV, the second part of v. 18 states, “Let not thy soul spare for his crying.” If this is the accurate translation, then the practical lesson about sentimentality enters the picture. Parents tend to do all within their power to avoid unpleasant experiences for their children, even to the point of not disciplining them. Solomon teaches that our sentimentality must not take precedence over instructing and correcting our children.
Prov. 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Remember that we are talking about training our children – that includes instruction, counsel along the way, and correction when necessary. This proverb teaches: (1) Parents must do their part – a properly trained child does not happen by accident. It takes focus, purpose and persistence to accomplish the task. (2) To the greatest results, children must be taught and trained while they are young. We cannot wait until they are 8,10,12,15 years old, etc., to begin training them. Timothy was trained from “childhood” (2 Tim. 3:15). (3) Finally, we learn from this proverb that the teaching and training we give our children affects them for the rest of their lives. It is quite predictable that what a child is in childhood and adolescence, that he will be the same in adulthood. Parents, we cannot take our responsibility to raise our children lightly!
Prov. 22:15: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” From this we learn three simple, useful lessons. (1) Children will misbehave. They will not always be the perfect little angels we want them to be or assume them to be. (2) The rod of correction will drive foolishness away and bring a child into subjection to parents. Please note the Solomon says a rod of “correction,” not a rod of “destruction.” No, he is not advocating child abuse. He is simply stating that corrective discipline, even with a rod (corporal punishment, spanking, etc.), can and will teach a child to properly behave. Of course this assumes that parents are loving and consistent in their use of such methods.
Prov. 23:13-14: “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod and deliver his soul from hell.” First, observe that this is not option – it is a command: “Do not withhold correction from a child.” Second, it teaches that corrective spankings will not cause permanent damage to a child. Note the term “corrective” as I use it here; not “destructive.” Thirdly, proper corrective discipline can deliver a child’s soul from hell! Parents can send their children to or deliver their children from hell, depending on their application of these proverbs and other parenting instructions in God’s word. Eli was partially responsible for the wickedness of his sons “because he did not restrain them” (1 Sam. 3:13).
Prov. 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” Proper discipline imparts wisdom to children. They learn from their mistakes so as not to repeat them again. If they repeat them, then consistent, timely repeated discipline can teach the lesson. In fact, several disciplinary actions may be required, but a child soon (eventually) learns that there are set guidelines which are enforced, and will strive to remain within them. But we also note who bears the shame for a lack of discipline – the parents! An undisciplined child will make him-/herself known and will be a bad reflection upon the parents of that child.
Prov. 29:17: “Correct your son and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul.” Discipline’s purpose is really long-term. While it may be unpleasant for the moment, it has a greater goal in mind – to produce a happy, well-adjusted, fruitful member of society at large and to lead one to faithful service as a citizen in God’s kingdom. Ultimately, that is what every Christian parent wants in and for their children. Discipline helps to accomplish this. As time passes and as parents do their work properly, the dividends are countless. All of them bring peace and delight to a parent’s soul. It allows a parent to pillow his or her head at night thankful for their children and their manner of life, instead of fretting over what their children, even when grown, might try next.
Parents need guidance to raise children properly. While it can come from several sources, let us not forget the primary source – the Bible. Proverbs helps much in this search. God, help us to learn the wisdom herein and have the courage to apply these lessons from Solomon’s proverbs.