GENERAL PRINCIPLE NOT IRON-CLAD RULE
One of the well-known sayings of the book of Proverbs is “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Many a parent has read this verse and reproached themselves bitterly due to the fact that their children have departed from the Lord’s way. I have known parents who have brought up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord who later suffered the greatest of grief when those children used their freedom of choice to depart from the way and will of God.
Paul is teaching in Ephesians 6:4 that as fathers rear their children, they are to do it in such a way that children are eager to obey rather than becoming resentful. This verse tells what the father is to do. The father is to nurture, which means to rear them tenderly. He is to chasten them which means to discipline. It includes punishment which is not pleasant, but it is fair and just. The father is to also bring up his children in the admonition of the Lord which means the spoken word (Titus 3:10).
If disobedient children are always rebellious, because they have been poorly brought up, then God Himself has been lacking in the guidance of His own children who have gone astray. When the freedom of choice is factored into the statement in Proverbs 22:6, it is absolutely true. It is far more probable that the properly trained child will continue in righteous living until death than will the child who has been lacking in discipline.
There are three factors that must be taken into consideration in Proverbs 22:6. First, it is true that many parents do a very poor job in training their children in the knowledge of God’s word. When the pressures of the world assault these young people, they evidence very little interest in serving the Lord and going to church. The fact is, parents contribute significantly to the direction their children will take.
Second, it is very clear that this passage contains a general principle and is not an iron-clad rule. This can be demonstrated by what God said to the parents of Israel, “I nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me” (Isa. 1:2). Surely, no one would claim that God was remiss in His parental responsibility. The bottom line is, even though a child might receive the best of training in God’s word, he/she is still a free moral agent and can choose to do right or wrong in spite of what they have been taught, and many times this is the case. Sometimes a child can receive no religious training at all, and then in adulthood, choose to accept the gospel and live a faithful Christian life. The bottom line is choice.
Third, we are dealing with a general principle and not an iron-clad rule. This can be demonstrated also by what Proverbs 16:7 says, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” This certainly does not mean that every enemy of the true Christian will turn and become a close friend. This statement is not always the case, but is only a general principle. It certainly was not so with reference to Christ.
God’s enemies even placed His son upon the cross. This verse, Proverbs 16:7, is simply telling us a good Christian has the power to make the world a more peaceful place. This verse, Proverb 22:6, is saying it is more probable that a properly trained child will continue in righteous living than will the child that is lacking in discipline.
--- Earl Sutton