Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
This is a verse that has probably been memorized by nearly every Christian along their believing journey. It has been used as a theme verse for new parents at baby dedications, and has even decorated the walls of nurseries.
This verse is God’s word and therefore is true and relevant.
However, if you are considering quoting this scripture to the parent who is suffering through the heartbreak of a prodigal child, please don’t.
You may ask, “Why not??”.
Because the book of Proverbs, as true as it is, is a book of godly, biblical principles, not promises.
H. Norman Wright, in his book, “Loving a Prodigal”, says,
“God never intended that verse to be a guarantee that children raised faithfully would be godly. In fact, the writers of Proverbs were fully aware that godly parents might have ungodly children. Otherwise they would not have said, “Whoever loves wisdom makes his father rejoice, but a companion of harlots wastes his wealth.” ( Prov. 29:3 ) This proverb and others like it face reality. Children can reject their parents’ moral and spiritual training.”
Proverbs 22:6 was not written to be a formula for making sure prodigal children come back home again. In fact, the entire book of Proverbs was written as a collection of “likelihoods”. As a general rule, if you are godly parents, your children will likely end up on the right path eventually, even if they take a few detours along the way. But this is NOT a guarantee. How many of us know of faithful parents who raised their children to follow the Lord, but their grown children died in their rebellion? If Proverbs 22:6 was a promise, this could not happen. Rebellious children would always return. But they don’t.
If this commonly used passage was a guarantee, how can you explain so many other verses in the Proverbs that are easily proven NOT to be promises? A few examples are:
“The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.” ( 10:27 )
“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.” ( 16:31 )
There are so many more. These are not promises. They are divinely-inspired observations made by Solomon, that the Holy Spirit prompted him to write down as a book that gives general rules on the way the world works. There are plenty of wicked people that live long lives. And having gray hair doesn’t mean you are a righteous person.
H. Norman Wright says of the Proverbs,
“They appear to be likelihoods, rather than absolutes with God’s personal guarantee attached.” If you follow the advice in Proverbs 22:6, there’s a good probability that children will either remain true to this instruction all their lives, or return to God’s teachings as they mature. Remember, though, that is only a probability, NOT a certainty.”
So, please, as much as you may want to help a struggling parent of a prodigal, it cannot be a guarantee for them that they will ever see their child return to the way they in which were brought up to believe.
Instead of quoting this Proverb to the hurting parent, and perhaps giving them false hope of a bright future for their child, there are a number of other ways you can minister to them:
*Tell them you are praying for their child, and encourage them to continue praying for their child.
*Remind them that God is sovereign, and any outcome that He determines is right and good.
*Remind them that they have no control over their child’s choices and that they are not responsible for their child’s bad decisions.
*Assure them that there is peace to be found in trusting the Lord and His ultimate plan.
*Remind them that His grace is sufficient to sustain us in every trial.
The person who shares this verse with a hurting friend or family member, is, in all likelihood, acting with loving intentions. However, it could end up doing more harm than good. There are better ways to help. It’s important to know why the book of Proverbs was written, and that while it shows us a general roadmap for life, it provides no assurances of good outcomes in life’s difficult circumstances. Embrace the principles of the Proverbs. But don’t view them in the same way as we are able to trust His immutable promises, which are abundant, and CAN get us through our trials. His promises never fail!!
*You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. ( Isaiah 26:3 )
*“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ( John 16:33 )
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ( Matthew 11:28-29 )
*And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ( Philippians 4:7 )