When you train a boy to use a hammer, when he is old he will know how to use a hammer.
After 31 years of child training and 11 years of teaching others, I can testify to the absolute truth of God’s promise: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This is a certainty, “…he will not depart from it”. Will not—not ever—not even for a short time—will not depart. “When you do God’s work God’s way, you never lack God’s supply,” said a great man of God. So, young parents, do not fret or worry when older, seemingly spiritual parents tell you they did all they could to train up their children, yet one or two of them spent time in rebellion. They may explain how outside influences or some other factor beyond their control caused God’s promise to fail. But, typically, if you ask their older rebellious kids why they do not walk in truth, they will point their long judgmental finger at their mama or their daddy and give you the real answer. God keeps his promises. If you train up your child in the way he should go, then he will always go that way. I promise, but much more importantly—God promised.
The bedrock of child training is example. Just today an old gentleman, whose children are long since grown, told me with a voice full of regret, acting out his words with a raised voice and pointed finger, “I always told my kids, ‘Don’t do what I do, you do what I say’.” He spent a great deal of his life training his children to work hard. He also had them memorize lots of Scriptures, but all his children turned down a dark path in their late teens. His example of anger, and his wife’s example of not honoring her husband, taught the children to be rebels. No amount of instruction or correctional training could counteract the example.
“Oh, this is terrible,” you might say, “because my spouse is a big sinner and will cause our children to go astray.” Not necessarily so. The Bible teaches us that if only one parent walks in truth, there is hope for the children. “…If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy” (1Cor. 7:12-14). This is another promise from a Holy God. It, too, is conditional. In our own experience, we have personally seen God bless time and time again when only one parent honored God by living in truth.
Gracie, our granddaughter, is 8 months old. Every day she receives a great deal of instructional training. “Come here, Gracie. Come to Mama.” “Give it to Mama, Gracie. Good girl.” “Spit it out, Gracie. You are so smart.” Occasionally, Gracie will reach for the eye glasses on the end of Mama Pearl’s nose, and she will receive a thump to the offending hand, and a gentle rebuke of, “No.” Gracie has learned what “No” means in any situation, and she reacts appropriately.
Thessa is 16 months old. Upon occasion she has the opportunity to come to the office to visit Daddy as he works. If she gets sleepy, she likes to take a nap in a softly padded cardboard box. Her daddy will always try to hear her stirring, and he will stop everything to catch that first look as she opens her sleepy little eyes. His face will shine with the brightness of love. That love is so powerful that it reaches out to her little soul and bathes her in joy. She is being trained that she is priceless to her mama and daddy. Her soul is being conditioned to obey them, because more than anything else in this world, she wants to please her daddy. His example of joy and appreciation is molding (training) her into a joyful little lady.
Trajan, Thessa’s “big” brother, also comes to work with his daddy every chance he gets. Trajan is 6 years old, and is learning to read. His daddy has poured his life into Trajan, with instructional training. As Daddy packs boxes of books, tapes, CDs, and DVDs, he explains every step to his wonder-eyed son. “Hand me this” and “Run and get that” keeps the little lad occupied and alert. If I ever need anything from the packing room, I don’t bother any of the packers. Trajan will know exactly where to locate the item I need. He is a well-trained packer. To my knowledge he has never actually packed a box of books, but I know that he could, because he has not been a useless kid hanging out in the packing room for the last 6 years. Trajan has been a helpful, responsive little fellow who refurbishes the shelves, carries the sacks of mail into the mail pick-up room, runs countless errands, and is sure to instruct everyone to clean up their messes. Trajan, like his daddy, favors neatness and order.
Because of the enormous amount of instructional training, along with his parent’s example, Trajan needs very little correctional training. I do remember when Trajan was about 2 years old, that he went through a time when he would whine for a “sippie cup” or complain for a toy. One or two stinging swats with a little switch would help him remember the rules, and he would be back to being his sweet self.
We have a 15-year-old friend, whom I will call Kurt, to save him from the embarrassment of fame. He has taken his high school placement test, and his scores reflected college equivalence. Yet, Kurt has spent most of his days working with his dad in construction. He can do a man’s job in every area of construction, including electrical wiring. His dad is always training his son to be not only a good boy, but a smart man. I feel sorry for boys who are being trained to be school boys, because they will soon be expected to be men, but will not possess any of the skills. Kurt’s way is as clear as light. He loves the Lord, walks in truth, and enjoys working hard. He has been trained.
There must have been times when his dad had to take a rod to Kurt for irritating his sisters or not coming in when he was told to do so. Yet, even though I have watched Kurt grow up, seeing him at least 4 times a week, I never saw him getting spanked. Correctional training was there, but it was such a small part of his life that I was never aware of it. Children between the ages of 2 and about 5 need to be trained to respect authority. An occasional spanking is essential to maintaining their respect for your commands. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). Some people think they can train a child without the rod, but the text is clear, “A servant will not be corrected by words: for though he understand he will not answer” (Proverbs 29:19). Children must be taught to answer to authority. The rod gets their attention when all else fails. “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul” (Proverbs 29:17). Correctional training is necessary, but…
The Greatest of These is, Example
I can remember countless times when Kurt’s dad or mom trained him how to play ball, ride a bike, swim, count change, sing harmony, lay down a hardwood floor, learn the vocabulary words in Reader’s Digest, or to help his sister learn to read. Most of Kurt’s training has been by example. Working side by side with his dad, he has come to be a conscientious and highly disciplined worker. Through Dad’s example, he learned to be courteous to his sisters and other females. Through observing his mother’s honor for his father, he learned to honor those to whom honor is due. He learned to be a strong confident man, a gentleman, a hard worker, a kind helper, a skilled craftsman, and an energetic ball player, all by example and relaxed instruction. His parents said with their lives, “Follow me and do as I do.”
Kurt was trained to love the Lord and walk in truth by the example he saw at home. His parents were the same in public as they were at home—not perfect, but the same. They would be the first to tell you that they are not perfect, but it is clear that there is no pretense of spirituality, no false humility, acting one way in public and another way at home. They do not have any secret sins of the flesh that they must hide from their church friends.
Just today, we received a call concerning a pastor’s family. For many years, this family has been a public example of discipline, higher education, principled spirituality, and submission. Yet, one son is suicidal, one daughter physically abuses herself to the point of possible death, and some of the other children are emotionally disturbed from the excessive anger and physical abuse they receive at home. These grown children are not just jumping ship for a better one; they are simply jumping overboard into the raging sea. After listening to a list of terrible woes, I asked, “He is not still a pastor, is he?” The reply was surprising, “Yes, no one knows, of course, about the anger or abuse, and everyone wants to show love toward the pastor, and are therefore sympathetic concerning problems with their older children. And, of course, some of his children are fine.” This pastor and his wife are a walking lie. A great big lie. Young families in the church look on and lose their courage to believe God’s promises, because what seems to be so right is ending up so wrong. God speaks of this in his word.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16-20).
Gracie, Thessa, Trajan, and Kurt are all being trained. If you train up a boy to use a hammer correctly, when he becomes a man he will know how to use a hammer. If you train down (by neglect) a boy to lazily sit around and eat too much, when he is a man he will be lazy and fat and given to other fleshly weaknesses. On the other hand, if you train a toddler to respond to commands, when she gets to be a teenager and you say “no,” she will receive your “no” as final and not slip around behind your back. But if your teenager sees your look of disgust or irritation toward your husband when your husband displeases you, then know this, you are doing some heavy-duty training in that teenager’s life. By your example, you are training that teen to sneer and rebel against you anytime you do not give in to her youthful whims. But if you love and honor your husband, and if your husband is kind to the old lady down the street, then when your teen is offered a seat behind a computer that is displaying porn, he will remember that unhappy family you have been trying to help, and he will want no part in sin. Because, when you train a child in the way he should go, he will not depart from it.