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Proverbs: Wise Parents and Wise Children Print E-mail
Sunday, 17 June 2007

We have now been looking at the book of Proverbs for a few weeks.  I mentioned during my first sermon that the book can be divided into two larger sections, namely chapters 1-9 and 10-31.  We spent the first two weeks looking at portions of chapters 1-9, which we labeled as discourses.  Last week we began looking at some verses from chapters 10-31, which we labeled as ‘proverbs,’ or pithy statements of wisdom.  I want to begin this morning by asking an important question for studying this book, namely how do we interpret ‘proverbs’?

Let me begin with an illustration.  Many of us at some point in our lives have read a newspaper.  Normally, a newspaper includes different sections within it.  For example, you may have a general news section, a sports section, and a business section.  When we read the different sections it is important for us to recognize what we are reading.  We do not want to read a box score for the Cardinals game in the same way that we would read the stock market report.  The numbers are meant to signify different points in each.  The same is true of the different genres, or types of writing, in the Bible.  We cannot read narratives, or stories, in the same way that we read the letters of the New Testament.  The book of Proverbs, as a form of wisdom literature, needs to be read and studied in light of its original meaning, which involves its original genre.  We cannot read the ‘proverbs’ as we read other proposition statements in the Scriptures, for they were not meant to be read in that way. 

So then, how were they meant to be read?  They are meant to be read as general truths that instruct us in living wisely on the earth.  Thus, they are not absolute, universal truths that apply to every situation.  The rewards for wise living and the punishments for foolish living are not always exact, at least not here on the earth in every situation.  Yet, this does not mean that the Bible contains errors, for the original writers did not mean them to be taken as universal truths.  The blessings and curses are meant to motivate wise living and to warn against foolish living. 

For example, consider one of the more famous proverbs, Proverbs 22:6.  The writer is not saying that if a parent raises a child in the right way, then that child, no matter what, will walk in wisdom.  To take this verse to mean that can lead to erroneous and devastating implications, which the writer never intended.  Yet, if we see this as a general truth, then we see it as an encouragement for parents to do all that they can to raise their children faithfully.  It is not a promise or a guarantee, but it is always more wise to raise a child to fear the Lord than to not.

Thus, the proverbs give us general truths for wise living.  This morning, I want to consider what the book has to say about being wise parents and wise children.  We will begin with the parents.  I want to look at two principles and identify a motivation behind each.  The first principle for wise parenting is as follows…

Wise parents will teach their children to fear the Lord (1:8-9, 6:20-22, 17:21, 20:7).

The whole premise of the book of Proverbs is a father teaching his son wisdom.  Of course, he begins by telling him that all true wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord (see 1:7).  Thus, all of the proverbs could be called instructions for living in the fear of the Lord.  Look at 1:7-9.  The father, along with the mother, wants to teach their son how to live in the fear of the Lord.  This is vitally important to them as parents.  Many of the discourses begin in this way.  Look at 6:20-22.  Again, you see the Father’s great concern for his son to walk in wisdom.  Not only does the wise father instruct verbally, but he also models to his son wise living.  Look at 20:7.  Thus parents, you are called to teach your children wisdom.  You are to instruct them and model to them what it means fear the Lord.  Why are you to do this?

Wise parents will teach their children to fear the Lord because a child who fears the Lord will bring joy to his/her parents.  Look at 17:21.  A father who neglects to train his child in wisdom will know great sorrow.  Granted, it will not all be the father’s fault, but it will grieve him nonetheless.  Look also at 29:17.  Here we see the opposite point.  A wise son will bring much joy and delight to a father.  It will take work, as we will see in a moment, but the fruit will be great blessing and great joy.  Parents you need to hear this and be reminded of it when you are tempted to grow slack.  Yet, how exactly do we go about teaching our children to fear the Lord?  This leads to the second principle for wise parents…

Wise parents will discipline their children (13:14, 19:18, 22:6, 15, 23:13-14, 29:15, 17).

We can all quote it for we have heard it all of our lives: spare the rod and spoil the child.  Yet, does the Bible really teach this?  Consider some passages with me.  Look at 13:24.  The writer uses very strong language here.  If you do not discipline your children, then you do not love them.  In fact, the writer of the Proverbs tells you that you hate them if you refuse to discipline them.  In other words, it is not just that you love them less if you chose not to discipline, the Bible says that you actually hate them if you fail to discipline them. 

Look again at 23:13-14.  Again the writer calls parents to discipline their children.  Yet, what about this idea of striking them with a rod?  Sounds harsh, is the writer referring to actually hitting our children?  Well, yes, to a degree.  The writer is not condoning beating or abusing our children, for that does not fit with the love and concern shown by the father throughout the book.  However, we must admit that the text does call for physical discipline.  Yet, even this physical discipline is disciplined.  In other words, we are not just hitting our kids in anger or frustration.  No, we are disciplined in our discipline.  We discipline them physically to carefully (and lovingly) teach them the fear of the Lord.  How does all of this come together in the book?  Well, consider the reason that the writer gives for discipline…

Wise parents will discipline their children for a disciplined child is a loved child.  We saw this in 13:24.  Look at 23:14.  Physical discipline is for the purpose of saving his soul from Sheol.  Look at 19:18, 22:15, and 29:15.  The text says that folly is bound up in the heart of a child, in other words, our children are not born wise, they are not born fearing the Lord, they are not born righteous, they are not even born neutral, no they are born rebellious for they are all sons and daughters of Adam (see Romans 5).  A wise parent will recognize this and will lovingly teach them to fear the Lord through discipline.  I know that such texts can be misused and abused.  I know that many parents will physically abuse their children and for this I grieve.  Yet, to refuse discipline can be just as wicked and just as abusive according to this book.  Thus, may the Lord give you wisdom in applying these texts as parents.   Well, what about children?  How are they to be wise in relation to their parents?  Let me identify one principle and two motivations…

Wise children will listen to and obey their parents’ instruction to fear the Lord (1:8-9, 15:5, 23:15-17, 22-25). 

The whole principle is important.  In other words, it is not enough just to listen, no, the Bible calls you to obey.  Look again at 1:8-9.  Hear and forsake not are the commands here.  Hearing and ignoring does not count.  Likewise, the principle qualifies the parents’ instruction as that which leads to the fear of the Lord.  I am fully aware that many parents are not concerned with teaching their children to fear the Lord.  In those situations, respect and honor are required, while obedience is not always required.  Yet, when a parent is calling you to fear the Lord, then you are to listen and obey.  Look at 23:15-17.  As your parents instruct you in the fear of the Lord for their joy, may you hear and heed what they say. 

Of course you may be wondering why is this so important?  Let me give you two reasons.  First, you should listen to and obey your parents because, as we said earlier, a wise child will bring joy to their parents.  We see this over and over again in the text.  Along with the verses mentioned above, look at 15:20, 17:25, and 23:24-25.  These passages make it clear that you can give your parents great joy by listening to wisdom and following the Lord.  They also make it clear that you can cause them great grief by not fearing the Lord.  You need to hear this: your actions impact more people than just you.  It is not just your life and your decisions.  Second, you should listen to and obey your parents because disobedience is costly.  Look at 17:2.  The writer notes that a foolish son will lose his inheritance to a wise servant.  Look at 20:20 and 30:17.  These are not warnings to be ignored.  If you fail to learn the fear of the Lord, then you will be headed for destruction. 

The gospel makes it clear that to reject the fear of the Lord leads to death and Hell.  These are not flippant warnings.  This is why it will bring your parents such great joy if you learn to fear the Lord.  Let me just be honest with you for a moment.  I know that a thousand different things are vying for your attention.  I know you are getting ‘wisdom’ from all sorts of places.  Remember this: all true wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.  Better to be a dork, or a nerd, or whatever they say these days and fear the Lord, than to be cool and on the road to Hell.  Listen to and obey your parents as they instruct you in fearing the Lord.

I want to close this morning a little differently than we have thus far in this series.  Instead of trying to apply these passages to the different groups in the room, let me close by reminding you of the cross.  I would dare to say that many of us can identify shortcomings in our own lives when it comes to the issue of being wise parents or wise children.  What do we do with those struggles?  What do we do with those shortcomings and failures?  We go to the cross and repent.  We believe in the blood of Calvary that covers us.  And not only that, we go to the cross for strength to be obedient in the future.  We cannot change the past, but we can be forgiven.  Many of us hear the call of these texts and know that we have not only struggled in the past but that we will continue to struggle in the future.  Again, that is why we must flee to the cross, for from it comes grace and strength to obey.  May the Lord give us grace in our families that they might honor Him.  Amen.

1 For more on interpreting the ‘proverbs’ see Tremper Longman III, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms: Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p.29-87

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 28 June 2007 )

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