Teach Your Children Well — Part One
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Teach Your Children Well — Part One

Proverbs 22:6  (ID: 2284)

The opportunity to raise our children well is brief. How can parents best use this limited time? Drawing on the wisdom of Proverbs 22, Alistair Begg points to Scripture’s instruction to “train up a child in the way he should go”—not the way he would go if left to his own sinful inclinations. As parents, our task is to guide our children through loving discipline. By learning at home the truth of biblical principles, that child will know to whom he belongs for eternity.

Series Containing This Sermon

Wise Words

Unlocking Treasure in the Book of Proverbs Proverbs 1:1–31:31 Series ID: 24301

Parental Priorities

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 21801

Sermon Transcript: Print

Can I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Proverbs and chapter 22? And we read from verse 1:

A good name is more desirable than great riches;
 to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Rich and poor have this in common:
 The Lord is the Maker of them all.

A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge,
 but the simple keep going and suffer for it.

Humility and the fear of the Lord
 bring wealth and honor and life.

In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares,
 but he who guards his soul stays far from them.

Train a child in the way he should go,
 and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Verse 12:

The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge,
 but he frustrates the words of the unfaithful.

The sluggard says, “There[’s] a lion outside!”
 or, “I will be murdered in the streets!”

The mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit;
 he who is under the Lord’s wrath will fall into it.

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
 but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.

He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth
 and he who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty.

Father, we pray that with our Bibles open before us, that you will be our teacher—that you will perform the mysterious work of making your voice to be truly heard when your Word is faithfully taught. Grant that our preoccupation may be with your Word and the one to whom we are introduced in your Word. For his name’s sake we ask it. Amen.

We’ve noted that the book of Proverbs, as Kidner says, calls to us in the street rather than ushers us into a church building.[1] It calls out to us about the everyday matters of life. It scratches us in the areas of homelife and tells us that here is godliness, if you like, in working clothes. And so, as we’ve looked together at these principles, we’ve considered friendship and laziness, jealousy, words, sex, and this morning, the raising of children. The raising of children.

People often ask me, you know, “Are you going to address the matters of the family?” or “When are you going to do a series on this or that?” And my answer is always the same: “When we come to it in the Bible. When we arrive at the subject, we’ll tackle it. And sometimes we’ll start with a subject and look for scriptural references, but most of the time not.” So here we are. It would seem appropriate that we address this issue not only today, in which I can hardly introduce it, but also for at least one more Sunday, and maybe two. It is a vast subject.

There are a number of factors, as some of you will know along with me, that are noticeable with advancing years. First of all, we feel older; there’s no question of that. We look older; there’s no doubt about that. But also, we sound older. And I think the latter is the worst of all: realizing that we’ve started to trot out the same old clichés that we used to curl up our noses at when we heard it coming from our own fathers. And our children and younger people around us are tired of hearing stories that begin, “When I was a boy…” Or, in response to some interesting and extravagant purchase, we tell them, “You know, my first paycheck only amounted to,” you know, whatever it was. Or, “If you’d had one of those things sticking in your ear when I was a boy, then…” whatever it would be. Or, “Did I ever tell you about the time that…” and we look around, and people are just slowly leaving the room; they’re just drifting off.

If our children and our grandchildren, then, are to be spared from listening to a succession of homespun yarns which just get more far-fetched with the telling, if we are to prevent them from simply being the recipient of horribly dreadful clichés, then it is important that we pass on to them wisdom. Wisdom. Not simply information, but wisdom.

We need wisdom if we are to live our lives in a way that is honoring to God.

And here in Proverbs, we’ve been discovering that the crux question as he lays out the issues of life is essentially this: Is this a wise thing or a foolish thing? Is this a wise choice or a foolish choice? Is this the wise road or the stupid road? And most of the time, he is addressing folly not in terms of intellectual impoverishment but rather in terms of moral perversity or of spiritual perversion: Are you going to go God’s way, or are you planning on going your own way? And he urges upon his son—and upon his daughters, as it were, through his son, picking this individual to be the recipient of it—the importance of understanding that “the fear of the Lord,” as he says in chapter 9, “is the beginning of wisdom” and that “knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”[2]

And we recognize that we need wisdom if we are to live our lives in a way that is honoring to God. And which of us would deny the need for wisdom in the matter of raising children? Surely there can be no greater privilege and no larger challenge in all of life than being entrusted with the custody of these little bundles that hold so much potential both for good and for ill. You take that child into your arms, and you look at it, and it has the potential to become Hitler, or it has the potential to become Dr. David Livingstone, the missionary explorer. It has the potential to help immensely in the course of life; it has within it the potential to harm dreadfully in the unfolding of his or her journey.

And as we stand on the brink of the twenty-first century and look at our Bibles and look at our culture, there can be little doubt that one of the ways in which the Christian worldview impinges on an increasingly confused and dispirited culture is in the realm of child-rearing and child training and nurturing. Is it simply that I’m getting old, or is there an increasing absence of civility and respect amongst children as we move among them? Does everyone feel this way? Am I just becoming, now, like my grandfather? Is that what it is? Or is it possible to assume that when you greet a child, they flat-out ignore you, gazing at you straight in the eye? That when you say “Good afternoon!” to them, they may choose to pass you by? That you may move amongst university students and find that they pay you the scantest of attentions? You may address them in the public arena and find them overladen with their baseball hats as they sit in the context of worship with a complete disregard for anything that is going on. The fact that they would not sit like that if they were at an interview with IBM or if they were attending a hearing of a Supreme Court doesn’t seem to make any difference to them at all. After all, it’s their hat, it’s their hair, it’s their day, it’s their life. What’s it to you, old guy?

And is it just me, or are young moms now completely tyrannized by these children in the grocery carts? Is it as I suspect, that young mothers are on the absolute knife-edge that could lead them to total despair or murder, as we have seen in the tragic, horrible events of the last eighteen months? There is some cause and effect between those dreadful, heinous deaths in the bathtub and the disengagement of mind that may be at least contributed to by the inability of a parent to understand their role, their responsibility, and the resources that are available to them. Witness the inability of parents to say “no” to their children or to say “stop” to their children.

Have you flown on a plane recently with a toddler behind you? I will know. If we go swimming together, I will know. Because you will have a mark, a bruise on your back, from having been kicked for four and a half hours by the little foot that just goes like this: dink, dink, dink, dink. And you hear the person behind explaining in pseudophilosophical terms about the benefits of keeping your knees in the downward position rather than the upward position, and you want to just turn around, grab the father by the throat, and say, “Have you ever heard the word stop?” Total confusion. Endless discussions.

Now, it’s no surprise to me that people talk to their children like this, because I’ve noticed they talk to their animals like this. They’re the same dumb talk that they do to dogs: “Now, Rover, that’s not a very nice way to treat the people in the neighborhood, is it?” What do you expect the dog to say in response to that?

Now, why do they speak that way to dogs? Because of their view of theology. Because of their view of the world. They may not understand it, but they believe themselves, as humanity, to simply be a turbocharged monkey, with as much right to be on the planet as their dog. Therefore, it would definitely be wrong for them to roll up a newspaper and hit the dog on the snout. Because after all, Rover is his own little person—as, of course, is this fiendish little creature in the grocery cart. So we’re going to have a little discussion here and another little discussion over here.

Time magazine—August sixth, last year, 2001—had a cover, “Do Kids Have Too Much Power?” “Do Kids Have Too Much Power?” That’s the question they were asking. The article was fascinating. I can’t read it to you all, but it describes the attempt of one family managing their four-year-old, Lucien, and their seventeen-month-old, Elliot. It begins by pointing out that this couple, who live in the suburbs of Chicago, they know that no book can tell them exactly the best way to raise their kids. So, there’s a lot of stuff out there, but there’s no book that can tell you what to do.

So, they engage in rearing little Lucien and little Elliot. And the little lawyer, Lucien, tries to cajole his mom and dad to accompany him outside to play. Mom said, “I said no.” That should be the final answer. Dad said, “I said yes.” So we got a problem. And little Lucien the lawyer is presently negotiating with his parents.

Bath time, of course, leads to more negotiations. Never enthusiastic about getting into the tub, Lucien can usually be talked into it, you see? You say, “We gotta waste half an hour of our lives explaining to Lucien the benefits of washing yourself.” Says Natalie, his mom, “We plan for him to take a bath every night, but sometimes it’s not worth the fight. He was so dirty that night; we just didn’t want to give in.” Well, good for little Lucien.

And tussling over the telephone. A wonderful picture here. We’ve seen it a hundred times over. You’ve got the mother with the phone. You’ve got the clutching seventeen-month-old going, “Aaaah!” You’ve got the mother putting her hand over the phone: “Be quiet! I’m talking to Grandma.” “Aaaah!” Okay? The picture has this accompanying it: “Unable to tune out Elliot’s screaming, mom surrenders.” “He shouldn’t have the power to prevent me from talking to my mother. This phase just started, and I’m afraid I’ll never get to talk on the phone again.” Who’s in charge here? Seventeen-month-old Elliot is now in charge of telephone calls in and out of the home.

I’ll spare you the dressing sequence but end with a comment: “No ham, no way. Trying to broaden the picky eater’s palate is usually futile.” Says his dad, “I know he likes it. He’s had it before. But I’m disappointed when he doesn’t expand his food horizons.” “Come along now, Lucien, time to expand your food horizons.” Am I just getting old, or what’s happening here? I mean, was my mother nuts when she said, “Eat that, or I’ll…”? Says the mother, “I’m not really sure he needs to eat that cancer-causing protein.”

Nighty-night. “Bedtime, the last hurtle of the day, is also the most exhausting. I’m hoping for some time to relax before I pass out, but I let him get away with one more stalling tactic. He has to look at one more thing, and I don’t say no.”

Well, there you have it. I mean, out of the contemporary literature of our day. Now, this is no surprise to anyone, but here’s the thing: the Christian knows that there is a book that has the answer. The Christian has a worldview that starts from a totally different premise. But let me tell you something: in my experience of young Christian couples, we’re not exactly blazing a trail of such qualitative parenting that folks are asking if they can come over to our homes to learn from us the principles whereby, in resisting confusion and in submitting to the clarity of this book, we have found that the Maker’s instructions really, really work.

Some years ago now—I can only recall the scene in my mind; I can’t recall the movie. It was Cher that was in it. I never thought much of her as an actress, but she was good in this movie. She played the part of a mother. She was a kind of a hip mother who wanted to be hip with her teenagers, and the teenagers were driving her nuts. And in one classic scene there is a royal argument that ensues, and they are going hammer and tongs at one another. And eventually, both of them dissolve into tears, and Cher as the mother grabs this teenage girl in her arms, and looking across her shoulder into the camera, she says, “How do I know what to do with you? You didn’t come with instructions!” And Proverbs says, “Yes you did! You came with instructions.”

Now, the fact that the instructions exist is not necessarily synonymous with the fact that the instructions are being understood. And the fact that they are understood is not necessarily correlative with the fact that they’re being applied. And the challenge, I suggest to you, is a real one.

Now, in introducing this subject this morning, I want to say just a number of things. I hope that it doesn’t appear completely disjointed. I hope there is enough structure to it to make sense.

First of all, let us notice that wisdom begins at home. That wisdom begins at home. If we’re looking for it to begin any other place, we’re looking in the wrong place. “Listen, my son”—1:8. “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” So the father is to bring instruction, the mother is to be a teacher. Who are they to teach? They’re to teach their pupils. Who are their pupils? Their children! In what context? Deuteronomy 6 tells us. We read it routinely when we’re sharing in the dedication of little ones: they’re to do it when they “walk along the road, when [they] lie down and when [they] get up.”[3] When they see the events of a starlit sky, they’re able to speak concerning the Creator. When they’re confronted by difficulty and by pain, they’re able to speak concerning how God enters into our suffering and how God has made himself known to us, not on a deck chair but on a cross. When their tiny lives are buffeted by the pain of the absence of friendship, they’re able to speak to them concerning the fact that “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”[4] And when they’re frightened to go to sleep at night, they’re able to speak to them concerning the fact that God knows their tiny lives and is a strong tower to them[5] and will protect them, in the same way that they may put all kinds of pillows around themselves, and they may put all kinds of teddy bears all around them, and the mother says with absolute authority on the Scriptures, “In a far more precious way than your bear is snuggled up to you, the Lord Jesus looks after you in the watches of the night.”[6] And pagan parents can say no such thing. They have nothing to say.

By nature, we love our children dearly, but we need the Scriptures to learn how to love them wisely.

And since wisdom begins in the home, we need to realize that children come with a stamp on them. They come with a number of stamps on them, but one is certainly this: “Yours for a limited time only.” “Yours for a limited time only.” The window of opportunity is very small. Oh, I know in those early days, when you first get them, it seems like forever. When old people like me meet you in the mall and say, “Oh, well, enjoy them when they’re young, because it goes past very, very quickly,” and you’re straggling through the mall like this—you’d give ’em away to a stranger, if you could, just to get five minutes peace. You’d send them to their grandmother for seven months if you could just get them out of the house. And some well-meaning says, “Well, do enjoy them while they’re young.” You say, like, [blows raspberry]. You know, “What do you know? You have forgotten, you have!”

Well, it happens quickly. We shared in the birthday of our youngest last Tuesday. Twenty years old. Ten months when we arrived, twenty years old last Tuesday. No longer can Sue and I say, “Yes, we have teenage children.” We don’t. We just crossed another milestone. How quickly it went by! How aware we were as we went to bed that all of our best influence has passed. Oh, the relationship continues. The interaction is sweet and meaningful with each of the children. But the fact is that we’re really done. We’ve done what we could, we did what we thought, we tried our best, the same as you have done as parents—the same as you must do. We cast ourselves on the grace of God.

And since wisdom begins at home, and since we have them only for a little time, you can begin your work too late, but you can never begin your work too soon. You can start too late in the project, but you can’t start too soon in the project. And by nature, we love our children dearly, but we need the Scriptures to learn how to love them wisely. And the only way that we can love them wisely is by a right understanding of what we’ve been given here in this child.

The verse which is before us as a sort of launching pad for our study is “Train a child in the way he should go,” or the way she should go. “A child.” What do we have here? We have a child! Oh, we know what that is, don’t we? Oh, in measure we do.

I think I’ve told you before that when our son was born, we took him for a period of a few months to a fairly well-respected pediatrician in the west of Scotland, who examined him for a kind of postnatal checkup deal. And we would arrive—Sue would have him all wrapped up, beautifully put together—and then we would hand him to the nurse, the nurse would take off all his stuff, reduce him to his birthday suit, and when she had him down to the basics, then along would come Dr. White. He was a big man. He used to pick him up like he was picking up a pound and a half of sausages. He’d just pick this child up, and he would poke and prod and go “Mm-hmm-hmm,” the way that—you learn how to do that at medical school, apparently—said, “Mm-hmm, mm-hmm-hmm,” and then, with a flourish, pass the little pound and a half of sausages back into the custody of the nurse and say, to the amazement of Sue and I, “She looks fine to me.” Which did not encourage us in terms of his abilities. I mean, this guy has missed the point completely, and he’s a pediatrician.

So, in raising our children, it is important that when we ask the question “What do we have here? What are we dealing with?” that we answer that question on the basis of a faithful consideration of that with which we’re presented. We are given “a child.” What is a child? Well, a child is not the product of time plus matter plus chance, but a child is the product of the faithful work of a creator God who intricately wrought them together in their mother’s womb,[7] establishing their DNA—the unique factors of personality, their traits and their abilities, their colorings and their codes, all put there by the express purpose of a loving God. And this loving God, who has stamped this child in his image, also recognizes that this child’s image of God is marred by the imprint of sin.

Now, in the course of my studies for a project, a writing project that I have at the moment, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the catechism, the Shorter Catechism—and particularly in the catechism for children, which is in our bookstore. The child’s one is about at my level: Bible questions and answers for children. And in going through this, I’ve recognized again just how crucial it is for us as parents to be instilling in our children—either in an obvious way or in an oblique way—but instilling in our children the basic, essential truths concerning who they are in order that they might understand their identity. Because a worldview that can’t answer for our children who they are and where they came from is an insufficient worldview. And our friends and neighbors do not have answers to the question, “Who am I, where did I come from, where am I going, and does it matter?” And a Christian parent’s responsibility is so to instruct their children that they’ll be able to answer those four questions. They’ll be able to give the answers to them before they fully appreciate the significance of the answers, but it is important that we give them the answers.

So, for example, in the catechism, it goes along like this—and you can teach this to your children. I wish I’d had this little book. I think I’ll send it to each of my children even this week.

Question 24: “Who was the first man God made?”


“What did God make Adam from?”

“The dust of the ground.”

“Who was the first woman God made?”


“What did God make Eve from?”

“One of Adam’s ribs.”

“What did God give to Adam and Eve as well as bodies?”

“He gave them souls that would never die.”

“Do you have a soul as well as a body?”

“Yes, I have soul that will never die.”

“How do you know that you have a soul?”

“Because God tells me so in the Bible.”

“Were Adam and Eve good when God made them?”

“Yes, very good. All that God made was good.”

“What is sin?”

“Sin is disobeying or not keeping God’s law.”

“What is not keeping God’s law?”

“It is not being or doing what God requires.”

“Did Adam and Eve continue to be good?”

“No, they sinned by disobeying God.”

“How did Adam and Eve sin?”

“By eating fruit that God had said not to eat.”

“What happened to Adam and Eve when they sinned?”

“They were separated from God.”

Now listen: “Does Adam’s sin affect us?

“Yes. We are all Adam’s children. He acted for us all, and as a result, we are all born in a sinful condition.”

Question 39: “What name do you give to this sinful condition?”

Answer: “Original sin.”

“What other sin are we guilty of as well as original sin?”

Answer: “Actual sin in what we do, say, and think.”

“What does every sin deserve?”

“God’s anger and punishment.”

“Can anyone get to heaven with this sinful condition?”

“No, our hearts must be changed before we can be fit for heaven.”

Now, the reason that many of us as parents are not giving this to our kids is because we don’t understand it ourselves. And when we think in terms of children, our minds are flavored by a lot of sentimental nonsense that flushes through the literature and airwaves of our time. And our minds are influenced also by an emotional instinct which obviously, clearly wants to believe the best about our children. But what the Bible actually says when we take this bundle in our hands and ask the question, “What do I have here? A child. And what is a child?”—the Bible says that the intentions of the heart of a man are evil from their youth, from their inception—Genesis 8:21. From the first dawn of choice, our children, who are by nature on the road to destruction, choose the road of destruction. The Evil One begins to tackle the issue when we still have our infants in our arms.

In Psalm 58, you have this amazing statement, which I’ll quote to you. I don’t want to tire you with cross-references. But Psalm 58:

Even from birth the wicked go astray;
 from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.
Their venom is like the venom of a snake,
 like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears,
that will not heed the tune of the charmer,
 however skillful the enchanter may be.[8]

So you see why it is that the mums are in the grocery store singing songs and offering gifts? “Na-na-na, diddle-ittle-ee, come on now, come on now. Here, let me get you one of these. No? Did you want one of those? Oh, I’ll get you a big book. You want a big book? Oh, please, leave my purse alone! Don’t throw the credit… Oh, you threw the credit cards on the ground! What am I going to do?” Bring the enchanter! Send in the clowns! Nothing works. Why? Because of what you have. They’re wicked! Your precious little bundle is a potential juvenile delinquent—no matter how cute she looks in her pink, no matter how wonderful he looks in his blue, no matter how angelic his eyes. And if you as his mom and dad don’t understand that, you will exercise a training program that is flawed from its very inception.

You see, the real key to raising children is theology. It’s not a book about child raising. It’s the Bible, so that we might have a doctrine of man. And our doctrine of man, then, determines how we deal with man. And the Bible says that man is born in sin and he’s “shapen in iniquity.”[9] Therefore, he is like a bowl, in crown bowling on an English green, which it is impossible for him to roll straight. He is put together in such a way that he deviates either to one side or to the other. And any attempt to say that this is going straight is a perversion.

And in Isaiah 48:8, you have the same principle:

You have neither heard [me] nor understood;
 from of old your ear has not been open.
Well do I know how treacherous you are;
 you were called a rebel from birth.

And parents come to me, they say, “I just don’t understand it! He was such a lovely little boy.” Hey, think back. He wasn’t! He wasn’t! Do you remember when he made that strange noise for the first time, that [makes obnoxious noise]? The Mississippi rebel cry? And your wife said, “What in the world is that?” I can tell you what it is: that cry of passion is the first stirring of his corrupted nature. Every vice begins in the nursery. Every vice begins in the nursery. With the arrival of a child, we are confronted by the arrival of that which has the potential for great good and great ill. You are confronted with the arrival of a monster.

And the world says, “I never heard such nonsense in all of my life.” I understand. Let me tell you something: the longer we go into the twenty-first century, the more clear it is going to become in these fair shores that a commitment to Christian truth in the matters of the most essential elements of our existence—man, woman; heterosexual marriage; the raising of children; the establishing of guidelines—in these most essential elements, it is going to get clearer and clearer and clearer, the separation between light and darkness, folly and wisdom. And this is gonna be no journey for the fearful. This is gonna be no trip for the faint in heart. This is gonna take everything, by God’s enabling in us, to stand up and say, “Yes, I actually believe that I have today taken home from the hospital a rebel—a lovely little girl, but she’s a rebel! And unless the grace of God reaches in and cuts the umbilical cord of her rebellious heart, then all that is endemic in her will come to fruition in later life.”

And the same grace which grants to us the wisdom to exercise parenting responsibilities provides for us the principles of parenting, so that God in his grace gives to us this training and instruction in order that we might be able to take these wayward children, who naturally choose where they would go, and we tell them where they should go. You notice how clear it is? “Train a child in the way he should go.” Not in the way he would go, in the way she would go. “No, don’t tell me where I should go. Don’t tell me who I should spend time with. Don’t tell me what I should do with my own body. I wanna do what I want to do.”

Now, listen, my dear friends. It is imperative, if we’re to have any hope whatsoever, that we establish authority in the dawn of life, that we seek to bend the tender twig before the branch is four feet wide. That’s a trunk! The earlier the training, the easier the work, the more encouraging the results. And you better do it sooner than later. You know that with potty training, don’t you? I mean, it’s embarrassing going on a plane with a five-year-old who’s got a huge great thing hanging out the back of his trousers. I mean, that’s ridiculous! That’s got nothing to do with the boy; that’s got everything to do with the mother. And imagine he got to be fourteen and he still had it! Going into junior high, the people going, “What is that you have behind you?” “Oh, well, my parents, they didn’t want to influence me. No, no, no, no, no, they didn’t wanna, you know, interfere in my progress and in my development. So they just let me go, you know, and I just go. And it’s freedom!” Yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of freedom. You’re gonna spend a lot of time by yourself, actually. You’re gonna be surprised at how freeing this is. Bye-bye!

You get at it as quickly as you can. Why? Because it’s crucial. The same is true: to leave children without principles is not to make them free, but it is to render them helpless.

I remember years ago, now, traveling on a train in England, and as I was making my journey south, I was sitting by myself in a four-seat area with a table in front of it and across from me a young mother and two daughters. And in the course of a journey which was long, we began to talk, I to the mother and then to the girls, and the girls were drawing, and one of them came over, and we started to draw together, and she’d draw, and I’d draw, and we’d pass it back and forth. And in the course of conversation, I said to the little girl, I said—whatever her name was; Sarah, I’ll call her—“And Sarah, do you go to Sunday school?” At that her mother said, “Sarah, come back here.” Just like that! She grabbed her, she pulled her back over to the other side of the compartment, and she didn’t say to me, but she said to Sarah, she said, “Sarah, I think we’re just going to wait until you’re a big girl, and you can choose for yourself whether you want to go to Sunday school or not.” All sounded so high-minded and smart, except that the biggest deprivation of freedom we grant to our children is the freedom to make a choice, and they cannot make a choice without information. And if this lady thought that her daughter was about to choose the path of righteousness and life once she got to the age of ten or eleven, it wasn’t gonna happen.

Parents that lack biblical principles are ignorant of their children’s moral and spiritual state; they’re clueless as to their propensity towards doing wrong; they’re therefore ineffective in applying discipline. And to reject biblical principles for child-rearing is ruinous. Look at 22:15: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.”

Children are rational creatures. Therefore, they need instruction, not blind submission. Children are individuals, and each has their own individual traits and temperament that give them their identity. And part of the skill in parenting is in distinguishing between our children. Is this girl, is this fellow, timid or confident? Is she withdrawn or gregarious? Is she fearful or carefree? Is she suspicious or trusting? Is she by nature aggressive or considerate? Is she amiable, or is she argumentative? And you take all of that information as a parent, and then you filter the training instruction of the Bible in relationship to them so that you may redefine their will without breaking their spirit, so that you learn to distinguish between childhood irresponsibility and willful defiance.

And in the process of that, says the Bible, words are not enough. Treating each child according to their own distinct identity, to their own peculiar nature, to their own stage in life, we are to discipline them. Nobody in their right mind—nobody who understands the Bible or the love of the Lord Jesus or of God—has any interest in abusing and hurting and harming children. But the Bible says that all need the rod, and some need it more than others, and that that is exercised, says God, from a heart of compassion. Because the rod that is exercised without affection is a revolting tyranny. “Discipline your children while they[’re] young enough to learn. If you don’t, you[’re] helping them [to] destroy themselves.”[10] That’s the living Bible, 19:18. If you don’t punish your son, you don’t love him. If you love him, you will correct him.

Children are rational creatures. Therefore, they need instruction, not blind submission.

Now, my friends, there’s probably no area in which the wisdom of God stands in more forceful contrast to the views of man than in this area. So let me just draw this to a close.

I just went on the internet and punched up the European Commission on spanking and discipline. It is staggering to read this information. It covers my own Scotland, it covers the nations of Western Europe, it goes into Africa. Let me just give you a flavor of what contemporary culture has to say concerning this. This was the Supreme Court of Italy, the Cassation in Rome. The judgment states that “the very expression ‘correction of children’, which expresses a view of childrearing that is both culturally anachronistic and historically outdated, should in fact be redefined, abolishing any connotation of hierarchy or authoritarianism and introducing the ideas of social and responsible commitment which should characterise the position of the educator”—in this case, namely, the parent.

So now I have no jurisdiction over my son as his father. He has equal rights to everything that I have. I must treat him, according to the European Commission, in a way that acknowledges that he has as much right to his opinion as I do as his father. Israel, the nation to whom God gave the Shema, written right into their laws—Israel, from Jerusalem: the Convention on the Rights of the Child describe corporal punishment of children as “entirely impermissible” and “a remnant of a societal-educational outlook that has lost its validity.” This is Israel: “[the] remnant of a societal-educational outlook that has lost its validity.”

One of the students asked me the other day, he said, you know, “Do you think it’s possible that we would ever be persecuted in the United States?” The answer is yes. And perhaps a lot quicker than we realize.

So what are we to do? Well, people say, “Well, we spare the rod because we love the children.” Say, “Well, listen: God doesn’t spare the rod, and he loves us. Do you love your kids more than God loves us?” In fact, God argues in Hebrews 12 from the correction of a father with his children to the correction of God the Father with his children, and he says, “The reason I do this for you is because I love you. And the undisciplined child is actually an illegitimate child.”[11]

Therefore, as young people, and as young parents particularly, I want to urge you to take this seriously. I want to urge you to stand against the tides of contemporary culture. I want to urge you to go and get the Bible questions and answers for children and teach them to your children. I know that educational theory says you don’t learn things off by heart anymore. That’s not the way you learn. You don’t learn to spell that way. You don’t go “C-a-t, cat. C-a-t, cat. D-o-g, dog. D-o-g.” You just go “Ribbity-dibbity doo-dee-doo,” and it fires up on the wall, and suddenly, you know it.

“Teach your children well.” Who said that? Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. “Their parents’ hell will slowly go by. And feed them on your dreams; the one they pick is the one they go by.”[12] See why it’s important that Christians listen to the culture rather than singing half-baked Christian songs all the time?

B. B. Warfield—and with this I finish. Warfield, the great theologian at Princeton, in an article defending the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Shorter Scottish Catechism, tells a wonderful story, and I’ll read it, and I’m done. “We have,” he says,

the following bit of … experience from a general officer of the United States army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien [of bearing], whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was [the man] with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface: “What is the chief end of man?” … On receiving the countersign, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and … enjoy him forever”—“Ah!” said he, “I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!” “Why, that [is] just what I was thinking of you,” [came the man’s reply].[13]

I’m going to tell you something: when you meet a kid now that can look you in the eye and talk to you; a boy who can shake your hand and you don’t feel like you’ve got a hold of a pound and a half of a wet cod; somebody who stands up in a room when a woman enters, who moves in order to have a lady sit on the seat, who knows that a greeting is to be met with a greeting, you’re starting to look at somebody who may just be a Shorter Catechism boy.

Do you think our culture needs them? Do you think a new generation demands them? If you’re the parents, get at it. If you’re the grandparents, step up. And if we’re on route, plan accordingly.

Father, thank you that the Bible is such a wise book, touches every area of our lives. Help us with our kids, we pray, and with our grandchildren too, that we don’t make a hash of it. And where we have been neglecting to order the direction of the twig, give us courage. Grant us grace. Help us not to be hard-handed, heavy-handed. Help us to recognize the interests and nature and traits and temperament of our individual children. God grant us wisdom, we pray. And raise up for us, we pray, in this generation a whole army of young people who are not driven by an external code but are motivated by an internal principle: that love for Christ issues in a life of respectful duty to his law—not that they’re accepted by it but that their lives are framed by it. Help us, O God, we pray, as a church and as individual families.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each of us, now and forevermore. Amen.

[1] Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (1964; repr., London: Tyndale, 1968), 35.

[2] Proverbs 9:10 (NIV 1984).

[3] Deuteronomy 6:7 (NIV 1984).

[4] Proverbs 18:24 (NIV 1984).

[5] See Proverbs 18:10.

[6] See Psalm 121:3−5.

[7] See Psalm 139:13.

[8] Psalm 58:3−5 (NIV 1984).

[9] Psalm 51:5 (KJV).

[10] Proverbs 19:18 (GNT).

[11] See Hebrews 12:5−9.

[12] Graham Nash, “Teach Your Children” (1969). Lyrics lightly altered.

[13] B. B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings, ed. J. E. Meeter (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 383–84, quoted in Sinclair Ferguson, The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (1981; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001), 8–9.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.