Proverbs 22:6Once in a ladies’ Bible study group, a young mother of three small boys made a bold declaration. “If you raise your kids correctly and to follow God, they will never rebel.”

Her words hit the room like a wrecking ball. Most of us knew that two godly mothers in the group were dealing with rebellious teenagers. You could see the anguish on their faces. And the empathy on the faces of most of the rest of the group. “Young mother of three small boys” was clueless.

As the leader, I knew I had to do something. As graciously and kindly as possibly I attempted to minimize the damage she had done.

I have no doubt this young woman meant well, but she should never have made this statement. She was claiming something to be fact, but was not speaking from a place of knowledge or experience. Her boys were all five and under. I mean, seriously, what did she know about rebellious kids?

So if her statement didn’t come from knowledge or experience, where did she get the idea that if you raise your children “correctly” they won’t ever stray? More than likely, she got it from the Bible book of Proverbs. You may be familiar with the verse too:

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Yes, the verse – like all the others in Scripture – is the inspired, authoritative Word of God. But “young mother of three small boys,” and many of us too, have wrongly claimed this verse as a blanket promise from God. We may have even been taught that this is a promise from God.

Over the last couple of Thursdays, I’ve posted about verses that are often misunderstood because they are taken out of context. (See also, “Do you misuse Philippians 4:13” and “What’s the Good of Romans 8:28.”) Proverbs 22:6 is often misunderstood because we fail to consider the literature genre.

The book of Proverbs is classified as wisdom literature. “The Introduction to Biblical Interpretation” by Dr. William Klein and Dr. Craig Blomberg define a proverb like this:

“By nature proverbs are not absolute promises from God that guarantee the promised outcome if one follows them. Rather, they point out patterns of conduct that, if followed, give one the best chance of success. In other words, they offer general principles for successful living rather than a comprehensive “legal code for life'” (page 315).

Considering the nature of a proverb then, God does not promise us that if we diligently teach our children about God and His ways, and raise them to love Him they will grow into godly, responsible adults. Though it is far more likely to turn out that way if we do, then if we don’t.

The grief of many godly parents has been multiplied because they misunderstood Proverbs 22:6. Jen Wilken comments on this in her book “Women of the Word:”

“Reading a proverb as a promise can lead to heartache and doubt. Understanding it as a general rule for life can point us toward wise decision-making.”

Many godly parents have taken this verse as a promise. But then their teenager rebelled or their young adult walked away from the faith. The parents were shaken to the core. Where did we go wrong? Why did God allow this to happen? Why wasn’t God faithful?

So, what do we do with Proverbs 22:6? And all the other proverbs? We accept them as God’s inspired Word. We read and study them. We embrace them as the best principles to live lives that please and honor God. And we entrust our children to God who is indeed faithful!

Have you ever misunderstood Proverbs 22:6 as a promise? Have you been “disappointed” by Proverbs 22:6? How can we find comfort in the truth that this verse is not a promise?

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