In Proverbs, Solomon invites us into the intimacy of his family circle. Twenty-three times1 in the book he addresses “my son.” Forty times he mentions mothers and fathers. Five times he mentions a wife (5:18; 6:29; 18:22; 19:13- 14) and five additional times he mentions a wise, virtuous, or gracious woman (possibly referring to his wife or a future daughter-in-law). Let’s allow the world’s wise man to give us the verbs we need to successfully prepare our children for heaven.
Observe your child
“Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right” (Pro. 20:11). The American Standard Version has, “Even a child maketh himself known by his doings.” The phrase “maketh himself known” implies adult observation. The next verse says, “The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made both of them” (20:12). Solomon seems to be saying that God gave us senses for a reason— to use them to watch and listen to our children. Some parents keep a notebook in which they assimilate meaningful patterns (interests, intelligence, abilities, social skills) in the child’s conduct. We can use such information to turn children’s hearts toward heaven.
Accept your child
A parent’s approval is important. Solomon knew he was “his father’s son” 2 (Pro. 4:3), which is another way of saying that he was “Daddy’s boy.” Solomon begins Proverbs by identifying himself as the “son of David” (1:1)—not a preacher (as he did in Ecclesiastes), king, wise man, husband, or scientist, although he was each of these and more. Parents succeed when they create an atmosphere of acceptance and foster a sense of belonging. This goes against the grain with some parents who set high goals for their children and drive them hard to fulfill those dreams. This is good to a point, but wisdom creates room for falling short and doing better next time. When a child feels he is never good enough for Dad or that she never does well enough to earn Mom’s approval, frustration or depression may develop.
We can focus so much on what children are not doing right, that we do not see what they are doing well. One said, “A father needs to be on his child’s team—not on his back” (cf. Rom. 14:19). We must not expect an adult head to sit on a child’s shoulders. We should remember what it was like to be three, six, and sixteen and give children room to make mistakes, develop, learn, and grow. Perhaps Reader’s Digest said it best: Rearing children is like holding a very wet bar of soap—too firm a grasp and it shoots from your hand, too loose and it slides away. A gentle but firm grasp keeps it in your control.
Manage the child
Matthew Henry commented on “even a child is known by his doings,” saying, “Parents should observe their children, that they may manage them accordingly.” 4 Only important people have managers. Professional athletes have managers; actors have managers; presidents have managers. And children of Christian parents have managers. Children are that important (Matt. 18:3; 19:13-15). The psalmist compared children to arrows in the hand of a mighty man: “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate” (Ps. 127:4-5).
As an arrow needs to be aimed and propelled to reach its target, we both aim and propel our children toward heaven. What we reward and encourage gets repeated (humility, sharing, humor, love); what we punish and discourage (lying, pride, aggression, selfishness) is gradually eliminated.
A child with temperamental difficulties needs especially strong, loving management. Such children often turn out to be highly creative, successful, even exceptional people—like Winston Churchill—but they need more management than “easy” children. Mothers especially have a powerful influence in aiming and pushing children in the right direction in their tender years. Some think this is the reason that mothers are mentioned in the Old Testament histories of the kings (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 24:12; 2 Chron. 22:3). It seems that Lois and Eunice were the sole Christian family influences that molded Timothy into a capable preacher (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15).
Show your child “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways” (Pro. 23:26). More is caught than taught. In her autobiography, Linda Ellerbee, then co-anchor of NBC News Overnight, wrote that she once received this letter from a little girl: “Dear Miss Ellerbee, when I grow up, I want to do exactly what you do. Please do it better.”
Little eyes are watching us; little feet are following us; little minds are weighing our words and actions. Our character is a river flowing past our children hour by hour. One day our steps likely will be their steps, our thoughts will be their thoughts, and our words will be their words. “He walked in all the ways of… his father; he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Kings 22:43).
Verbs are words of action. “Go and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37).
In twelve separate chapters, especially the first seven.
Remember that Solomon was the child born to David and Bathsheba after their first child died (2 Samuel 12:24).
Quoting Disciplines of a Godly Man. R. Kent Hughes. Published by Good News Publishers, 2001. ISBN 1581342861, 9781581342864. Page 48.
Commentary on Proverbs. E-sword Version. Ellerbee, Linda (1986). And So It Goes: Adventures in Television. ISBN 0-399-13047-0.
Allen Webster is a Gospel Preacher, director of Polishing The Pulpit, editor of: Glad Tidings of Good Things, and House to House/Heart to Heart, and a part of the adjunct faculty of the Memphis School of Preaching.