This passage has long been one utilized as a springboard for a discussion focused on helping children understand the importance of obeying their parents. For those purposes, it is, of course, an excellent foundation for such a discussion. With that said, in order for children to heed the discipline of their father and the teachings of their mother, the discipline and teaching must be biblically sound. So I would like to turn the tables a bit and focus Proverbs 1:8-9 on parents.
As a parent and as a former child, I am keenly aware that children are a sponge. Wherever your child goes, they are absorbing information, both good and bad. The back of the school bus alone is a place ripe for information being thrown out left and right. Since children are largely naïve about matters of right and wrong behavior, more often than not their approach to the world is shaped by their peer group. Furthermore, their understanding of the world is also molded by the examples they see at home on a daily basis from their parents.
I have lost count of how many times my daughter has told me – “Well you said (insert sentence)” or “You did (insert action)” with the purpose of those questions being rooted in obtaining approval for their words and/or actions because they have observed their parents doing the very thing for which they are being disciplined. If parents were honest with themselves, we would have to admit we are being a bit hypocritical if we expect our children to not do the wrong actions we are doing. In order for our children to heed discipline and instruction, it is vital for us as parents to set a godly example. The do as I say not as I do rhetoric simply will not cut it in the world of parenting.
What then is a better example and approach than the aforementioned poor rhetoric? Joel Beeke, in his excellent book Parenting by God’s Promises, rightly notes
“What children need to see is not a perfect mom or dad, and certainly not a mom or dad who never says, I’m sorry. They need to see in us an unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ, an unconditional love for them, and a strong bond of love for each other as husband and wife. They need to see a mom and dad laboring shoulder to shoulder, of whom the children can say: My mom and date hate sin, they love God, and their only hope is in Christ Jesus. They want with all that is in them to live holy and godly lives. I can see it, I can feel it; I know it is true and it is real, and I want to be like them. I want the God of my father and mother to be my God.” In particular, godly modeling should instill in our children the conviction that the Christian life is the way to live and that it brings true joy; true purpose, and true meaning in life, and awaken in them a kind of holy jealousy to want these things for themselves.”
If we are to expect our children to heed the discipline and instruction noted in Proverbs 1:8-9, we must set the example for them by constantly heeding the discipline and instruction found in God’s Word. In doing so, we set a standard of righteousness that our children can grab hold of and for which they will desire for themselves. When our children see that our relationship with God is far more than just a weekend excursion to church, they will be far more willing to lend a listening ear and a willing heart to the discipline and instruction you are providing.
By no means will you or your children always get it right. Struggles are an unfortunate part of life lived in a world of sin and where the flesh constantly strives against the work of the Holy Spirit. However, doing nothing and expecting your children to follow the “do as I say not as I do” mantra is a tired and completely failed policy. Godly parenting involves a more excellent way, one that is rooted in parents first being under the discipline and instruction of God at all times so they in turn can instruct their children in the way they should go.
If we want to leave a godly legacy to our children, the garland and medal described in Proverbs 1:8-9, the task begins with us. As noted by Benjamin Wadworth, “Be sure to set good example before your children … Other methods of instruction probably will not do much good if you don’t teach them by a godly example. Don’t think your children will mind the good rules you give them if you act contrary to those rules yourselves… If your counsels are good, and your examples evil, your children will be more like to be hurt by the latter, than benefitted by the former.”
Be parents who are devoted to the reading of God’s Word and prayer. Be committed to personal and family devotions. Set the example of what it means to be righteous by demonstrating by your own actions what godly discipline and instruction is all about. When your children see you walking before God in righteousness and truth through the work of the Holy Spirit, they will be more apt to appreciate the discipline and instruction they receive from you. Put your hand in the hands of our heavenly Father, allowing Him to lead and guide you. In turn, your children will place their hands in yours as you lead them and guide them in the paths of godly living.