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The Value Of Parental Teaching

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Proverbs 6:20-23


            In the movie Forrest Gump, the hero of the story always says, “My momma always said…” and then finishes that sentence with a phrase like, “life is like a box of chocolates…or some other statement. We take him for a simpleton, but, was he really? Isn’t what he said more true than we often think? Aren’t the words of our mothers and fathers much more a part of our life than we often even care to admit? Some might want to suggest that this is a bad thing, but I don’t believe that it is. In fact, this morning, I want to speak to the young people of our congregation and encourage them to embrace the teaching of their parents.

The Bible says that you ought to do so. It says in Proverbs 6:20-23. “read text.”

The passage is addressed to “my son.” This is a frequent phrase in the proverbs. Proverbs 1 says that the proverbs were written “for giving knowledge and discretion to the young…” Proverbs 1:8 says, “Listen, my son” Proverbs 2:1 says, “My son…” It seems that Solomon was concerned to teach his sons, particularly, because he knew that he was preparing them for life in leadership. The words that he gives in Proverbs are, however, terrific for all young people. When our children were approaching their teenaged years, we got a children’s version of the Proverbs and read them daily. There is so much wisdom about how to live well in God’s world. The passage we want to look at today is also a passage written to “sons” but I think it is a passage which can give important lessons for both sons and daughters.

I. The Command

A. Parental Instruction

            What this section speaks about is the teaching of your parents. It talks about “your father’s commands” and “your mother’s teaching.” The very first place that we learn anything is in the home. The place we learn things most deeply and most thoroughly is in the home.

            In the times when this was written, it is most likely that the training of very young people was the task of mothers. As children became older, it was usual for the fathers to teach their sons, which is probably why Solomon speaks about “my son” all the time. The task of training the girls fell mostly to the mothers.

            The command for children to accept this training is often repeated in the Bible. The ten commandments tell us “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you." (Exodus 20:12, NIV)

            Ephesians and Colossians, in the New Testament, also repeat this command. Ephesians 6:1 says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."

            The issue is the teaching which we receive from our parents, but it is worth thinking about what kind of teaching is meant. The word for “commands” is the same word as is used elsewhere in the Bible for the law of God. What parents must be teaching is the truth of God. I would like to talk to the parents for just a moment. Parents, it is important that the truth you live and teach before your children is the truth of God’s word. This is so critical that it cannot be ignored. If your children are not seeing God’s truth in your words and in your life, then you are missing out on a very important responsibility. As Christian parents, you know that God’s way is the best way, and as we shall see, the way to life. If that way is not exemplified in your life and words, how will your children ever catch it. The task of parenting is far too important to take lightly. I know that you as parents take it very seriously and I want to encourage that and challenge you to do it deliberately and faithfully.

B. Part Of Your Life

            So the task of teaching and training you wisdom, truth and God’s way lies with your parents. But, did you ever realize that you as children also have a tremendous responsibility? In verse 20, 21, the words are commands given to children. The words “keep,” “bind” and “fasten” are all imperatives. That means that they are things that you must do.

When a baby doesn’t want to eat a certain food, parents engage in some creative ways for their children to eat - here comes the airplane… It is so much easier if a child wants to eat.

            This matter of parents finding creative ways to get their children to “eat” also applies to getting them to “eat” the food of wisdom and understanding. Sometimes, children don’t want to learn the lessons their parents want to teach them. Have your parents ever engaged in creative ways of forcing you to learn? When you didn’t want to clean your room, have they ever told you, no TV until it is clean? If you didn’t get home on time, did they ever help you learn by grounding you? How much easier if you chose to want to learn. Can you imagine if you sat down and asked your parents for advice? You would blow them away! According to God, you are responsible to do just that.

            Look at the words in Proverbs 6:20, 21. The first word is the word “keep.” That simply means obedience. You are to do what your parents tell you to do. The next word is “do not forsake.” This word means don’t drop the ball. Don’t forget. Have you ever gotten home and your mother asked you if you did something and you said, “oh, I forgot.” God’s word tells you “don’t forget,” don’t stop doing the right things. The next word is “Bind them upon your heart forever.” The Hebrew word here means to bend or to wind about. The picture that comes to my mind is to twist tie the teaching of your mother and father around your heart. In other words, keep it in your memory, keep it with you all the time. The last word is “fasten them around your neck.” Some of you wear chains or necklaces. They are close to you, you see them and if the necklace or chain has a special meaning, that meaning is with you all the time. What the wise writer is saying is that you need to put the teaching of your mother and father around your neck like a necklace or a chain to keep it close to you all the time.

            So you see that you have a significant responsibility to follow the teaching of your parents. It is not just the responsibility of your parents to use all kinds of tricks to force you to learn. It is also your responsibility to make an effort to learn.

II. The Value

            One of the questions which I often asked when I was young was, “Why?” I was not satisfied with just being told to do it. I wanted to know why it was a good idea. I am still that way and perhaps you are too. Well the writer of this passage understands that kind of thinking. He gives a whole list of reasons why you ought to follow this instruction to learn from your parents.

A. Life

            Please notice the imagery used in verse 22. It talks about walking, sleeping and waking up. What is that about? That is life. What is the first thing you do in the morning? You wake up and as you wake up, your mind begins to make plans for what is going to happen all day. All day long, you walk about and things happen to you in the different places you go. When night comes, you go to sleep. This is the daily cycle of life.

                The Bible uses this same picture language in other passages. One of the key passages of the Old Testament was Deuteronomy 6:4 and following. In Deuteronomy 6:7 it says, "Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

                What will happen to you if you follow your parents teaching as you walk about all day? Our sons, Joel and Jonathan are on a hike right now. They left last Sunday and are spending two weeks walking the Superior Hiking Trail. A few years ago, our son discovered this trail. He did significant research and made plans and got maps so that they would have a good hike. As they go along, they are following the guide they have, that guide is a good map.

            As you as children and young people walk along the trail of life, you need a good map. The map that will guide you is the wisdom and teaching of your parents. You won’t always have your mother to hold your hand, but the wisdom of your mother can still guide you if you have listened carefully to what she and your father have taught you. When our son just got his drivers licence, he took his girlfriend for a little spin in our Volkswagen beetle. He went to the gravel parking lot of the local tire shop and did a few donuts. The owner of the tire shop called me and let me know what had happened and I told my son that he should go to the tire shop, apologize and rake the gravel where he had made donuts. He did and he learned about driving that day. Since that time, and he has been driving for almost ten years now, he has had no other driving infractions. My instructions have served as a guide for him.

            The second thing that your parents instructions will do is watch over you when you sleep. Little children sometimes have trouble falling asleep and when they do, parents will come into the room and stay with them until they fall asleep. As you get older, you can’t always have your parents near you like that. But their instructions and the wisdom you learn from them can help you sleep at peace.

Without that wisdom, you may need to sleep with one eye open. You may be afraid and vulnerable. The wisdom you learn from your parents can help you sleep at peace. If you have learned from your parents to “not let the sun go down on your anger” then you will be able to go to sleep with conflicts resolved. If you have learned from your parents that when you have a problem, you can talk to God about it, then you will learn to sleep in peace because you will learn to trust in God.

            You are constantly being taught values by your parents. Many of the values they teach you are taught because they say things to you like, “tell the truth,” “respect your teachers,” “take responsibility for the things you do wrong.” Many more values are caught from your parents because they live those values. I have watched many families and several generations of families and I have seen values being passed on from one generation to another without a word being said. One of the values in my wife’s family is concern for other people’s feelings. A commonly heard phrase is “is everybody happy.” Carla’s mother holds this value and Carla and her sister hold this value and our youngest son also holds this value. I doubt if it was specifically taught, but it certainly was caught. A value taught by my family was to speak the truth. I was taught it, but in a deeper way, I caught this value from my mother in particular. My deep commitment to teaching Biblical truth accurately comes from this value that I learned as a child.

            When it says, “when you awake, they will speak to you,” in verse 22, that is what it means. It means that the values and principles which your parents have taught you and which you have caught from them will present themselves to your heart and make themselves known to you every day as you live your life. So the challenge is to be aware of and interested in learning what your parents are teaching you.

B. Light

            The imagery used in the next verse is the imagery of light.

            I like to go camping, but one of the things I don’t like about camping is taking a walk to the bathroom at night. I fight it as long as I can, until I have dreams about not being able to find a bathroom. Then I finally get out of my sleeping bag, find my shoes in the dark so I don’t disturb whoever I am camping with. Then I find my glasses, quietly open the zipper of the tent and try to look around in the darkness. What am I looking for? Large dark shadows that could be a bear or small black shadows with white stripes that could be a skunk. When I am sort of satisfied that it is safe, I walk out and take two steps and just as I get a little speed up, I bump my shin against the picnic table. It is so much easier if I can wait for morning light.

            The teaching of your parents is like light, it helps illuminate your way.

            The Word of God is described as a lamp for your feet in Psalm 119:105. What kind of darkness is out there and how does your parents teaching function as a light?

            Proverbs 26 talks about being a fool. This is a kind of darkness which if not overcome by the wisdom of your parents will follow you. There a fool’s folly is described as uselessness, untrustworthiness, being wise in one’s own eyes and repeating the same foolish mistakes over and over again. If you choose to listen to what your parents teach you, you will see enough to avoid the darkness of being a fool.

                The Bible also has much to say about the darkness of sin. Ephesians 5:8 says, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light." Your parents dearly want to see you confess your sins and come to Jesus. By bringing you to Sunday School, by reading Bible stories and by teaching you God’s truth, they are trying to help you walk in the light of God’s truth so that you will avoid the darkness of sin. Are you listening to their teaching?

C. Corrections of discipline

            The last line in the passage we are looking at talks about something that isn’t all that pleasant. We read about the “corrections of discipline.” Who of you enjoys being disciplined by your parents? Why is it necessary?

            In areas where there are cattle, there are a lot of fences. Why do they put fences around cattle? They do so to protect the cattle. If given their way, cattle would wander wherever they want and could get into all kinds of danger. Fences are for the protection of the animals.

If animals could be taught that it is dangerous and useless outside the fence, then the fence would become unnecessary. We need fences to keep us from being foolish or doing things that are dangerous. There are two possible locations for the fence of right living in our life. The fence can be outside of ourselves or it can be within. When you are growing up your parents provide the outer fence. They tell you what to do and how to live. The outer fence they provide is the discipline they use to help you learn. The hope is that you will put the fence up inside yourself. When the inner fence is fully formed, the outer fence is no longer needed, parents can then take it down.

The meantime is difficult. You think the inner fence is already adequate. Your parents don’t think so. You need to recognize what they are trying to do and to recognize the value of the outer fence in helping you form the inner fence. This is why “the corrections of discipline” are so important.

III. The Way To Life

            If you follow the discipline of your parents, the result is that you will find “the way of life(23).” Life is the result of discipline in this passage, but it is really all of these things that are the way to life. If your parents teach you and you listen to their instruction, you will discover life.

            Bob was watching video’s that had a lot of violence and also at times explicit sexual content. Hank was his friend and one day he talked to Bob and gently tried to tell him that what he was doing was not right. As Bob tried to defend his actions, Hank said, “you are headed for destruction.” Bob was bothered by this, because he didn’t think what he was doing was bad enough that he would end up in hell. Although this may have been the end result, Hank wasn’t talking about that final destruction at all. He was talking about the destruction that happens in this life. He was concerned that Bob’s thought life would become so polluted that it would affect his relationships. He was concerned that he would begin to adopt values that would have a negative impact on his life now.

            If we do not follow the wisdom and teaching of our parents, then we are also headed for destruction. It may well be the destruction of missing heaven and going to hell, but God is not only concerned about this, He is also concerned about our whole life. If we follow the instruction of our parents, then we will discover life, we will discover all of life. Not just an escape from hell, but life that is full, abundant and filled with joy. When it says that this is “the way to life,” it is talking about life in all its fullness, the best kind of life.


            I watched a movie the other day in which a teenaged girl referred to her parents as “weird.” I suspect that there are times when you think that your parents are weird. I know that there are times when I thought that. But please think again.

            Today is mother’s day and you are being asked to “honor your mother.” In order to honour your mother, it is not enough to buy her a flower or let your dad take her out for a meal. That is nice and your mother will appreciate that, but when the Bible talks about honouring your mother, and for that matter your father, it is talking about the choice which you need to make every day. It is talking about the choice you need to make to listen to the instruction of your father and not forsake the wisdom of your mother. As we have examined this passage, we have seen that it is in this way that you will find life and peace and will be able to walk in life with your eyes opened and your steps sure. So, I want to invite all of you as children and young people to make this choice today and every day.

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