Good Kids Gone Bad

17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,
    and he will repay him for his deed.
18 Discipline your son, for there is hope;
    do not set your heart on putting him to death.
19 A man of great wrath will pay the penalty,
    for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.
20 Listen to advice and accept instruction,
    that you may gain wisdom in the future.
21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
    but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
22 What is desired in a man is steadfast love,
    and a poor man is better than a liar.
23 The fear of the Lord leads to life,
    and whoever has it rests satisfied;
    he will not be visited by harm.
24 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish
    and will not even bring it back to his mouth.
25 Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
    reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.
26 He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother
    is a son who brings shame and reproach.
27 Cease to hear instruction, my son,
    and you will stray from the words of knowledge.
28 A worthless witness mocks at justice,
    and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.
29 Condemnation is ready for scoffers,
    and beating for the backs of fools.
– Proverbs 19:17-29 ESV

A rebellious child. Nobody plans for one. But they don’t just happen either. At the same time, there is no magic elixir or five-step strategy that can guarantee you won’t have one. And while we must do all we can to discipline our children while they are young and attempt to raise them in a godly atmosphere, there is no assurance that our children will never stray, never disappoint us or never become an embarrassment and a public disgrace (Proverbs 19:26 NLT).

Solomon was a big proponent of godly discipline and instruction in a child’s early developmental years. One of the most frequently quoted and misunderstood verses in the entire book of Proverbs is found in chapter 22:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6 ESV

This verse is not meant to be a scriptural panacea, offering the guarantee of a godly child if you follow God’s prescribed parenting plan. This proverb simply teaches that, while our children are young and pliable, we must do all we can to teach them the truth of God’s Word and model for them the life of wisdom and righteousness that God desires. But as children grow older, they also grow increasingly more independent, until they reach that inevitable point at which they must determine and decide their own faith and fate. They will have to decide what they are going to do with all that they have been taught. What happens at that point has as much to do with their personality and temperament as anything else. Two children raised in the same home by the same parents and under the same set of rules can turn out completely different from one another – solely based on their personality profile.

That’s why Solomon provides the following admonition: “Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives” (Proverbs 19:18 NLT). The day may come when your adult child will no longer accept your instruction or submit to your discipline. It will be too late.

Every day, countless parents ask the pain-filled, guilt-ridden questions, “Where did we go wrong?” “What could we have done differently?” “How could we have prevented this from happening?” No doubt, those questions have answers. There are inevitably some things they could have done differently, better, or not at all. None of us are perfect parents. We all make mistakes. We sin against our children and, when it comes to their sins, we overlook some and overreact to others. We are inconsistent and non-perfect parents.

And there are those times when our children turn out differently than we had hoped or dreamed; not so much because of our shortcomings as parents but because of the choices our children made along the way. That’s why Solomon cries out to his sons to listen to his instruction. He begs them to listen to what he is trying to tell them about wisdom and the life of righteousness.

If you stop listening to instruction, my child,
    you will turn your back on knowledge.  – Proverbs 19:27 NLT

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
    so you will be wise the rest of your life. – Proverbs 19:20 NLT

But ultimately, every child must come to the point where they begin making their own choices and deciding what it is they believe. They must choose to listen to all that they have been taught and begin obeying it, not because they have to, but because they want to. Their faith must become a choice of the will, not an act of submission to their parent’s wishes.

Watching your son or daughter reject the faith you have tried to instill in them is a painful thing to endure. It is gut-wrenching. The word “violence” in verse 26 is meant to shock the reader. The Hebrew word means “to devastate, ruin or violently destroy.” This pictures a son or daughter who has done some serious damage to their father. It could be financially, physically, or even just emotionally. They have devastated their father. Their actions have brought him down and knocked the props out from under him. And they have managed to alienate and drive away their own mother. She wants nothing to do with her own child. This loving mother and father now find their child to be an embarrassment and a public disgrace. All their friends can stand back and watch as their adult child lives an ungodly and unrighteous life right in front of their eyes. And the fingers point, the gossip spreads, and the pity is poured out on these two poor souls who obviously failed at parenting. But that is not Solomon’s point. He is not condemning those whose children have rebelled and rejected the way of wisdom. He is simply stressing the vital importance of godly wisdom and instruction in their early years. It is a warning to remain steadfast and committed to godly parenting “while there is hope” (Proverbs 19:18 NLT).

At the end of the day, we must place our children in the hands of God. The psalmist reminds us that “Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3 NLT). And God views parents as stewards, not saviors. He does not expect us to produce godly children because only He can bestow righteousness. All we can do is teach them the truth of God’s Word and model for them a life of faith and godliness. Ultimately, they will have to choose for themselves. They are free-will creatures who must one day choose God and accept His will for their lives. Many do, but some do not.

That is why Solomon repeatedly stresses the positive outcomes of a godly life. He wants his own children to understand that way of wisdom has real benefits.

Loyalty makes a person attractive.
    It is better to be poor than dishonest. – Proverbs 19:22 NLT

Fear of the Lord leads to life,
    bringing security and protection from harm. – Proverbs 19:23 NLT

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
    so you will be wise the rest of your life. – Proverbs 19:20 NLT

Yet, not all children will heed Solomon’s advice or their parents’ instructions. They will choose the wrong path and, like the prodigal son, decide to waste their inheritance and their life. But like the father of the prodigal son, we must continue to pray for them and hope for their ultimate return. We must turn them over to God and ask Him to do what only He can do. He alone can soften their heart and convict them of their rebellion. Because their sin, while painful to us as parents, is ultimately against God. They are rejecting Him, not us. And only God can restore them to a right relationship with Himself. Nothing is impossible for Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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