Living Wisely #3: Family as the Bedrock of Wisdom

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I like to think of Proverbs as a guide to or treatise on the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Exod. 20:12).  My reason for holding this view is because many of these proverbs consist of explicit instruction to “my son” or “my children”.  These proverbs are, in other words, an exhortation for children to heed the wise instruction of their parents (in particular), and of younger generations to heed the wisdom of older generations (in general).

“My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains [i.e. jewelry] about your neck.  My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Prov. 1:8-10)

“My son, do not walk in the way with them [i.e. sinners], keep your foot from their path.” (Prov. 1:15)

“My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you….  Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.” (Prov. 2:1, 5)

“My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you.” (Prov. 3:1-2)

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for who the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Prov. 3:11-12)

“My son, let them not depart from your eyes—keep sound wisdom and discretion; so they will be life to your soul and grace to your neck.” (Prov. 3:21)

“Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; for I give you good doctrine: Do not forsake my law.” (Prov. 4:1-2)

“Hear, my son, and receive my sayings, and the years of your life will be many.” (Prov. 4:10)

“My son, pay attention to my wisdom; lend your ear to my understanding.” (Prov. 5:1)

“Therefore hear me now, my children, and do not depart from the words of my mouth….  For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, and be embraced in the arms of a seductress?” (Prov. 5:7, 20)

“My son, keep your father’s command, and do not forsake the law of your mother.” (Prov. 6:20)

“My son, keep my words, and treasure my commands within you.” (Prov. 7:1)

“Now therefore, listen to me, my children, for blessed are those who keep my ways.  Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it.” (Prov. 8:32-33)

“Cease listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.” (Prov. 19:27)

“Hear, my son, and be wise; and guide your heart in the way.” (Prov. 23:19)

“My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.” (Prov. 23:26)

“My son, fear the LORD and the king; do not associate with those given to change; for their calamity will rise suddenly, and who knows the ruin those two can bring.” (Prov. 24:21-22)

“My son, be wise, and make my heart glad, that I may answer him who reproaches me.” (Prov. 27:11)

“The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him: What, my son?  And what, son of my womb?  And what, son of my vows?  Do not give your strength to women, nor your ways to that which destroys kings.” (Prov. 31:1-3)

Perhaps my favorite passage of fatherly instruction is Proverbs 4:20-27:

20 My son, give attention to my words;
Incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Do not let them depart from your eyes;
Keep them in the midst of your heart;
22 For they are life to those who find them,
And health to all their flesh.
23 Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.
24 Put away from you a deceitful mouth,
And put perverse lips far from you.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead,
And your eyelids look right before you.
26 Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.
27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.

In this last passage we see that wisdom is the way of life and health.  Wisdom speaks to the head, to the heart, to the mouth, to the eyes, to the feet.  This gets back to the definition of wisdom as being a wholeness of life that accords with the reality of things.  It is not enough, however, to simply see to it that we are living in this way; we must impart this wisdom to our children, to the next generation.  Hence, “My son…”.  This is especially apt considering the 2020 chaos we are witnessing in our society.  We are allowing the ignorant and selfish to make the rules. We are largely seeing in our society the manifestation of the typical family. The child, in his or her ignorance and selfishness, whines and fusses. The parent, who knows better (or ought to), reluctantly gives in to the child’s wishes for the sake of temporal appeasement. What the parent does not realize, however, is he/she is only re-enforcing the child’s ignorance and selfishness. Because the child has not learned the way of wisdom through parental instruction and delayed gratification, the child grows up to be a fool. We now live in the age of fools. The children are running rampant.  The wisdom of any society is built upon the wisdom of the home, of the family.  If this bedrock of wisdom be shattered, what is there but sand – the playground of fools?  As goes the family, so goes the society.

Parents have a weighty responsibility in the raising of their children in knowledge and wisdom.  This means, of course, that parents must first see to it that they themselves are firmly rooted in knowledge and wisdom.  They will always be learning, of course, but they ought to bring their children along for the journey.  The Particular Baptists of the 17th Century called out the neglect of family worship and parental instruction as “the spring and cause of the decay of religion” in their day:

May not the gross ignorance and instability of many, with the profaneness of others, be justly charged upon their parents and masters, who have not trained them up in the way wherein they ought to walk when they were young, but have neglected those frequent and solemn commands which the Lord hath laid upon them, so to catechize and instruct them that their tender years might be seasoned with the knowledge of the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures; and also by their own omission of prayer and other duties of religion of their families, together with the ill example of their loose conversation [i.e. manner of life], having, inured [to make something appear undesirable] them first to a neglect and the contempt of all piety and religion?[1]

Parents, make sure you are regularly spending time in God’s word and prayer, as well as reading sound, doctrinally rich books on the Bible and theology.  Make sure you are regularly engaging in worship as a family.  It is especially the duty of husbands/fathers, as heads of households, to lead their families in this charge.  At the very least you should be reading Scripture and praying as a family.  But it’s also highly recommended that you make use of a good catechism (e.g. Westminster Shorter Catechism; Baptist Catechism), so as to help your children grow up in sound doctrine with key Scripture verses.  To aid in your family worship, I recommend Exploring the Bible Together: A 52-Week Family Worship Plan (by David Murray), Family Worship Bible Guide (Joel Beeke, gen. ed.), and Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism (by Starr Meade).  It need not be difficult, nor long.  You’re not trying to turn your children into academic theologians; you’re seeking to lead them in the way of truth and wisdom, that they may grow up to be godly servants of the Lord.

A word to the children: “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother” (Prov. 10:1b).  And again, “My son, if your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice—indeed, I myself; yes, my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak right things” (Prov. 23:15).  As a parent, I can tell you that, besides the joy and satisfaction in the Lord, there is nothing more joyful and satisfying than seeing my children grow in truth and make wise decisions.  Children, bring joy to the hearts of your parents by heeding their wise instruction.  But more importantly, seek to please your heavenly Father by walking in faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  “Hence, for those who want true wisdom, it is necessary to cultivate deep regard for God and for parental counsel, especially the teaching of godly, Christian parents.  Do you seek the wisdom of more mature believers in your life?”[2]

Parents, let your children know how proud and thankful you are for them.  Remember, too, that they are children.  They have a lot of learning to do.  They will disappoint; show grace and mercy.  Where they are successful, make it abundantly clear to them that you notice and are rejoicing, so as not to discourage them.  Additionally, I encourage you to take the time to read off some of the Proverbs written out above, so as to show your children the emphasis that God’s word places on the importance of parents instructing children and of children heeding the instruction of their parents.

Devotional Reading: Deut. 6:1-9; Eph. 6:1-4


[1] “To the Judicious and Impartial Reader,” The Baptist Confession of Faith and the Baptist Catechism (AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2014), xv.

[2] Joel R. Beek, Gen. Ed., Family Worship Bible Guide (MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016), 450.