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10 Parenting Imperatives from the Book of Proverbs

Parenting is sacred, smelly, exciting, crushing, frustrating and expensive. It’s the most important thing that people ever do and to be completely honest with you, it scares the life out of me.

Who is sufficient for these things?

What should I be teaching my kids? What guidance should I be giving? Where do I go to learn how to raise and disciple sons and daughters of the King?

There is really only one place I can think of. The Book of Proverbs is presented as the counsel and wisdom of a royal couple to their son. “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8 ESV).

It is an entire God-breathed and Divinely authorized manual on how to raise little kings and queens.

It is well worth reading from start to finish. Until you get a chance to do that, here are 10 things that the King and Queen in Proverbs say to their child that you should say to yours.

1. Fear the Lord

In chapter 1, the King and the Queen say to their son: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7 ESV). Derek Kidner comments on this verse saying: “The beginning … is not merely a right method of thought but a right relation: a worshipping submission (fear) to the God of the covenant, who has revealed himself by name.”[1]

Parenting is not ultimately about teaching right behaviours, it is about facilitating a right relationship. Your first job as a parent is to help your child relate to the God of the covenant through faith in Jesus Christ.

Tell your kid that God is Holy. Tell her that she is a sinner and that she can be reconciled to God through the life and death of Jesus Christ. Tell her that she can be filled with the Holy Spirit, so that she can learn how to live before God and with others in love and peace.

That is the first and most important thing you need to teach your kids.

2. Revere the Word of God

The parents in Proverbs say: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6 ESV) and “Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded” (Proverbs 13:13 ESV).

Teach your kids to revere the commandments of God. Not as a means of salvation, but as path of wisdom, life and fruitfulness. Show them how much you value the Word of the Lord. Let them see you reading it early in the morning and let them hear it often on your lips. Most important of all, let them see it slowly but surely changing your life. Teach your children to build their lives on the unchanging Word of God.

3. Honour the Lord

“Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Proverbs 3:9–10 ESV).

Teach your kids about generous, faithful, regular giving. Teach your kids that money and success ultimately come from the Lord – there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. God gave you the talents and gifts and opportunities that allow you to make what you make. Show your kids that you understand that by giving back to the Lord – not your leftovers, but your first fruits: the first and best of what you make.

The downside of online giving is that our kids don’t get to see us give. Watching mom and dad drop a thick envelope into the plate communicates a set of values. It explains why you don’t go on fancy vacations every year. It explains why you may have to wait a year or two for that new car. Most of all it communicates humility and dependence upon the Lord. Your kids need to see that if they are to imitate that when the Lord gives them substance.

4. Appreciate Correction

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11–12 ESV).

The father in Proverbs doesn’t just discipline his son, he tells his son to love it.

That may seem like a tall order but as a 43 year old man I think I understand where he is coming from. I find myself telling stories to my kids about the time their grandma hid out under my window in the bushes with a broomstick ready to smack me on the head for trying to sneak out after curfew. They love hearing about how my mom officiated dinners with the wooden spoon at her side and how she responded to all cheek and backtalk like a modern day gunslinger. She may have been all of 5 foot nothing but in our house, she was legend and dad was law.

The Bible says: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24 ESV).

Discipline lovingly points us in the direction of peace and harmony, therefore discipline should be considered a lifelong friend. Proverbs says: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1 ESV).

Don’t raise stupid kids. Teach your children to appreciate the benefit of discipline.

5. Pursue a Godly Spouse

The parents in Proverbs have an awful lot to say to their son about the sort of wife he should look for:

An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones (Proverbs 12:4 ESV). He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord (Proverbs 18:22 ESV). It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife (Proverbs 21:9 ESV).

A good spouse is a gift from God. A bad spouse is like an inescapable cancer. Therefore, choose your partner wisely.

Moms and dads, don’t let your child’s hormones make the most important decision of his or her life. Speak a word of wisdom! The wise mom and dad in Proverbs had no problem speaking very specifically about the sort of spouse they thought their son should pursue. They gave him pointed counsel on this matter, and so should you.

6. Learn Self Control

The father speaks very frankly to his son about the dangers of sexual immorality: “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:32 ESV).

Colouring outside the lines, sexually speaking, will destroy your child’s life. Aware of the danger, the parents in Proverbs tell their son to give immoral women a wide berth. “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8 ESV).

They also warn him about the dangers of alcohol: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1 ESV). “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich”(Proverbs 21:17 ESV).

The parents in Proverbs want their child to understand the importance of boundaries and self-control. They speak frankly and specifically about sex and alcohol to their children. Wise parents today will follow their example.

7. Tell the Truth

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13 ESV).

Parents do their children no favours when they cover for their mistakes. Children need to learn that the cleanest way through a problem is always by telling the truth. Be sure of this, your sins will find you out! Holding on to sin in our hearts is a recipe for spiritual and psychological indigestion! Confession is good for the soul. It is also good for society.

The parents in Proverbs tell their son to be honest in his personal dealings and also in his dealings at work: “Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good” (Proverbs 20:23 ESV).

Deception is a short sighted strategy in business and in the realm of personal relationships. Therefore parents, teach your children to tell the truth.

8. Build Strong Friendships

The parents in Proverbs have a great deal to say about the importance and value of friendship. “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away” (Proverbs 27:10 ESV).

The parents advise their son to build a rich, thick, multi-generational community of friends in the place where he lives. Those people will be the people who carry you when you fall. A brother in another Province will be there in spirit – real live friends will be there in person. They are the ones who will come over to the house with lasagne when you’re sick. They are the ones who will help you shingle your roof and who will coach your kids in soccer. Those are the people you will do life with, so make sure you choose them wisely. The King and Queen remind their son:  “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20 ESV).

9. Work Hard

“A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame” (Proverbs 10:4–5 ESV).

Teach your kids to work hard and to make hay while the sun shines! Teach them that work comes before play, and teach them to do something useful. The wise mom and day say to their son: “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (Proverbs 12:11 ESV).

Wise parents point their children in the direction of productive enterprise. They help them make the connection between labour and increase, and they help them develop the skills necessary to provide for a family and to contribute to a community.

10. Show Mercy to the Poor

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Proverbs 14:31 ESV).

Teach your children to treat all human beings with dignity. Tell them to honour God by being generous to the needy. Let them see you living out your faith in deeds of mercy and compassion. James, the brother of Jesus says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27 ESV).

Holiness and charity go together. Therefore teach your children to be merciful to the poor.

That isn’t everything you would want to teach your kids over the course of a lifetime, but it’s a really good start.

Thanks be to God.


Paul Carter

N.B. To listen to a sermon from Pastor Paul on these same 10 imperatives see here. 

N.B. To listen to the Into The Word podcast, featuring Pastor Paul Carter, see here

1 Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 17 of Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1964), 56.