Proverbs: On the Wisdom of Parents

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
    and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head
    and a chain to adorn your neck.

–Proverbs 1:8-9

After the initial statement of intention and the simple phrase, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the book of Proverbs opens with an instruction that can very simply be summed up as “Listen to the wisdom of your parents.” “Whoop-dee-do,” some might say. “If I wanted to know that, I would have just read the Ten Commandments.” But remember, we aren’t reading a law; we are reading wisdom literature.

The distinction is important. Some people read the book of Proverbs like it’s a law, so they read passages that say, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) When they read that passage they think that that doesn’t make sense; if you’ve been trying to follow Jesus for long, surely you’ve met people who were raised to be faithful Christians only to fall away from their upbringing. Understand that Proverbs is not giving us spiritual laws to obey; it is merely giving us a formula that can be summed up in a New Testament passage where Paul says, “God will not be mocked; a person reaps what a person sows.” (Galatians 6:7) Proverbs is merely telling us that if we follow the laws of wisdom – if we will carefully sow good things – then we will reap good things.

So, when you are reading wisdom literature like Proverbs, it’s good to remember that the author is laying out principles that will work most of the time. That doesn’t make it a magic formula; there’s nothing magical about wisdom literature. Although it can vary from proverb to proverb, think of each proverb as stating a principle that works 80% of the time. Think of the 80/20 principle. So, taking Proverbs 22:6 above, it is essentially saying that the majority of the time children will respond to what the parents teach.

So, back to the wisdom of listening to your parents. What the book of Proverbs is stating right off the bat is, “You want wisdom? Listen to the wisdom of your parents.” Why should we? Because our parents have lived longer than we have, they have more life experience and (most importantly) they are more than happy to do everything they can to help you succeed to the best of their ability.

Parents, this is not the best way to get your childrens’ attention. Turn the throttle off…that’s better…someone going to go help him down?

We don’t like hearing this in today’s culture. In the United States in particular, it is assumed that starting in the teenage years, no one listens to what their parents say anymore. If anything, our culture has told parents to shut up and stop trying to teaching children when they become teenagers. Why? So children can get their morals and values from television, film and their peers without the “meddling” influence of the parents. So we have a dilemma where a lot of parents stop trying to raise their children when they become teenagers and most teenagers shut their parents out altogether.

In contrast, the book of Proverbs counsels us to listen to our parents. Once you get beyond the teenage years you don’t have to obey your parents, but that doesn’t mean you become disrespectful and stop listening to them. I’ve heard the phrase, “Once a parent, always a parent,” and that’s the truth. No matter how old you are, your parents (typically) still love you and want what is best for you.

Now, that doesn’t mean that all of the wisdom that your parents give you is the best advice. In fact, many people can give examples of parents who are a little crazy. What it does mean is that they are your parents and even if they are imperfect, there’s still a lot they can teach you about life even as you grow older, get married, have children, find new and better jobs and strike off on your own as an adult. Besides, in a world where most people are estranged from their parents as adults, it really is a relief to be able to take an adult problem to your parents and say, “Mother, Father, how can I deal with this problem? What do you suggest? What wisdom do you have for me?”

Where are you seeking wisdom from? Also, are there any particular proverbs that you would like to discuss on this blog?