It should be obvious that the book of Proverbs offers vital wisdom to parents seeking to raise their children in the fear of God. The book’s fourth verse explains the writer’s intention to give “knowledge and discretion to the youth.” And the author doesn’t see himself as a lecturer but as a parent: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Prov. 1:8). While it unpacks the art of wisdom and godly living, the entire book also functions as a parenting guide. Over two dozen times, the writer pleads with his son, prefixing some instruction with these words, “My son…” The writer is appealing to his God-given position as an older, wiser, loving nurturer.
And if we examined each of the “my son” texts in their contexts, we would see three key instructions that young people need to learn. These instructions can help parents prioritize what they teach their children, and help children and adults know how to honor our heavenly Father. So what are the “my son” texts in Proverbs all about?
1. Seek True Wisdom
The best way to live is to gain understanding that increasingly aligns with God’s perfect, comprehensive knowledge. “My son, do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul” (Prov. 3:21–23). Your children’s “wisdom quotient” determines how they will use everything else you have sacrificed to give them. Their future depends on their attaining wisdom (Prov. 24:13–14). Fools will always walk into danger; the prudent sees danger and hides himself (Prov. 27:12).
And children don’t start with wisdom. Children are simple people (Prov. 1:4); we all come into the world needing “instruction in wise dealing” (Prov. 1:3). That’s why so much depends on whom we listen to as we grow. Ultimately, we must listen to God; “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). But we learn to hear God by heeding good instructors—ideally, starting with our parents. So, time and again the writer says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” (Prov. 1:8; cf. 3:1). If children accept the wise instruction of good parents, “they will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:5).
This means that parents must restrict influencers’ access to their children; not everyone your children might hear has God’s interests in mind. A recent survey found that almost ninety percent of people in their early teens to late thirties want to become a social influencer. Why? Because they themselves have been heavily influenced by social media personalities. Make sure influencers have a moral right to shape your children.
And parents themselves must be worth listening to. Parents need to make the transition the apostle Paul made, giving up childish ways (1 Cor. 13:11). It isn’t wrong to be funny or casual. But impressionable children need to see you as a genuine source of wisdom, not just a bigger child. Parents need to be actively growing in wisdom to be the influencers their children need.
2. Shun Foolish Relationships
There are few surer ways to ruin your life than by choosing company carelessly. Let’s not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33). So godly parents warn against several forms of bad company.
Godly parents caution against imprudent business ventures.
Tying up your resources with strangers—or even neighbors—is almost always a bad idea (Prov. 6:1–5). People who push you to join with them in some financial venture should be viewed with suspicion. If anyone tells you to “throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse,” run! (Prov. 1:14). Bottom line, parents need to teach their children the basics of personal finance and financial partnerships.
Godly parents counsel against bad friendships.
Do not walk in the way with sinners. Why? Because where they are going isn’t good! (Prov. 1:8, 10, 15). The writer specifically calls out drunkards and gluttons and those who fear neither God nor human authorities; their futures include poverty and disaster (Prov. 23:19–21; 24:21–22). The old hymn provides a good parenting mantra: “Make friends of God’s children.” Godless friends will disappoint you.
Godly parents warn against unbiblical romances.
To this theme the author devotes over sixty verses in chapters 5-7 (see also Prov. 2:16; 11:22; 23:26–28). He closes the book with twenty-two verses extolling the beauty of a well-chosen mate. Unbiblical romance and marriage can ruin lives like few other relationships (Prov. 31:2–3). Christians should praise the loveliness of godly romance, give instruction and guidance in the matter of the selection of a mate, and soundly warn their children against romantic carelessness. Young people must have it fixed in their minds that they will never become romantically involved with anyone who does not resolutely share their core values.
3. Submit to God’s Correction
Not only do “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7); they refuse correction. Listen to the father: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be wary of his reproof” (Prov. 3:11). “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.” But “you refused to listen,” you “would have none of my reproof” (Prov. 1:23–25). Children who despise God’s rebuke “shall eat the fruit of their own way” (Prov. 1:30–31).
So parents must discipline their children (Prov. 23:13–14). Here’s God’s logic: faithful children will learn from discipline that “the way of transgressors is hard” (Prov. 13:15 KJV). Godly children should not “envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day” (Prov. 23:17). Biblical discipline, coupled with the gospel of free grace, teaches children that they are sinners bent on destroying their lives. But the God of all grace will pardon the penitent.
Truly “the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Prov. 3:11, 12). When the author of Hebrews quotes these verses (Heb. 12:5–6), he urges us to interpret our discipline through the cross. “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:3). Receiving discipline is hard. So is administering discipline. So is rejecting poor relationships and gaining wisdom. Both we and our children will fail to do these things perfectly. But we do all of them—as parents and children—“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). The wisdom imparted by Proverbs points us to Jesus who has become our wisdom from God (1 Cor. 1:30).