The first one is from Proverbs 22.
But first, a digression..
I’ve always thought of Proverbs as one of those books that made the final Bible cut by the skin of its teeth. It comes right after Psalms. That’s like Elton John as warm-up band for the The Cheeky Girls. Proverbs mate, get off the stage! You and your home-spun wisdom have no right mixing with the Bad Boys of Romans and Isaiah. If I want handy practical advice, I’ll crack open a fortune cookie. Or ask my mum. (On second thoughts, maybe not. This is the woman who told me to eat my greens because ‘they’d put hairs on my chest’. Boy did I rue that one).
Proverbs, I concluded, was elevator music. Filler to give your brain a rest before you chomp into the Prophets. Thankfully however, a friend of mine took me to task. ‘Emma’ she said, after another (particularly fine and impassioned) denunciation. ‘Have you even read it?’ I had to admit, aside from a couple of nuggets here and there, I hadn’t actually bothered. And as it turns out, I was wrong. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. All of it in fact. And it’s not just ‘horses for courses’, ‘apples and pears’, ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s pie’. It’s proper wisdom. So if you haven’t tried it, give it a go.
All of which is a very long and rambling prelim to the verse itself. Proverbs 22:6: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is older he will not depart from it’.
Whether good or bad, the stuff we learn when we’re tiny, sticks with us when we’re big. If, like me, you failed maths in primary school, then as a adult, even the sight of numbers may bring you out in a cold sweat. If you learned that you were special and loved, you’re much more likely to be able to form healthy relationships later on. If you didn’t have enough food or the family had very little money, that may well feature as a priority in later life. And so on.
But the great news about the gospel is that we’re not bound by mistakes- whether ours or other peoples’. Yes, environments are important. But by God’s grace, they don’t determine our destiny. 1 Corinthians 13:11 says this:
‘When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things’.
There’s a sense in which, as believers, we are to grow in maturity and leave behind those things that belong to our childish selves. This includes those old patterns and thoughts that we may have learned as children, but which shape our behaviours today. The Greek word for putting away here is ‘katargeo’. It’s extremely strong and means ‘to break a hold, finish it off, have done with’. This won’t happen overnight. But by the Spirit, we can know real freedom and hope. We’re not just the sum of our, or other people’s mistakes.