Christian parents are naturally concerned about the well-being of their children in regard to the present and the future. An area of particular concern is that each of their children have a happy and successful marriage. This concern is heightened by the rampant divorce rate and generally sorry state of so many marriages today both in society and in the church. So what can parents do to prepare their children for marriage so that they will be able to enjoy a marriage relationship that is blessed of God and not have to endure the pain of an ailing or broken marriage?
The Precept and Promise of Proverbs 22:6
To begin with, let us consider the well-known Scripture of Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." This text contains an exhortation and a promise for parents that directly relates to the anxiety we may feel over the future marriages of our beloved sons and daughters. It provides direction and hope for us as we think on the fact that someday our children will be joined in holy matrimony.
Proverbs 22:6 opens with an imperative, "Train up a child." God is saying, "I have given you this child; now, do your duty and train the child!" The Hebrew verb here translated "train" means to imbue, to instruct, make experienced, educate, give training and sound judgment. Interestingly, "train" is related to the Hebrew word for the roof of the mouth (the palate), and its usage in Proverbs 22:6 probably stems from the practice of putting a bridle in the mouth of an animal for the purpose of guidance and training. When God commands us to "train up" a child, he commands us to bring the child into submission to our authority and to fully train him "in the way that he should go." The Hebrew term for "way" indicates a way of living, acting, habits, or manner of life. The phrase "he should go" means, literally, "in accordance with." So, then, "to train up a child in the way he should go" is to train him in accordance with the way of wisdom and truth as given by God in Scripture. Proverbs 22:6 commands parents to train their children to live according to the wisdom of God as revealed in his law-word so that their whole life will be governed by the teaching of the Bible.
This command to parents is then followed by a comforting promise: "and when he is old he will not depart from it." Our Lord assures parents that if they train their children according to his law when the children are young, it will come to pass that when they reach adulthood, they will not turn from the path their parents have taught them. The word "depart" means to turn from the way or course, and is often used in the Bible to refer to a turning from the right path of God's commands (cf. Dt. 9:12; Prov. 13:14). So if parents are faithful in training their children to walk in the path of God's commands, God promises that their children will not turn away from the right paths of his word when they reach maturity.
The Responsibility to Prepare Children for Marriage
The comprehensive command of Proverbs 22:6 should be specifically applied to the subject of preparing sons and daughters for marriage. The text, by clear implication, instructs parents to train up their children in the way that they should go in regard to marriage. Parents are called to teach their children what God has revealed in his word concerning marriage: the nature and purpose of marriage, the roles of husband and wife, family economics, raising up a godly seed, etc. — this is the parent's duty under God's law.
God's promise should also be applied. If parents are scrupulous in educating their children in Biblical principles for marriage, then God promises that when their sons and daughters come to adulthood and are joined in marriage, they will walk in the Biblical ways for marital life that they have been taught. As grown sons and daughters live in marriage according to God's word they will be blessed of God and their marriages will be successful from God's perspective. In short, Proverbs 22:6 contains both a command and a promise that should be directly applied to marriage. Parents are responsible to train their children for marriage, and God's promise is that their training will not be in vain but will lead to godly marriages that are truly blessed of the Lord.
Preparing Sons and Daughters for Marriage
But how can parents go about preparing their children for marriage? What specifically can they do and what areas should their training focus on? Here are some specific suggestions that will help parents in preparing their sons and daughters for marriage:
1. You must lay a foundation for training your children in God's law concerning marriage by leading them to faith in Jesus Christ and a submission to the authority of his word. As Paul teaches in Romans 8, only those who are justified by faith and walk in the Spirit are able to fulfill the righteous teaching of the law of God. It is the Spirit of God who will "work in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Your children must also be taught the authority of God's word to govern all spheres of life, and you must instill in them a Biblical worldview.
2. Train your children to submit to your authority. If you do not, then your children will not be able to function properly in the role of husband or wife. If they have not been trained to submit to God-ordained authority when they are young, your sons will have a problem submitting to the authority of Christ over them as husbands and abuse their authority over their wives, and your daughters will have difficulty submitting to the authority of their husbands. Unsubmissive husbands and unsubmissive wives spell marital chaos.
3. Teach your children the precepts of God concerning marriage. The Biblical teaching in regard to the nature and purpose of marriage and the roles of husband and wife should be inculcated in the minds of your children. Children need to be taught the covenantal nature of marriage, God's plan for husbands and wives, God's plan for children, God's plan for family finances, communication and problem-solving in the home, etc.
4. Teach your children how to work and assume responsibility. Sons should be taught that someday they will have the duty of providing for their family. Daughters should be taught that someday they will be responsible to manage their household. Accordingly, fathers ought to make sure that their sons are diligent in their work, and have the skills necessary for gainful employment; and mothers ought to make sure that their daughters are skilled in the arts of homemaking.
5. Be an example of a godly marriage to your children. As the saying goes, "More is caught than is taught." The verbal instruction in regard to the Biblical principles for marriage you give to your children should be modeled for your children in your own marriage. The importance of a godly example is critically important! Without this, all other aspects of training your children for marriage will be greatly undermined. The adage, "Like father, like son; like mother, like daughter," applies to the manner in which your children will carry out their relationship with their husband or their wife.
6. Expose your children to positive marital role models. In conjunction with the previous point, it is important that your children see God's will for marriage patterned in the lives of others; no matter how positive your own example is, your children will benefit from the example of the godly marriage of others. Paul exhorted the Philippians to follow his example, but he also called upon them to "mark them which walk" as an example of godly living (Phil. 3:17). Mark for your children those who walk in accord with God's law for marriage. Examples of a godly marriage can be drawn from both church history (e.g., Jonathan and Sarah Edwards) and from those that you and your children both know.
7. Begin your training early. Do not think that a week before marriage you can sit down with your child and tell him what he will need to know for a successful marriage! Begin early and teach your children according to what they can understand. Keep your instruction appropriate to their age and progress your training as they grow older. By the time they reach marriageable age, you should have trained them in the way that they should go concerning marriage.
8. Use the marital problems of others as a springboard to teach the blessing of obedience to God's law for marriage and the cursing of disobedience to God's law for marriage. Today we are surrounded by those who have serious marital problems and by failed marriages that end in divorce. Older children are aware of these troubled and failed marriages. The tragic consequences of disobedience to God's commands are illustrated in a telling fashion in these problem marriages. Do not fail to use these sorrowful situations to teach and exhort concerning the blessings and cursings of God. Instill in your children the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.
9. Endeavor to keep your children morally pure. The sexual revolution of the Sixties has reaped a bitter harvest in our society and destroyed many a marriage. Explicit sex and moral perversions of all sorts are openly displayed and promoted in the media, advertisements, literature, and art. Your children must be protected from these assaults on the sanctity of the marriage bed that have permeated our culture. Moral impurity is a dangerous virus in marriage. It sows the seeds of marital discord and unfaithfulness and works to undermine the one-flesh union of marriage. Keep the minds of your children pure, and with Biblical sensitivity, teach your children the holiness of marital love.
10. Protect your children from the destructive effects of dating. Dating is a humanistic perversion of the Biblical pattern of courtship. Dating does not prepare your children for marriage; it does the opposite. It can lead to emotional scars and moral impurity that will undermine their marriage.
11. Teach your children God's will for a marriage partner. God's law forbids the believer to marry an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:13), and commands the Christian to marry "only in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:39). Preparing a child for marriage involves the crucial task of training him to seek a marriage partner from among those who stand in covenant with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
12. Attend a church that upholds God's law and teaches the Biblical standards of marriage. What your children are taught at home should be supplemented and upheld by the teaching ministry of the local church. If your children are taught a standard for marriage that is contrary to that which you are teaching them at home, this inconsistency will undermine your efforts and will create confusion in their minds.
Parents have a mandate from God to "train up a child in the way he should go." This training certainly includes the preparation of the child for marriage. Parents also have a promise from God that faithful training in the ways of the Lord will be honored by him, and he will cause our children to walk in the paths of righteousness. This promise definitely applies to marriage; if we train our children in God's plan and purpose for marriage, he will cause them to walk in his ways and to experience the blessing of a happy, successful, God-honoring marriage. Having heard his command, and being armed with a promise, do not fail to train up your children in God's way for marriage and thus prepare them for one of the most important aspects of life and of taking dominion under God's covenant law — the marriage relationship.