“Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” (Proverbs 20:11 KJV)
We live in a generation today where children are allowed to follow their own desires and determine their own principles and standards for living. The current culture is passionate about freeing children to set their own course and choose their own identities. But a deeper understanding and meditation on Proverbs 20:11 helps us realize how greatly important it is for parents to direct the actions and shape the character of their children, particularly in their early stages of mental, spiritual, and emotional development. Let us take a closer look and see what else the verse has to say on these matters.
#1: A Person’s Actions Reveal a Lot About His Upbringing
In Hebrew, one understanding of the word “child” in this verse points to a young boy or an adolescent whose character is still being formed in this stage of life. And this is what it means here, as supported by the context. Also, the word “known” means “to recognize.”
Scripture rightly tells us that we can know a lot about a person’s character and background just by observing what he or she does. An unsupervised childhood will likely lead a young person to grow into a reckless and self-centered adult later on. But a well-guided childhood will cultivate good character in a person. And that young one will likely grow up to be more temperate and perceptive to the people around him.
A person’s actions say a lot about his or her upbringing. We have proven this to be true time and again. The kind of influence that children had early in their life has shaped them to become the person they are today. By looking at how people act, react, and speak, we can quite discern whether they had a fairly good upbringing or not.
#2: Children Need Training, Discipline, and Guidance
It is natural for children to act or think foolishly, even selfishly. This is not just because they are physically young, but because they are also spiritually, emotionally, and mentally young. Their senses are not well-trained to discern between good and evil. They cannot easily make out what is right and wrong. They often need help choosing between what is good, better, and best.
They are also easily influenced for good and for evil. Proverbs 22:15 says that training, discipline, and guidance will help steer them in the right direction. In effect, the verse is a mandate for parents and the older generation, because that is how you can help establish a righteous path for the youth in your family and social sphere.
Leaving a child or young person to himself will not do that young person any favors. A true and loving concern will move you to step in to help guide and support your children (or young friends) in their formative years. In this period, you can more easily recognize what is going on in their minds and hearts. Also, this is the most effective time for you to correct their actions and help shape their character for good.
Since children often act impulsively and naturally, parents should pay careful attention to what their children do and how they behave. And they must stand by, not eager to punish, but ready to point out what is wrong, teach what is right, and provide loving, corrective discipline to reinforce learning in their children.
#3: Actions Reveal Character and Motives
Matthew 7:16 says that you will know people by their fruits. Whatever seed has been planted will produce its intended fruit. Deeds are the results of implanted principles and nurturing. Our natural behavior and actions outwardly display all that has been formed in our life: faith, motives, and character. This is true for all, whether young or old.
Let’s look at the second part of Proverbs 20:11 again. It says, “whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” Luke 6:45 provides good support for this. As our speech results from what’s inside our hearts, so is with our actions. If there are purity and right intention, our actions will reveal that. Likewise, where there are selfishness and evil motives, observant people will see through your selfish and deceitful acts.
Actions reveal character and motives. Over time, habitual acts will form as a result of character formation. And the influence one collects through the years will become so ingrained that by the time a person is all grown up, he or she is already set on a predisposed course of action and way of thinking.
People are born with an inclination to do evil. They are naturally sinful, and they seek their own interests. The best time to forge good character and conduct is while a person is still young. If you have a young child in your family or even a new Christian in your sphere of influence, why not step in and help set his course on the right path? And if you are that young one yourself, use your tenderness and easy pliability to know, understand, and live out the Scriptures. It is your key to gaining practical wisdom and a fulfilled life.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.