What’s Missing: The Purpose of Education

There is a biblical command and purpose to education children, particularly young men. But it is missing today in America.  I write what follows, not from the lofty vantage point of sterling success, but rather the bittersweet mixture of success mixed with much failure.

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.  (Pro 1:1-7 KJV)

The purpose of the book of Proverbs is given in these verses.  It is as follows:

  • To know–wisdom and instruction
  • To perceive–the words of understanding
  • To receive–the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity
  • To give–subtilty to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young man
  • To increase–learning of the wise man
  • To attain–wise counsel to men of understanding
  • To understand–proverbs and their interpretation, the words of the wise and their dark sayings

The beginning, the fountainhead of all knowledge and wisdom is the fear of the Lord.  All thought must have this as the foundation and measure or it will lead to foolishness and sin.  It is vital to teach this especially to young men: without it they will never learn anything but selfishness and wander into all sorts of sin.

Teaching today has been reduced to preparation for a vocation.  The true purpose of education has been abdicated by the church and this has cascaded inevitably down to the culture and the society.  Young men are like fire: if tamed, controlled, and directed they are wonderfully productive and powerfully good for families and society; if not, they will burn and destroy until nothing is left.  If they are not taught self-discipline and self-government then it does no good to teach them the skills necessary for a trade or for entering college.

This education in self-control is fundamentally not something that can be taught by any school, public or private.  It is something that can most effectively be taught by families, most particularly fathers.  For decades now, fathers have increasingly abdicated their responsibilities.  The fruit of this is that men increasingly have abdicated their responsibilities as men.  Qualities such as leading, protecting, providing, disciplining, teaching, guiding, chastising, encouraging, exhorting, and many more are woefully absent in men today.  And what is there is decreasing, because these things cannot be taught by someone who does not know them.

This brings us to the first purpose of education.

The First Purpose: To Know Wisdom and Instruction

The word for know in Hebrew means to intimately experience, to have sought out all that there is to something.  This can be a relationship or an idea.  It is exemplified in the marriage relationship.  To know your wife is often taken as a euphemism in the bible for sex, and it does encompass that, but it means much more.  To know your wife means to seek to understand everything about her so that as husband you can make her life joyful and glorious.  How she thinks, how she feels, what she likes and dislikes, her fears, her anxieties, everything about her is to be sought for understanding.  But this knowledge is not for its own sake, nor for manipulation.  It is because the husband delights in loving his wife.

Thus the first purpose in education is to instill in young men a lifelong delight in wisdom and instruction.  But what are wisdom and instruction?

Wisdom is the ability to rightly order your life before God first and foremost, and before man secondarily.  It means to be skillful in what you choose to do, how you do it, and understanding why.  It is a gift from God, and like all gifts must be exercised with an eye toward improving it.

The word for instruction in Hebrew means basically to turn the head.  The picture is of a father turning his son’s head to point him in the proper direction.  At its most fundamental, this is about the proper direction for the young man to go in his life, his purpose, his calling in life.  In order to do this, the father must himself be a student and pursuer of wisdom and instruction.  He must delight in these things and openly show this delight to his sons, so that they see it in action.  So that this turning of the head cannot be a harsh mechanical, “go that way” kind of thing.  But it means to gently turn them, teaching them so that they see the beauty and righteousness of where they are turned.

The first place the head of young men must be turned is toward Christ and His word. This is evangelism at the most personal and powerful, from father to son.  It is also, strangely, the most difficult.  But it is the foundation upon which all other teaching must be based. Without it, culture spirals slowly, then suddenly, to chaos and death.

This purpose of education has been lost in families and society because it was first abandoned in the church.  Until men, particularly pastors, repent of this sin (and many others), the church will continue to be impotent and irrelevant, and the culture will continue to rot in America.