Lesson for Sept. 18, 2011: Teaching Values (Proverbs 10:1–15:33)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for September 18) is written by Bruce Stoker, education minister with Memorial Church of Christ in Livonia, Michigan.


Teaching Values (Proverbs 10:1–15:33)

By Bruce Stoker

As a Boy Scout, I learned orienteering skills for traveling through the wilderness safely and efficiently using a map and compass. We practiced our skills during many meetings and throughout our hometown, and eventually we decided we could handle a cross-country backpacking trip. So we plotted our destination, grabbed a topographical map and our compasses, and headed out for a weekend of hiking without trails.

We did fairly well navigating the terrain, but when we found ourselves on the edge of a hemlock swamp, there was a rift in our group about how we ought to proceed. Some wanted to follow a heading that took us straight through the middle of the swamp, while others wanted to skirt the swamp and pick up a new bearing on the other side. We all had the same basic knowledge, but we valued different things: getting to camp quickly versus having dry feet. Fortunately, I had packed extra socks.

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The Scout Law of the Boy Scouts of America lists 12 specific values that define what a Scout ought to be: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. We learned these words by reciting them each week at our meetings, but we developed the values through training and experience. Despite strong opinions about how to proceed that weekend, our discussion was mostly friendly and courteous, and our sense of loyalty to each other kept us from breaking into two groups. I must admit, however, that I was not very cheerful about trudging knee-deep through that swamp.

Even though the Boy Scouts of America has a good program for instilling values through teaching practical skills, obviously it’s not a perfect plan. However, God’s people have a perfect plan. Starting in Deuteronomy 6, we can see that God’s plan for teaching values is for families—within the larger community of believers—to train their children, teaching them God’s Law and how to apply it through everyday experiences, even “when you walk along the road” (Deuteronomy 6:7).


Learning Values Is a Journey

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to teaching values is the mind-set that learning values is a goal instead of a process or journey. The images of walking along the road or traveling by map and compass give us great insight into the process of teaching and learning values. Throughout Proverbs we read about walking securely and not following “crooked paths” (10:9); about leading the “way to life” or leading others astray (10:17); about how the righteous are guided by integrity (11:3) along the “straight paths” (11:5).

Since God’s plan is a matter of teaching children his law through everyday experiences—such as talking at home, walking along the road, going to bed, and getting up in the morning—then learning must take place along the journey of daily life. Sure, there are concrete facts that must be learned—God’s Word being at the top of the list—but values learned through experience are going to be impressed upon children more readily than through classes and recitation.

Perhaps our training, in the home and in the church, ought to focus more on the journey. Parents and Bible teachers certainly must teach foundational biblical facts—Bible stories and memory verses—but perhaps with a goal of preparing for a journey. For young children and families, the journey may be mapped out: regular attendance in Bible school and worship services; regular family devotions; repetition of stories and Bible verses—obviously a method of choice for Solomon and the other writers of Proverbs. This kind of preparation builds confidence that enables growing children and families to step out beyond a mapped-out faith using tested knowledge and familiar habits to make values-based decisions. When the journey starts to head into uncharted territory—troubles with relationships or finances, unemployment, teenage angst, cancer, and even death—God’s Word and God’s values already will have become the “map and compass” of Christian kids and families.


The Journey Is Full of Choices

Perhaps the reason we think of teaching values as a goal instead of a journey is because it’s easier to teach a list of values than to guide someone as they make choices based on those values. It’s a lot easier to follow a marked trail than to hike through the woods using only a map and compass, but everyday life doesn’t have a detailed trail guide. Our journey is full of choices.

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Maybe it’s so simple that we have missed it, but throughout this section of Proverbs (chapters 10-15), Solomon wrote most of these wise sayings in couplets that offer clear choices. Solomon didn’t write a list of values to learn, like the 12 values of the Scout Law. He contrasted laziness against diligence (10:4); integrity versus deceit (10:9); hatred versus love (10:12); righteousness versus perversity (10:32); honest business practices versus cheating (11:1); gossip versus discretion (11:13); kindness versus cruelty (11:17); generosity versus greed (11:24); humility versus pride (12:9); obedience versus disobedience (13:1); self-control versus recklessness (13:3); gentleness versus harshness (15:1).

Each of these values is a matter of choice. Parents and Bible teachers ought to communicate the choices, as Solomon did, but the best way to teach values is to do so along the journey of daily life. It’s one thing to teach that honesty is better than deceit; it’s another thing to demonstrate honesty when the cashier makes a mistake in your favor. It’s a good thing to teach that generosity is better than greed; it’s a better thing to be an example of generosity when it’s time to leave a tip after a meal. Self-control is learned more quickly when it isn’t obscured by angry words or gestures during rush hour.


The Journey Isn’t Easy

Navigating through life in a world that does not share our biblical values isn’t always that easy. But even though the journey can be difficult, the journey is part of God’s plan. When we prepare for it by learning God’s Word with the guidance of our families and the church, we will make better choices according to God’s values—and maybe even stay out of the swamp.


*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.

September 12: Proverbs 10:1-5
September 13: Proverbs 10:18-22
September 14: Proverbs 10:23-28
September 15: Proverbs 12:12-16
September 16: Proverbs 14:27-34
September 17: Proverbs 15:15-19
September 18: Proverbs 15:21-33


Bruce Stoker serves as education minister with Memorial Church of Christ in Livonia, Michigan.

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