No matter how pleasurable we make it for our children to obey us, there will be times when they break through our boundaries and go their own way. What do we do then? Once again, we do the same thing God does. We bring them back to the beaten path. “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:5-6, NASB).
We’ve studied that word “discipline” before. It’s the same word used in Ephesians 6:4 that involves both training, or guiding children toward a goal, and correction, or bringing them back when they stray. The corrective side of God’s discipline is uppermost in the author’s mind here in Hebrews as evidenced by the rather surprising observation that God scourges every son whom he receives. That doesn’t sound very enjoyable, does it? Further on in the same context we read, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Heb. 12:11a, NIV).
Here again is God’s great motivating principle for training his children. He makes it pleasant for them to obey him and unpleasant for them to disobey, knowing that they will have a tendency to change the behavior that results in distress. That word “scourge” gives us some idea just how unpleasant God can make it. It means literally to whip or flog. God spanks every one of his children, without exception. Some will protest, “But suppose everyone doesn’t need it?” Evidently every child of God does need it at some time, or God wouldn’t do it. And if every child of God needs to be spanked, certainly every child of ours will need it too.
“But spanking? That’s old fashioned,” say the critics. Modern psychologists and pedagogues insist there are better ways of correcting children. One “expert” I read went so far as to tell his children to run if he ever tried to hit them. There are many reasons suggested for discontinuing this time-proven method of correction. Some say it teaches the child foolish and unacceptable ways of handling his frustrations. It suggests to him that he should hit when he is angry.
I know that some parents never do spank their children until they are hopping mad, but the Bible doesn’t say we are to correct in anger. In fact, it says the very opposite: “Whom the Lord loves he disciplines.” If we administer physical correction calmly in love as the Lord does, there is no danger of teaching our children foolish actions. On the contrary, God’s Word says it will eliminate foolishness. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Prov. 22:15, KIV). That word rod refers to a stick, what we might call a switch. Somebody has suggested that almost everything in a modern home is controlled by switches except the children. Maybe our departure from the Bible at this point is partially responsible for the rising tide of delinquency that we face.
When our first child was very young he received an inexpensive little toy called a Fli-Back. It consisted of a wooden paddle and a small rubber ball connected together by a long rubber band. The idea was to hit the ball successively with the paddle as the rubber band kept snapping it back. Our toddler couldn’t operate it very well, and soon the rubber band broke, making the toy quite worthless--as a toy, that is. But one day, almost accidentally, we discovered an effective new use for the remnant paddle of that fractured Fli-Back. It made a perfect persuader that proved to be both safe and efficient. We had found our board of education, and it has served us well through all four children as we have applied it to their seat of learning. Strangely enough, our children’s friends kept adding more Fli-Backs to our collection as birthday presents, until we had nearly enough to put one in every room of the house. I must admit, it got to be one present they opened with mixed emotions.
The “experts” cringe at such a thought. They say that using a paddle on a child will inhibit the development of his personality. “Don’t repress him. He needs to express himself. That unrestrained liberty to do and say what he pleases acts as a safety valve that relieves his built-up pressures. Leave him alone and he’ll turn out alright.” The Bible has a little different perspective on leaving a child alone. “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Prov. 29:15, KIV). There are a good many mothers I know who are ashamed of what their children are doing. They probably followed the advice of some modern “expert” instead of the infallible Word of God and left the children to themselves, being too timid or too tired to face the challenge of enforcing limits with a rod.
Others who object to spanking say it interferes with the development of the child’s conscience. Instead of rejecting unacceptable behavior, he goes ahead and disobeys, knowing he can pay for it with a spanking. They contend that some children go out of their way to agitate for a spanking because they know that they deserve it and it salves their conscience. If so, those children have never been spanked in a biblical manner. You may have noticed that I have carefully avoided the word punishment in this discussion. That word implies vengeance, retaliation, paying a child back for the wrong he’s done, exacting a penalty which he must pay for his misdeeds. God does not punish his children. He laid all the penalty and punishment for our sins on Jesus Christ (Isa. 53:4-6). The whole debt was paid at Calvary and we have been forgiven all of our trespasses (Col. 2:13). There’s nothing left for us to pay. Punishment is never directed at believers. It is reserved for those who reject Christ’s sacrifice for sins (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-9).
But God does correct his children. We may even say he chastens his children, for that word implies the purging influence of his disciplinary action. His chastening hand is not intended to pay us back, but to bring us back, to restore us to the right way, to help us learn what is right and wrong, and to encourage us to choose the right. In other words, it is not punitive but productive. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, “Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11b, NIV).
Many parents admittedly use corporal discipline in a punitive, retaliatory manner. The idea is, “You haven’t told the truth, so you must pay the consequences.” After they have spanked their children they consider the score to be even. But that is not God’s way. He is not interested in an even score but in a holy life. His purpose is not to impose a penalty but to help us remember the right way. Administered with that purpose in view, spanking does not interfere with the development of the conscience. It sharpens it.
On one occasion after our first child was old enough to sit quietly in church and listen, my wife and I took him with us to hear a speaker we had known for years. Steve was unusually antagonistic and uncooperative that night. We tried to keep him occupied with pencils and paper, Lifesavers, pictures from our wallets, and all the other diversionary tactics we parents have learned to use in church. But he insisted on willfully and belligerently causing a disturbance. It was one of those rare occasions when I was sitting with my wife and son instead of speaking myself. And it was also one of those rare times as a rather young parent when I did the right thing. I calmly picked him up and carried him out the door, down the steps, and to the car. After a quiet and unemotional discussion about proper behavior in church, I applied the doctrine of discipline to the part of the anatomy God designed for that purpose. Then I held him as his sobs subsided, assuring him of my love and explaining that I wanted him to remember how he should conduct himself in church. After it was over we walked back to the church hand in hand, better friends than we had ever been before. It was a lesson neither one of us will ever forget, and one that keenly sharpened his ability to absorb what was said from the pulpit.
Some may ask, “But doesn’t that motivate through fear? Wouldn’t he behave himself in church from then on just because he dreaded another spanking?” I don’t think so. Fear is used in different ways in the Bible. It can refer to a paralyzing emotion of alarm and terror, or it may refer to a healthy respect and reverence. The unbeliever has every reason to be afraid of God, with the threat of divine retribution hanging over his head. Although the believer is also exhorted to fear the Lord (Psa. 34:9, KJV), his is a different kind of fear. There is no anxiety or dread associated with it because it is bathed in love. The Apostle John discusses the believer’s relationship with his heavenly Father: “We need have no fear of someone who loves us perfectly; his perfect love for us eliminates all dread of what he might do to us” (1 John 4:18a, TLB).
You see, the kind of fear that feels safe and secure in love is not dread at all. It’s respect. Respect is wholesome and good. It’s what the believer should feel toward God, and it’s an essential ingredient of a good parent-child relationship. A harsh, punitive parent will command obedience by sheer terror, and raise an anxiety-ridden neurotic. But a parent who corrects in love develops a healthy respect in his child, and builds into his life the desire to obey willingly in respect to that love.
Some parents will still protest, “But I love my child too much to spank him. It seems so cruel.” That is one of Satan’s subtle lies. God says just the opposite. “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Prov. 13:24, NASB). They call it love when they refuse to correct their child. God calls it hate. If they really loved him, they would make sure he learned to discipline his spirit, knowing that self discipline will affect his ability to get an education, hold a job, make a success of his marriage, get along with other people, and function adequately in other spheres of life. Corporal correction administered in love does not break a child’s spirit and destroy his initiative as some have claimed. It teaches him to control his spirit, and that controlled spirit is an indispensable element of successful living. Correction furthermore assures him that you love him enough to care about his success in life. To avoid it gives him good reason to doubt your loving concern, maybe even doubt that he belongs to you. The writer to the Hebrews established that principle: “But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:8, NASB). The parent who refuses to spank his child is the cruel one.
Rather than being cruel, spanking is actually the kindest form of correction. It is certainly more merciful than the endless nagging, badgering, whining, and threatening that cause resentment and destroy respect. It’s more merciful than weeks of denied privileges that never seem to end for the child. Of course it is unpleasant for the moment. God told us it would be (Heb. 12:11). It is unpleasant for the one who administers it and unpleasant for the one who receives it. So let’s be honest. It isn’t love that keeps us from obeying God’s Word. It is the selfish desire to avoid unpleasantness. When we realize that our selfishness will only bring us greater unpleasantness over the long term, we will begin to train our children God’s way.
After all is said and done, some parents are still afraid that spanking will only make their child more rebellious, maybe even turn him away from the Lord. God says, “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat him with the rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from Sheol” (Prov. 23:13, 14, NASB). It all boils down to whether or not we believe this word from God. Those who have practiced it in the manner God prescribes have found that it works.
Well, if this is God’s method, why do so many parents feel uneasy about it and guilty about it after they do it? One reason may relate to Satan’s strategy. He has been calling the Word of God into question since Genesis 3:1, “Has God said?” He wants our children undisciplined, so he plants the seed of doubt in our minds about correcting them God’s way.
But that is not the only reason for guilt. Parents should feel guilty when they spank their children in anger, without love. Love is not only what we say or do, but it is an attitude our children feel. And they certainly are not feeling love when we are wildly flailing at them with popping veins and scarlet faces, when we have obviously lost control of our emotions, and our actions are retaliatory rather than remedial. Love is communicated through calmness, kindness, and control.
We may also feel guilty when we have spanked for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we hit because we are angered by the inconveniences which our children cause us. We have to wipe up the mess or pick up the broken glass, and it irritates us. Aren’t you glad God doesn’t discipline you for accidents, honest mistakes, or mere forgetfulness? We need to teach our children to be careful, but unless something like a spill is purposely malicious, it doesn’t deserve a spanking.
We probably should not spank a child for his natural curiosity either, his desire to learn by touching. How much better it is to put things we don’t want him to touch out of reach. I’m afraid some parents actually tempt their children by leaving expensive gadgets lying around. We encourage disobedience in other ways too, like saying to a toddler, “If you turn that pudding upside down on your head, I’ll spank you.” You have aroused the old nature to react, and even suggested what it should do. It would be much better to remove the bowl from the tray. There are many occasions when we can keep children from disobedience by constructive distractions or substitute activities. I believe God would be honored if we used every creative means at our disposal to keep them from disobeying.
It is self-defeating to spank a child for a nervous habit like thumb-sucking or nail-biting. That only intensifies the anxiety which caused the problem in the first place. We should not spank for unusual behavior problems caused by sickness or extreme fatigue. Nor should we spank a child for something he is not capable of doing, like sitting perfectly still for long periods of time at a very young age.
Sometimes a child’s rebellious behavior grows out of fear or insecurity. If he feels threatened or unloved, it would be far better for us to listen patiently and try to understand his feelings than to spank him. The spanking will only make him feel more threatened and less loved. Spanking should be reserved for direct defiance of our authority, willful disobedience to our command, or a willful attitude of stubborn rebelliousness, none of which are caused by extenuating circumstances. It takes a Spirit-filled Christian walking in fellowship with the Lord to have the wisdom necessary to know when spanking is in order and when it is not.
We may also feel guilt for spanking when we have been excessively harsh. If we get exasperated with our children we may lash out with greater intensity than their deed deserves. The guilt we feel may be God’s way of warning us of the damage we are doing both to them and to ourselves. Make the correction fit the crime if you want to enjoy a clear conscience before God. Sometimes we prescribe foolish punishment in a fit of rage. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry,” then lighten the sentence.
We should also add that there are other effective means of discipline besides spanking. God is not stereotyped and there is no reason for us to be. The biblical emphasis on the rod does not necessarily eliminate other methods of correction. Different personalities and degrees of responsiveness may dictate different approaches. If Johnny loses the use of his tricycle for a few days because he insists on riding it in the street, he will quickly learn the boundaries. If he finds himself isolated in his room every time he teases his sister, he will probably decide that teasing is not very profitable behavior and drop it.
Teenagers will profit more from other forms of discipline. There comes a time in life when spanking may only harden and embitter a young person, and other methods of correction will become more effective. In other words, it is possible to wait too long to apply the rod of corrective discipline. “Discipline your son in his early years while there is hope. If you don’t you will ruin his life” (Prov. 19:18, TLB).
Verbal reproof alone may be sufficient on some occasions, but it must be done in love. Forget the angry lecture with all the usual threats. They only breed rebellion. The kids realize the threats are empty, and they know the whole lecture by heart anyway. Just do it God’s way. It is not always the easiest way, but let him help you move in with the appropriate correction, calmly, kindly, lovingly--but immediately and firmly. “Discipline your son and he will give you happiness and peace of mind” (Prov. 29:17, TLB).