Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it,” is the base verse for this study and one of the great commands of Scripture directed to parents. But is there anything more challenging or rewarding than this responsibility and privilege? Training children in the way they should go has always been a huge and vital task in every generation because of all that is involved in the process of nurturing children, but has there ever been a time when the challenge was greater than it is today? A child’s development and perspective about life is of course a product of the training process. It is here that children will develop their ideas about God, man, themselves (personal significance, source of security, purpose in life), and about society and its world viewpoint. But the more a society moves away from the truth of Scripture and its values, priorities, and beliefs, the more difficult the task of child training becomes. This is partly because of the negative influences and the centrifugal pulls on the child, but also because parents too often begin to think and act like their society. They take up its belief structures and live according to the values and priorities of society. The impact this has on the thinking and behavior of the children is tremendous and just a casual look at our world today tells the story. What a society believes will always determine how it lives. There is a flow to culture, and the river of this flow is always found in the head waters of the thoughts of people. As the late Francis Schaeffer pointed out:
People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.
“As a man thinketh, so is he,” is really most profound. An individual is not just the product of the forces around him. He has a mind, an inner world. Then, having thought, a person can bring forth actions into the external world and thus influence it.1
Our presuppositions, which determine our worldview, are usually picked up from the family. But there are many evil forces at work to influence the worldview of the family (parent and child alike) to turn it away from God’s truth as it is developed for us in the pages of the Word of God.
I recently saw a classic illustration of this. While preparing supper, we often watch the news or a well-known talk show, which, of course, provides daily illustrations of our society’s warped and very unbiblical viewpoint. The subject of the show this particular day was child discipline, so I was particularly interested in what would be said. The guest had a Ph.D. in child development (this is supposed to make the person an authority) and, of course, most of his views contradicted the Bible. The emphasis was that physical discipline of any kind was an act of violence and thus ineffective. And I would agree, as does the Bible, that physical discipline can be an act of violence and abusive to a child physically and emotionally. But this is not the kind of physical discipline taught in the Bible. On the program were a group of mothers who spanked their children, but what I thought was particularly telling was the comment of one of the mothers and the reaction of the host. In the face of the pressure of the so-called authority and the peer pressure of this very popular show host the mother boldly pointed out that she intended to use spanking as a form of discipline because the Bible taught her to do so. The host quickly retorted that the Bible was not always right, it taught slavery and slavery was clearly wrong too!
What was going on here? This was an illustration of the daily kinds of influences of this society that contradict the authority of the Bible. Man’s viewpoint is elevated above the Scripture, which, in this case was flatly denied and ridiculed. This popular talk show is viewed all over this country, but it is only one incident and by no means the exception. Rather, it is the rule in almost every realm (politically, educationally, in the media, in Hollywood, etc.). Sadly, even a large portion of the church has opted for the viewpoint of man rather than that of the Bible. The Apostle Paul warned us against the problem of being conformed by the world (by its views, belief structures and values), rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds in God’s Holy Word (Rom. 12:2).
Where do Christian parents go when they want information on child training? In my experience, I have found that very often they run down to the Christian bookstore for a book on child training. Unfortunately, the chances are what they get is very little Scripture and a lot of pop-psychology—man’s viewpoint elevated above Scripture. It seems that parents no longer turn to the Bible first and study it carefully and prayerfully. Many parents are ignorant of how much God has to say on this subject, or they ignore it, or simply reject it as old fashion and outdated.
But think for a moment about the moral conditions of our society today—the crime, the drugs, the abuse and violence in families (abuse of wives, children, and yes, even of husbands), the pornography, the anti-authority mentality, the fraud and deception and lack of integrity and scandals even among the leaders of our nation, and on the list goes. But just thirty years ago, while there was crime, drugs, abuse, etc., conditions then and the years prior were tame and minor by comparison to the present.
What has created the differences and the decline that we see today? Well, obviously, there are many factors, but the primary factor is the way this nation has turned away from its biblical moorings. In the early sixties prayer was taken out of the schools. Then it was determined it was unlawful to have a copy of the Ten Commandments displayed in our schools. And abortion was made legal. But equally important—the family unit was more intact. Parents exercised common sense and lived by biblical principles of child training because that was what was modeled when they grew up. They believed in it even if they had not studied these things out from Scripture for themselves.
Today, however, our society calls that approach outmoded; we say the Bible is wrong and our way is better. This viewpoint that rejects the Bible has its source in secular humanism. Secular humanism is autonomous (its source is in man’s reason), idolatrous (man worshipping his own creations), and secular (man, who is nothing more than an evolved animal, doesn’t need God). However, Scripture teaches us that when man does this, God turns that society over to its own futile speculations (human viewpoint). This always results in a spiritual and moral breakdown (Rom. 1:18-32). An important question which our society needs to ask is simply has our elevation of man’s ways above God’s made life better? The evidence speaks for itself. Romans 1:21 describes man’s way through his reasoning or speculations as “futile.” This Greek word translated “futile” (mataiow) refers to what is ultimately useless or has no useful result; it is without the capacity to deliver what is promised.
Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (NIV). Daily we are seeing the end result of the humanistic way our nation has chosen that seems so right to our society—moral breakdown throughout society, especially in the family. Proverbs 29:18 reads, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law” (NIV). Having rejected the Bible, God’s inspired revelation, as our true authority, we have cast off one biblical restraint after another. These are not restraints designed to harm and hinder, but to bless and allow man to be and do that for which he was created. A train provides a good illustration in that it is only able to fulfill its purpose as long as it stays on the tracks.
Child training is always a huge undertaking, but in view of the influences and powers at work in our world today, it has become a colossal task. It is not one that is impossible, however, because we have an all powerful and awesome God who has not only revealed Himself to us in Scripture and in the person of Christ, the Son of God, but He has given us special promises and directives for training and nurturing our children. The question is simply, “Will we follow them?”
In view of the climate of our society, some of the things discussed in this lesson will contradict current trends in child training and child psychology. With the condition of our society, that’s to be expected. Regardless, believing the Bible to God breathed, the material presented in this study is based on an exposition of key passages of Scripture that detail for us what God has said about raising and training our children. Those who have no faith in the Scripture will generally reject this for “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). Though I have sought to base all that is said here on Scripture, believing it to be God’s inspired revelation to us, I am sure some Christians will disagree with the position presented here at least in some areas. Whether this is a result of the influence of our society on their thinking or because I have not handled the text properly, is up to the individual to judge based on the evidence presented (see Acts 17:11). Regardless, my goal is to help families by sharing what the Bible teaches. In view of this, may I suggest three qualities that are needed here as in any study of God’s Word:
(1) Teachableness. We all come to parenting, as in everything else in life, with preconceived ideas and we are often reluctant to give up our own notions. God desires to teach us His truth, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go’” (Isa. 48:17). Our need, then, is to be like the Psalmist who prayed, “Deal with Your servant according to Your lovingkindness, And teach me Your statutes” (Ps. 119:124).
(2) Studiousness. Another need is the need to studiously search the Scripture. Scripture has a lot to say about the home and parenting. The question is will we let Him build our house (our home) by searching His Word? May we be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and search the Scriptures for what it teaches and then to be open to its truth for “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
(3) Cautiousness. If the home is God’s laboratory for building character in our children’s lives, indeed, the place where life makes up its mind, and if the home is the foundation to society, and both of these things are true, then we can be sure that Satan is going to do all he can to undermine the home. We need, then, to be alert to his methods and schemes. A couple of passages come to mind. We need to know God’s truth and to be cautious that “. . . we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). Then in Colossians Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
One of my greatest joys as a young man growing up on a small ranch in Texas was riding and training horses to rein so they were always under the control of the rider whether roping calves out of a chute or working cattle in a corral or an open pasture. We loved all our horses, but it was the trained ones that gave the greatest joy and were the most valuable. But to get them trained required a lot of time, love, patience, and work. Most of the training in the early stages took place in a corral because a young horse automatically knew it was under a certain restraint. Getting the horse’s attention and controlling it in a corral was much easier for it had no place to go in that confined environment. On the wide open range it was a different story, for there the horse wanted to run or was easily distracted. Once certain controls, however, had been built in through training, it was a very different story. Because of this, we always had a corral that was primarily devoted to training our horses. So what is a corral? It is a place of containment and restraint, but one of the main uses is for the purpose of training.
One horse I trained in just such a corral was a beautiful sorrel quarter horse named Dolly. She would stop on a dime and leave me a nickel change. I could take her anywhere and know she would behave herself. She was so obedient that she made traveling to rodeos or contests a breeze. I was able to keep my cool because I could count on Dolly to obey and do what was asked of her. In fact, people noticed her because of her happy obedience and often remarked about how well trained she was.
Scripture teaches us that parents too should have a training corral for their children, not one made of boards and posts, but one built out of materials derived from the Word of God. These material consist of biblical precepts and principles of Scripture which, when properly brought together, like the sides of a corral, produce an environment for children that not only fulfill biblical injunctions but promote happy obedience and give parents a great deal of rest and satisfaction. I am reminded of a Proverb which says, “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul” (NIV). The KJV reads, “Correct your son, and he shall give you rest; yea, he shall give delight unto your soul” (Prov. 29:17).
The Bible, God’s inspired and authoritative Word, has a great deal to say about parenting, the home, and children. For a sampling, compare the following:
(1) Psalm 128:1-4 teaches us that children are gifts and rewards from the sovereign hand of God; they are blessings and trusts from God. But Psalm 127:3-5 warns that for this to be a reality, parents must allow the Lord to build the house (the home) which includes the training of our children. If God is allowed to build the house, we must use His materials, tools, and follow His blueprints. We must build His training corral.
(2) Proverbs tells us to train up our children in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6). This means getting children to go in the right direction. But what is the right way or direction and how does a parent do this, especially in our difficult day?
(3) The Bible also teaches that parents are to bring up their children (nourish them) in the discipline (training) and instruction (admonition) of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). God trains children in His ways through the parents. As parents, we are training agents for God.
(4) Fathers, therefore, are to have their children under control with all dignity (1 Tim. 3:4). Why? Because children are born without controls. A good illustration of their lack of control is the need for diapers. Parenthood, therefore, means the right of authority and the responsibility of control over their children according to the standards and values of Scripture, but the goal is to bring the child under God’s control through a relationship with Him.
Children are gifts, stewardships, from God and are to be returned to God through the process of biblical discipline or training. Biblical discipline is not arbitrary, but is to be based on the principles derived from the Scripture.
As will be demonstrated in this study, biblical discipline is based on the truths of authority and subordination. God gives this authority to parents, but parents are ultimately accountable to God in both the responsibility for discipline and for the manner and method of discipline. This fact is evident from what we learn in Ephesians 6:4.
Ephesians 6:4 has two words which describe the responsibilities and the methods that are important in the nurture of children. “Discipline” (NASB) or “training” (NIV) is the Greek paideia from pais, “child.” According to the use of this word there are two ideas in biblical discipline: (a) instruction or education and (b) correction or discipline as with the rod or some form of corrective control. This is particularly applicable to the smaller child. “Instruction” is the Greek nouqesia from nous, “mind” and tiqhmi, “to put, place.” According to the use of this word, it involves the ideas of reasoning, counsel, warning, and gentle or friendly reproof. It is more appropriate to the child as he gets older when he can have a better understanding of the spiritual and moral issues, particularly as to his or her own behavior and to the nature of the situation.
Young children, say up to ages seven and eight, are often unable to grasp the spiritual concepts in many of the issues they face. At this age, they are more oriented to stimulus-response or the pleasure-pain mechanism. Young children connect right and wrong with the results of their actions more than with the spiritual reasons. As they mature, children grow in personal moral consciousness; they become more personally responsible (able to respond in a thoughtful manner) and, thus, they become more personally accountable for their actions as well.2
2 Jack Fennema, Nurturing Children in the Lord, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 1978, p. 126.
As the sovereign Creator of the universe and the One who has established the divine institution of marriage and the home, God has placed children under the authority of their parents. This is more than evident in Scripture by the fact that over and over God addresses parents and gives them the responsibility for the training of their children, not the state (cf. Deut. 6:7-9; Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20). Parental authority, then, is a delegated authority which means parents are not free to do with their children as they please. Ultimately, the authority we exercise as parents is God’s authority. Children are stewardships from God, blessings He has given to parents to manage for Him. But to be good stewards, parents must raise their children according to God’s guidelines and authority so children come to know God and obey and behave as the children of God. In our goal to teach them to obey as an obedience to God, it means parenting is designed by God to bring about a changing of parents (Eph. 6:1f).
As parents, then, we are to be in a subordinate relationship to God; we are to exercise only the authority God has given us and do so in accordance with His standards. We are never to arbitrarily establish what is right and wrong by our opinions or those of society unless those standards are based on God’s Word. The parent’s job is to declare what God’s Word says is right and wrong and then seek to promote that in their own lives and in their children’s lives. When this is not the case, the parents are acting in rebellion themselves and ruining, by negative example, the stewardship God has entrusted to their care. This naturally leads to our next point.
Authority means the delegated right to rule or lead. It means the power to act, decide, command, and judge; it is the right to set policy and this means the responsibility to bring about controls in our children’s lives within the limits of the authority given by God. God has absolute and complete authority and the right of complete control because of who He is as the sovereign Creator (Ps. 47:2; 103:19; 115:3; Dan. 4:34b; Rom. 9:20b-21). There is an important lesson here. Even God’s authority and control is never arbitrary because it is based on His perfect righteousness and goodness; it is always for the good and blessing of people. For instance, the commandments of God’s Word are not designed to take away our fun and make life miserable. Rather, they are designed to bring safeguards that enhance our capacity for blessing. This is so because of the very character of God who is perfect holiness. This includes God’s perfect righteousness and justice. Inherent in all of this is God’s goodness as our loving Benefactor. As an illustration, when our children were young we gave them tricycles as soon as they were old enough to ride them, but we established a rule: they could ride their tricycle in the driveway or on the sidewalk but not in the street. That rule restricted them out of love and parental responsibility, but its design was to keep them from being run over by an automobile.
Why do parents need controls? Controls are needed because of the immaturity and foolishness of children, but also because of the natural tendency for rebellion. Because of the fall and man’s sinful condition, rebellion is inherent in all of us. In fact, the words rebel, rebellion, rebellious, etc. occur 170 times in the NIV, 131 in the NASB, and a 143 in the NRSV translations. Before we look at a few principles regarding rebellion, control, and authority, let’s note a few verses on this issue:
Proverbs 29:15 reads, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way (left to himself without controls) brings shame to his mother.” Why? Because in his or her rebellion, the child behaves in such a way that it reflects on a parent’s lack of ability or commitment to discipline, to bring controls into the child’s life.3 1 Samuel 15:23 reads, “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.” With the problem of rebellion and the need of godly control in mind, one of the qualifications of an elder is that he must be “one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” (1 Tim. 3:4).
Related to the problem of rebellion and disobedience is, of course, the fact of Satan, the rebel of rebels, and man’s sin. Controls are needed because of the problem of rebellion that is inherent within sinful man through the fall (Gen. 5:3; Rom. 5:12). If there was no rebellion, there would be no need to exercise controls. But rebellion is a fact of life. Children are born naturally rebellious and they get that from their parents (Ps. 51:5; 58:3; Prov. 29:15).
God has established institutions of authority (chains of command) such as government and the home for the protection of society. These institutions are designed to exercise God’s authority within certain boundaries or defined limits in order to restrain the natural tendency in man to exploit and harm others (Rom. 13:1f; Eph. 5:22f; 6:1f; Heb. 13:7, 17). The purpose of this authority is to bring control as a hindrance to open rebellion. These limits include: (a) those who are under a particular authority, and (b) the extent and manner in which they are to exercise this authority.
These chains of command or institutions of authority are God’s umbrellas of protection and instruments for the orderly administration of His plan for the human race. The point is: Our authority as a parent is God’s way of protecting children; it is part of His umbrella.
What are some of these areas of authority where rebellion may occur in life?
Naturally, Satan, the first and chief rebel, is against God’s plan and authority and constantly attacks these institutions to create rebellion. It is significant that the serpent (Satan in disguise) approached Eve, not Adam to whom God had given the responsibility of leadership. This is evident by the fact Adam was created first and by the fact Eve was uniquely (in contrast to the male and female animals) created from him (cf. 1 Tim. 2:13; 1 Cor. 11:8ff). After Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, the first reason God gave to Adam for the judgments that would follow was his passivity as the constituted leader. Adam had listened to his wife. This was a breakdown in the chain of leadership. Satan works incessantly to cause a misuse of authority (domination, tyranny) and to cause rebellion even when there is godly and loving leadership in all institutions of authority.
When it comes to rebellion, there are two forms that occur in children:
Active rebellion is when a child will not listen to or accept his parents’ instructions. Active rebellion may be manifested:
(1) When a child throws a tantrum, responds with a defiant “No!” or rebelliously walks away while the parent is still talking to him.
(2) When a child continues to play or focuses his attention away from mom or dad or a grandparent when they are talking to him or giving him instructions. In such cases he is also expressing rebellion.
(3) When a child will not accept correction. This is evident when he argues with mom or dad, blames it on someone else, or pouts instead of admitting his guilt.
Passive rebellion is demonstrated when children meet the external requirements for obedience, but are internally resentful, i.e., sitting down on the outside, but standing up on the inside.
(1) Passive rebellion is concealed in a child’s attitude, but will eventually surface in their facial expressions of indifference, disgust, anger, or disrespect.
(2) Passive rebellion is expressed by the child who politely listens to instructions, but who consistently fails to follow them without reminders, threats, or pressure. Of course, in younger children, failure to follow through can be the result of a short attention span. They intend and want to obey, but become preoccupied within a few minutes and need a parent’s reminders and supervision.
(3) Another subtle form of passive rebellion is to do what is required, but not in the way it should be done or with the right attitude. As will be stressed later, attitude is just as important as the act of obedience. Bad attitudes will eventually express themselves in open acts of rebellion or disobedience.
(4) If rebellion is not dealt with, passive rebellion will result in revolution—the attempt to overthrow authority.
So what is control? It is the power or ability to regulate or guide. It means to hold back, to restrain, curb, or corral. But the goal should always be to promote happy obedience in place of rebellion.
3 The focus on the mother in the last part is probably a rhetorical variation for the parent (see 17:21; 23:24-25) and is not meant to assume that she will do the training. See also 13:24 and 23:13 (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, OT, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, electronic media).
We can get a better handle on the issues if we look at the relationship between authority and control.
(1) Authority means the responsibility and right to direct and cause another to follow directions. This means the responsibility and right, as necessary, to exercise power to control, restrain, curb, or corral, i.e., the power to use one’s authority to bring about pressure to restrain someone from going off course to the left or the right or from running unrestrained as mentioned in Proverbs 29:15.
(2) Authority means the responsibility and right to establish standards that become the measure or the tests for bringing about controls. As authorized by God, parents have the responsibility for developing controls in children who are born without controls and who are inherently rebellious, going astray from birth (Prov. 29:15; Ps. 58:3). As mentioned, a baby’s need of diapers provides a good illustration. Babies must have external controls (diapers) until internal controls can be developed (toilet training). When parents fail to control and then train their children in the various areas of life, it is comparable to failure to use diapers and to never toilet train their child. Would you want to face the consequences of an undiapered, untoilet-trained child in your home? Of course not! But in many other ways, parents fail to establish controls, which have their own detrimental consequences to other family members, to the children themselves, and to others in society. In essence, the problems we have in our schools is really a parental problem.
Nurture refers to that environment in which children are to be raised and that brings together, like a corral gate, all the sides and ingredients for the training corral.
In Ephesians 6:4, the words, “bring up,” are from the Greek word ektrefw which means, “to nurture, nourish, provide for with care that nourishes, feeds, or trains.” In other words we are to provide the kind of care that will promote healthy growth and development. Of course, the context is dealing with spiritual and moral development that flows out of a right relationship with God, walking under God’s control, but it is the fruit of the loving care of godly parents.
When we provide the right kind of nurture, when we use God’s training corral, we can and should expect both happy and obedient children. Many parents would settle for simply obedience, but happy obedience should be the goal. Happy obedience is not too much to expect. Note the verses above such as Psalm 100:2, “serve the Lord with gladness,” and Colossians, “joyously giving thanks to the Father.”
In his book, You and Your Child, Charles R. Swindoll has an excellent comment regarding attitudes. He writes,
We deal as severely with attitudes in our home as we do with actions. A sullen, stubborn spirit is dealt with as directly as an act of lying or stealing. The way you deal with your sons will, in great measure, determine how they will respond to the way God deals with them.4
An illustration: Mother and little Jimmy are in the supermarket and Jimmy sees the inviting candy display (cavity makers) at the checkout stand:
Jimmy: “I want some candy, Mommy.”
Mother: “No honey, not today.”
Jimmy: “But why? I want some candy. I’m hungry.”
Mother: “It’s too close to supper and you have had enough candy for today.”
Jimmy: “But I want some candy, I WANT some candy . . . ”
Mother: “No Jimmy, now come along. Do you hear me?”
And so goes the battle. Jimmy proceeds to flop on the floor crying and kicking his feet, or he grabs a handful of candy anyway. Finally, in desperation and because people are looking, mother says, “Oh all right, have some candy, but come on, I’m in a hurry.” Jimmy has manipulated his mother. He has not been made to mind, much less with a happy obedience. He has also learned that if he makes a scene in public, he can get his way.
Not every parent will act the same way to such stubbornness, so children quickly learn what it takes to get what they want. Some will pout and whine; others may cuddle up and bat their eye lashes, but if the parent gives in the results are the same. In any case, these children are not learning happy obedience, submission to authority, nor respect or honor for what is right. Instead they are learning to get their own way and to act selfishly and disrespectfully toward their parent’s wishes and wisdom.
Because the disobedience of little children can be cute (at least to their parents and grandparents) the tendency is to laugh and say, “Isn’t she cute?” or “Isn’t he a mess?” But when we do this (and I find this an even greater temptation now that I am eight times a grandparent), we are helping to reinforce disobedience. Parents need to raise their level of expectation to the point they demand and expect obedience but with a happy face.
Roy Lessin tells this story.
One evening we visited some friends for dinner. After dinner the children ran off to play and we parents visited in the living room. Soon it was time to leave, so I called out and told the children that it was time to go. “Okay daddy,” came the quick reply. And within a few seconds both children were in the living room ready with their coats on.
“Did you see that,” my friend exclaimed to his wife. “Yes, I did, that’s amazing,” she replied.
“What’s amazing,” he asked.
“Your kids,” the friend replied. “When you said it was time to go they obeyed without a fuss.”5
What these friends saw as amazing, the other father had come to expect. This was normal behavior because this father used God’s training corral.
God wants children to be happy. Happiness is part of the blessing God wants for our children. God also wants children to be obedient. This is God’s order and plan, and it’s important to realize that disobedient children are never truly happy. These two things go together. Happy obedience includes both happy attitudes and obedient actions.
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Ephesians 6:4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up (nourish them) in the discipline (training, nurture) and instruction of the Lord.
What kind of nurture or training provides those ingredients that, when properly brought together act like a corral to contain, control, and train children so they joyfully obey? Scripture promises and teaches that children can be a blessing. Parents do not have to wait in anxious concern and fear in anticipation of those ‘horrible teenage years.’ But neither can they wait until those teenage years to apply the principles of the training corral. So what are the biblical ingredients that make up God’s training corral? Though each will be discussed in the material that follows, God’s training corral contains five necessary sides: love (the all-important context), instruction (the vital content), dedication (of parent and child), discipline (in words and actions), and example (parental reality).
Let’s note a few key verses:
(1) Proverbs 29:17 Correct your son, and he will give you comfort, He will also delight your soul.
“Correct” is the Hebrew yasar, which means “to admonish, discipline, instruct.” It is correction in the form of admonishment, discipline, or instruction that results in education, true understanding. As used in the Old Testament, this word spoke of chastening, correcting, instructing, and providing all that is necessary for the training of children. But all of these ideas are to be expressions of interpersonal relationships of love and caring. This word is used of God’s loving care with Israel and of a father with a son (cf. Deut. 8:1-5).6 The general promise God gives for correcting a child is comfort, rest, and delight. To “correct” is to apply the training corral.
(2) Proverbs 19:18 Discipline your son while there is hope, And do not desire his death.
A better translation is “because there is hope” or “confident expectation.” Compare Job 11:18 and 14:7 where we have the very same construction, but where it is translated, “because there is hope.”
“There is” in the Hebrew refers to the idea of absolute existence. God is telling us this is an absolute of God’s Word to be believed and applied. This is a promise, not merely a warning.
“And do not desire his death” is literally “but unto his death do not lift up your soul.” With this second clause, we have a slight problem of interpretation. There are two possible views: (a) It provides a warning against improper discipline, such as discipline out of revenge, impatience, or uncontrolled anger. In this case we would translate it, “but do not be carried away (i.e., in your discipline) unto his death.” Or, (b) the second clause provides a warning against the consequences of leniency. Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Proverbs, titles this verse “deadly leniency.”7 By their translations, the ASV, KJV, NIV, NASB, and other versions seem to understand this second clause in this way, though NASB could be taken in the sense of the first interpretation. “To lift up the soul” is a Hebrew idiom that means, “to will or desire something, to set one’s heart or volition on something.” (The NIV “do not be a willing party to his death.” NASB “do not desire his death”.)
The second clause provides a contrast to the first. To neglect discipline because of a lack of confidence in God’s methods, or because of the pain the child’s crying brings, or because of the parent’s laziness, or sentimentality, or whatever, is in essence to desire the child’s death. Leniency allows attitudes and behavior patterns to grow that could cause a child’s death because of his lack of discipline and spiritual controls. Far better should the child cry under loving and healthy correction than the parents should cry under the bitter fruit of a failure to discipline (cf. Prov. 23:13-14).
(3) Ephesians 6:4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
“Discipline” refers broadly to the whole process of training, but particularly in the form of discipline. “Instruction” is a word which literally means to put sense in the mind. It refers to encouragement by words and assurances if that is needed or to admonishment if that is needed.
(4) Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
In this one little verse there is a command to obey, “train up,” and a promise to claim, “and when he is old (mature) he will not depart from it.” In this we have both God’s charge and His promise to every parent. Parents need to know what this means and believe and trust in its methods. The issue, of course, is knowing what the verse says and fulfilling the command. May I suggest that this verse means far more than what immediately meets the eye and nothing at all of what most think. The verse is not talking about mere forced parental conformity. It is not saying, send your children to Sunday school or have them memorize the Ten Commandments and everything will work out. It goes much deeper than that.
The word “train” is the Hebrew chanak which, according to its usage in ancient times, had four important ideas that are instructive for understanding and illustrating God’s training corral. Obviously, the context must determine how chanak is being used in any given context, but the various uses do provide some striking suggestions and illustrations of what is involved in training.
First, chanak could mean “to dedicate.” It was used four other times in the Old Testament and in each case the primary idea is to inaugurate something through a service of dedication which usually involved sacrifice (Deut. 20:5 [twice], 1 Kings 8:63; and 2 Chron. 7:5). More will be said on this below under the aspect of a parent’s dedication to raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Second, another idea in chanak is “to throttle, make narrow, or discipline.” In Arabic, a sister language, this word was used of a rope in a horse’s mouth, like a bit in a bridal to make the animal submissive and bring it under control. This certainly illustrates how training includes the use of discipline, the application of external controls, in order to bring a child under control, which ultimately means God’s control.
Third, another idea in chanak is of that of “instruction.” How does it get this meaning? In its most fundamental meaning it meant “to initiate, start,” or “introduce someone to something or to someone.”8 From that it came to have the idea of “to train” because in instruction, we are introducing our children to God and to His Word and starting them in God’s path or way of life.
Fourth, another idea in chanak is to “initiate, create an appetite.” This source was from outside the Old Testament, but at least by way of illustration it has application to the process of training.9 The word actually meant, “palate, roof of the mouth.” Related to the basic idea of initiation was its later use in Arabic of the action of a midwife who would rub the palate of a newborn with olive oil or the oil of crushed dates in order to give a taste, to create an appetite and get the baby to suckle. Certainly, one of the necessary ingredients in training children is that of giving children a taste of the reality of God by the model or example of the parent. We can’t expect our children to be real with God if we are phonies. They pick up on our attitudes and patterns whether we like it or not. What we are is vital, indeed, even determinative to what they become.
4 Roy Lessin, How to be Parents of Happy and Obedient Children, Omega Publications, Medford, OR, 1978, p. 81, quoting Charles R. Swindoll in, You and Your Child.
5 Lessin, pp. 55-56.
6 Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, editor, Gleason L. Archer and Jr. Bruce K. Waltke, associate editors, Vol. I, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980, p. 387.
7 Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Tyndale Press, London, 1964, p. 134.
8 Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, Vol. I, p. 301.
9 A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, editors, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1907, p.335.
1 For the choir director. A Psalm of David. O LORD, Thou hast searched me and known me. 2 Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up; Thou dost understand my thought from afar. 3 Thou dost scrutinize my path and my lying down, And art intimately acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, Thou dost know it all. 5 Thou hast enclosed me behind and before, And laid Thy hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
The concept of knowing our child is only common sense, but it has its roots again in God’s care of us as our heavenly Father. In Psalm 139:1-6 David found great comfort and security in knowing that the omniscience of God is relational, that God not only knew about him, but that He knew him intimately and discerned all the details of his life as One who cared for him, even as One who cupped His hand around David’s life (vs. 5). Reading this, I can’t help but think of the Allstate advertisement, “You’re in good hands with Allstate.” In response to this truth, David exclaimed, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it” (NIV). The reality that God is that personally involved with the lives of His people, His spiritual children (Heb. 12:5-7), was beyond David’s comprehension. Still, this truth was wonderful to him and gave him great comfort.
As our heavenly parent, God is thoroughly acquainted with us as His children. He knows our make up (He designed us), our ways, and situations, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. He knows our weaknesses, strengths, thought patterns, motives, and habits. What a wonderful example for us as earthly parents. Of course, parents are anything but omniscient, though I often thought my mother had eyes in the back of her head. Nevertheless, this model of our heavenly Father shows us how parents need to observe and study their children that they might discern their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.
See also Jeremiah 1:5 for another illustration of God’s personal involvement and knowledge of his people. We should note David’s comment in verse 1, “You have searched me and known me.” “Searched” is the Hebrew chaqar, “search out a subject or matter, investigate, examine thoroughly.” The knowing is the result of examination. For God, who is eternal and knows the future as well as the present, this has been known from all eternity. For the parent, it requires careful study to know their children, each one, as the individuals they are. Note throughout these first few verses the emphasis on God’s examination, knowledge, and acquaintance with all the details of David’s life.
As our heavenly Father searches us, so parents should search and know their children as best they can. Why? Notice Psalm 139:23-24.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.
The goal is to note the hurtful ways in order to help a child walk in the everlasting way of life, an abundant life here on earth with eternal rewards in heaven.
May I suggest two points of application here:
First, parents are to know their children intimately in order to lead them out of the hurtful way (literally, “the way of grief”). This is the way of man’s viewpoint, carnality, immaturity, and sin, and into the way of biblical growth and maturity, the way that gives the child true significance, satisfaction, and security with eternal results.
Second, as part of the training process, children need to recognize, appreciate, and respond to the role of their parents as given by God to be change agents (not just diapers!). As David yielded to his heavenly parent, so children should be taught to do the same through understanding and respecting the role God has given their parents. No one can know a child like a parent—if the parent is paying attention and walking prayerfully and closely with the Lord.
Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right. 12 The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them. (KJV)
Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right. 12 Ears that hear and eyes that see — the LORD has made them both. (NIV)
The obvious lesson and common sense principle in these two verses is that the behavior of a child is very instructive; it will teach parents about their child if they will only take the time and effort to study, observe, and see what is going on in their child’s life. But what do parents look for? What can they expect from their little ones? Scripture sets down a number of truths that guide us, but perhaps the place to begin is our base verse, Proverbs 22:6.
Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
As already noted, this verse is a key to the whole responsibility of training children, but there is a particular focus in this verse that shows us a parent’s training must be based on knowing his or her child. This emphasis is not apparent in the English as it is in the Hebrew text. As seen previously, the word “train,” the Hebrew chanak, has as it primary meaning, “train, instruct, initiate,” and it can also mean, “to dedicate, throttle or discipline.” In this verb we see the primary responsibility. Parents are to train and so teach their children that it brings God’s control into the child’s life. And certainly, since their children are trusts from God, they need to dedicate these little ones to God and be dedicated themselves to the training process.
But what is the standard for the process? God’s Word is the standard, of course, but there is something else that must guide the process and this is seen in the words, “in the way he should go.” The Hebrew text is actually much stronger than this and literally reads, “according the measure of his way.” “According to,” the Hebrew ‘al pi, is literally according to the mouth of. This carries the ideas of “according to the command of, the evidence or sentence of, or according to the measure of.”11 The preposition ‘al denotes the norm, standard, or rule by which something is to be done. The noun pi is from pe, “mouth, opening, orifice.” Since mouths or apertures vary in size, it developed the concept of “measure” or “portion.” With this in mind, pe was often used with prepositions to mean “in proportion to.” A small child normally has a much smaller mouth than an adult and can’t begin to take in as large a portion as a man. The principle here should be obvious. Training should be done according to the measure, the capacity, or ability of something. But what is that? It is spelled out for us with the words “his way.”
The Hebrew text has the personal pronoun attached to the noun “way.” It reads, “his way” and not simply “in the way he should go.” “Way” is the Hebrew derek, “way, road, journey, manner.” It was used of (1) a way, path, journey, course of action, (2) mode, habit, manner as a customary experience or condition, and (3) of duty and moral action and character both good and bad.12 From the knowledge of Scripture and from an observation of our children, we know certain things about their way. First, we know that God, in His sovereignty, has a plan, a course He wants each child to follow—an orbit for him or her. Second, we know that every child has a specific make up as an individual with certain abilities, talents, and tendencies—a particular bent. Derek is from the verb darak, “to tread, march,” but it was often used metaphorically of launching something as in the bending of a bow in order to launch an arrow, or an assault, or bitter speech, or judgments in a certain direction (cf. Ps. 7:13; La. 2:4; 3:12; Ps. 57:7; 64:3; 1 Chron. 5:18; 8:40; Isa. 21:15). While derek does not have this specific meaning, the use of the verb form provides us with an interesting illustration considering the nature of children according to inheritance factors and as God has designed them.
With this in mind, let’s consider a few key ideas in training a child according to his way:
(1) Parents need to know their children as the unique individuals they are. To do this, they must prayerfully observe, study, and recognize the individual characteristics (or bent) of each of their children and train them accordingly.
(2) Parents should never think that seeing that a child gets plenty of Bible training or gets to church will be enough. Bible teaching, church, and growing up in a Bible-teaching home are all vital and a necessary part of the process, but each child needs to be dealt with as a unique individual and nothing should be taken for granted. Parents need to take special note of what is happening in each child’s life—responses, weaknesses, habits, attitudes, etc. The same environment does not mean that each child will respond in the same way. A blanket approach may not work. Some biblical illustrations of the different ways children will respond to the same environment and teaching within the same home are Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, and Absolom and Solomon.
(3) Parents should never try to force their children into the way they want their children to go. By this I mean parents often try to pour a child into some preconceived mold they’ve dreamed of for their child. This is often nothing more than a parent’s attempt, through the accomplishments of their child, to attain the applause or praise or whatever it was they wanted for themselves, but never received. For instance, a parent may have a dream of seeing their child become a great athlete or artist and do everything they can to manipulate and push their child in that direction when that may not at all be in keeping with the child’s aptitude, talents, abilities, or desire—let alone what God wants for that child.
(4) A bow is made by its designer to bend in one direction, according to its bent. We saw that the verb form of “way” was used of bending a bow to launch something. If the person using the bow does not recognize the way the bow is bent and tries to bend it differently, he will not only face a difficult task, but he may break the bow. In like manner, parents need to recognize the way their child is bent, both by the way God has designed them and by the way sin has affected them. If a parent fails to recognize this, they may also fail to help their child get launched into God’s orbit or plan for their life. This would suggest that children are not like a pliable piece of clay that may be molded anyway the parent chooses. Rather, they are unique individuals with a way already established that needs to be recognized, acknowledged, and reckoned with by means of the truth of Scripture and a parent’s careful observation.
If parents are going to train up their children according to the Bible, believing it is God’s Word, then they must also know and accept what Scripture teaches about the nature and make up of man. This forms a necessary base and guide for what to expect from a child. Modern man says people are basically good, that our problems stem primarily from our environment. If we clean up the environment children will be fine. Isolate and place children in a perfect environment and problems will all but disappear. No one denies that environment will affect the character of a child negatively or positively. Indeed, that’s why Scripture places such a strong emphasis on the home and the nurturing of children. But the Bible teaches us that the core or root problem of sinful behavior in children and the way they ultimately turn out goes beyond the environment. It’s the problem of sin. Though created in the image of God and without sin, Adam sinned and the race fell. Scripture teaches us:
(1) Adam’s sin is passed on from generation to generation. In Genesis 5:1 we are told that Adam was created in the likeness of God. By a personality (self-consciousness, intellect, volition, and emotions) man is created in God’s likeness. But then in verse 3 we see that Adam had a son in his own likeness, according to his image. Due to the fall this not only included physical, mental, and emotional hereditary factors, but also a sinful nature or bent toward evil, a nature that Scripture defines as incurably wicked, evil, deceptive, and one that can only be known by God (cf. Jer. 17:9; Rom. 5:12; 7:17-18). If we are to truly know ourselves and our children, we must know what God reveals about the heart of man from His Word.
Jeremiah 17:9 reads, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” While the sinful nature (here called the heart) can be restrained by God’s grace plan of salvation and sanctification in Christ, it is not only deceitful, but incurable. It cannot be eradicated, removed, changed or saved. If, as Jeremiah clearly points out in verses 5-8, the ways of blessing and cursing are so clear and distinct, why would anyone ever choose the path of sin? The answer is simple. Because the root that causes man to choose the path of sin and cursing is in the nature of man’s heart—his sinful nature. But where does this sinful condition come from?
(2) Every child inherits a sinful nature from his parents. David wrote, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5, NIV). David had just confessed his sin in this Psalm and acknowledged that he could not blame special circumstances or environment. He was a sinner and had been so from birth. David was saying he was born in a state of sin, a sinner with a sinful nature, with tendencies toward evil.
(3) Even the little child is sinful. So what can a parent expect? “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies” (Ps. 58:3, NIV). Why? Because the child has committed sin? No! A child is sinful because even within a little innocent child there are natural tendencies toward evil like telling lies to protect himself from the consequences of bad behavior.
(4) A child left to himself brings disgrace to his parents. Why is it that an undisciplined child, one left to himself and his natural bent, brings disgrace to a parent (Prov. 29:15)? Because, even though little children are in one sense innocent, there is a sinful principle at work within that moves them toward selfish and sinful behavior. So children have to be taught not to lie or steal. They must be taught to be unselfish, to love and respect others, and to respect authority.
To train up a child according to his way means parents need to know and believe that every child is born with two tendencies, a bent toward evil (rebellious tendencies) and a bent toward good (that which can be used for the glory of God and the blessing of others).
(1) General tendencies or inherent sinfulness. From our original parent, Adam, all children receive a sinful nature. To train children up accordingly means the parent will not be surprised but aware of the tendencies toward rebellion and self-will at the expense of others.
Understanding this should help parents become more patient and less frustrated when their little angel shows rebellious tendencies or keeps on pursuing certain self-centered trends. We can know the little guy is having a battle with their sinful nature just like we are. After all, they are chips off the old block! Knowing and understanding this will aid in promoting patience and understanding, but they should never excuse and overlook bad behavior or attitudes. Understanding a child’s bent toward evil helps parents realize that just telling a child what is expected is not going to get the job done. The child may even want to do what is right, but because of inherent sinfulness, weakness, spiritual ignorance, and inner struggle, he needs the special help, training, and discipline supplied by the parent. Since this sinful principle cannot be eradicated or truly changed and will be with the child for life, the parent must be committed to moving the child from external controls (law) to internal controls (grace) so the child learns to live from his or her own convictions of faith and an intimate relationship with God through Christ.
(2) Specific tendencies or character weaknesses. Every child has a specific bent or trend toward sinful behavior received from his immediate family through heredity (genetically) and from environmental factors (conditions at home and society). And every child responds differently to his or her environment. Certainly, it is often difficult to know where heredity ends and environment begins, but one thing is sure, the atmosphere in which a child is raised can and does affect the hereditary tendencies.
While each child has an inherent sinful bent, each child is also very different in the way this will be manifested. This requires careful observation and knowledge of each child. One child may demonstrate tendencies toward inferiority or a sense of inadequacy, while another child in the same family can be self confident and think he can do anything and better than anyone else. Both need a strong dose of God’s grace, but in different directions. One needs to have their confidence in what God is able to do through them and with them strengthened. The other needs an understanding of God’s grace that will help to promote godly humility while at the same time encouraging a confidence that is centered in the Lord.
Abraham and his descendants provide us with a good illustration of how environment, perhaps combined with temperament types, can either promote or hinder sinful character traits. In order to protect himself, Abraham had a tendency to lie. On more than one occasion he lied about his wife Sarah. She was a very beautiful woman and fearing that the king of the land to which he was journeying would kill him in order to take Sarah, he claimed she was his sister. I am sure he justified this in his mind because she was his half sister (cf. Gen. 12 and 20). Evidently this character trait carried over with his son, for in Genesis 26 we find that Isaac did precisely the same thing to protect himself from Abimelech.
(1) From Physical Birth. Scripture teaches us that God is very much involved with children from the moment of conception (He opens and closes the womb) through the entire process of the formation of the child in the womb of its mother to its birth (cf. Gen. 4:1; 15:3; 16:2; 20:17-18; 29:31; 30:22; Ps. 113:9; 127:3-5; 139:13-16; Jer. 1:5; Prov. 16:4). A child, then, should not only be viewed as a visit from the Lord, but as a special trust given as a stewardship from God. By God’s creative work, every child is created by God’s predetermined will and personal involvement with specific talents, inclinations, capacities or abilities intellectually, physically, and artistically. These are woven into the child’s genetic make up by God’s own sovereign providence. In view of John 9:1-12 and the man born blind, this would include birth defects, though these undoubtedly can occur as a result of a fallen and sin-cursed world. We see this regularly in our society because of alcohol and drug related birth defects. Even then, we must never think God is not sovereignly involved. Consider the following:
With our society depending on man’s reasoning rather than the authority of Scripture and with situational ethics now being taught in many schools, many today approach life and its difficulties like birth defects from man’s viewpoint rather than with the viewpoint of the Bible. One teacher who wanted to illustrate the faultiness of human reasoning gave the following situation to a class of students:
How would you advise a mother who was pregnant with her fifth child based on the following facts.
Her husband had syphilis. She had tuberculosis. Their first child was born blind. Their second child died. Their third child was born deaf. Their fourth child had tuberculosis.
The mother is considering an abortion. Would you advise her to have one?
In view of these facts, most of the students agreed that she should have an abortion.
The teacher then announced, “If you said ‘Yes’ you would have just killed the great composer Ludwig von Beethoven!”
So it is important for parents to rest in God’s sovereign superintendence in relation to their children and to study and know their children in order to recognize their abilities, giftedness, needs, and inclinations as predetermined by God in order to help them develop their talents, gifts, and natural abilities, or to overcome or handle some inability or weakness (as the case may be) that the Lord may be glorified through the life of the child.
(2) From Spiritual Birth. The greatest goal Christian parents should have for their children is that they might come to trust in Christ. Trusting in Christ brings about the new birth, being born into the family of God and placed into the body of Christ as a gifted member of that body with certain spiritual gifts and a very special purpose in the plan of God (cf. 1 Cor. 12:11ff; Eph. 2:10; 1 Pet. 4:10). This is a vital area for a parent’s attention and nurture. Children need to be observed for indications of their spiritual inclinations, giftedness, interests, and God’s work in their lives and then nurtured accordingly. The tendency is either to neglect this area in favor of other pursuits or to go to the other extreme and try to force it. I have seen parents who wished they had gone to the mission field, but never did. As a result they tried to force their children into missions and this either led to rebellion or to an area of service for which they were not really suited. The job of parents is to provide the nurturing and spiritual context which turns the child’s heart toward God so He has the freedom to lead them according to His will. Having given their children to the Lord, parents should simply desire to see their children know, love, and follow the Lord wherever He leads.
A good illustration of what parents should not do can be found in the lives of Jacob and Esau. These two brothers were twins, but they were far from identical. Genesis 25:27-28 describes them and the favoritism as it was shown to each of the boys, “When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” Esau was the out-of-doors, manly type which appealed to Isaac, but particularly because he loved the taste of wild game, an obvious self-centered favoritism. Esau was Isaac’s favorite, and for all practical purposes he probably paid little attention to Jacob. As the firstborn, Esau had rights and responsibilities that included both physical and spiritual blessings, but he had little appreciation for his birthright, which would eventually become Jacob’s by virtue of the promise of God (see Gen. 25:22-23). Esau, by his naturally bent, was more concerned with the outdoors and material matters, and showed little interest in the spiritual blessings that were his as the firstborn who was responsible to perpetuate the covenant promises to Abraham (which included the Messianic promises). Isaac, had he been properly observant of Esau, would have noticed this and taken steps to cultivate spiritual concerns in Esau, but he failed to do so.
Jacob on the other hand was a homebody, but he also had an interest in spiritual things. Undoubtedly, he derived his inspiration from Rebekah, who, rather than resting in God’s promise, stopped at nothing to get what she wanted for her favorite son. Isaac was either not interested or too feeble to keep abreast of the underhandedness of Jacob and Rebekah.
We have in this illustration two brothers raised in the same home with two completely different bents. We also have a mom and dad who failed to work together to know their children that they might deal with them accordingly. Instead, those differences became a source of personal favoritism that only created greater problems in the home and caused the struggle to be intensified. Ironically, Isaac prayed about the matter of the two children struggling in Rebecca’s womb and at that time received revelation from God. However, it seems he failed to pray after they were born as the differences became evident and the struggle intensified.
(1) Though they should be given equal opportunities, children are not all created equal. Children in the same family will often be very different as were Esau and Jacob. They will have different talents, inclinations, capacities and abilities intellectually, physically, artistically, and emotionally. Parents should, therefore, study their children to observe their special inclinations and abilities and encourage them accordingly with the proper spiritual motivation and opportunities to find out where those inclinations and abilities are and then help their child develop them according to the will of God with the right motives and purposes. Children need to be motivated, within reason, to be their best within their God-given abilities and talents. But not every child is ‘gifted,’ which means parents should not put children under the emotional stress of trying to make them into something they are not. On the other hand, some children are gifted in many areas and could pursue any one of them with success. So here is where parents need to watch for propensity or special inclinations.
During the teenage years, most young people are inclined to want to be involved in everything, but that can be very unwise because of the drain it places on the teenager and the entire family in trying to keep up with the schedule. A wiser approach is to help them prioritize based on their abilities, desires, and inclinations. Remember, one can be a ‘Jack of all trades, but master of none.’ It is also helpful to remember how teens can blow hot and cold as to their interests. This is part of the growing up process. Once an activity or project is started, it is generally a good idea to encourage a child to stick with it, at least until the job is done or until they have developed some proficiency. This will accomplish two things: (a) It keeps them from becoming the kind of person who shows great enthusiasm to start one project after another, but never seems to finish anything. (b) It also gives them time to find out if they really like it and if they have the talent or ability to pursue it, at least later in life.
(2) God is the Author of talent. Parents are wise to recognize and provide opportunities for their children so they can develop their talent. In fact, failure to do so can create discipline problems. Parents should never try to make one child like another, or give the impression one is more important than another, or that you appreciate the talents of one more than another. Each child needs to know he or she is special in the plan of God and is loved, appreciated, and important regardless of giftedness, talents or looks.
10 For some of the ideas expressed in this section of the study, I am indebted to Joe Temple whom I heard teach on this subject by tape many years ago. He was at that time pastoring a Bible teaching church in Abilene, Texas. Since that time, a book has been compiled from this series entitled Know Your Child, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1974.
11 Richard Whitaker, Editor, The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament, Logos Research Systems, Oak Harbor, WA, 1997, electronic media.
12 Brown, Driver, and Briggs, pp. 202-203.
God’s training corral consists of five important areas that, when brought together, will result in a parent’s ability to train up a child according to his or her way. These are dedication, love, teaching, example, and discipline. Sometimes obedience plus happiness in a child is not seen because one side of the corral is missing or because one side is emphasized to such a degree that the other sides become distorted or lost.
Some parents emphasize love to the point they become so emotional and sentimental they fail to discipline. Their attitude is, “My little girl is so sweet and cuddly I just couldn’t bear to spank her.” But this is self love and a failure to do that which God says is truly best for the child as we are told in Proverbs 13:24, “ He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Failing to discipline amounts to elevating our opinion or feelings above the clear statements of Scripture.
Others push discipline to the point they regard any show of love and affection as weakness or unnecessary. By over discipline, parents may exasperate and discourage their children as Paul warns us in Ephesians 6:4, “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; . . . ” and in Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.”
Then there are those who think if they set a good example and tell their child what is right, they won’t need to discipline. As will be discussed below, example is tremendously vital, but because of the nature of mankind example alone is simply not enough. Scripture presents us with the picture of balance and teaches all five sides of the corral are needed in a balanced combination. Note the results when any of these five ingredients are unbalanced or one or more is missing:
(1) Love without discipline produces spoiled children. In fact, love without discipline is not really love, it is simply permissiveness (see Prov. 23:13; 22:15; 13:24; 29:15).
(2) Discipline without love produces discouragement and rebellion and other personality problems. Among the results are a poor self-image, guilt feelings, anger, resentment, fear, feelings of ‘I can’t,’ etc. As we saw in Ephesians 6:4, fathers are warned against discipline outside the context of love because it will result not in happy obedience but in resentment. “Provoke to anger” is the Greek parorgizw and means “to provoke to anger, to bring one into a deep-seated anger and resentment.” Colossians 3:21 warns against the wrong kind of discipline and says, “do not exasperate your children that they may not lose heart.” The Greek word for “exasperate” is ereqizw, “to stir up, irritate, embitter.” “Lose heart” is aqumew, “to be without courage, to loose heart, to become spiritless, moody and sullen.”
(3) Teaching and discipline without example produces bitterness, resentment, unbelief, and rebellion. Any form of leadership, to be effective, must provide an example that demonstrates reality. For a classic illustration of parents who failed with their children in this way, compare Judges 2:11-12. Note that the Lord had been “the God of their fathers,” but the fathers failed to communicate the reality of God to their children who lived unrestrained lives doing that which was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). For the importance of example, compare also 1 Timothy 4:12 and Hebrews 13:7. More will be said on this below.
(4) Example without teaching produces vagueness, destroys authority, can create an attitude that everything is relative, and causes instability and insecurity. If children are not taught they lack in understanding and belief in the absolutes of the Word of God. It is crucial for children to understand that God is real and that He has spoken (see Deut. 6:7; Prov. 2:1ff; 3:1f; 4:1-9; 2 Tim. 3:13f). Children not only need to know what they believe, but why.
(5) Without dedication, parents inevitably neglect their stewardship and responsibility. Without personal commitment and willingness to sacrifice, none of the other sides of the corral will be effectively in place. Other things that have usurped this priority will take over and the child will be neglected.
All five sides are necessary to accomplish the goal, which is to move the child from external controls or parental conformity, to internal controls, spiritual responsibility through inward convictions, faith, and fellowship with God.
Let’s take a look at the five avenues God uses:
As previously pointed out, the word “train” in Proverbs 22:6 is the Hebrew chanak, which could also mean “to dedicate.” In fact, in all the places where this word is found in the Old Testament, this is its meaning. In each occurrence the primary idea is to inaugurate something through a service of dedication that usually involved, please note, sacrifice (Deut. 20:5 [twice], 1 Kings 8:63; and 2 Chron. 7:5). In light of this fundamental idea that lies at the root of this word, we need to recognize that while this is not the primary meaning in Proverbs 22:6, the concept of dedication in the training process cannot be overlooked without serious consequences. Because the idea of sacrifice often accompanied the use of this word, training our children surely includes parents’ sacrificial commitment to their children’s training and dedication to the Lord. In a society where mothers and fathers are so committed to their own self-fulfillment or reaching their so-called potential, sacrifices for their children’s sake often take a back seat.
By the way, as this word was used in relation to dedication, it sometimes included a community commitment as in the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:63). Training children is primarily the responsibility of the parent, but certainly, parents need the aid of the community, especially, the community of God’s people dedicated to training children according to God’s standards and truth as it is found in the Bible. One of the reasons for the mess in our country is its commitment to the principles of secular humanism rather than to Scripture. We are failing as a community.
Children are gifts (a heritage) from the Lord (Ps. 127:3). As stewardships from God, children are trusts to be raised for Him and His sovereign purposes. As “the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it” (cf. Ps. 24:1 with Deut. 10:14), so our children really belong to Him as do we. Believers have been purchased from the slave block of sin by the redemptive work of Christ. We now belong to Him as His blood-bought possession. So, it is imperative for God’s people to recognize this truth and dedicate both themselves and their children to the Lord. Without that recognition and commitment, parents will fail in their responsibilities in their own lives and in their role as faithful stewards of their children.
There is a passage that is particularly pertinent here. Ezekiel 16 is a parable about an adulterous woman (a picture of Israel) who became, by God’s abundant mercy, the wife of Yahweh. But this wife, in spite of all God’s mercies, became unfaithful through idolatrous relationships. Included in this was the sacrifice of her sons and daughters to the heathen god, Molech (Ezek. 16:20-21). But note how God refers to the children in this passage. He refers to them as “the sons and daughters whom you had borne to Me and sacrificed them to idols . . . ” and “You slaughtered My children and offered them up to idols . . . ” (emphasis mine). As the nation belonged to the Lord so did her children. Instead of offering their children to idols, they should have first dedicated themselves to God as a faithful wife and then their children to the Lord as well.
There is an obvious parallel in this for us today. Parents most certainly need to dedicate themselves to God (Rom. 12:1-2), and in the context and motivation of that commitment, also bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Without that, parents will inevitably, by default at least, offer their children up to the gods of materialism, secular humanism, or to the cults or the occult.
Proverbs 13:24 He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.
This well-known, but often neglected proverb teaches us love provides the vital context for the training process regardless of which side of the corral is in view. It demands that everything parents do in the training of their children must be done in an atmosphere of love. All the ingredients of the training corral need to flow from an interpersonal and intimate relationship of biblical love and caring.
The fundamental concept is this: Truth is the seed (the content for training) and Love is the soil (the context in which the training must occur).
Of all the ingredients of the training process, love is the most essential. Love is the source from which all the other aspects of training must flow. Love provides the proper atmosphere in which dedication, discipline, instruction, and example must operate. Why? Because if genuine and biblical love is present, the others will also be properly present. If they are not, then love is not really present—at least not a biblical kind of love. Because of the messed up ideas about love in our society, it is imperative that we understand the headwaters from which the river of love must flow. The fountainhead for love must be the absolutes of the Word of God and not our feelings or ideas about love, otherwise love becomes no more than soft sentimentality or permissiveness. Without a knowledge and application of the Scripture, love will lack the stamina, the direction, and character it needs to love in truth and effectively.
Ephesians 5:1-2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
Our heavenly Parent provides the perfect pattern for us as earthly parents. As God loved and loves us, so we should express our love to our children as well as to one another. But how is this done? God has expressed His love by:
(1) Salvation—He gave us His beloved Son as the sacrifice for our sin that we might have life and life abundant (John 3:16).
(2) Instruction—He has given us the Living Word (His Son) and His written Word (the Bible) to deliver and guide our lives.
(3) Personal Provision—As a loving Father, He watches after us, He knows our real needs even before we ask and He intimately cares for us (Matt. 6:8, 32; 7:7-11; Phil. 4:19; 1 Pet. 5:7).
(4) Example—God expresses His love by the example of His own holy life which we are to imitate as it is revealed in Scripture (Eph. 5:1-2; 1 Pet. 1:14-15).
(5) Discipline—God expresses His love by His loving discipline to aid in our spiritual growth and change that we might experience His goodness and righteousness (Heb. 12:5f).
(6) Patience—As a Father who knows His children, He understands our nature and treats us accordingly in grace and mercy (Ps. 103:9-14).
(7) Rewards—He rewards His children for faithful service in heaven (Matt. 6:1).
Let’s note some lessons we can learn regarding God’s example for us as our Father:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. 9 He will not always strive with us; Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. 14 For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.
(1) Though God disciplines as a Father, He is always compassionate and forgiving (verses 8-9). As God does not continue to strive with us, so fathers must learn to forgive and let it go. After parents discipline a child, they must not continue to bring up the child’s failures.
(2) God doesn’t treat us according to what we deserve, but in grace He deals with us according to our needs (verse 10). This doesn’t mean God ignores our sin, but He disciplines us according to the purposes spelled out in Hebrews 12:5f and Proverbs 3:11, the partaking of His holiness.
(3) God’s lovingkindness (steadfast love) is measured not by our behavior, but by His character (verse 11). So parents need to discipline their children from the source of godly character, i.e., out of an abiding walk with the Lord.
(4) As God treats us in grace, forgives us our sin, and is free to do so because of His work in Christ, so fathers must forgive their children because God has forgiven them in Christ (verse 12). Discipline should never be done to make a child pay for his sin for only Christ can truly pay for our sin. While discipline does teach the truth that sin has consequences (we reap what we sow), the goal in view is godliness, change from the inside out.
(5) God’s understanding and patience toward us is like a father who is ever mindful of a child’s humanity. He is aware of the battle His children are going through with personal temptations and weaknesses (verses 13-14).
All these acts flow from the steadfast love and concern of God. They are the product of His intimate involvement with our lives. They are personal acts of God’s love as our heavenly Father. So likewise, to imitate our heavenly Parent, parents must walk in love, in mercy, in patience, and in understanding as they seek to train and nurture their children by instruction, provision, example, and discipline.
1 Peter 1:13-23
13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.
These verses draw our attention to the source and orientation that produces pure and true love, i.e., a life lived as a sojourner with a view to the eternal realities and treasures of God. One of the reasons parents fail to care for their children lovingly and diligently is materialism. Parents can so easily become hooked, obsessed, and caught up in the day-to-day pursuit of making a living that parental responsibilities take a back seat. Because of our society’s obsession with climbing the ladder of success or reaching an individual’s potential, children are viewed as hindrances to our fun or ambitions. This often leads to a lack of patience and uncaring actions because, like Martha, people become harried, bitter, and distracted by the details of life (Luke 10:38).
Proverbs 10:12; 17:9; James 5:20; 1 Peter 4:8
Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions.
Proverbs 17:9 He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.
James 5:20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
How does love cover transgressions? By dealing with the transgressor in a loving way, a way that seek always to do what is best for the transgressor according to God’s standards rather than man’s. But what does this mean?
Negatively, it cannot mean we ignore the transgression because that is not love. It is never an act of love to allow a child to pursue his own way to his or her own destruction spiritually or physically (Prov. 28:13; 27:5-6; 3:24).
Positively, it means (a) love faces the transgressor with the transgression. For children, this means instruction, rebuke and discipline (Prov. 13:24). (b) Love does not repeat the matter (Prov. 17:9). This primarily refers to spreading it to others, but it is in a context that encourages dealing with people so that sin is covered (17:9a). It can certainly include harping on a matter such as constantly reminding a child, “you are the one who always spills the milk.” (c) Love forgives and forgets. Love receives and enfolds. If the sin is repeated, it is dealt with again as a new sin. If it becomes a pattern, then parents should take firm action while seeking causes and solutions, but parents should never nag a child to the point of irritation. The child may be sick and feel bad, or he may be bothered about something that needs the parent’s attention, or he might simply be trying to get needed attention and love.
In this way, parents cover or remove the sin and the possibility of many more that will follow from an undisciplined life.
Proverbs 15:17; 17:1
Proverbs 15:17 Better is a dish of vegetables where love is Than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
Proverbs 17:1 Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it Than a house full of feasting with strife.
The warnings in these two verses against harsh answers and strife point us to a very important truth of Scripture. What families and children need is love and not a house full of material things. Happiness does not consist in the abundance of the things we possess. Our children and family members need our love as expressed not in gifts, but in the gift of our personal attention and care.
But just how is a parent to love? What exactly is love and just what does this mean? Let me suggest the following.
In New Testament times, in addition to the term for physical love, eros, there were three key Greek words which expressed love—filos, storgh (or filostorgos), and agaph. In the family, with children in particular, all three types of love are needed.
The first type of love is family affection. In 2 Timothy 3:3, Paul warns that in the last days people will be characterized by a lack of family affection, astorgos (the a negative of storgh). In Romans 1, Paul lists sins which describe the moral degeneration that occurs when a society rejects the knowledge of God. One of the sins mentioned is “unloving,” but this is astorgos, the absence of “family affection.” In Romans 12:10, the apostle exhorts the body of Christ to show a family kind of loving care for one another. To do this Paul uses both filadelfia, “brotherly love,” and filostorgos, “family affection.”
We are talking here about the natural love of parents, about that which is almost instinctive, at least until a society degenerates. This week the news featured two cases of parental abuse in which one child was severely injured and another died because the fathers shook the babies so violently. Because of the spiritual and morally degenerate state of our nation today, violence like this is an everyday occurrence, but it is neither natural nor normal.
Family affection is the kind of love that says “I welcome and accept my child into my family.” It is the kind of love a child deserves from the beginning. Even while the child is being formed within the mother’s womb, this spontaneous and natural love should be expressed as a couple happily looks forward to the coming of this trust from God.
Unfortunately, there are some parents who do not have this early experience of love for their yet unborn child because of selfishness. They do not want to be bothered with caring for a child or they are concerned about how it will affect their career. Some think a child will interrupt their plans and ambitions and tie them down. Some look upon parenthood as a burden and responsibility that they cannot accept. As a result, these children are treated as intruders and are either resented or rejected. Feelings such as these can’t be hidden. If parents have such feelings, they desperately need to be confessed and exchanged for God’s perspective or viewpoint (Rom. 12:2; Ps. 127:3-5).
A child needs to be loved and welcomed by his parents at its very conception because that is the moment God loves and welcomes a child. In fact, for God, it even begins before conception because of His foreknowledge. David, in Psalm 139, describes God’s deep and intimate involvement with children even before their birth (Ps. 139:13-16; cf. Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15), and God is our model of the kind of parenting He expects from us. Since God doesn’t wait until a child is born before He becomes involved, so in the same way, parental love according to Scripture is a love that says, “Yes! I accept you; yes, I will nurture and provide for you; yes, Lord, I welcome this child as a trust from You and dedicate myself to training this little one to know, love, and serve You.” Parental love receives a child with joy and thankfulness, and acknowledges that young life as God’s gift and as a stewardship from God.
A second kind of love is philos which can be described as a rapport love. This is the kind of love that comes from obedience and good behavior which delights a parent’s heart and causes a response to the child—a natural response because of the obedience and character of the child (Prov. 10:1; 15:20; 29:3, 15; 17:25).
Proverbs 10:1 A wise son makes a father glad, But a foolish son is a grief to his mother.
Proverbs 17:25 A foolish son is a grief to his father, And bitterness to her who bore him.
Filos expresses our response to what we like in our children, their personalities, abilities, talents, and their personal uniqueness along with good behavior.
Of course, we are responsible to help produce such character. As we do, it produces a natural rapport or affinity and love for what we see in the child—a positive response to their abilities and to the good a child does, not as measured by others, but in accord with their level of competency. This rapport love (pJilos), plus the family-type love (storgh), helps to promote a tripod of emotional stability— ACCEPTANCE, BELONGINGNESS and COMPETENCE—the ABCs which children (and all of us) need. While an adult needs to get this from the truth of Scripture and his new life in Christ, children begin to develop this from their parents. In a parent’s response for good behavior, a child senses approval which is essential for his mental well being and feelings of security, significance, satisfaction. The child knows and senses he is doing okay. However, one of the big responsibilities of parents it that of teaching their children how to transfer the source and sense of their Acceptance, Belongingness and Competence to God.
These two kinds of love, in themselves, are not enough, however. Children will not always be obedient, so what then? Parents need divine love, the agaph love of the New Testament which has its source in the spiritual character of the parent as produced by the Word and the Spirit. Natural, rapport-kind of love may express a parent’s best interests for the child, but agaph expresses God’s best interests and gives parents the capacity to love their children even when they are not so lovable, even when they are down right irritating or exasperating.
(1) Agaph is a Spirit-produced, Word-produced mental attitude kind of love (cf. Rom. 5:5; Gal. 5:22; Col. 3:14, 16, 21; Phil. 1:9f; Col. 1:9f; 1 Thess 4:9). Agaph is the capacity given by God to love the unlovable, to love when the object loved doesn’t deserve it. Agaph is expressed in John 3:16 in the gift of God’s Son. Even though we are sinners and deserve death, God proved His love by sending His Son to die for us (Rom. 5:8). In this we see the sacrificial and caring nature of God’s love and how it reaches out to those who in no way deserve it.
From the standpoint of believers, those who, by faith, have been born into the family of God, agaph expresses how God loves us and accepts us in Jesus Christ in spite of what we are. His acceptance and commitment to deal with us as His children is never based on our performance, but on His essential character and His freedom to love us because of the finished work of Jesus Christ. As such, when we are indifferent and grow carnal, He does not shun us or disown us, though our intimate fellowship with Him is broken. He hates our sin and rebellion, but rather than ignore or disown us, He disciplines us in love as a father his son (Heb. 12:5f). So likewise, parents need this divine character and love operating through them as an expression of God’s love extended to their children.
(2) Agaph love does not accept bad behavior; it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, though it accepts the person (1 Cor. 13:6). Though the bad behavior may hinder the joy of fellowship, agaph love constantly seeks to correct the bad behavior and to replace it with God’s character. Note God’s commitment to this in Hebrews 12:5-11, especially verses 10-11.
God never overlooks our sin. Our sin cost Him the gift of His Son on the cross. But because we are His children and because of the finished work of Christ, He continues to show us love by seeking to conform us to His Son, i.e., to change us through His discipline, instruction, the Holy Spirit, and the human instruments He uses such as parents and fellow believers. Therefore, though parents must continue to accept a child, they must never accept his bad behavior, but seek to lovingly correct him according to the principles of the Word.
(3) Agaph stems from right thinking. It is a love that wants what is best for the child according to Scripture. Because God is love He desires the highest and best for all of His creation. God commanded Israel to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. He did not give this commandment out of selfishness; He gave this commandment out of love. Looking through all creation, He knew that there is nothing higher or better to be known than Himself. To love anything or someone more than God is to settle for second best or much, much worse.
Parents who love their children with God’s love will hold to this same standard. They will recognize that a child’s personal relationship with God and the formation of God’s character within them is the best and highest goal they can have as parents.
(4) Agaph is divine love expressed through parents that will place maximum attention and concern upon a child’s spiritual needs. Even when temporal needs are involved, because love desires the best, this love enables them to be discriminating. In other words, it means to desire the best and to recognize and reject some things that are less than best. Divine love is not indiscriminate or sentimental, it is tough when it needs to be. God keeps His people from some things in order to give them other things that are better. Note this thrust regarding the things that excel over just what is good in Philippians 1:6-11.
Like our heavenly example, a loving parent will keep a child away from some things (or some things away from a child) because the parent wants the best. So it must be remembered that love has two sides. It desires the best, but to desire the best it must reject what is less than best. Love says “no” as well as “yes.” And the criterion must be the absolutes of the Word of God and not our personal opinions which may be clouded by a degenerate society.
(5) Agaph is a love from the will. It is a willed mental attitude. Note the obvious application to parents and fellow believers.
(6) Agaph is a sacrificial love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave . . . ” (John 3:16). As divine love is a giving, sacrificing love, so agaph expressed in parents is also a giving and sacrificing love. A love that seeks only personal benefits is not divine love. Sacrificial love has many, many expressions in parenting. To be a parent is to be “a giver.” One way parents give and express love to their children is by the words they speak. The great Christian writer, Andrew Murray, said:
Let father and mother lead a life marked by love to God and man; this is the atmosphere in which loving children can be trained. Let all the dealings with children be in holy love. Cross words, sharp reproof, impatient answers, are infectious. Love demands, and fears not. Self-sacrifice, time, thoughtful attention, and patient perseverance are needed to train our children aright. Let our children hear us speak of others, friends or enemies, always in a way that will show the love of Christ.13
How convicting and how important! Children learn from their parents so much about what is good, bad, helpful or degrading. The words we use with our children should be uplifting even when in rebuke.
Sacrificial love expresses itself also in time and attention. Many parents never hear what their children say because they do not take the time to listen. The same parents later wonder why their children don’t listen to them. To listen to a child takes time and real attention; and giving attention and taking time often requires a sacrifice.
A child needs the close, intimate contact of a parent. The warm, affectionate hug by father or mother can mean more to a child than hundreds of toys or gifts. Parents should not hesitate to show this kind of affection from the very first moments of infancy. Even from infancy a child experiences security, strength, and stability through a father and mother’s loving embrace. When I think of that father who shook his infant to death, I experience a whole gamut of emotions from extreme anger toward the dad (a term that, for him, is a contradiction) to deep sorrow and pain for that little baby. If the child had lived, after what she went through for many weeks before she was murdered, she would undoubtedly have had emotional scars that, unless healed by a great amount of love, would have lasted for life.
A good friend of ours, who was an elementary school teacher until just a few years ago, told us how through her years of teaching she’d noticed a dramatic increase in the number of students who were starved for affection and love. Some would just cling to this teacher, and she could tell they were not receiving what they longed for at home.
(7) Agaph is grace oriented (not judgmental). God made each of us and each of us is unique. God does not judge us by comparing us with someone else. Speaking from the standpoint of our talents, abilities and capacities, God accepts us and loves us for who we are, though He ever seeks to change our behavior and spiritual character and to use what we have for His glory and to the best of the ability He has given us. We must remember when training our children that it is He who gives us and our children our talents and abilities.
God’s way of loving us should be remembered when parenting children. If a parent compares one child with another, they are setting up a completely wrong standard of behavior. Comparisons indirectly condemn a child and destroy his sense of individuality and significance as God designed him. It may also cause a child to develop a spirit of competition based on man’s standards of success rather than God’s. In addition, it causes a child to get his eyes on others.
Parents, it can be said, are the ones who instill in their children the personal motivation for success or failure, plus the right motivation for success or failure. Parents have power to help children experience feelings of failure or inadequacy, of never being able to accomplish anything worthwhile, or just the opposite. This is a huge responsibility. To avoid error in this matter it is important that parents help a child find their Acceptance, Belongingness and Competence in the Lord, and find and fulfill that special talent or unique ability that God has given the child, “to train up a child in accordance to his (unique) way.”
God measures a person’s success in terms of whether or not he does what God asks him to do. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt. 25:21). If we limit the definition of success to mean simply the attainment of applause, trophies, man’s approval, status, or certain income brackets, we fail to understand what God wants in our lives. God can bless us with these things, but they are not the proof of true success.
The success of Jesus was in His obedience to the mission of the Father—and that meant public abuse and ignominious death by crucifixion in order to make atonement for sin. Jesus said His joy came from doing the will of Him who had sent Him. According to contemporary standards of success, Jesus was a failure. He had no money. He had no political status or rank in the community. He earned no medals or trophies. He was, in fact, despised, rejected by men, and even deserted by His friends. But the Bible tells us God has exalted His Son, having raised Him from the dead and given Him all authority in heaven and on earth.
Only when these qualities of love exist, will we be effective as parents. In fact, they will have a tremendous impact upon the other aspects of our training corral. Love must form the context for the other sides of the training corral.
A child may see our example, experience our love and dedication, and even experience loving discipline, but it is the knowledge of God’s Word, sharper than a two-edged sword, and the knowledge of God presented on his level that cements it all together into personal conviction and faith. Like sand and water mixed together in proper proportion hardens to give a solid foundation, so it is instruction in God’s truth that cements all the other ingredients so the child is able to stand on the firm foundation of Christ as his or her foundation for life. A number of passages focus our attention on the importance of teaching God’s Word to our children and instruct us on this vital need in the home and church.
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
While the focus here includes parental instruction in the home, we dare not miss the context that leads to verses 14-15. Due to the destructive influences apostasy can have on the home and the ability of parents to train up their children in the things of Christ, 2 Timothy 3 could easily be titled, The Apostasy of the Last Days and the Perils of Parenting.
Chapter 3 verses 1-9 detail the extreme difficulties of these last days. Then chapter 3 verses 10-17 describe the defenses we need for such hard times. Verses 10-14 called Timothy’s attention to the influence of the spiritual leadership and the example he had observe. This draws our attention again to the vital issue of the model parents and church leaders need to provide in order to counter the negative influences of a godless society. Note the areas of example Paul called attention to in verses 10-11: teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and suffering—all of which simply reinforced the teaching given by Paul. This will be brought out powerfully in verse 14. In contrast to a world that is plunging deeper and deeper into the cesspool of deception and darkness (vs. 13), Timothy is called upon to stand in what he had learned and become convinced of. But an important key here is found in the words, “knowing from whom you have learned them.”
First, note an important distinction: what Timothy had learned points to the content, the doctrinal truth of the Word of God. Convinced of points to the issue of conviction. The difference is that what we “learn” may simply be the doctrine we hold to, while being convinced of that truth is what holds us in its grip and directs and impacts our lives!
Second, the words, “knowing from whom you have learned them,” directed his attention to the proof of the pudding—two dynamic examples of the power of the Word in the transformed life of the Apostle Paul and also in the lives of Timothy’s mother and grandmother (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5). So Timothy is immediately reminded of his childhood where he first learned the sacred writings, the Old Testament Scripture (vs. 15).
In the face of the ever increasing opposition (vss. 1-13) the apostle pointed Timothy (and us) to the Scriptures as the Christian’s great bulwark or defense against the inroads of apostasy and a decaying society. In sharp contrast to the opposition of the world and its deceit, Timothy (and so all parents) needed to continue (literally to “abide”) in the inspired Scripture.
We see the importance of a Bible-based home environment and the impact it had on Timothy, and so also on the lives of our children. Timothy’s training in the Scripture began “from childhood.” This is brefos, which means “baby, infant” and points us to the need and value of very early instruction in the Scripture. It is important to note again that as important as it is to be godly examples to our children, it is the Scripture and its truth about Christ Jesus that leads to salvation in all its aspects—past, present, and future.
A number of Old Testament passages instruct us on the parental necessity of teaching our children the truth of the Bible (cf. Deut. 4:9, 11; 6:7-9; 11:19-20; Ps. 71:17; 78:5-7). Indeed, Israel’s ability to dwell in the land of promise that they might prosper and remain there generation after generation was dependent on obedience to the command to effectively teach their children the truth of God’s Word. We will only focus on two of these passages, Deuteronomy 6:7-9 and Psalm 78:5-7.
. . . 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The primary command here is, “you shall teach them diligently to your sons.” A careful study of verses 7-9, however describe several important elements needed in this responsibility:
(1) Diligently and Incisively. In this passage, God is calling parents to be diligent, precise, and accurate in this responsibility. The verb “teach” is the Hebrew shanan, “to whet, sharpen,” but in the intensive piel stem as used here it means, “to communicate or teach the words or God’s truth incisively, that is, in a clear and precise way.”14 The objective is that God’s truth may penetrate and make a solid impression on the children. But of course, parents can’t be very precise and teach in a manner that is penetrating if they do not know the Word themselves. In our humanistic, man-centered world, the task becomes even more serious and requires a great deal of diligence on the part of parents to truly know the Scripture, both the what and the why.
I once heard an astounding statistic. It indicated that 80 percent of the college-bound students who profess to be Christians leave for school and return home no longer believing in Christ. One of the reasons is this: when a student sits in class and hears the professor discredit the Bible, the student doesn’t have a defense and is easily deceived into believing the Bible is no longer credible. This happens too often because Christians know what they believe, but not why they believe it.
In my experience, there is no book that is criticized and attacked more than the Bible. Many intelligent scholars have written books that attempt to discredit the authority of the Bible. This is one of Satan’s goals: to get man to doubt the Word of God.15
There is plenty of evidence against these attacks and both parents and churches need to do a better and more accurate job of equipping their children.
(2) Repeatedly and Naturally. That parental instruction is to be done repeatedly and in the natural everyday aspect of the home is evident in the command to talk about God’s Word as the family sits in the house, walks by the way, and in the daily routines of the home, when lying down and rising up (vs. 7). This certainly includes formal times of instruction when the family is gathered to pray together and study the Word, but the focus here shows it must go beyond this. What is the home but the laboratory of life? It’s the place where what we really are, where what’s going on in our lives, our ups and downs, become pretty evident. So the home is a perfect place for the communication of truth in the various scenarios that occur daily in the life of a family. We can call these times opportunities for ‘OJT’ (on-the-job training). Such opportunities are often the best time for instruction because the issue or problem being faced at a particular moment is on the child’s mind. When a child displays disrespect, or fear, or selfishness, or worry, the parent can then introduce some aspect of God’s truth as it is pertinent to the situation to give comfort, strength, conviction, or whatever is needed. The same applies for good behavior that delights not only the parent but the heart of God. Swindoll writes:
In her bestseller, What is a Family?, Edith Schaeffer devotes her longest chapter to the idea that a family is a perpetual relay of truth. A place where principles are hammered and honed on the anvil of everyday living. Where character traits are sculptured under the watchful eyes of moms and dads. Where steel-strong fibers are woven into the fabric of inner constitution.16
Today many families have lost the ability to communicate. They don’t even eat their meals together, and when they do, there is very little conversation and rarely about spiritual things. This passage is saying, find time to sit down together as a family to read the Word, talk about the Word, and just get acquainted as a family. Parents need to make the time to discuss spiritual issues and relate life to the truth of God’s Word.
(3) Personally. The commands to tie them and write them were taken literally and legalistically by some later Jewish readers. However, the commands are symbolically stressing the need for the reality of God’s Word in the lives of the parents as models of God’s truth, as well as the need just mentioned for continual teaching of the Law or truth of God.
Since in Exodus 13:9-16 the consecration of the firstborn is said to be “like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the LORD is to be on your lips” (Exod 13:9), it would seem that here also (vv. 8-9) the tying of these words as symbols on their hands and binding them on their foreheads and writing them on their doorframes and gateposts should be taken metaphorically or spiritually rather than physically. The symbols tied on the hands and forehead (phylacteries) and others placed on doorposts and gates drew attention to the injunctions in vv. 5-7 immediately preceding.17
1 A Maskil of Asaph. Listen, O my people, to my instruction; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, 3 Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. 4 We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.
5 For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should teach them to their children, 6 That the generation to come might know, [even] the children [yet] to be born, [That] they may arise and tell [them] to their children, 7 That they should put their confidence in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, 8 And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart, And whose spirit was not faithful to God.
These verses naturally divide into two sections.
(1) There is the invitation or call to hear God’s instruction, His revelation (vss. 1-4). In this there is (a) the mandate to arouse the attention of God’s people to hear God’s truth (vs. 1); (b) the method, using parables and dark sayings (vs. 2); (c) the motivation, the tradition heard and known from their fathers (vs. 3); and (d) the mission, the communication of the mighty acts of God to the generations to come (vs. 4).
(2) There is the intention or aim expressed to hear and tell of God’s revelation (vss. 5-8). In this there is (a) the provision of God’s testimony, His inspired revelation to His people (vs. 5a-b); (b) the procedure for communicating this testimony, teaching by parents and grandparents (vss. 5c-6); and the purposes for communicating God’s testimony to our children (vss. 7-8). The first purpose is to communicate God’s truth from generation to generation (vs. 6). The second purpose is that the children might learn to put their confidence in God and never forget his mighty works. And the third purpose is that they should keep His commandments and not be like their fathers who failed to do so (vss. 7b-8).
At the heart of this entire section is the vital parental responsibility to carefully hear God’s Word, and out of the reality and impact of God’s truth in the parent’s life to then carefully teach it to their children.
“Don’t do what I do. Just do what I say” is obviously a colossal contradiction. Children naturally imitate their parents who are their heroes. Children follow the lead of their parents. Normally, no one spends as much time with a child, especially in the critical early years, as do the parents. As such, the parents become either a very effective or defective audio visual aid. By their very nature and because of the important role mom and dad have, children will imitate their parents. For this reason, the Apostle Paul applied this principle to believers in Ephesians 5:1 when he said, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Children will naturally do what a parent does, think like they think, and act like they act. They will mirror mom’s and dad’s actions and pick up on their example whether good or bad. What we are, do, and say becomes extremely important to what we wish to communicate and teach our children.
This means a child’s ideas, concepts, and feelings about God first come from his concepts, ideas, and feeling about his parents. If his parents are just, loving, kind, understanding, patient, disciplined, and controlled rather than over indulgent, undisciplined, complaining, and critical, the child will tend to be the same. Children who live with and around criticism and complaining learn to be critical and to complain. The following poem by Edgar A. Guest captures the concept nicely:
There are little eyes upon you,
And they’re watching night and day
There are little ears that listen
To every word you say.
There are little hands all eager
To do the things you do;
And a little boy who’s dreaming
Of the day he’ll be like you.
You’re the little fellow’s idol,
You’re the wisest of the wise;
In his little mind, about you
No suspicions ever rise.
He believes in you devoutly,
Holds that all you say and do
He will say and do in your way
When he’s grown up just like you.
There’s a wide-eyed little fellow
Who believes you’re always right;
And his ears are always open
As he watches day and night.
You are setting an example
Every day in all you do,
For the little boy who’s waiting
To grow up to be like you.
It is reported that Abraham Lincoln, who was known for his faith, said that for a man to train up a child in the way he/she should go, he must walk that way himself. This important truth is reinforced by the following statistics:
Several years ago the Christian Life and Faith magazine presented some unusual facts about two families. In 1677 an immoral man married a very licentious woman. Nineteen hundred descendants came from the generations begun by that union. Of these, 771 were criminals, 250 were arrested for various offenses, 60 were thieves, and 39 were convicted for murder. Forty of the women were known to have venereal disease. These people spent a combined total of 1300 years behind bars and cost the State of New York nearly 3 million dollars.
The other family was the Edwards family. The third generation included Jonathan Edwards who was the great New England revival preacher and who became president of Princeton University. Of the 1,344 descendants, many were college presidents and professors. One hundred eighty-six became ministers of the gospel, and many others were active in their churches. Eighty-six were state senators, three were Congressmen, 30 judges, and one became Vice President of the United States. No reference was made of anyone spending time in jail or in the poorhouse.
Not all children of good parents become useful citizens, nor do all the offspring of wicked people turn out bad. Yet the possibility of a child getting the right start in life is enhanced if he comes from a home where love prevails, the Bible is taught, and prayer is offered.
Father, Mother, when you live for the Lord, you provide a strong incentive for your children to choose the Christian way of life. Parental example is extremely powerful — either for good or for evil.18
The principle of being a good example, one that backs up words with reality, is so important that we find it mentioned and repeated in several passages that deal with leadership because what a leader is (and the same obviously applies to parents) speaks so loudly that it either supports or refutes what he says. Note the following passages and how they reinforce this important side to the training corral:
(1) To encourage young Timothy regarding his leadership responsibilities, Paul wrote, “Prescribe and teach these things. Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:11-12).
(2) To the church as a whole, Peter wrote, “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:15).
(3) To elders Peter wrote, “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (emphasis mine) (1 Pet. 1:2-3).
(4) To encourage the Hebrew Christians to persevere rather than return to Judaism under the pressure of persecution, the author of Hebrews wrote, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7).
The obvious truth is that doing what is right (right living) is usually an evidence of right thinking, believing, and being. As the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so the proof of a parent’s faith or the condition of his/her faith is in the consistency of his/her walk that manifests the character of Christ.
2 Chronicles 17:3-4 And the Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the example of his father David’s earlier days and did not seek the Baals, 4 but sought the God of his father, followed His commandments, and did not act as Israel did.
There are two Old Testament passages where Moses drives home this truth most emphatically.
Deuteronomy 4:1-9. Verses 1-8 stress the need of Israel’s obedience to the Word of God. This would not only allow the nation to possess and enjoy the blessings of the Land, but it would enable them to be a testimony, an example, to the surrounding nations of the reality of Yahweh, the God of Israel. But for this to take place, year after year, the parents must be able to communicate the reality of Yahweh to their sons and grandsons. But of course, vital to that was the reality of this in the lives of the parents. The word “only” in verse 9 is a restrictive particle which narrows the instruction to the most essential element, “Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen . . . but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.” The reality of whether or not a parent will even try to teach their children, along with the success of their teaching, depends on the reality of the parent’s own walk with the Lord. Once in the land, if they were not careful about their own walk with the Lord, it would be easy to become occupied with the blessings rather than the Blessor, placing material things before their Lord. In keeping with this focus, we again turn to Deuteronomy 6 and the warning of verses 1-19.
Deuteronomy 6:1-19. This passage shows us something more of what a parent must possess and guard in his or her own heart and soul in order to effectively communicate the reality of the Lord to children from generation to generation. Verses 1-3 lay stress on knowing and obeying the commandments of God in general. Verses 4-19 then point parents to a number of specific responsibilities needed to ensure the perpetuation of their faith. Fundamental to this is having a true concept of God, of knowing the Lord, the one and only true God (vs. 4). Such knowledge of God should naturally lead to complete devotion to Him because of who the true God is (vss. 5-6). With this atmosphere as the context in which children are raised, careful and incisive teaching is to follow in the everyday affairs of the home, formally and informally (vss. 7-9). But as in Deuteronomy 4:9, this is followed by the warning for parents to watch themselves against the many temptations that they would face in the world (vss. 10-25). The central issue is the reality of God in the life of the parents—being godly examples. Godly reality, then, becomes a part of the child’s life and environment in contrast to mere religious hypocrisy. This means children hear and see a proper concept of God’s person in contrast to the warped ideas of the world and its various forms of idolatry. Children can then learn of God’s way of salvation and sanctification, God’s values and priorities, and on the list goes.
Let’s say you carefully teach your child about the essence of God, that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, righteous, just, good, love, grace, mercy, and veracity. You include studies on the names of God like El Shaddai, God is Almighty who supplies and nourishes; El Elyon, the One who is sovereign and in control of the affairs of life; Yahweh-Yireh, the Lord will provide; He sees our needs and is there for us in times of trouble. Then trouble comes into your family in some form and your children see you come unglued and go to pieces. They witness worry, bitterness, resentment, complaining, and questioning God’s goodness. In teaching your child about God you may have even used some kind of visual aid like a flannel graph or charts to focus on the various aspect of God’s essence, but by your response to the problems of life, you have become a visual aid in living color that contradicted everything you taught your child.
Perhaps you teach your child the truth of Romans 13 regarding the need to obey and respect governmental authority because government is ordained by God to promote law and order and peace. But then, you go flying down the highway way over the speed limit, or you refuse to wear your seat belt. Perhaps you are stopped by a policeman and receive a ticket. How do you respond? Do you swear under your breath after the officer is gone, or do you thank the officer for stopping you and express your appreciation for what they are doing.
What about our attitudes and behavior toward the opposite sex or toward our spouse in the home? Do we display respect and love, and do we fulfill the roles of husbands and wives as set forth in Scripture?
What about values and priorities? A parent’s commitment to Bible study, prayer in the home and at church, and to the children or the family versus other pursuits like work, recreation, pleasure, possessions, and social involvement speak volumes about what is important to a parent and thus, about what should be important to a child, at least in his or her mind.
Let’s face it. Parents have no choice in the training of their children. The only choice they have is in how they train and what they instill in their children’s minds and hearts.
How do parents, then, lovingly use their God given authority to bring about godly controls in their children when faced with disobedience and rebellion? The answer, of course, is discipline. But what is meant by discipline? Many think of discipline as some form of punishment, but this is an inadequate and a wrong perspective.
Discipline is the application of outside controls as a preventive measure before wrong is done and as a corrective measure after wrong is done. Discipline is two sided. One side is more positive and preventive and the other side is more negative and corrective. The preventive side includes loving and personal instruction in the basic principles of life along with the establishment of rules, regulations, and restrictions to aid and promote happy obedience. Why is this done? To control and stop bad behavior before it happens.
Positive preventive discipline is accomplished by words and deeds, instruction backed up by example. It involves the formal and informal communication of biblical truth concerning God, man, sin, salvation, fellowship with God, ministry, and loving others, i.e., the basics of the Word including the evidences that support the claims of Christianity. There are some wonderful tools for doing this like the Moody Science films. The goal, of course, is to enable the child to understand that family rules are not just arbitrary restrictions on having fun, but the application of biblical concepts as the direction of a loving God who has everyone’s best interest at heart including the child’s.
On the positive side, Psalm 100:2 tells us, “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Colossians 1:11-12 teaches that Christians who are truly growing in the knowledge of God’s will (verse 9) should be characterized by “joyously giving thanks.” On the negative side, bad attitudes demonstrated by grumbling and complaining are sinful and need to be changed (cf. Phil. 2:14-15; 1 Cor. 10:10; 1 Pet. 4:9). Obviously, then, parents should always work on attitudes along with behavior. God wants us all to obey out of the right reasons. So ultimately, this should be our goal, not just obedience, but happy obedience.
All rules of preventative discipline should be based on biblical truth as it reflects two great commands of Scripture (Matt. 22:34-40; 7:12). Some actions may be neither good nor bad in themselves. In fact, they may at first seem amoral. They may be neither appropriate nor inappropriate depending on the time, place and people involved. So what we need are basic, general rules based on eternal truths which, when applied, make an action appropriate or inappropriate, good or bad depending on the circumstances. This is not the same as situation ethics, but the application of absolute truth from the standpoint of the principles of love, profitability, edification, and self-control (cf. Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 3-10). Is it profitable, that is, will it edify or harm another? Does it demonstrate concern and care for another as I would like to be cared for (Matt. 7:12)? In this way, we have a minimum of rules based on the absolutes of God’s Word with a maximum of application.
Think about the Ten Commandments for a moment. God gave ten, not three hundred. This gives us a precedent. It is wise to have a minimum of rules based on fundamental truths with a maximum of application. The Ten Commandments teach us how to love God and man. When asked which of the commandments was the most important, the Savior reduced them to two essentials, loving God and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. Why? Because these two summarize the heart of Scripture. As a result, the rest of the Law given to Israel pointed them to how those ten were to be applied.
The essential elements, then, are not the rules, but the basics behind the rules—love for God and love for others. These fundamental principles should form the foundation for all discipline, preventive or corrective. This keeps the rules from being arbitrary, harsh, legalistic, and meaningless. If we can’t demonstrate how the rule is an expression of loving and honoring God, loving and honoring others, and this includes taking care of ourselves, then the rule is probably questionable. The principles should be taught as early as possible. Children are capable of learning a lot more and a lot earlier than we may think, though in the earlier years the principles must be reinforced with the pleasure-pain motivation.
Let’s take some illustrations and add principles that might demonstrate their validity or the reasons that give understanding and can help promote happy obedience. Again, the basic principles used to reinforce the rules should communicate spiritual and moral values that express love and submission to God, concern for others (family, neighbors, etc.), personal significance as one created in God’s image with purpose and meaning in life, the truth that our behavior has consequences (the laws of sowing and reaping), and other biblical truth according to the age level of the child. Remember, the rules that follow are only illustrations.
You may play in the yard, but you cannot go into the street.
There are a lot of cars going up and down the street. The driver may not see you and could run over you. We love you and we don’t want you to get run over by a car.
You may not come in the house with mud on your shoes. You must clean them first or take them off.
We need to care about our property. We especially need to show concern for mom or dad who would have to clean the carpet or the floor.
You cannot put your shoes on the sofa, take them off first.
We may not care about our worn-out sofa, but our friends or relatives may have nice furniture. We need to communicate concern for others and respect for other’s property.
You must pick up your toys when you are finished playing with them.
Of course, if mom and dad are about as organized as the aftermath of a hurricane, then by example, parents negate this rule. Orderliness facilitates home life. People should be able to walk across the room without tripping over toys. Obviously, people can become neurotic about orderliness, but 1 Cor. 14:40 gives a biblical precedent.
You cannot run in the church or in any public place where people are gathered.
It’s not that running or yelling in a church is sinful. Believers are the temple of God and the building is not a holy place. The issue includes things like having one’s children under control (1 Tim. 3:4) and showing concern for others. Running children can cause an elderly person to fall. Children can get hurt, and they can damage expensive equipment. Also running and yelling hinders conversations.
Illustrations of Principles with Application:
(1) The principle of helpfulness. “All things are lawful, but not all things build up or edify. All things are not profitable” (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23).
Running and screaming as kids do is not sin, but running and screaming through the house is neither profitable, helpful, nor thoughtful to the parent who may be trying to rest, read, or talk with someone on the phone. Children need to learn that rambunctious play is reserved for outdoors.
Parents need to encourage the natural desire in young children to feel as through they are ‘helping’ mom and dad. Providing chores according to the age and ability of a child will not only help him learn and develop good habits and skills, but will help him feel he is a valuable family member.
(2) The principle of love or consideration of others (Matt. 7:12; 1 Cor. 10:24; Phil. 2:2-4; Rom. 14:15; 1 Jn. 4:7). A child’s behavior may in itself seem innocent enough, but if it shows no concern for mom or dad or others, then it is wrong and needs to be corrected. The child may not realize it, but if it is not corrected it will lead to self-centered insensitivity to God and others.
I don’t know why, but children love to walk through water and mud puddles when there is a perfectly dry place to walk. Walking through the mud in Johnny’s new shoes when he could have stayed on the sidewalk and then tracking it through mom’s clean kitchen, even though it may be done innocently, still demonstrates a lack of concern for the cost of the shoes and for mom’s clean floor. Tracking mud and walking in mud in itself is amoral, but if it ruins a pair of new shoes or causes mom or dad to have to clean up afterward, it is unloving and thoughtless of others. It then becomes sin. Failure to bring such control is wrong. As parents, we have the responsibility to bring such controls into our children.
(3) The principle of orderliness. Paul says, “do all things decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). Boy, this one has a thousand applications for mom, dad, and the kids from the way one dresses19 to the way one keeps his room, toys, closet, even drawers, to the way we eat at the table. It covers etiquette, manners, and customs.
Our God is a God of order and we are created in God’s image. We need to remember that habits develop early. By the time a child is five, many habits are already established and the older the child becomes, the more difficult it will be to establish God’s control. Of course, kids will be kids, but it is up to mom and dad to bring control to those kids that they might be godly examples of God’s love.
(4) The principle of respect for the privacy and property of others (2 Thess. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:15). This includes being a good steward of the things God gives us. This includes: showing respect for others by not snooping around in their things, carelessly handling food and drink in someone’s home, using dad’s tools without putting them back or losing them, using the sofa like a trampoline, etc. I remember once, after the morning church service, I went into my study, and there sitting in my chair was this cute little guy playing with my India ink pen which he had retrieved from my desk drawer. Ink was everywhere. It was on the floor, on the desk, and on some papers and books. This little guy was not there to be mean; he was simply having fun, but he was out of control. He had managed to get away from his parents (who hadn’t even missed him). This became a wake up call for the parents who began to apply these biblical principles to both their children.
(5) The principle of respect for authority and God’s chains of command (Eph. 6:1, 2; 1 Tim. 5:1; Tit. 3:1; 1 Pet. 5:5). This means honor and obedience. Every time a child sasses a parent, an adult, or a teacher, talks back, rebels, refuses to obey, doesn’t follow instruction, that child is breaking one of the key principles and rules of Scripture and so is the parent or guardian who allows it. To demonstrate how important this is, compare 1 Samuel 15:22-23.
22 And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.”
Two of the prominent words of Scripture are obey or obedience and rebel or rebellion. Satan is the first rebel and the rebel of rebels. When we allow rebellion in our children, we are playing right into his hands. If a parent can’t talk on the phone or visit with a friend in their home because they have to keep running around after their kids trying to corral them like wild mustangs, that parent is guilty of failing to enforce the above principles. Things are out of control. Their kids are outside the corral; there is no respect for authority, no consideration of others, no orderliness, and no helpfulness.
Prov. 29:17-18 Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul. 18 Where there is no vision (revelation, biblical truth), the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.
The negative or corrective side of discipline includes admonishment and spanking (chastening). It is designed to be applied with instruction after wrong has been done in order to stop bad behavior and to aid in establishing inner controls.
As previously mentioned, discipline in the form of chastening or spanking should never be done to make a child pay for his sins, but to correct bad behavior and to promote good behavior. In this sense, discipline must always include instruction. Instruction is aimed at the understanding and the emotions of the child, whereas, physical discipline and admonishment is aimed at the will. It reinforces and drives home the lesson that disobedience or sin has its consequences—and in an unforgettable way if administered properly.
The Form of Discipline God Has Chosen
To discipline biblically and thus properly, a parent must understand, trust in, and use the form God has ordained in Scripture. But because of a permissive society that has elevated man’s opinion above Scripture, many parents have a tough time accepting what the Bible teaches on this subject. So, what form has God chosen according to the Bible?
Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.
Clearly, this text teaches us God’s form of discipline includes both “the rod and reproof.” The corrective side of discipline includes admonishment and spanking (chastening) with the rod. Some, of course, would say that the rod is merely a symbol of discipline and reject the whole idea of using physical forms of discipline as in a spanking. That it is a symbol of discipline is true, but to reject it as a picture of corrective discipline in the form of physical discipline is to take the very heart out of the word. The term “rod,” the Hebrew shebet, “rod, staff, scepter,” was used for beating cumin (Isa. 28:27), as a weapon (2 Sam. 23:21), and as a shepherd’s implement for counting sheep (Lev. 27:32; Ezek. 20:37), or to protect them (Ps. 23:4; Mic. 7:14). As a scepter it was a mark of authority, but the association of smiting and ruling is clear (Gen. 49:1; Ps. 2:9; 45:6). Other than prejudice against the rod to include a form of physical discipline, there is really no reason from the text to reject this meaning. Of course, this does not warrant the misuse of physical discipline and the warning of Scripture itself is set forth below.
But just what does the rod consist of as used in a physical sense for discipline? Context determines the size and shape of the rod in question, just as an elephant’s nose (trunk) is out of question when talking about a large box (trunk) in an attic. The rod in “Your rod and Your staff” was a shepherd’s rod, probably six feet or so in length and three or four inches in diameter. By the same token, a “rod of correction” came from a branch of a tree or the stem of a bush. This rod would naturally be something that has flexibility to absorb some of the shock, and not one that was stiff and unbending that might do physical harm. When used consistently in the earlier years, the need for the use of the rod of discipline should gradually decrease to zero as the child grows older and matures. This will naturally vary with the individual child.
Why Chastisement Fails to Work
(1) Wrong instrument.
(2) Hard enough to get the child upset, but not hard enough to outweigh the pleasure of sin.
(3) Parents chastise through clothing that is too thick.
(4) Mom and Dad are not like-minded in this area of discipline.
(5) The parents are inconsistent in the manner and timing of discipline.20
(6) Parents fail to establish clear boundaries.
(7) Parents are afraid the child will not love them.
The NIV reads, “The rod of correction imparts wisdom” while the NASB and KJV have “the rod and reproof give wisdom.”
In Hebrew the rod of correction literally reads “the rod and correction.” Either the rod is the instrument of correction (in which case a figure of speech called a hendiadys is used), or both the rod (physical punishment; cf. 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14) and verbal correction (lit., “rebuke”) are to be used.21
Should we understand “rod and reproof” as a hendiadys,22 which refers to a “correcting rod,” or is this referring to the rod (physical punishment) and verbal rebuke that give evidence or argument to impart understanding? Certainly the statement in Proverbs 22:15, “the rod of discipline” means a disciplinary rod, one used to chasten and correct, but it seems best here, due to the separation of the two nouns, to understand this as pointing us to two elements. Both aspects, the rod and reproof, may be necessary with reproof always a necessary part of physical discipline, depending on the age of the child. We should remember that Eli gave reproof but spared the rod and he was rebuked as a defective father (cf. 1 Sam. 2:22-25 with 3:11-13). First Samuel 3:13 reads, “For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them” (NIV). While he rebuked them, he failed to apply the necessary discipline to restrain their behavior early on as they were growing up.
Scripture instructs us to use the rod with instruction after wrong has been done to impart understanding to stop bad behavior and to aid in establishing inner controls. Again I would stress that discipline in the form of chastening with the rod or punishment, as it is sometimes called, should not be designed to make the child pay for his sins, but to correct bad behavior and to promote good behavior or happy obedience.
In this sense, discipline must always be educational. This statement is worth repeating: Instruction is aimed at the understanding and the emotions of the child, where as physical discipline and admonishment are aimed at the will. It enforces and drives home the lesson in an unforgettable way if administered properly.
But, to discipline properly, we must also know the reasons for discipline, particularly, the use of the rod and why it is so essential. Let me briefly suggest a few.
(1) We discipline because God has commanded it. Scripture clearly teaches it should be done and how (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14). As our heavenly Father disciplines us, so we are to discipline our children (Heb. 12:5f).
Proverbs is well know for its praise of the rod. Its maxim, ‘he that spareth his rod hateth his son’ (13:24) is a corollary of its serious doctrine of wisdom; for if wisdom is life itself (8:35, 36), a hard way to it is better than a soft way to death . . . 23
It is important that both parents and children understand that God expects parents to discipline their children. “To know that discipline follows from God’s command creates in the children not resentment but respect and admiration for parents. As children grow older, they recognize that discipline came their way as an act of obedience to God, from parents who truly loved them.”24 When so administered, it becomes an act of faith as well as an act of obedience for parents to discipline (cf. Prov. 19:18).
(2) We discipline because children need it. Let’s look at this emphasis from several passages in Proverbs.
Proverbs 22:15. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.”
“Foolishness” is a Hebrew word that properly means “folly,” i.e., “pleasure in stupid tricks, silly sport, waywardness, lack of control.” This refers to a child’s natural bent toward evil, along with childish immaturity and lack of wisdom. In the Old Testament, a fool is a person who lacks the wisdom and maturity of the Word either because of age or because of apathy and indifference. Foolishness or folly then is the product of being or acting like a fool (cf. Ps. 38:5; Prov. 5:23; 12:23 (note especially this verse); 13:16; 14:1, 17-18, 24; 15:2, 4, 21; 16:22).
“Is bound” is a Hebrew word which means “to bind, join together, league together, confine or to conspire.” The point is, foolishness is tightly interwoven into the makeup of every child due to the presence of the sin nature and his inherent lack of God’s viewpoint. Thus, it takes strong measures to remove this foolishness from a child. The sinful nature cannot be removed or eradicated, but foolishness can be driven out by loving and wise discipline. The word “bound” is a passive participle. As such, it describes a state or condition which is a general fact for all children. It describes a general theological principle of life.
Principle: No matter how angelic we may think our little one is, foolishness is tightly bound up in him/her that needs to be removed by a loving application of the rod of discipline.
So first of all, this text tells us what God says removes the foolishness, “the rod of discipline.” Then, by the addition of the word “discipline,” the Hebrew musar, it tells us what kind of discipline is necessary—the kind that employs both the rod and instruction, or at least, the kind that is designed to educate the heart and mind of the child. Musar comes from the verb yasar, which means “discipline, chasten, instruct.” The Septuagint (LXX) translates it primarily as paideuw, which emphasizes the notion of education. The Ugaritic cognate ysr, which means “to chasten, instruct,” helps us grasp the full idea of this word group.25 Perhaps it is significant, in grasping what is involved in discipline (musar), to take note of the fact that musar is connected with “the fear of the Lord,” and with “knowledge” in Proverbs 1:7 and 15:33, and with the torah, instruction, teaching in 1:8.
Proverbs 1:7. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction (musar).”
Proverbs 15:33. “The fear of the Lord is the instruction (musar) for wisdom, And before honor comes humility.”
The thrust here is not simply punishment, nor merely scolding, or warnings, or instruction, or even restrictions, but discipline which uses the rod, when needed, in connection with each of these methods as a part of a parent’s tool chest for training and building biblical principles into the life of a child.
The reason spanking with a rod is the most loving way to discipline, is that it is the most effective way of dealing with the problem of disobedience and wrong attitudes. God in his loving wisdom commands parents to spank their children with a rod. It is the quickest and surest way to obedience and happiness in our children.
Punishment, unlike discipline with a rod, deprives a child of some privilege or reward (such as an allowance or a trip or a snack) but does not really deal with the issues of the heart; and often creates bitterness and resentment in the child.26
One of the motivational principles of Scripture is that of rewards or their loss and this was part of God’s parental-like discipline with Israel in the Old Testament. A good illustration is God’s dealings with Israel by way of His mighty acts, His constant provision as with the manna as well as the hunger for other things which He used to teach Israel that “man does not live by bread alone but by every thing that proceeds from the mouth of Yahweh” (Deut. 8:3). It is significant that in this regard Deuteronomy 8:5 uses musar in the comparative expression, “Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining (musar) you just as a man disciplines his son” (Deut. 8:5).
So rewards or their loss, can be an effective part of the disciplinary process, especially in older children. But for the most part and in younger children, a spanking delivered in love with instruction is the quickest and most immediate way that deals with the issue while it is clearly on the child’s mind.
Proverbs 23:13-14. “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.”
“Do not hold back” is the verb mana, which means, “to withhold, hold back.” In Hebrew, it is what is called a jussive construction with the negative particle al, which means, “don’t, not even once.” The point is simply when the child needs it, when he or she is disobedient—spank. To hold back is to do the child harm. It is to spoil the effectiveness of discipline by its inconsistency. The word consistency here is important. Too often parents allow little disobediences and bad attitudes to build up, and finally, everything explodes. This is bad for the child and the parent.
Discipline is again musar, but the context shows the rod of discipline is in view.
“Although” introduces this as a concessive clause. Sure spanking a child with a rod will cause him to scream and cry and maybe give the impression he is going to die, but don’t let that keep you from proper discipline.
“Sheol” refers to death. In the Old Testament Sheol was the place of departed souls, both unbelieving and believing though each went to a different part of Sheol. Discipline will not save the child’s soul, but it can remove rebellion and make him more receptive later on to accepting Christ at an early age. But this passage is referring to protecting the child from physical death which meant in Old Testament times that the soul departed the body and went to Sheol. When we were in school, the child of a good friend periodically slipped away from his home and came to our house to play with our children in a fenced back yard. To reach our house, he had to go through a busy parking lot on the Dallas Seminary campus. After awhile the mom would call and ask if we had seen him. Sometimes he got scolded, but never to our knowledge was he really disciplined. Later, after we both graduated, we heard that the little guy wandered away from home and fell into a swimming pool and drowned.
Proverbs 29:15. “The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.”
This passages emphasizes the rewards of discipline and the consequences of a lack of discipline.
“The rod” is the Hebrew shebet, which was discussed in connection with Proverbs 29:15. It refers to physical discipline with reproof. “Reproof” is the Hebrew tokahath from yakad which means “decide, judge, show to be right, prove,” and so “to convince, convict, reprove, admonish, correct, rebuke.” The word originally meant to stand in the sunshine, be in the light. It carried the idea of exposure. This noun means “proof or argument which proves its case.” So the idea is that of a reproof or rebuke done in such a way with the rod that it exposes, convicts, and corrects. So the idea here is, the rod with reproof gives wisdom. In other words, whenever parents must use the rod, they should never use it by itself. Always use it in love with instruction, giving the reasons and setting forth the issues and consequences in the light of the absolute truth of the Word of God according to the child’s age level and capacity to grasp the reasons.
When a child sins and disobeys, for instance by grabbing another child’s toy, and a spanking is in order because the child in this case clearly knows it is wrong, don’t just spank, but explain the reason for the sin according to their age level (i.e., it shows disrespect for the property of others, it is selfish and a lack of love for another person, and ultimately a lack of trust in the Lord for their needs, etc.). Finally, communicate some of the consequences of sin—it breaks fellowship with God and may result in discipline.
“Gives wisdom.” “Gives” is the Hebrew nathan, which means “to give, impart, bestow.” It is the imperfect tense, which in this context, suggest continual or repeated action. God is telling us that the consistent and proper use of discipline with the rod of reproof repeatedly gives wisdom.
“Wisdom” is chokma which is a very broad term used in various ways. It comes from a verb chakam which means, in its most basic sense, “to judge, to make right decisions” because one is wise and possesses knowledge and truth, particularly, God’s wisdom. It has two basic uses: (a) it is used of basic knowledge of God’s truth (Prov. 2:2, 10; 9:10; Deut. 4:6), and (b) it is used of skill or the wise application of knowledge to some art or aspect of life (cf. Isa. 10:13; Ex. 28:3; Deut. 34:9). Sometimes both ideas are involved (1 Kings 5:9-10, 14; Prov. 2:6; 3:13, 19).
Through the consistent application of the “rod with reproof” a parent is able to impart into the child’s life both truth from the Word and the ability to use it. Parents can help their child become a skillful user of the Word of God, which includes the ability and will to make right choices.
“But” brings out the contrast designed to stress the consequences that occur when parents fail in discipline of their children.
“A child” is the word naar, which may refer to a child from infant stage even into manhood (cf. Gen. 34:19).
“Who gets his own way” is all one word in the Hebrew, meshullach. It is a pual participle from the Hebrew shalach, which means “to send off, stretch out, or let loose.” The pual stem form is passive and intensive. It means to be driven or sent off on a mission, or to be completely let loose or left unrestrained. It is also a participle, which carries the idea of continuous or repeated action. Interestingly, this word is used of animals pasturing at liberty, wandering about, foraging for themselves without a keeper or shepherd (Job 39:5; Isa. 16:2). The picture should be clear. It is warning against leaving a child undisciplined, loose to wander and forage for himself without parental restraint and shepherding.
“Brings shame” stresses the consequences. This is the Hebrew mebish from bosh which means “to be ashamed, feel shame, to be disappointed, have one’s hopes dashed in pieces,” and so “to be confounded or confused.” The form here, however, is a hiphil participle. The participle suggests continuous action. The hiphil form makes the verb causative and carries the idea of “to bring or cause disgrace, cause shame.” The point is that a child left to himself becomes a constant cause of shame and disgrace to the parent.
“To his mother” is the object of the verb. The one put to the most shame is the mother, not the son. But the principle applies to both parents. The point is that delinquent parents too often cause juvenile delinquency. It is generally a product of their neglect and stupidity. Children, because of their condition in sin, are naturally going to act badly and go from bad to worse if left undisciplined. God has given the responsibility of discipline to parents and when children continue to go astray, it is to a large degree usually the parents’ fault somewhere down the line. We are not talking about occasional misbehavior. All kids misbehave at times regardless of discipline, just as do their parents. We are talking about the continued state of bad behavior which goes unchecked by a biblical kind of discipline.
No parent is perfect and will miss it sometimes with their children. In discussing our heavenly Father’s discipline and comparing it to that of our earthly parents, the author of Hebrews wrote: “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Heb. 12:9-10). Note the words, “as seemed best to them (our earthly fathers).” God’s discipline is always best and for our good, but as earthly parents, though our intention may be good and we do what seems best to us, we are anything but perfect and will sometimes fail to handle things in the best way. But if parents will learn the truth of the Word soon enough and faithfully apply these principles of child training, they can be assured that, as a general principle, their children will not bring them to shame but will become arrows launched into God’s orbit who will glorify the Lord and become productive members of society.
(3) We discipline because it works when properly applied. One of the reasons it works is found in Proverbs 20:30, “Stripes that wound scour away evil, And strokes reach the innermost parts.” The reasons it works are as follows:
God has so made man that he hates pain and suffering. As a result, he will generally go to almost any length to avoid suffering or pain. Pain, then is educational: it alerts us to the fact something is wrong. It is naturally corrective. Because of this, physical discipline that really hurts and that is delivered consistently, but in love with a child’s well being always in view, has a unique way of passing through the body (in this case, the ‘seat of learning’) to the soul (the mind, emotions and will). The result is inner control and changed behavior or, as this proverb puts it, the “scouring away of evil and foolishness.”
The pain of spanking reaches the innermost part of the child. This is because children are more stimulus prone; they are more affected by pleasure or pain than by their moral faculties of reasoning. For younger children, depriving them of rewards or certain privileges like a snack or an allowance, etc., does not really get through to the issues of the heart like a painful spanking. The pain is quicker and more immediate to the situation. Because a spanking brings direct and immediate attention to the wrong that has been done, it settles the issues quickly, does not allow attitudes to fester, and does not condemn the child.
On the other hand, punishments like denying a child some privilege or sending him to his room, often fail to cleanse because they allow the disobedient attitude to remain and fester. This can build resentment and even greater rebellion. Confinement may bring remorse because the child got caught, but it often does not bring repentance.
It also tells us what kind of rod is used, a rod of discipline (musar). A rod of discipline is one used with the intent and in such a manner that it brings correction with understanding. It is a rod used in love, under control, long enough to bring repentance, consistently, with instruction, and out of confidence and faith in the absolutes of the Word. It is a stark contradiction for a parent to use a rod to bring control in a child when the parent is out of control!
“Will remove it far from him” continues to explain the reason. It is also God’s promise of a general principle that parents can know is true. Every child by nature is foolish or wayward due to his sinful nature and lack of wisdom. Parents need to remember this when they get exasperated over repeated foolish behavior. This foolishness can be driven out by discipline which helps build the inner controls of God’s wisdom. This is a process and requires the right kind of training and discipline as described, the rod of discipline. As a process, it needs to continue and be consistent through the growing years in order to produce the desired results. This requires patience and by all means consistency!
The Aims of Discipline
The goals or aims of discipline are extremely important to the parent because they provide a certain control and orientation that: (a) enforces the importance of discipline, (b) the necessity of consistent discipline, and at the same time, (c) a protection against improper discipline or discipline for the wrong reasons. Parents should never discipline simply to stop undesirable behavior for their own convenience to make like easier for the parent. Proper discipline will normally result in that, but the main motivation should always be to exchange non-biblical behavior for biblical behavior on a permanent basis. How? By making the standards of the Word the permanent conviction and possession of the child.
So what are the aims of discipline?
(1) Godliness or Christ-like character
Hebrews 12:10-11 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
As with the aim of our heavenly Father, godliness is to be the parent’s ultimate objective. But to arrive at this objective, more immediate objectives need to kept in view. This aim of God’s holiness naturally includes other aims like: (a) leading the child to Christ (Matt. 18:3; 19:33; Mark 10:15), (b) personal commitment to Christ (Rom. 12:1-2), (c) biblical wisdom and understanding (Prov. 2:1f; Eph. 5:14-15; Col. 1:9f; 2 Tim. 3:14-17), and (d) learning to walk by the filling of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). The aim here is the internalization of truth and built-in controls through fellowship with the Lord through the ministry of the Spirit and the Word.
(2) Obedient Actions with Happy Attitudes. This has already been mentioned, but it is so important, it is mentioned here again. All discipline should be aimed at promoting obedient actions and happy attitudes because actions follow attitudes.
Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, “Eat and drink!” But his heart is not with you.
These two areas, attitudes and actions, always stand together. Whenever children are willfully disobedient or have bad attitudes, they should be disciplined just as much as for disobedient actions or willful disobedience. Both are wrong and both are sin and should be dealt with.
Obedience and a right attitude are God’s will for every child. God desires both an outward and an inward conformity to His will. A child’s personality or aptitude or sex or temperament is no excuse for willful disobedience or for an incorrect attitude. It does not matter whether a child is quiet, outgoing, athletic, or studious. He still can be trained to be a happy and obedient child.27
An obvious question is just how do we promote happy obedience in children? Part of the answer comes from understanding what happy obedience means. Obedience is the quick, willing and complete response to a parent’s orders or directions when asked to do something in a reasonable tone of voice, not from yelling or screaming or from several repetitions or threats. Disobedience is a serious issue and should never be ignored or allowed for a moment (cf. again 1 Sam. 15:22, 23).
We can say that obedience involves three things:
a. Immediacy: Children must learn to obey immediately rather than put off what the parent has asked them to do. Procrastination builds bad habits that carry over into adulthood and into one’s obedience to God. Throughout, the New Testament employs the aorist imperative in commands which stresses urgent and immediate obedience, yet Christians are prone to put off and disobey and this often goes back to childhood and bad patterns developed in the early years. So, if a parent asks their child to pick up his toys, make the bed, and clean his room, and the child says, “In a minute mama,” or “Okay, but can I finish the puzzle?” and an hour later what you asked is still undone, obedience has not occurred. If the child is asked to pick up his toys or whatever, NOW, then the parent must expect the child to obey NOW, and be ready to follow through with discipline for failure to obey.
On the other hand, if the parent says, before you leave for school, I want such and such done, then you have a different situation, but when the child leaves, obedience should have occurred.
If a child needs to be yelled or screamed at in an ugly tone to get obedience, the child is not the one in the wrong; the parent is. Sometimes parents yell and scream or speak harshly at their kids and treat them in unkind ways because they simply have not been disciplining sufficiently, properly, or consistently.
b. Completeness: Obedience includes thorough and complete obedience according to the age level or capacity of the child. Scripture is emphatic here. Failure to discipline with both negative and positive controls and direction has lasting impact on a child. It carries over into adolescence and finally into adulthood resulting in poor patterns of behavior.
A few key Scriptures should suffice to emphasize this truth:
1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Clearly, anything that is done in a half-hearted manner whether obedience or work does not glorify the Lord who is our perfect and orderly creator.
1 Corinthians 14:40, which says, “do all things decently and in order,” would also apply to complete obedience that follows through on what parents tell a child to do as well as on the way parents carry out their responsibility to discipline.
Colossians 3:22-24. In this passage one might substitute the word “slaves” for the word “employee,” or “worker.” It refers to someone who is under the authority of others and the principles here certainly have application to the home. These verses are commanding us to do our work heartily, properly, and thoroughly as unto the Lord; this means to the very best of our ability.
We might also note and compare Colossians 3:20. Literally we can translate this verse, “Children, keep on being obedient to your parents in all things for this (happy and complete obedience) is well pleasing, acceptable to the Lord.”
c. Willingness and a Good Attitude: Scripture teaches us to, “serve the Lord with gladness” (Ps. 100:2), and to “do all things heartily (with a right mental attitude) as to the Lord” (Col. 3:23). This means children must be taught that obedience to a parent, to a teacher, to an employer, etc., is an obedience to the Lord and to fail to obey joyfully is rebellion and to act like the devil himself who is the rebel of rebels. So, if a child is asked to do a job, whether 5 or 15 years old, and he does it with a long face that could suck watermelon seeds out of a milk bottle, or if he complains and whines, the child needs discipline.
(1) By example: We must always remember that everything starts here. What a parent is speaks louder than what the parent says. Bad mental attitudes are often caught from the parent in relation to their responsibilities at home or at the job or at church. If you look and act like you were weaned on a pickle or if you are a whiner, etc., your children most likely will catch your disease.
(2) By developing a good relationship with your child: Parents must develop good relationships with their children by spending time with them and by doing things that the children enjoy. This demonstrates your love and appreciation of them and shows them you think they are important and enjoy doing things with them. This can include playing games, going places that children like such as the zoo, reading to them, listening to them, watching a children’s movie with them. Doing whatever it takes, creatively, to establish a good relationship. This, coupled with biblical truth, promotes happiness in the child and will result in good attitudes.
(3) By instruction: Teach the child that attitude is important and why. It is a service to the Lord and important to them and their testimony. We all need an attitude check.
(4) By spanking for bad attitudes: By spanking the child just as quickly for poor attitudes as for bad actions or willful disobedience we teach the child that bad attitudes are wrong, sinful, and that they simply will not be tolerated. To ignore bad attitudes is to have a double standard and to set the child up for other forms of disobedience down the line.
What do we mean by a right mental attitude or happiness in obedience? We mean a proper response to conditions, things, and people around us. A right attitude is one that displays respect, honor, trust, and acceptance of authority, along with joy and willingness. For instance, when Suzy is called to supper or to do some task, she should be taught to reply, “Coming mom,” or “Okay mom.” Why? Because such a response displays respect, thoughtfulness, submissiveness, obedience, and a good attitude. When children answer their parents, they should answer in such a way that demonstrates their respect, trust, and happy obedience like “yes, mom” or “yes, dad.” As a Texas boy, I was taught to answer “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir.” It is rare today to hear a polite response from a child, even among Christian families. And what kind of society do we have? One that is very self-willed and disrespectful of any kind of authority.
Seldom if ever in its long history has the world witnessed such a self-conscious revolt against authority. Not that the phenomenon of protest and rebellion is new. Ever since the fall of man human nature has been rebellious, ‘hostile to God’ and unwilling, even unable to ‘submit to God’s law.’ (Rom. 8:7) . . . What seems new today, however, is both the world-wide scale of the revolt . . . All accepted authorities (family, school, university, State, church, Bible, Pope, God) are being challenged.28
Such responses as mentioned above demonstrate honor, courtesy, respect, and reveal a good attitude. We should note that Scripture does not teach moms and dads are to be ‘buddies’ with their children and treated like one of the gang. That is not the picture given in Scripture. Should there be closeness, trust, intimacy? Of course, but always in an atmosphere of honor and respect.
On the other hand, when children whine and cry after being told no and given a reason why they can’t do something, they have a bad attitude. Or when a child sasses and yells, “I don’t want to, you can’t make me,” throws a tantrum, slams the door in anger and rebellion, pouts, stiffens their body when mom is trying to put them in a high chair, pushes their parent’s hand away, or runs away when mom or dad calls them, they are manifesting a rebellious attitude. Responses like these require firm discipline. Johnny and Suzy must learn that obedience means happy obedience with a willing cooperation that shows respect and trust and courtesy.
Children can choose to have a happy and right attitude. This is not an impossibility. With consistent discipline, they will soon learn there is just no happy alternative. The only alternative is painful and just not worth it. But of course, this means consistency on the part of the parent.
Lessin gives the following illustration:
Once my daughter resisted all efforts to teach her how to sit quietly in church. She would sit on my wife’s lap, but push away at my wife’s hands and arms as they held her. It became clear that she was inwardly resisting, though outwardly confirming. She was saying by her gestures, “I will sit, but I will sit my own way!”
My wife did not accept that message from our daughter. And by an act of further discipline she made it clear to our daughter that her attitude was wrong and unacceptable. After discipline, our daughter lovingly relaxed in my wife’s lap and enjoyed the hour without struggle or resistance. When this area is properly dealt with a parent can fully enjoy the cooperation of the child, whether it’s in church, at home, at the store, or at someone else’s home.29
(1) Since disobedience is primarily and first of all against God, children should not be disciplined because of who you are, (i.e., you are a pastor or an elder or a deacon or a Sunday school teacher) and they have embarrassed you. True, our children are to be disciplined and under control as a testimony of the power of God’s grace, but parents are not to try to effect this by making children feel guilty because they have made the parent look bad.
(2) Don’t discipline children for being themselves or because they have not come up to the capabilities of a brother or sister. Be careful how you use comparison with another child. This can get their eyes on people rather than God and His standards. An older brother may set an example, but be careful how you use it. There is a careful line between encouraging excellence in performance and demanding perfection or in demanding performance beyond a child’s age level or giftedness. Each life is unique and special with its own abilities, personality, and aptitudes. Parents need to recognize these differences while holding to the standards of the Word.
(3) Do not discipline a child for something that is beyond his or her level of growth or for something for which he simply is not capable.
Sometimes children can be asked to do things they don’t have the physical or mental ability to do. If so, this is not willful disobedience, and it should never be seen as an occasion for discipline. The Bible says, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of corrections shall drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). But childishness is not foolishness. Foolishness is an inward attitude of carelessness, indifference and disrespect for the ways of God. Childishness is simply being like a child. It is being unreflective, spontaneous, enthusiastic, and nave. There is nothing wrong with that. . . . Childishness is only wrong when it is practiced by an adult. But a child should never be forced to act like an adult. Nor should a parent expect a two-year-old to act like a ten-year-old. There is nothing wrong with being a child. Parents are to enjoy their children for what they are at every age.30
(4) Do not use scorn or ridicule especially in areas of weakness. This only sets the problem deeper and produces resentment, frustration, and feelings of I can’t, I am no good. It is probably better for a child to be over confident than under confident. Try praise, not flattery, but genuine praise and see what happens.
(5) Do not discipline when you are angry and out of control. It is a curious contradiction—one that children will soon pick up on—when parents who discipline to teach control are themselves out of control when they discipline.
It is easy for parents to get upset and frustrated by their children when they are simply being children. Babies naturally cry when they are sick or hungry or wet. A child may accidentally bump into a table and knock something off and break it. If this happens because the child is running when he was told to walk, that’s a different story. A child in innocence may do something wrong when he intended to do right. When I was about five years old, my grandparents bought me a baby chick. While they were preparing a place to keep it warm with a light bulb they wrapped in a towel and placed it in the oven. Well, I didn’t want my baby chick to get cold, so I turned the oven up. A few minutes later, my grandparents smelled something burning. Yes, it was the towel and my chick. I was not scolded, but consoled and shown why I shouldn’t have done that.
(6) Don’t discipline for legitimate forgetfulness, but do watch for patterns that may develop.
(7) Never use the withdrawal of affection or attention with your discipline. This communicates a conditional form of love that is lethal. I have seen some parents use the silent treatment as a form of punishment. This communicates acceptance and belongingness based on performance.
(8) Avoid unnecessary clashes of the will. Consider the world of a child. Do this, do that, don’t do this or that, do what I say, come here, go there, stop that, and on and on it goes. A child’s will is totally subject to yours during the major portion of his day. Because foolishness is bound up in a child’s heart, he needs this to a certain degree, but we need care here.
(9) Here are three negatives that parents need to guard against: (a) We simply cannot spank children into submission. Biblical submission or obedience requires all the ingredients of the training coral brought together in a loving atmosphere. (b) A sudden commitment to spanking will not undo years of the wrong kind of parenting. (c) Do not expect spanking as it’s typically done with discipline as described in the training coral where all the elements are brought together.
(10) Avoid excessive criticism. A child who lives with criticism learns to be critical. When it has to be done, do it with a view to aiding the child and his ultimate edification. Don’t just tear him down. When you have to criticize, also communicate your confidence in their ability and improvement.
(11) Be careful how you use the promise of rewards and avoid using a bribe to achieve obedience. It may eliminate the problem for the moment, but it can create others.
A parent may want to give an allowance according to the needs of the child. An allowance might be given for the basic things a child is responsible for around the house—keeping his room clean, helping with the dishes, etc. Something extra might be given for special jobs like washing windows. But a reward would be something extra that you give because a job has been done well and not in order to get it done or for just general faithfulness.
(12) Don’t discipline when you are uncertain of the issue. Get the facts before you act.
(1) Parents need to use the biblical method. Though it goes against much we find in modern psychology, the biblical method includes the rod, a metaphor for an instrument of discipline, applied in love, never while angry or out of control, and accompanied by instruction.
(2) Discipline needs to be started early, and performed carefully and consistently. Parents need the proper motive, they need to be consistent, and they need to start in the very early years of a child’s life. The key verse on this is Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”
“He who spares” is a qualitative participle. It describes that which characterizes some parents, i.e., sparing the rod. The verb is chasak “to withhold, refrain, keep back.” It give us a warning aimed at the indulgent parent who for one reason or another—sentimentalism, man’s philosophy of discipline, lack of concern, no time for the child, materialism, whatever—refuses to discipline his or her child in a consistent way.
“His rod” is again the Hebrew word shebet and means “a rod, staff, club, scepter.” A rod was used of a shepherd’s staff, a ruler’s scepter and was a sign of authority and control, and of an instrument of discipline for smiting (cf. Isa. 10:15, 24; 30:31; Ezek. 20:37; Lev. 27:32; Mic. 7:14). In the home the rod stands as an emblem and instrument of authority and control.
“Hates” is another qualitative participle of continual, characteristic action. It is the verb sane’, which means “to hate,” but in the grammatical form used, it not only means to habitually act in hate, but to act as an enemy. Compare the parallelism in Psalm 35:19; 38:19; 69:4 where this word is used as a synonym for an enemy. Whereas love draws and unites, hate separates and keeps distant. The hated and hating persons are considered foes or enemies and are considered odious, utterly unappealing. In the Old Testament hating is considered as opposition, ill-will, an aversion to something or someone.31 Obviously, violent and abusive spankings, those that are really better described as beatings, separate or build walls between parents and children. But in this passage God is telling us that to withhold physical discipline is to treat one’s child as an enemy and separates, whereas loving discipline in the form of spankings will draw parent and child together.
“But” points to a contrast and draws our attention to a different kind of parent, one following biblical principles.
“He who loves” is also a qualitative participle of characteristic action, i.e., one who truly loves or has the child’s best interest at heart. The Hebrew verb is ‘ahab and is used of love in all forms and spheres. In this context it would be comparable to agaph.
“Disciplines him diligently” is literally, “seeks him early and diligently with discipline.” The verb is shachar, “seek early, earnestly.” The noun form, shachar, means “dawn, early morning.” This verb originally meant to look for the dawn. We might ask, what does it mean to look for the dawn? Psalm 130:5-6 gives us an illustration. It was the custom of the priest in charge of the early morning sacrifice to arise before dawn to get prepared for the early morning sacrifice. This meant carefully watching for the first sign of dawn. At the first sign, as regular as clockwork, the priest would offer the morning sacrifice. Can this not illustrate the watchfulness needed in parents? They too need biblical preparation so they can begin early with their children, at the first sign of rebellion, and they need to rise and discipline day after day in order to offer their child to the Lord as the priest offered his sacrifice.
Looking for the dawn suggest three ideas: (a) Getting prepared: effective discipline requires effective preparation through the knowledge of the Word. This will enable the parent to watch carefully with God’s perspective in order to observe what is needed in the child’s life. (b) Looking early at the dawn of life: the tendency for many parents is to procrastinate, but putting off discipline only allows a child to develop bad habits and patterns so they become set in a child’s personality. (c) Acting on time, diligently and consistently: the daily routine of life will be filled with one situation after another which needs to be used as on-the-job training to instill the principles and values of the Word. The verb construction in the Hebrew text (a piel stem) makes the basic idea, “to look early,” intensive or intentional. It means to look early and diligently with the element of consistency.
“With Discipline” is an adverbial accusative which tells us how the parent who loves looks early and diligently. He does so with discipline. Discipline is again the Hebrew word musar, which comes from yasar meaning “to discipline, chasten, admonish with a view to correction and understanding or wisdom.” The verb could carry the idea of “to instruct” (Ps. 16:7; Prov. 31:1; Isa. 8:11; 28:26). Yasar, then, could refer to verbal instruction, verbal admonishment, warnings, etc., as well as to physical discipline with an instrument of discipline like a rod or switch (cf. also 1 Kings 12:11, 14; 2 Chron. 10:11, 14 where it is so used). But always, when used in reference to children, its goal is correction with understanding and corrective behavior.
As with the verb, musar may be used of the instruction of the Word (Prov. 1:2-3), of the instruction of a father (Prov. 1:8), of some kind of physical discipline as a spanking (Prov. 3:11; 7:22), but again, always with a view to correction and education or understanding.
In the passages under consideration, musar includes both physical discipline and instruction as needed. Proverbs 13:24 can be summarized as follows:
(1) A lack of discipline (including discipline with a rod) is a lack of genuine love and concern for the child’s well being. To fail to discipline is to act as an enemy and may result in setting child and parent against each other as enemies.
(2) Discipline should begin early in a child’s life, as soon as disobedience and rebelliousness are observed.
(3) Discipline needs to be consistent to have its greatest impact.
(4) Finally and most importantly, discipline, if it is to be effective, needs the context of love from a parent who is under control.
While always tailoring what is done to the situation and age of the child, here are a couple of things to keep in mind. (1) Immediately after physical discipline (or even before), explain what and why their behavior was wrong. (2) Following the discipline, be sure to affirm your love to your child (hug them, set them on your lap), and pray with them in such a way that your prayer demonstrates you confidence in them and in what God is going to do in their life. (3) In an atmosphere of love and acceptance, warn the child not to repeat the offense, but be sure to consider the matter closed. Never follow the discipline by giving the child the silent treatment, which suggests you haven’t forgiven them. (4) It would also be well to occasionally remind them that we all reap what we sow—either the good for good behavior or the bad for sinful behavior.
13 Source unknown.
14 Brown, Driver, and Briggs, p. 1041-1042.
16 Charles R. Swindoll, Home, Where Life Makes Up Its Mind, Multnomah Press, Portland, OR, 1980, p. 13.
17 The Expositors’ Bible Commentary, OT, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, electronic media.
18 Taken from The Bible Illustrator For Windows, Parsons Technology, electronic media.
19 In 1 Tim. 2:9, the clause, “adorn themselves with proper clothing,” uses the verb, kosmew, which means, “to put in order, arrange properly.”
20 I have often heard parents complain that the discipline of their children just does not not work, but in many cases, it’s their inconsistency combined with a failure to communicate love and the reasons for discipline on a case by case basis that’s the problem. This is a common denominator when discipline seems to fail.
21 The Bible Knowledge Commentary, OT, John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, editors, Victor Books, electronic media.
22 A hendiadys is a figure of speech in which two words connected by a conjunction are used to express a single notion that would normally be expressed by an adjective and a substantive, such as grace and favor instead of gracious favor.
23 Kidner, pp. 50-51.
24 Lessin, p. 79.
25 Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, Vol. I, pp. 386-87.
26 Lessin, p. 103.
27 Lessin, p. 82.
28 John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds, The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982, p. 51.
29 Lessin, pp. 85-86.
30 Lessin, p. 87.
31 Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, Vol. II, p. 880.
In His prayer just before leaving this world to return to the Father, the Lord Jesus prayed for the disciples and for those who would believe in Him. His prayer centered around the fact that the Father would keep them from the evil one of the world and the world’s evil influences. Concerning this He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). In concluding this study and reflecting on the many passages studied, I would like to mention again three principles that are vital to one’s ability to appropriate God’s truth regarding child training.
(1) Teachableness. We all come to parenting, as in everything else in life, with preconceived ideas and we are often reluctant to give them up. God desires to teach us His truth, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go’” (Isa. 48:17). Our need is to be like the Psalmist who prayed, “Deal with Your servant according to Your lovingkindness, And teach me Your statutes” (Ps. 119:124).
(2) Studiousness. Another need is to studiously search the Scripture. Scripture has a lot to say about the home and parenting. The question is, will we let Him build our house, our home, by searching His Word? May we be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and search the Scriptures for what it teaches and then to be open to its truth for “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
(3) Cautiousness. If the home is God’s laboratory for building character in our children’s lives, indeed, the place where life makes up its mind, and if the home is the foundation to society, and both of these things are true, then we can be sure that Satan is going to do all he can to undermine the home. We need, then, to be cautious, alert to his methods and schemes. A couple of passages come to mind. We need to know God’s truth and to be cautious that “. . . we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). Then in Colossians Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
No institution on earth is more important than the home because of the impact it has on a society. “As the home goes, so goes the society” is a truth we are clearly experiencing today. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons God’s Word has so much to say about the family—husbands and wives, fathers, mothers, and children. As Swindoll descriptively writes:
Whatever else may be said about home, it is the bottom line of life, the anvil upon which attitudes and convictions are hammered out. It is the place where life’s bills come due, the single most influential force in our earthly existence. No price tag can adequately reflect its value. No gauge can measure its ultimate influence . . . for good or ill. It is the home, among family members, that we come to terms with circumstances. It is here life makes up its mind.32
Though never an easy assignment, and as stressed in this study, parenting in our day is more difficult for we are now living in what many are calling a post-Christian era. By that we mean the influence the Bible once had on the thinking, attitudes, and behavior of this society has become terribly diminished. Even within Christian circles people are talking about the crisis occurring in evangelicalism for the authority of the Bible. Modern social and behavioral sciences have claimed such a dominance that even within those churches that claim to hold to the inerrancy of the Bible, we often find sermons, books, and other resources simply mirroring secular psychology, business themes, vocabulary, and strategies rather than accurately communicating the truth of the Bible. This increases the difficulty of the task of child training. It is difficult enough because of the non-Christian influences that affect our children, but many Christian parents are attempting to raise their children without the guidelines of Scripture and have opted for the methods set by human reason or the parameters of a humanistic worldview. One of the great issues then is to get parents to listen to the Word and appropriate its truth. In the secular world, truth consists of man’s opinions and so-called research. These opinions consist, however, of a constantly changing parade of thoughts, ideas, and theories that consistently contradict each other and especially the Bible.
Biblical child training is not, however, based on the ever-changing cafeteria of man’s opinion, but on the eternal truth of a God-breathed Book, the Word of God, which lives and abides forever and which is, as the late Francis Schaeffer use to say, based on “true truth.” Let me encourage the reader to take God’s Word to heart and rest in its principles and promises.
The passages shared in this study present God’s general truth or principles that parents can depend on. Are there exceptions? Yes. Do these principles always work? No. Just as some children who were never raised in a Christian environment and with no biblical training find Christ and have their lives completely turned around, so there are those who have had excellent biblical training and still turn away from Christ. The bottom line is, there are no perfect parents, and if children fail to walk with the Lord as they grow into adulthood, they will stumble and eventually may even become indifferent to the things of God.
After all, think about the number of God’s children who have rebelled and walked away from Him. What kind of parent is God? He is a perfect parent who has done the most for His children, for those born into His family through Christ. Yet, like the prodigal son, some have walked away and squandered the lives God gave them. If this is true for our heavenly Father, then we know it can happen to us as earthly parents.
I have not personally known such sadness. Our three children know the Savior and are walking with him. They are each married with families of their own now and are seeking to raise our eight grandchildren up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I thank God for His grace. We sought to raise our children by these biblical principles, yet I’ll be the first to admit that we made a lot of mistakes. Many times we failed to properly carry out the principles outlined in this study, so ultimately the results are because of God’s grace.
The idea that good parents always produce good children and bad parents always produce bad children simply is not true. We have all undoubtedly known families where the parents were a walking disaster, yet their children turned out to be very decent people, good citizens, responsible, honest, etc. By the same token we’ve seen godly parents who sought to raise their children up to know the Lord, yet one or more children ended up in serious trouble.
Scripture gives us the general rules—God’s truth for training our children. Parents who know and apply these principles are by far more likely to produce godly children than those who do not. The bottom line? Know God’s Holy Word, use it, trust it, pray consistently for your own ability and for your children, love them deeply, take nothing for granted, and cling to the Lord.
32 Swindoll, p. 5.