8. The Training Corral (The Five Avenues God Uses)
The Need of Balance
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:
Dedication: The Catalyst
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.
Love: The Context
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.
The Example of our Heavenly Parent
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.
Types of Love
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.
Teaching: The Content
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.
2 Tim. 3:14-15
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.
Example: The Confirmation, Proof
“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.
Discipline: The Constraint
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.
How to deal with bad attitudes and promote good ones
(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
Some Guidelines for Discipline
(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.
Needed Elements in Discipline
(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.
What to do After Physical Discipline
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.