The Proverbial Woodshed: The Biblical Home
No home can function in a scriptural way without discipline. In fact, some form of discipline is inescapable; children are always being disciplined and directed. The only question is whether or not the standard that governs this is a scriptural one or not.
8But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 10For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. 11Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. 12Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; 13And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed (Heb. 12:8-13).
In our text, the discipline that the Lord gives to all His true sons is compared to the kind of discipline that exists in the home. Note first that refusal to discipline is a type of rejection or disowning. The one who spares the rod hates his son, Scripture says (Pr. 13:24). Second, human fathers receive reverence as a result of discipline; how much more is God like this? Third, discipline is directional; it has a particular end in view. Those who discipline in wisdom must always have this end in view; those who are disciplined will grow to understand that end when they have attained it. As a result of this process, we should be encouraged. God disciplines us for our blessing. And it is the responsibility of Christian parents to conform what they do with their children as closely as possible to what God does with His children.
Qualifications to Discipline
The Scriptures say that if someone is caught up in a trespass, as children frequently are, the one who is spiritual should do the restoring (Gal. 6:1). He should consider himself, lest he also be tempted. This means that when you feel like clobbering them, you are not qualified to do so. And when you are qualified, the emotional motivation is not there. This means that the motivation must be obedience to the Word of God, and not for the sake of a “little peace and quiet around here.”
This is an important part of remembering that less emphasized portion of Eph. 6:4—“provoke not your children to wrath.” A good way to provoke wrath is to give way to it yourself (Col. 3:21).
THE occasion of discipline
Parents who discipline properly are teaching their children the fundamental principles of biblical justice. What we have just considered is an important part of this. The judge in the robe behind the bench is not supposed to lose his temper and throw things. Justice is to be meted out, not thrown. Justice is calm.
Some other basic principles should be recalled as well:
Sorting things out requires two or three witnesses (Dt. 19:15; 2 Cor. 13:1). If you saw it yourself, you may act. But if the case is brought to you by someone or some circumstance, the Bible requires independent confirmation. If you are stymied in a particular instance, always remember that God knows all the details.
Secondly, the accuser must be submitted to accountability himself (Dt. 19:19). Always remember that tattling and slander require discipline as well (Lev. 19:16).
And third, discipline deals with the heart, but not because you can see the heart directly. The matters you discipline for should be “investigatable” in principle (Dt. 19:18). This does not exclude externalized attitudes, but it does exclude surmised motives.
the methods of discipline
The family code should be simple and consistent. Erratic discipline is another way to exasperate the children. The code I recall from my childhood was “No disobedience. No lying. No disrespecting your mother.” And life was simple. When discipline is applied, it consists of two basic elements.
Pain—we have already seen that no discipline seems pleasant at the time but rather grievous (Heb. 12:11). If it is not painful, dreaded by the recipient, then it is not discipline. Tippy-tapping on top of the diapers doesn’t cut it.
Restitution—discipline differs from punishment in this respect. Discipline is corrective; punishment is retributive. The execution of a murderer is not in order to make him better. It might have that effect, but that is not the point of it. In contrast, the sole point of disciplining your own children is to correct them. It is like giving them a bath; you want them to be clean. But correction requires honest restitution (Luke 19:8).
the direction of discipline
Discipline is teleological; wise discipline must keep the end in view. If the result of discipline is a harvest, it makes sense to speak of plowing, planting, tending, and so forth. One procedure does not fit every the circumstance. Discipline of a two-year-old looks completely different than discipline of a sixteen-year-old.
The central thing to remember is the transition from artificial consequences to natural consequences. When a child is equipped to live on his own, avoiding sin and the natural consequences of it, that child has acquired self-government, which is the entire point.
For the parents, this means close oversight when children are young, with a purposeful removal of external requirements as the child grows older and more mature. But a word of caution should be offered to the teen-agers at this point. The point is maturity, not selfishness.