Originally published June 9, 2008
Thou shalt consistently and lovingly
discipline thy children.
Whoever spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. Proverbs 13:24
These kids today! Every generation since Adam and Eve has probably said it. Certainly today, you can’t throw a rock out the window without hitting half a dozen ill-behaved brats. We’ve all cringed at the temper tantrum-throwing child seated at the next table in the restaurant, or watched a mom in the store tell her little sweetie “no” a dozen times, only to finally give in to his demands. Heck, most of us have probably been that mom on occasion.
Hundreds of books, both Christian and secular, have been written on the topic of how to discipline children, but much rarer are the writings about why we should discipline them. As always, the easy answer to that question for the Christian is: “because God said so”. But why does God tell us to discipline our children? Because discipline teaches our children that we love them.
The most important way we can love our children is to lead them to salvation. Learning obedience to parents not only teaches them about sin, law breaking, punishment, and repentance, it also teaches them the concept of setting aside their own desires in favor of submitting to the authority that has been placed over them. This has direct application to the spiritual construct of salvation. Salvation does not take place until, through faith in Christ, we repent of our sin and submit our will to the authority and Lordship of Christ and commit to follow and obey Him.
First John 4:20 says: “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” I really believe this principle generally applies to obedience as well. One of the things I tell my kids when I discipline them is that, although I don’t enjoy punishing them or letting them suffer the consequences of their actions, I have to do it because I want them to start learning, through obeying me, how to obey God. I’m flesh and blood standing right in front of them, clearly telling them what to do and what will happen if they don’t obey. If they can’t obey me, how in the world are they going to learn to obey God, whom they can’t see or hear with their eyes and ears? Conversely, if a child has been lovingly and consistently disciplined, how much easier will it be to introduce him to the concept of submission to God’s authority?
Another vital spiritual principle that discipline helps teach is an understanding of sin, its consequences, and punishment. A child who has been disciplined knows what it means to be guilty of breaking the rules. He also knows that because he has broken a rule, some sort of undesirable consequence will follow swiftly. A child who has not been disciplined believes he does no wrong and that the world around him should be catering to his wants and demands. Which child will be able to grasp the idea that he is a sinner in need of salvation? Which one will understand contrition, eternal punishment, and eternal reward?
Teaching obedience also teaches our children that we are concerned about how they fare with others. My children have come to me in the past and told me that they don’t like being around certain friends of theirs who constantly misbehave. On these occasions, I very carefully (to ensure that they don’t become critical or develop an attitude of superiority) explain to my children that this is one of the reasons Daddy and I teach them good behavior. We don’t want them to experience the sadness that misbehaving child is sure to feel when he realizes that people don’t want to be around him. We teach them that we love them enough to want others to delight in them.
Discipline shows love for our children through concern for their safety. If my child doesn’t obey me when I tell him not to run into the street, he could be killed by an oncoming car. If he runs into the street and then stands there and argues with me when I tell him to get back on the sidewalk, he could also be killed.
Many years ago, when I was teaching school, a kindergarten student of mine was killed in a house fire. He didn’t die because he was unable to get out of the house. He was rescued, unharmed, and was told not to go back into the house. This little boy, notoriously disobedient, went back into the house. He died as a result of lack of discipline.
I have told my children these stories on occasion, not to scare them unnecessarily, but to show them just how serious the consequences of disobedience can be. All the spiritual principles in the world won’t matter if a child isn’t alive to learn them.
Love your children by disciplining them. Show them love through their physical safety; show them love through their social well-being; and show them love through their eternal security