Many Christians have known for a long time that discipline of children is a problem in our American culture—and now some Australian education experts are beginning to agree! A recent article from an Australian news source is titled “Education experts claim discipline system in state schools is ‘new-age and politically correct.’”1 In it, education experts argued that the disciplinary measures in Australian schools are not working.
Kevin Donnelly, director of the Education Standards Institute, not only identified a problem with the school system, but also suggested that parents “needed to play a bigger role in teaching their children respect for authority.”
Surprisingly, he’s right! Parents in American culture, like in Australia, do not discipline children God’s way. They are not teaching their children respect for authority, and that has left us with many problems. Just as the culture has abandoned the foundation of God’s Word for its worldview regarding such issues as marriage and the sanctity of life, so also it has abandoned the authority of Scripture in discipline of children.
Secular psychology rejects that children are sinners and instead teaches that children are basically “good.” This is a false premise and it will never lead to the exercise of biblical discipline of children. Children are no different than adults when it comes to sin, “
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, emphasis added).
Many people, including some Christians, fail to realize that one God-given aspect of biblical discipline is corporal punishment—and God tells parents to use it in disciplining their children. Of course, there are some people who have abused children with force, and we at Answers in Genesis reject this misuse of corporal punishment.
Biblical Parenting Involves Discipline
Physical punishment performed in a biblical manner is a socially unpopular component of biblical parenting, but there is more to parenting than just corporal punishment. Other aspects to biblical discipline include rewards and disincentives, “do’s and don’ts,” leadership by example (especially in faithfully following God’s Word), and so on.
Throughout the book of Proverbs, biblical discipline is emphasized as the way to life and wisdom. Below are a variety of proverbs that speak to the issue of disciplining our children:
For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life. (Proverbs 6:23)
Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)
He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly. (Proverbs 13:24)
Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction. Proverbs 19:18)
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)
Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell. (Proverbs 23:13–14)
The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (Proverbs 29:15)
Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul. (Proverbs 29:17)
As part of the command to exercise biblical discipline, God also instructs parents not to “provoke” their children. In other words, discipline in all its aspects—positive and negative, physical and verbal—should be applied, not abusively, but in a way that encourages the child to become the kind of person God intends (which incidentally is the sort of child both parents and teachers want to see):
And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:21)
Love Is the Motivation for Disciplining Children
Any discipline, whether corporal or otherwise, must be motivated by love, being concerned for the best interests of the child. When we discipline our children, we are attempting to teach them wisdom and to show them right from wrong. If we discipline biblically and in love, our children will grow to respect us as parents for it, recognizing that we, too, are under God’s authority. Furthermore, they will learn to respect those in authority outside of the home, whether teachers, government officials, or employers.
The Bible commands us to discipline our children because it is a reflection of how God disciplines believers, who are His children:
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5–11)
Hebrews is clear: discipline from God our Father may be unpleasant, but the reward is the “
fruit of righteousness.” Likewise, when we practice biblical discipline with our children, we demonstrate that we love our children, and it teaches them wisdom and drives away foolishness.
Discipline Does Not Guarantee Godliness
There are, however, many instances when God-honoring parents train their children in God’s Word and discipline their children in a godly manner, only to have them rebel later in life. It can be deeply discouraging for parents to see their adult children walking away from the Lord. Parents often feel guilty because they believe such a rebellion was caused by something they failed to do during their children’s younger years. However, when we look at Scripture, there are several instances of children rebelling against their parents. The following two accounts exemplify this.
The first account features Hophni and Phineas, the sons of Eli. Eli was a priest in Shiloh who was a personal care giver to the child Samuel (1 Samuel 1:3). Eli was responsible for the spiritual and religious training of Samuel, who in turn was instrumental in calling Israel to repentance and delivering them from foreign domination. There is no doubt that Eli was a godly man who was seeking to please the Lord. However, his sons did not display the same godly character. Hophni and Phineas served as priests in Shiloh like their father, but they disregarded the duties of priesthood and engaged in illicit behavior (1 Samuel 2). God was not pleased with their actions, and they were eventually slain by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:4).
The second account to consider is the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–31). While this may simply be a fictional narrative, Jesus used it to demonstrate God’s love towards sinners. In this parable, the son requests and receives his inheritance from his father and wastes it in sinful living. The prodigal son realizes that the servants in his father’s home are living in better conditions than he is. He comes home and is reconciled to his father.
Like these sons of old, our children might make decisions that contradict their godly upbringing. Ultimately, our children will have to make their own personal decision to trust in Christ. Through our discipline, we must teach our children God’s grace and obedience that comes with a transformed heart through the power of the gospel.
Exemplifying Christ to Our Children
Our motivation for the discipline of our children is to show them their sinfulness and point them to Christ.
As parents we constantly have to evaluate our own sinful behavior in light of who Christ is, evaluating our sinfulness and failures with those of our children and finding victory only in the finished work of Christ on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead. Our motivation for the discipline of our children is to show them their sinfulness and point them to Christ.
For example, Solomon was the wisest king to ever live—he built a temple for the Lord, ruled during Israel’s golden age, and wrote three books in the Old Testament. As one reads the book of Proverbs, it is very clear that Solomon took his role of king and father very seriously. However, there is a great contrast between what Solomon wrote and how he behaved, and this may have directly contributed to his children’s rebellion.
In Steve Ham’s article in Answers magazine, he states, “Solomon accumulated wealth for his own purposes (1 Kings 10:14–23); he imported a great army of the best horses (1 Kings 10:26–29); and he built a great harem of women and became idolatrous (1 Kings 11:1–6).” Similarly, if we as parents are not seeking to be more like Christ, we will continue to fail in leading and disciplining our children. Our shepherding methods must reflect that of the Savior as we protect and provide for our own sheep—our children (John 10).
Parents, if you desire to demonstrate biblical love to your children, then exercise biblical discipline. Our culture as a whole would benefit greatly from parents disciplining their children God’s way.