Disciplining Our Covenant Children in Love

God commands us to discipline our children in love. The wise God-fearing author of the book of Proverbs makes the statement, “He that spa­reth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chaste­neth him betimes” (Prov. 13:24). God Himself chastens His people because of their sins in order to humble them and turn them to Himself. “For whom the Father loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiv­eth” (Heb. 12:6). By the grace of God we as parents are to reveal the love of God our Father in chastening our children when they need this. Our children, from child­hood on, must learn who God their Father is by the role model of their earthly father.

Disciplining our children in love is possible. There are worldly child psychologists that maintain that all corporal discipline of children is child abuse. Child abuse of our covenant children is a heinous sin. Loving discipline of our children is necessary for them to be corrected and to grow up in the fear of the Lord.

Loving discipline has as its purpose turning our chil­dren from the sin of their nature, correcting them, and teaching them the fear of the Lord. Discipline, when administered in love, will by the grace of God save their souls. It will prepare our children for ordered and disci­plined Christian living in their later life. Children who are not disciplined will grow up to be lawless and ungodly. The reality of our modern society is proof of this.

Sinful discipline of our children must be severely con­demned. We may not discipline our children in anger or in a fit of rage. We may not, in the discipline of our chil­dren, demean them. We may not discipline our children because of our selfish pride. We are naturally proud of our children. The motive for disciplining our children may not be merely that we are disappointed in them or because our children put us to personal shame. We should be much more concerned about the offense that our sins and the sins of our children cause to the honor and glory of the name of God.

The discipline of our children must be just, fair, and consistent according to the Word of God. The discipline that we administer to our children must teach them the difference between right and wrong according to the Word of God. Arbitrary and inconsistent discipline will discourage and exasperate our children. It will cause them to be confused and wrongly fear their parents and become bitter against them. When discipline is adminis­tered in love, it will bring forth the fruit of righteousness and peace in their lives. The spiritually minded of our children will grow up to appreciate the discipline their parents gave them during the days of their childhood. They will be thankful that they do not have the trouble in their lives that so many of the world have. They will thank their parents for the benefit of the order and struc­ture that this gave to their lives.

Discipline usually causes pain at the time it is given. Hebrews 12:11 says, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous.” Loving discipline will yield a good fruit. We do not like to hear our children cry, but our discipline of them must be persistent, in order to drive out sin from their sinful nature. “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his cry­ing” (Prov. 19:18).

Parents must exercise self control when disciplining their children. This is urgent. It is easy to discipline our children in sinful anger. Then we vent our anger on those whom we should love most dearly. Discipline can be administered properly only by earnest prayer of par­ents. Parents need the restraint and guidance of the Holy Spirit to be able to administer discipline properly. If we discipline our children in love, it will sometimes cause us as much or more pain than it does our children.

We must be tender and kind and gentle to our children. Harshness and cruelty in the discipline of our children cannot be justified by the de­fense that we are seeking their good. Yet discipline at times must be hard and firm. Sin is deeply rooted in the nature with which our children are born, and it takes discipline to drive it far from them. Softness, compromise, laxity regarding sin will not prepare our children to discipline themselves in later life in the midst of this ungodly world, where we are surrounded by temptation on every side.

We must be longsuffering towards our children. Longsuffering is a virtue of God that He reveals in the manner in which He saves us. Longsuffering means that God suffers when He disciplines us. Speaking anthropo­morphically, when God disciplines us, it grieves Him to see us suffering and hear us crying. But He has the good end of our salvation in mind and therefore bears with the necessary suffering. In the firmness of our discipline, the love of God must shine so clearly that our children will know its blessed reality to enable them to endure the discipline.

God does not abandon us to our sin and the evil of our nature. He chastens and corrects us to sanctify us and to teach us the fear of His name. He does this wonderful work in order to bring us into His own blessed fellowship as the Holy One. So we must also discipline our children to train them to live and walk with God and to enjoy His favor and blessing in their lives.

We as God’s children, because of our sin, will fall a hundred times. Yet the Lord will lift us up again and not leave us to the ruin of our own sin. He will hear us when we cry to Him and restore us and reconcile us to Himself. Our children will also fall many times, oftentimes in the same sin—sometimes into the same sins their parents once walked in. We must discipline them persistently and not let ourselves become exasperated and give up on them. Our children need years of loving discipline as they grow up before us in our covenant homes.

Discipline must be tempered with restraint and mercy. When God disciplines us in holy anger, He always re­members mercy. He does not give us the punishment that we deserve because of the greatness of our sins against Him. He will not remain angry forever, but in the way of the repentance of His people He will show mercy and turn again to us in love to save us and embrace us in His own covenantal love. So must also the discipline of our children be. An unmerciful discipline is evil and cruel.

In disciplining our children we must bring them to the cross of Jesus Christ in the way of their repentance and sorrow over sin. We must help them to find there the wonder of God’s forgiving mercy. The cross of Jesus Christ is the grand display of the mercy of God. When our covenant children by the grace of God in their hearts repent of their sins, we must lead them in the way of experiencing the wonder of God’s forgiving mercy in their lives.

The discipline of our children has not been brought to its ultimate purpose unless we also help our children to be restored and renewed in the grace of God. Proper loving discipline does not create a negative self image in our chil­dren. Our goal in the disciplining of our children is not to make our children feel good about themselves. Worldly child psychologists emphasize that a positive self image is, above all else, important for the psychological good and the psychological development of children. However, children who continue in sin and rebellion have no basis for a positive self esteem. But children who are restored to the Lord through godly discipline have the reward and honor of being the children of God and experiencing His favor and blessing in their lives. The great good that God works in us and in our children by His grace and Holy Spirit is a life that is pleasing and glorious in His sight. May He use us as parents to this blessed end.

The manner in which we discipline our children as they grow up in our homes will vary according to their age. Little children need a certain amount of corporal discipline. They need to learn unquestioned obedience to their parents even before they understand everything in their young lives. They must be taught to obey their parents for the Lord’s sake. Teenagers need to learn the principles involved when they are disciplined. God gives our covenant children sanctified reason and understand­ing. We must labor to mold this reason and understand­ing, in order to establish conviction and discernment in their own minds and hearts.

The foundation of discipline is the love of God for our children. Discipline requires a great amount of personal investment of time and interest in our children. Our children themselves must know the great care and genuine concern of their parents. As parents we need to make large personal sacrifices for the benefit of our chil­dren. Especially in the later teenage years our children must know this. If children are left to themselves when they are young and then grow up to be rebellious and full of anger in their youth, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for us as parents to bring about the necessary changes in their lives and prove the genuine concern we have for them. We want to address this in our next ar­ticle.