We have seen that God gives us authority; now we must see that that authority is used and not despised. The Christian parent has not only the opportunity to discipline, he also has the calling. He must discipline. Paul wrote to Timothy that a Bishop in the church must have certain requirements, one of which is that he have “his children in subjection with all gravity.” (I Timothy 3:4) Paul meant not just subjection to the parent, but to God.
Solomon tells us in Proverbs more than once that we must discipline and correct our children even to the point of spanking with a rod. In Proverbs 19:18 he writes, “Chasten your son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” Solomon tells us farther in Proverbs 13:24. “He that spareth his rod hateth his son, but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” It may not be easy to discipline harshly, but this may be necessary. When Solomon speaks of love for the child he does not mean parental love, but rather the love for Christ, and therefore the love for his children.
When we consider that our children are not really ours but that they. belong to Christ, we realize the seriousness of discipline. When the Israelites in their wickedness sacrificed their children in the fire, God says to them, “You have caused my children to pass through the fire.”
This calling to discipline is one of serious implications. In Psalm 78 and Deut. 6 we read that we must teach God’s precepts to our children, that they go not astray. This does not mean to give them an academic knowledge of God or to teach them to parrot a catechism lesson. It means that discipline is a full-time job, which involves instruction .as well as correction. We must teach our children to know and love God, and to live a life which demonstrates that knowledge.
Because we are Christians and because we are dealing with Christ’s children, we do not use just any method of discipline. Our methods certainly do not come out of a book by Dr. Speck, and, in fact, ought not to be reduced to a formula. There are, however, some specific references to methods of discipline in the Bible, and there are many others which are to be understood.
We need not look far back in this week to remember when our discipline or correction was motivated by anger or frustration or was not aimed at correcting our children for God’s sake. What was the result? Again looking back it was, we admit shame-facedly, not what we had hoped for. Have we, in fact, given much thought to our methods of discipline?
First, we must discipline because of, and through love. In Revelation 3:19 we read that “God rebukes and chastens as many as He loves.” He does not chasten His people in hatred; He could not, because He loves them. We must have this same goal. We cannot tell our children one minute that we love them, and then strike them out of anger the next. Love not only gives the motivation to discipline, it gives the control to discipline with a view toward correction. Harsh punishment is often required to correct a child, but both parent and child need to realize that this chastening is motivated by love, not vengeance, spite, or by an attempt to produce fear. God’s chastisement of His people is not lightened because of His love for them.
Children realize that punishment is a natural result of disobedience. They are also quite well aware of the difference between right and wrong. For the parent or teacher to punish out of love is a difficult calling, one which takes much diligence and prayer to fulfill.
Love’s opposite, hatred, brings about either no discipline or a mean, un-Christianlike act of revenge. Paul says in Ephesians 6:4, “Ye fathers provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Discipline out of anger or because of superior strength is wrong; this then becomes a personal contest, not a God-given calling.
Secondly, discipline must be consistent and be consistently applied. We would not think of giving children their physical necessities only occasionally: the same must be true of discipline. Because we love our children and because we love Christ, discipline will be applied full-time. God does the same for us. He does not overlook a sin here or there. If He did, He would also be a God who overlooked a need here or there, or He would overlook one or two of His children.
Our children get confidence and a feeling of security from this consistent discipline. When discipline is spotty, the child realizes that other support from the parent is spotty. It is the poorly disciplined child who is emotionally insecure. He must constantly test authority to see if it is viable; he must look for support from sources outside the parents.
It is important in this context that the attitudes of the home and school toward discipline are alike. The teacher receives his authority from the parents; if the parent has not used his authority the result is tragedy for all concerned, especially the child.
Thirdly, we can discipline by example. Children, especially small ones, are great imitators. This makes for a powerful tool. All children learn more than just mannerisms from their parents; they generally fall into the same life style. This is not to say that we bring salvation to our children through trying to be perfect. Salvation is not the goal of discipline. As Christ is an example to us, so also we ought to be examples to our children.
Negatively put, we cannot expect our children to prepare well for catechism if we ourselves do not prepare for Men’s Society or Bible Class. We cannot expect our children to respect the teacher if we ourselves talk about him negatively. We cannot expect our children to do well in school if we degrade “book-learnin.”
Fourthly, we can discipline through encouragement. This is something that is often forgotten. We can encourage children to fear God as well as we can encourage them to do well in school or in sports. A sometimes valid complaint on the part of children is that they always hear it when they do wrong, but never receive encouragement when they do right. We must demand and expect proper behavior and our children must realize that, too. However, a kind and helpful word can go a long way in teaching our children the fear of the Lord.
In Proverbs 15:1 we read, “A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.” This is a positive idea, one which can be kept in mind. We do not want to punish merely because there has been a sin, but also so that we carry out our calling to teach. the fear of God.
The child also has a calling in discipline, and that is to obey. Discipline is not a one-way street; it is an act which calls for the cooperation of children in order to be effective. We might even be able to say that obedience is the harder of the two callings to fulfill.
Obedience is a calling of all God’s people. All of us are duty-bound to show respect to many authorities. Never are we on our own to make our own laws, despite what the Declaration of Independence would have us to believe. There are no laws of man; ultimately there is God’s law. On the earth there are the laws of God which are given through the government and the church.
Christian obedience is defined as the hearkening to the Word of God, and the complete submission to it. It is the practice of that Word in thought and deed.
Obedience on the part of children is the following up of God’s Word, not just the word of the parent. It is submission to Christ in all the child’s walk and conversation. In Ephesians 6:1 we read, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” In God’s creation parents are wiser than children; the social order is based on the family unit with strong parental leadership; and, a child’s welfare depends on his obedience. These reasons are, however, only incidental to the main goal in obedience. In all things; including obedience, we are to honor and glorify the Name of God.
This virtue of obedience is to be inculcated in the home. In this way obedience becomes a way of life, not just an escape followed in tight spots or when authority is present, In the baptismal formula we recognize “that we and our children are conceived in sin.” We also recognize that we and our children are received by grace into Christ. We have a small beginning of that new obedience. Patiently and prayerfully the child must learn obedience from his parents.
The obedience of children is important enough to be the subject of one of the Ten Commandments. Observe that this commandment is directed toward children, not toward parents. The child who honors his parents in early life will also honor all authority in later life. Unlike most of the other commandments, the fifth is positive. There are many “don’ts” which could be read into the commandment, but this is not necessary. The simple question, “Am I honoring my father and mother?” can be applied to any activity. Any Christian child can answer it. The Heidelberg Catechism explains that obedience means “That I show all honor, love, and fidelity to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience.”
Children must obey their parents and teachers willingly and cheerfully. The outward pretense of obedience along with inner rebelliousness is no better than outright disobedience. Paul urges in Col. 4:23, 24, “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” God removed Saul from his position as king of Israel for disobedience. Saul put on the pious front that his disobedience was activated by the desire to sacrifice to God. Samuel told Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” I Samuel 15:22-23. Only God’s children will ever obey their parents. For this reason the promise of eternal life is extended only to them.
Children must receive discipline in faith, realizing that it comes from God and is given for their profit. Parents and teachers are just as sinful as children, but this is no reason for disobedience. This discipline is, nevertheless, from God. Paul tells us that rulers are ministers of God to thee for good. Discipline must be received in love, love for Christ Who disciplines all His people for their good. Discipline must be received in repentance. Just as the parent must correct his child, so also must the child repent of his evil deeds. Correction is not given for the righteous act.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize three points. First, that parents are authorities placed by God to teach their children the fear of the Lord. Secondly, that only the love of God will cause them to discipline. Thirdly, children are to receive discipline because it comes to them from God through Christ. The calling to discipline is certainly a difficult but blessed one.