Men as Fathers II
The Discipline of Children
In previous studies, I’ve quoted from Richard Phillips’ book, “The Masculine Mandate.” In his chapter on the discipline of children, he points out that many of the great men of the Bible, men like Jacob, David, Eli, Samuel, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah, all had sons who were rapists, murderers, gluttons, child-sacrificing idol worshipers, and insurrectionists. Then he asks, “What is going on with these sons of heroes?”
Obviously, there’s more than one reason for the failures in the lives of these sons, but one of them must be the lack of time father spent with his sons. After all, great and powerful men, like kings, prophets, and priests, have a lot to do. They feel they don’t have time to spend winning the hearts of their children. As a result, the sons of those who are important, rich, and famous, often grow older without growing up – they remain spoiled children!
The Bible makes significant statements about most of the men I listed earlier. Eli preferred the meat which his sons stole from the offerings, with the fat still on it, even though God prohibited it. How could he discipline them when he refused to discipline himself? Samuel’s sons were greedy, took bribes, and perverted judgment leading to Israel’s ill-advised hankering for a king.
And David, the man after God’s own heart, had horrible things happening in his family. How could it be that such a great Bible hero could have such a messed-up family? Well, listen to First Kings 1:6. Speaking of David’s son, Adonijah, here’s what it says; “And his father had never at any time displeased him by asking, why have you done this?” Never, at any time had David exercised discipline in Adonijah’s life! What a prescription for ruin. I am so grateful for my dad who disciplined me when I needed it. I don’t know where I’d be today without that.
Reflecting on the failures of these godly men forces us to acknowledge the same kinds of failures are with us today. Many fathers, even some pastors, invest so much time in their work that their children suffer. They are forgetting the second part of the biblical mandate – to keep, to guard, to protect. This keeping is accomplished through the loving discipline of the father.
Think about guarding and protecting your children. What is the greatest danger they face? Is it physical, like a car accident or an assault by a violent student in school? No, the greatest threat our children face isn’t physical; it is not from the outside, it is from the inside. The power of sin at work in their own hearts is the greatest of all dangers. Ted Tripp is the author of the book, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart.” He writes, “There are things in the heart of the sweetest little baby that, allowed to blossom and grow to fruition, will bring about eventual destruction.” He’s right.
It all comes down to the heart. We are born with a “bent” toward sin. Our heart, with its desires, poses a threat all by itself. All the sinful things around us, the external things, are a threat only because they appeal to the internal heart problem. If we deal with the internal problem, we decrease the appeal of the external sin. As part of our mandate to keep the hearts of our children, and to direct them to Christ, we must teach them how to curb the sinful cravings of their own heart. Ultimately, this can only be done successfully when the child yields his or her heart to Christ. But we get them started on that path from infancy by exercising proper, biblical discipline.
Ephesians 6:1 states, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Obedience speaks of being under authority. God’s Word is the basisfor our understanding that children must learn to obey their parents. God said of Abraham, “I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:19). Commanding our children in obedience is an urgent and immediate goal that begins with the birth of a child.
This biblical injunction to parents is in direct opposition to much of our contemporary parenting models. Humanists try to convince us that children are born basically good.They tell us that discipline carries the potential to scar them for life; to make them violent and bitter. The Bible informs us that just the opposite is true. I’m convinced that most so-called experts who promote these ideas have never had children of their own!
I must state emphatically that the granting of authority to fathers does not give us permission to mistreat our children. At the beginning of our discussion, I read Ephesians 6:4. Let me refresh your memory. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Some surveys of young people reveal that the greatest source of provocation for children and teens is a father’s lack of self-control that causes him to erupt in anger.
Now, if part of our task as fathers is to guard our children from the tyranny of their own sinful desires, how are we going to be effective in teaching them if we cannot control our own temper? Paul recognizes this tendency in Ephesians 6:4 and sets up the contrast; “Do not exasperate your children – BUT – bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” This instruction makes it very clear; sinful anger and godly discipline are incompatible and mutually exclusive. If you have one, you won’t have the other. Richard Phillips summarizes it this way, “Parents are responsible to God for exercising parental authority, and fathers are responsible that the authority we exert is God-honoring and truly protective of our children.”
So then, how do we implement this process of discipline? The Bible presents fathers with two main tools listed in Proverbs 29:15. “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame.” There you have the tools; the rod, that’s physical discipline, and reproof, that’s verbal correction. Let’s take a closer look at these tools one at a time.
Let me begin by sharing with you several verses from the book of Proverbs that speak directly to this subject of physical discipline. We commonly understand it as “spanking.” Proverbs 23:13 and 14 say, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” That is, your discipline may save your child from an untimely death.
Then there’s Proverbs 29:15, “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame.” And one more for now from Proverbs 13:14. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him,” or as some translations say, “disciplines him early.” Ted Tripp, whom I quoted earlier, writes that “spanking humbles the heart of a child, making him subject to parental instruction… The spanking renders the child compliant and ready to receive life-giving words [of correction].”
The biblical instructions on the use of the rod presuppose that it is administered in a controlled and highly intentional way. The goal of using the rod is to encourage repentance from sin and wrong behavior. I make that distinction because your child wanting to play in the street is not sinful in itself, but neither is it right because of the grave danger he places himself into. Here are some steps I’ve found helpful in the physical discipline my own children when