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This is a message on “discipline basics.” Remember that we not only want to learn how to discipline our children in a biblical fashion, but that we also want to do so in a biblical context. This means that we are not using the Scriptures as a quarry for gathering up our self-help rocks. We want only one Rock, the cornerstone, the Lord Jesus. We are bringing up our children as Christians do, and we are doing it in the context of gospel grace.
“Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee” (Deut. 8:5).
Summary of the Text
The Lord has a relationship with us that is mirrored in the relationship that a father has with his son. This is a truth that needs to be considered, and not just acknowledged. Moses tells the people that this is something that has to be considered in the heart. This is therefore a topic for meditation. A man chastens his son, and God does the same thing for His children.
Scripture distinguishes justification from sanctification. Justification establishes the fact of the relationship, while sanctification addresses the direction of the relationship. We see there how God corrects and trains us. The pains of sanctification provide testimony to the reality of justification. We will return to this point later.
A Principle of Discipline
Discipline, rightly understood, is a form of wisdom. If it is not a form of wisdom, then it cannot be used to impart wisdom. Water does not rise above its own level. And if it is not imparting wisdom, then it isn’t discipline. Discipline is painful, but not everything that is painful is discipline.
Discipline is Not a Punishment
Discipline has correction in view, while punishment does not have to. Punishment is about retribution; discipline is about correction. The Bible teaches us that parents are to discipline their children, not punish them. “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:11). Discipline has the harvest in view.
A Few Principles, Not Many Rules
Specific applications can always be deduced from the principles, but it is not necessarily the same for inducing the principles from a host of particular commands. When I was a child, my father delivered three rules to me. No disobedience. No lying. And no disrespecting your mother. What is not covered by that? Focus on the root law, and not on the leaves out at the ends of the branches (Matt. 22:40). This instills wisdom and obedience at the same time.
Correction is only needed when someone has messed up. But the Bible tells us how the correction is to be brought. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). When it comes to the kids, when you are highly motivated to discipline, you are (according to this passage) not qualified to do so. And when you are qualified to discipline, you don’t feel motivated to do so. This means that your discipline must be principled. It is based on what God tells you to do in that moment. In order to teach obedience, your disciplining must be obedient.
Related to “qualifications to discipline,” you are not disqualified because of your sins in years past.
Discipline is about Restored Fellowship
Sin has disrupted fellowship in the family. Discipline seeks to address that disruption in order to undo the effects of it (Eph. 4:32). There are two ways this can go wrong. If there is no fellowship to begin with, it is hard to restore it. A child who does not want back into the garden of fellowship may be living outside the garden all the time. Secondly, if discipline is meted out in anger then this simply adds to the disruption of fellowship, and we didn’t really need any more disruption. Discipline subtracts from the number of offenses—it does not add to them.
Keep Calm an Spank Anyway
The discipline of spanking is not to be understood as a form of self-expression. It is a form of correction. It is a way to please God. “Withhold not correction from the child: For if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell” (Prov. 23:13-14). God scourges every son that he receives (Heb. 12:5-6). We live in a time when a number of very foolish parents have attempted to discipline foolishly, found out that doesn’t work, and so they conclude that the problem must be with God’s Word, and not with their own inept applications of it.
Spankings Should Sting, Never Damage
Spanking “fails” happen in two ways. One is when you clobber the kid, and he learns to pull away every time you scratch your cheek. This kind of thing is simply abuse. The other kind of fail is when you deliver the occasional and very inconsistent whomp on top of the diapers. Your demon child responds to this by saying to herself, “Ha! I defy you and all your pitiful attempts at intimidating the queen of the world.” Of course, she doesn’t have this kind of vocabulary, being only two, but every aspect of this sentiment is present and active in her manipulative calculations.
Discipline is a Universal Language
Many times parents are reluctant to discipline when it is needed because they think their child is feeble-minded when it comes to godly cause and effect. “I don’t think my little baa-lamb [known to outsiders as demon child, and to his siblings as “Rasputin in footer jammies”] understands the relationship between the whining and the spanking. He looks so sad and bewildered.” But how can this be when he is a veritable genius when it comes to ungodly cause and effect? Tell me, does he understand the connection between whining and whatever it is he wants? “A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again” (Prov. 19:19).
Discipline is Love
The Bible states this both ways. It is said positively—“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Heb. 12:6). The principle is stated negatively just a moment later. “But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Heb. 12:8). “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: But he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Prov. 13:24).
And this is how we see that disciplining children is the Christian life in microcosm. This is not some secular pursuit, detaching from issues like sin and forgiveness, gospel and redemption. Child discipline is all about Jesus. We are nurturing souls, after all, not training puppies.
And this is where we return to the question of justification and sanctification. You don’t earn your justification by undergoing discipline. Rather, you receive the gift of (sanctifying) discipline as a result of the gift of free grace.