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LIFE > Life in the Family > Discipline of Children 


Discipline of children is not optional; it is commanded in Scripture, with significant instruction found in the book of Proverbs. But the cogent and lucid teaching of Scripture is a bitter pill for the modernist who looks more to the child psychologist for guidance in the rearing of children than to the wise king of Israel.

The major verses in Proverbs will be stated, along with limited commentary.

My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights (3:11-12).

Discipline or chastening is characteristic of God’s dealing with His children; it is not to be despised nor detested because it flows from His love. To be left alone by God is revelation that one does not belong to God, for discipline reveals the true love of God and a relationship with God (see: Heb. 12:3-11).

As God is to His children so the earthly father is to his children; to be the delight of the father is to experience the chastening of the father. If a father is negligent in proper discipline, his omission reveals an inferior affection for the child by the father.

For a father to realize that his discipline is in some way reflective of the heavenly Father’s discipline of him is for the father to be more reflective, careful, and consistent in the discipline of his children. With this perspective, discipline becomes Theistic on the part of the father, and is not merely the punishment of a wrong committed.

The important point is that discipline is to reflect proper affection; note the words, “loves” and “delights.” When this type of discipline is administered, the child is not to “despise” it nor “detest” it—correction without love is improper.

He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly (13:24).
Four principles are taught here: one, the importance of discipline; two, the importance of rod discipline; three, the importance of early discipline (“promptly” is lit., “early”); and four, discipline is a reflection of love.

Although some may label it barbaric, the Bible plainly endorses corporeal punishment—the rod is not to be spared (Prov. 10:13; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15). At times the rod is necessary to correct wrong behavior and improper thinking; ultimately the rod is intended to assist in building godly character. But the call for the use of the rod does not imply that the rod is the only form of discipline that a parent should utilize. Other methods occasionally my be appropriate, but this method must not be rejected nor ignored.

The presence of the “love” and “delight” spoken of in 3:11-12 will prevent the rod discipline from becoming abusive; rod discipline is never a justification for cruel and unjust chastening.

Discipline should begin at an early age; when a child begins to move about, he needs to know that certain things and places are off-limits. The child gradually learns a profound Theistic lesson: life must be lived according to what is right and not what is wrong. By this procedure the child is being prepared for God’s law and ultimately is being prepared to submit to God Himself.

Harsh discipline is for him who forsakes the way, and he who hates correction will die (15:10).

At times severe discipline is necessary, especially when a rejection of “the way” is involved, for this is the damning sin—it leads to death (“the way” is spoken of as “the paths of uprightness” vs. “the ways of darkness” in 2:13). In order for the way to be rejected and forsaken, it must have been taught by the parent to the child.

Rejection of correction culminates in death; this death is more than physical death. It is the state of one who is physically living but because the person has rejected the way and all attempts to cause him to walk in the way, that person’s life is best described as death. Death is the living of life apart from the Word of God (Prov. 2:18; 4:4; 5:5, 23; 7:2). And it is true that this living death leads to the irrevocable second death described in Revelation (see: Death).

It is obvious that all children do not accept and embrace the correction and teaching of the parents; there are children who “hate” godly training and turn from it. Abraham had an Ishmael and Isaac had an Esau.

Proverbs also give us this verse: “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6). Proverbs 15:10 and 22:6 do not contradict; they are reconciled when one realizes that both are proverbs and that 22:6 is not a promise—that is, it is not a recipe for success. There are children who are taught properly and then reject what they are taught and hate all efforts to change them. Only God can create a godly child.

Some do maintain that 22:6 is a promise, but that it is a conditional promise, a promise conditioned by election.

Points: evidently the person knew of the way (had been taught the way); the person forsook the way; sever punishment is deserved by one who forsakes the way; the person hates the correction intended to bring to the way; and the end result is death, an eternal death.

How tragic when godly parents have a child that illustrates this verse!

Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction (19:18).

Discipline the child while there is hope; the obvious implication is that there will come a time when there is no hope. The word, “while,” conveys urgency and the need of an early and constant attention to the task of discipline.

The lack of discipline on the part of the parent reveals that the parent has set his heart on the destruction of the child (lit., “to put him to death”). Ultimately, discipline is related to the final spiritual state of the child; and when proper discipline is utilized, the parent is revealing concern for the salvation of the child.

Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart (20:30).

Discipline is to hurt, for in the hurt there is cleansing, the cleansing of evil. Punishment is not to be abusive, but it is to be sufficiently painful to insure the desired results.

Discipline affects the inside while hurting the outside; the body may feel the pain, but the heart is the real recipient of benefit. From this perspective all discipline of children by parents is soteriological.

A word of caution is in order: this is a general truth and is not a prescription for success. There are children who hate correction and do not receive it; see 15:10 above. There is no guarantee in Scripture that the children of godly parents will be godly.

The NIV Study Bible has an important note: “Several verses [in Proverbs] refer to fools whose backs are beaten (10:13; 14:3; 19:29), but even then, because they are fools, they may not change their ways (cf. 17:10; 27:22).”

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him (22:15).

Discipline drives out “foolishness,” a word used to describe the inner disposition of the person as a result of original sin; it is a word that depicts the fallen nature.

Foolishness is real and it manifests itself early; children do wrong automatically, they must be taught to do right. For instance, children must be taught to share, they are inherently stingy; they must be taught to tell the truth; they, without corrective teaching, will continually lie. Children do wrong naturally.

The “rod of correction” is designed to facilitate the teaching of character which leads to self-discipline in this area of “foolishness.” Foolishness must be replaced with wisdom.

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 (23:13-14).

Several points are made: it is wrong not to discipline; discipline is to be with a rod; discipline will not kill the child; and discipline affects the well-being of the child, including his future destiny (see: 20:30 above).

Perhaps more than any of the other verses, this verse admonishes parents not to refrain from the punishment of their children. How easy that is to do, for any number of reasons.

The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother (29:15).

Discipline and teaching increase wisdom, and without the rod and rebuke, there will be no wisdom. Wisdom is not inherent within the child nor naturally obtained by the child; it must be given by God, and for the child it comes through the teaching of the parents.

“Shame,” or disgrace, is the result of parental neglect in this area.

Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul (29:17).

Parental delight and rest is the result of discipline that is given to the child and received by the child.

Relationship of earthy discipline to God’s discipline of His children:

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 (Heb. 12:5-11).

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