In Ephesians 6:4, the Apostle Paul commands fathers to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the LORD.
What’s so hard about that?
Proverbs, particularly and repeatedly, reminds us of the corrective role in parenthood through the rod. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (10:24). “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (22:15). “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” (23:13-14). “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (29:15).
The Bible clearly affirms and promotes the “rod” as a means of disciplining children. With my daughter, I now also see the practical benefit of a quick and physical response to disobedience. It provides a sharp reprimand of behavior, which I then follow by reemphasizing why that behavior is not permitted and with an assurance of my deep love for her. And life moves on. She is often playing full-force again within the next few seconds.
The rod of discipline is a prod to keep children from veering off the appropriate path, and as such, it is an essential component of discipline, which even the LORD does not withhold from us. Yet discipline is so much more than the rod.
While conversing about discipline in adulthood, people rarely consider physical correction; instead, they think of things like waking up or going to bed early, training and practicing a skill, exercising, and exerting self-control. We rightfully consider discipline to be how we shape ourselves, little by little, into the molds of who we would like to be in the future. Discipline means actively cultivating our lives into how we desire to live them. Sometimes physical correction plays a role. For example, if I want to continue losing weight but I also want to eat desserts, I’ll need a significant amount of exercise in order to maintain a caloric deficit. Yet in general, I gradually come to realize that limiting desserts and regularly doing moderate exercise is the easiest path to shedding the extra pounds. As a whole, being disciplined is nothing less than how we are choosing to live our lives.
Why is it then that we often have such a narrowed lens for understanding how we discipline our children? Of course, with young children physical correction has a prominent place, especially as they repeatedly push against and thereby discover what constitutes socially appropriate behavior. Yet the role of parents in childrearing is to discipline and instruct in the LORD’s ways, to show and guide them in the path of wisdom, which has its beginning in fearing God. By strength and grace of the Spirit, we are called to shape and mold their lives into a biblical pattern, a Christ-glorifying cruciform design.
This means so much more than simply having well-behaved children; we should want well-disciplined and well-instructed children after God’s commands. God’s commands, of course, is the key phrase. Far be it from us to only desire miniature clones of ourselves! Rather, our aim must be to equip them for living as God designed and intended, to be a disciple of Jesus. After all, parenting is a long-term act of discipleship.
And just as Christ demands every facet of our lives, may we discipline and instruct our children in every facet of their lives as well. Let us be faithful to correct them away from fits of behavior that are not loving to their neighbors. Let us be faithful to instruct them well in the basics of the faith. Let us be faithful to show them by example how the spiritual disciplines grow our love and obedience to the LORD. Let us be faithful to teach them how to steward the gifts that God has given them: their bodies, their time, their finances. Let us show them by our everyday interactions the love, grace, consistency, discipline, and gentleness of God through how loving, gracious, consistent, disciplined, and gentle we are with them.
If this all sounds overwhelming, it is. The biblical demand upon parents goes beyond safekeeping our children. We must raise them in the discipline and instruction of the LORD, which demands our constant intentional effort. Of course, even our greatest efforts will be found wanting, but thankfully we can trust that God’s grace will more than work in spite of, and even through, our weaknesses and failures. But grace isn’t an excuse for us to stop applying our effort; instead, grace provides us with the confidence of knowing that we are simply called to faithful, while God Himself will provide the fruit.
Disciplining our children requires much more than the rod; it requires the outpouring of ourselves. May we gladly follow Christ’s example in this, since He did far more for us.