Marriage and the Family – The Divine Design of Discipline

Our continuing series on Marriage and the Family looks at the issue of discipline in the family.

Parenting is an art. The production of a masterpiece requires time, attention to detail, patience, and skill. This painter is only beginning his first portraits. Therefore, this article is not a recounting of personal successes. Instead, it is a study of the master Artist, the Father of Fathers, the God of Heaven.

The first example of discipline in the Bible occurred in the garden of Eden. God disciplined Adam and Eve. Later, He “parented” Israel as His children (Deut 1:31, Jer 31:9). Today, according to Hebrews 12, God is still “parenting” us, using His perfect and unchanging principles. God has given us the possibility of an earthly relationship, modeled after His eternal relationship with His Son (Ephesians 3:14-15). May it encourage and challenge us as we focus on our Father.

THE PURPOSE: Why should we discipline?

There are two reasons why discipline should NOT be given. Biblical discipline is not a means to vent frustration. In Eden, God came in the “cool of the day” and confronted Adam and Eve with

their sin. Discipline should be calm and controlled, void of anger.

We should not discipline children out of a sense of competition in the neighborhood, in the family, or even in the assembly. Discipline should be for the good of the child and the honor of the Lord, not to fortify our own ego or position.

There are seven motives for discipline illustrated in the garden of Eden. The first is that IT IS BIBLICAL. More than giving permission, God commands parents to discipline. The wise man wrote, “Withhold not correction from the child” (Proverbs 23:13). The New Testament says, “Bring them up in the nurture (chastisement) and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Our Bible begins and ends with examples of Divine discipline. Therefore, to obey God’s exhortation and to follow His example, we MUST discipline.

Secondly, IT IS NEEDED. All new parents hope their baby will rarely cry, never say “no,” and always cooperate. Sorry! There will never be a rebellion-free model on the market. All children have a knack for showing that “foolishness is bound in the heart of a child” (Prov 22:15). You have only to reach the cash register or sit down in meeting for this to be seen. Children need external control to help develop inner self-control. Even before the fall, the nature of man required limits and laws. If God used discipline principles before sin came, how much more must we discipline today.

Thirdly, IT IS TRUE LOVE for a child. God says, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Prov 13:24). God’s example is, “For whom the LORD loveth He correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Prov 3:12). Out of love, God sent Adam out of the garden so he would not live forever in a sinful condition on earth.

Fourthly, IT IS EFFECTIVE in forming character in a child. Our Heavenly Father always chastens His children for their good (Heb 12:10-11). “The rod and reproof give wisdom” (Prov 29:15) is the principle. One of the most common words for chastening in the Old Testament is often translated “instruct.” Therefore, true discipline is intended to train and mold children.

Fifthly, IT IS INSTRUCTIVE. Fatherhood comes from God (Eph 3:14-15). Today, fathers are in God’s appointed place of family government. Logically, then, children will learn about government and God through parental discipline.

Sixthly, IT IS ETERNAL. Divine discipline seeks to develop the child with an eye on eternity. Solomon wrote, “Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell” (Prov 23:14). The rod in the Bible is the sign of royal authority Perhaps it isn’t ironic that true discipline in Eden was followed immediately by the salvation of Adam and Eve. The development of the conscience of a child, through discipline, serves as the basis from which the Spirit can bring about conviction of sin.

Finally, IT IS BENEFICIAL in the community. Personal responsibility and respect for authority are vital in the neighborhood, the classroom, the work force, and in the assembly. The disciplinary guiding by parents, while their children are young, will have effects immediately in the home, eventually in the assembly, and eternally in the soul.

THE PRACTICE: How should we discipline?

WITH VARIETY: In Eden, God gave different punishments in accordance with responsibility, gender, and experience. Sensitivity to what form is Biblically best for the child, the circumstances, and the offense is essential.

Initially in Eden, God allowed their consciences to “judge” them. Guilt has its own built-in discipline. Then, God skillfully used questions (Gen 3:9,11,13) to bring about conviction and confession.

God also disciplined Adam and Eve by taking away privileges. He sent them forth from the Garden (Gen 3:23). Removing privileges in the home teaches accountability and recognition of authority

Thirdly, God added responsibilities. He told them they would have to eam their bread through hard work (Gen 3:17-19). Delegation of reasonable and appropriate work in the home promotes healthy and Biblical discipline.

Finally, God used pain and sorrow as part of their chastisement: child birth for the woman; manual labor for the man. Physical discipline provides a clear basis for the Biblically sanctioned form of corporal punishment. Giving a child a spanking is not mean or cruel. It is loving and effective.

We all recognize the abuse of the rod as dangerous and sinful. However, the neglect of the rod is equally wrong and a disfavor to children. As hard as it is on the parents and the children, “timeout” and “sitting in the corner” are not always adequate substitutes. God gave commandment to avoid discouraging and provoking children (Col 3:21) and yet giving nurture (training) and admonition (discipline). Our heavenly Father says discipline is “grievous” to the recipient (Heb 12:11). Vine says grievous means “pain of mind or body.” One of the words for chastising and instruction in the New Testament literally means “struck with blows.” Careful, controlled physical discipline, at early stages of life, can be a tremendous gift to a child.

WITH CONSISTENCY: Consistency is the key to successful discipline. God gave a warning, confronted the offense, explained the consequences, and carried them out. What He said, He meant! In Proverbs 13:24, the word “betimes” means both promptly and diligently. Experienced parents attest to the benefits of early childhood chastening. It is most critical in avoiding long-term problems. The untamed will of an older child invites trouble.

WITH LOVE: As the model Father, God’s love and devotion to His creatures remained unchanged through their disobedience. After exposing their sin and announcing their punishment, He affirmed His love by providing coats of skin. This was not an appeasement, but rather a true display of unconditional love.

THE PREPARATION: What can we do to make discipline more effective?

Genesis chapter three records the first discipline. The detailed circumstances given in the previous chapters provide five essential components needed for effective discipline.

The first is COMMUNICATION. Adam and Eve recognized the “voice of the Lord God walking in the … cool of the day” (Gen 3:8). Before the fall, God communicated His commandment and the consequences to Adam and Eve. The punishment was not a surprise. In Genesis 1-3 God commanded three times, spoke eleven times, and called them six times. There was a variety in communication in terms of length, tone, and subject. Communication before and after discipline is essential.

The second component is DEMONSTRATION. Modeling proper, responsible, and accountable living is imperative. God called various parts of creation by different names (Gen 1:10) and He completed His work (Gen 2:2). Adam learned this work ethic from God. Solomon wrote, “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children” (Prov 13:22). All the works of God were good and righteous. Good and right choices in our lives will pay dividends in our children.

Eden was also a place of PROVISION. God addressed Adam’s physical needs by giving him food, exercise, (dress and keep the garden), and a time to rest. Mentally, God challenged Adam to name the animals intelligently. Spiritually, God gave Adam the revelation of His Word. God gave good things that were consistent with His person and purposes (Gen 1:4,10,12,18,21,25,31). These basic provisions help prepare the soil for effective discipline.

God established ORGANIZATION in their lives. God gave them defined physical and moral boundaries. An environment of structure and order in the home provides the necessary background for obedience to authority.

Successful discipline occurs in an environment of trust andEDUCATION. God accepted all the decisions of Adam in naming the animals. Allowing children to make smaller decisions (even with failure) is necessary to develop abilities for making decisions in the future.

THE PERILS: What are the liabilities of disciplining?

The first possibility is to adopt the world’s view of discipline. People may declare discipline to be out-dated, doctors may say it is unnecessary, and politicians may call it illegal. However, God says it is essential. God’s principles are abiding in every culture and in every age.

Discouragement is next. If parenting is an art, then most of us feel about as skilled as a three year old producing his first painting for the refrigerator. In the end, no one is more conscious of the mistakes in the portrait than the artist himself. Disappointed? Don’t quit. God says, “Chasten thy son while there is hope” (Prov 19:18).

The other extreme is to be proud of the results. Perfect parenting is no guarantee you will produce a masterpiece. Even God, the perfect Father, said, “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me” (Isaiah 1:2). However, if we are so privileged to have obedient children, let us always say, “To God be the Glory!”