By: Scott O'Malley
May 14th, 2021
Thus far in our series we have discussed the importance of dependence on God, how the Scriptures thoroughly equip parents for the task of raising their children, and how parents should focus on faithfulness and not their child’s behavior. In part four we will discuss how the task of faithful parenting can be summarized by discipline and instruction without exasperation (Ephesians 6:4).
In our last article, we discussed the importance of focusing on faithfulness and not the behavior of our children. Of course, that does not mean that our children’s behavior is not important. But parents must intentionally assess the quality of their parenting by biblical standards, not by the child’s response. With that foundation firmly in place, we now want to turn to some practical guidance in fulfilling the task of parenting as God describes.
Foundation #4 – Discipline and Instruct Without Exasperation
Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers [parents], do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” As we look at this verse, we can see that there are three basic expectations: discipline, instruct, and do not exasperate. Let’s look at them one at a time.
One obvious thing to notice is that discipline is not the only parenting expectation mentioned here. It is not alone, and not enough by itself. Discipline and instruction should be kept in balance. One without the other is insufficient. Consider Proverbs 29:15 which says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom.” In other words; discipline without verbal reproof is not enough. In addition, verbal correction without discipline is also not enough. Consider Proverbs 13:24 which says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” While the rod of correction is one form of discipline, there are certainly others. But in this article I will focus on spanking because it’s a primary form of discipline needed for younger children. In a future article we will discuss discipline for teenagers- which does not involve spanking.
If the Bible advocates for the use of the rod of correction, when should a parent use this tool? The overarching principle of when to spank a child is when he or she is acting foolishly. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” As a young parent, I wrestled with what behaviors fall under the category of folly. As I read through the book of Proverbs I observed three main behaviors that were described as foolish. Those three behaviors are: disobedience (Proverbs 1:7-8); lying/deception (Proverbs 14:8); and venting of anger (Proverbs 14:29). As a result, I concluded as a father those would be the three reasons my wife and I would spank our children, and have sought to do so for many years now.
I have counseled enough parents to know a common reaction to what I just stated. If I spanked my children every time they disobeyed I would never stop spanking. My answer is always the same. You are probably right for a week or two, but then it will greatly subside. Some parents object that spanking doesn’t work for their children. Over the years, I have found three primary reasons spanking is not effective: it is not consistent, it is done in anger, and it doesn’t hurt.
For discipline to fulfill its purpose as God intended, it must be consistent. When one day a behavior is ignored by parents and then the next day a child gets a spanking for that same behavior; that is exasperating and a violation of Ephesians 6:4.
Over the years, I have found three primary reasons spanking is not effective: it is not consistent, it is done in anger, and it doesn’t hurt.
When a parent spanks in anger it is offensive to the child and he or she will not yield or submit to the discipline. Proverbs 18:19 says, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city.” The final reason spanking is not effective is it does not hurt. Hebrews 12:11 says discipline should provide pain so a person can learn from it. I recommend a small wooden bread board with a handle because it is a wide surface area that can inflict some pain without needing to remove the child’s pants or underwear. It is also much more effective than using a hand, which can also mark the child if you spank them on a bare bottom. In addition, the word translated rod is a Hebrew word that means to fashion a piece of wood for a specific purpose.
The pain of the spanking is necessary to get the child’s attention. In essence, the spanking should cause enough pain to persuade the child to listen to the instruction given by the parent. One author defines spanking in this way, “The rod is a parent, in faith towards God and faithfulness toward his or her children, undertaking the responsibility of careful, timely, measured and controlled use of physical punishment to underscore the importance of obeying God, thus rescuing the child from continuing in his foolishness until death” (Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart pg. 108).
Before moving forward however, it is important to provide a word of caution. In no way should the God given responsibility to spank our children be an excuse for abuse. Thinking biblically, discipline that God endorses is out of love for the child and focuses on his or her future good (Hebrews 12:11; Proverbs 13:24); not making a child pay for past behavior that inconveniences a parent.
In no way should the God given responsibility to spank our children be an excuse for abuse.
Further help in guiding parents on how to live out God’s design for the use of the rod can be seen in the following quote: “You must avoid responding in anger. You must avoid treating your child without proper respect for his person and dignity. You must temper unwavering firmness with kindness and gentleness. You must keep the spanking focused on issues of the heart” (Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart pg. 150).
Perhaps the best way for you to know if you have lost God’s perspective on the discipline is by listening to your tone of voice. If your voice is elevated, if you are berating your child, or if your rate of speech is faster than normal it is essential that you pause and get yourself under control before proceeding. To proceed, you must be calm and able to speak in a normal tone of voice. These warnings are all essential because the goal of the discipline is to get the child’s attention because the spanking does not change the child, the gospel does (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Perhaps the best way for you to know if you have lost God’s perspective on the discipline is by listening to your tone of voice.
Therefore, faithful persistent use of the rod with faithful persistent instruction is God’s design for parents (see document at the end of the article entitled Spanking Guidelines for more details and instructions).
As I have already stated, biblical instruction is essential to go alongside the admonition to discipline using the rod of correction. If that is true, what should a parent be teaching? I would encourage three big bucket categories: the character of God, the ways of God, and the gospel. Beginning with the character of God, we want to make sure our children understand who God is as He describes Himself in the pages of Scripture. Psalm 145:5 says, “On the glorious splendor of your majesty and on your wondrous works I will meditate.” While studying the character of God is a lifelong pursuit, here are a few of His attributes to get started teaching your kids:
God is Relational; He longs for fellowship with us (Genesis 1:26-27; James 4:5; Revelation 21:3).
God is Holy; He has perfect moral purity and is to be revered (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).
God is Loving; He sacrificially gives of Himself for our good (John 3:16; John 15:13; 1 John 4:7-8).
God is Judge; we will all stand before Him one day (2 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 20:11-15).
God is Good; no matter what we are experiencing (Psalm 145:9; Exodus 33:18-19).
God is Gracious; He forgives sinners like us who deserve wrath (Ephesians 2:4-9; Romans 6:23).
God is Sovereign (Psalm 115:3; Romans 8:28-29).
The second category of instruction is discussing the ways of God. I have in mind here what God commands us to do. Here are just a few of the ways God calls us to live:
Obey parents and appropriate authorities (Ephesians 6:1; Romans 13; Hebrews 13:17).
Live unselfish lives and share (Philippians 2:3-4).
Be thankful people who do not grumble and complain (Philippians 2:14).
Read and rightly understand the Bible for yourself (2 Timothy 2:15).
Exude a life of worship and prayer (Psalm 100; Matthew 6:9-13).
Use your life to serve other people in love (Galatians 5:13-14; Ephesians 2:10).
Trust God (Proverbs 3:5-6; Jeremiah 17:7-8).
As we instruct our children in the character of God and the high calling He has on our lives, their sinful hearts will collide with these standards of living. Our desire and prayer is that our children will see they cannot reach God’s perfect standard and cry out for mercy.
This leads us to our third category of instruction – we must instruct our children in the gospel. We must teach our children that God is just and must punish sin (Deuteronomy 32:4). As we then interact with our children around their inevitable sin struggles, we can point them to a God of grace who sent Jesus into the world to live, die, and rise again paying the penalty for the sins of all who will believe (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Our desire and prayer is that our children will see they cannot reach God’s perfect standard and cry out for mercy.
Our children can be invited to live their lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Luke 9:23, Romans 10:9).
As we conclude, we want to briefly look at some common ways parents exasperate their children. One of those ways is parents are too busy with whatever is going on in their lives to make time for their kids. In these situations, parents often don’t show up at the ball game, work incredibly long hours so the children feel like they are on their own, or show very little interest in what is happening in the lives of their kids. For kids, love is spelled T-I-M-E.
For kids, love is spelled T-I-M-E.
Another way children are exasperated is when parents never admit they are wrong. It is amazing how frequently I have counseled adults who are now in their 40s and 50s who talk with such bitterness about a parent who never admitted doing anything wrong. Children understand their parents are not perfect, but they cannot tolerate parents who never admit a mistake.
A third way parents exasperate their children is when they play favorites. Often, there is a favorite son or daughter and the other siblings feel less important – very much like Jacob favored Joseph over his other siblings. Or, sometimes, one gender is favored over another. Parents will invest time, effort, and money on their sons to help them succeed but offer very little if anything to help their daughters.
Please join me next week as we discuss every child’s greatest need. For now, let me close with a few questions for you to reflect on this week.
Questions for Reflection
1. Evaluate: is the discipline of my children for misbehavior done so consistently my children are not surprised by my behavior?
2. How well am I doing at teaching my children the character qualities of God?
3. In what ways, if any, am I potentially exasperating my children (too busy, don’t admit mistakes, playing favorites, etc.)?