Even if you aren’t a Christian, you will no doubt have learned many Christian principles. Forgive others. Love your neighbor. Turn the other cheek. If you are a Christian you will have sat through endless sermons on the importance of applying these principles to others – your brothers and sisters in Christ and those you meet on the street. But how often have you heard these ideas applied to parenting? I can honestly say this is not something I have ever heard taught from the pulpit.
The words you hear about parenting are “rod”, “discipline”, “chastise”, and “obey”. Sound familiar? Let me briefly define each for you, as there is quite a bit of misunderstanding on these terms, and why the Bible uses them in reference to parenting. In Biblical times there were three types of rods of authority (the meaning for the word translated “rod” in the verses most commonly quoted for parenting). There was the walking stick held by the head of a family; the shepherd’s staff; the king’s scepter.
While I was not there and cannot say that none of these sticks was ever used to hit someone I know that hitting was not their intended use. Each of these rods was a symbol of the authority held by the man who possessed it. Also since the “rod” verses are found in Proverbs in the section written by King Solomon for his son it makes sense that the “rod” being referenced is the king’s scepter.
What King Solomon was trying to convey to his son is that parents have authority over their children that has been given to them by God. If a parent neglects the responsibility that comes with that authority then their children will not turn out well. If, however, a parent takes seriously that authority then they will parent their child and turn out Godly children. Make no mistake, the Shebet/rod is real, it is simply being referred to for the authority it represents and not for any suggestion to literally strike anyone.
But what about “discipline”? That means to spank, doesn’t it? No. “Discipline” means, simply, “to teach”. There is a lot included in the meaning of this word such as a purposed teaching that involves active participation from the teacher. It comes from the same root as the word “disciple”. A disciple is someone who learns from another by walking with them and studying at their knee. It is someone who is intimately involved in the life of the person they will eventually imitate. So, yes, discipline your child. And you do this by spending time with them, modeling your life for them, and showing them how God intends them to live.
Okay, but “chastise”. Surely that means we need to spank our children.
Again, no. “Chastise” means “to correct”. And this is very important. The way we are to correct our children is never stated, only that we are to correct their wrong behavior. And, yes, this will be frustrating and difficult for the child. This will be considered unpleasant. Tell your two-year-old they may not have the cookie they want and you will see that frustration. You don’t need to physically harm them to drive home the point.
The Hebraic idea behind “chastise” is “come let us reason together”. This is what the rabbis did and this is how a man would instruct his children. Because a child doesn’t develop reason until age 14 this would be the approach to take during the adolescent years when a child is finding their own way. This is the approach of sitting and reasoning with them, questioning them, finding their motivation, seeking their understanding and to understand them. This is the process of helping a child figure out the answers for themselves.
But don’t you have to make them “obey” you? The Bible definitely says that, doesn’t it? It doesn’t. It says, “Children, obey your parents.” Nowhere does it say, “Parents, make your children obey.” Nowhere! I would challenge you to look for yourself. These Scriptures are talking to the child and the child must be old enough to understand them and to choose to comply with them. Willing obedience is what God desires of us, and what we should desire of our children. How can we expect more of our children than God expects of us? Isn’t it more rewarding when our children willingly obey? That’s the only way to know what is in their heart on a matter. A child may be coerced or forced to obey, but that reveals nothing of the heart. I especially get lost in the logic that when your child has learned, through repeated punishment, to do what you say that they have learned to willingly obey. All they have learned, in reality, is how to avoid being punished.
On the issue of obedience it is a very popular thing to demand what is called “First Time Obedience” and this is defined as “the first time, every time, with a happy heart.” This is most definitely not an idea found in Scripture and the suggestion that this can be, and should be, demanded of young children is very troublesome to me. There are no examples at all of God expecting first time obedience from anyone, and yet there are many examples of the faithful who did not respond with first time obedience. Moses argued several times about all the reasons why he didn’t believe he was the right person to go to Pharaoh, Abraham and Sarah tried on their own to produce the child of promise, Jonah ran the other way but was still the prophet chosen to deliver God’s message, and Jesus himself requested three times that the cup be taken from his hands before he prayed “Not my will, but thine be done.” Even then there was no happy heart but a broken Lord who cried and sweat blood.
Certainly first time obedience makes a parents’ job easier, though easy isn’t anything I can find promised to parents in God’s Word. And before anyone suggest I’m arguing that children should not comply with their parents’ instructions, nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose of the tools in GBD are that they foster cooperation and ensure compliance. The fourth step of the Five Steps is for the parent to help the child to comply. I would go so far as to say in my home failure to comply is not an option. I simply do not confuse compliance with Biblical obedience and I do not put a standard on my children’s behavior that the Lord does not put on them, or on me as His child.
The Bible teaches that we, as parents, have a God-given responsibility to teach our children right behavior and to correct their wrong behavior in such a way that they will willingly choose to obey us. I believe that if we are being the Christians God calls us to be then this will happen. This is why Paul teaches Timothy to look to a possible leader’s family and see how they are before giving someone a position of authority over the Church. Their family is a reflection of who they are and how they conduct their lives.
This is where I challenge you to go to the Scriptures and look for words like “love”, “grace”, “kindness”, “forgiveness”, “joy”, “patience”, “peace”, “goodness”, “gentleness”, “faithfulness”, “self-control”. Where are these principles in your relationship with your children? Are they even present in your parenting? If not, I strongly recommend you reconsider what is motivating you as a parent. God does not control us, and He is to be our model as a parent.