Jesus delivers a subtle warning in the Sermon on the Mount about the danger of manipulation. Look at Luke 6:32-33:
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that…”
If you do good to get something good you are involved in manipulation.
So, if your parental discipline is primarily designed to make things at home go more smoothly, you are doing good to get good. The rich young man in Matthew 19 had outwardly kept the commandments because he saw the value of being good. Most likely, his parents were quite pleased with him. But when he was asked to do something he did not think was good for him, he walked away from the door of heaven.
If your children obey you because it makes their lives, and yours, better, they have missed the point of obedience. This young man in Matthew was greatly blessed by following the instruction of his parents. But in the end he was only doing good to get good. Don’t play the manipulation game with your children.
Yes, your children’s lives will be better if they do what is right. But if a better life is all that is desired, then your children could make the same disastrous choice as the rich young man. Yes, a reasonably quiet, orderly home can be a great thing. But if this is the main benefit of obedience, even sinners live for that.
Following God is often painful. Teaching biblical obedience is often messy and time consuming. Following God means caring more for a sibling’s happiness, than for one’s own immediate pleasure. Teaching only the temporal benefits of obedience is manipulation: you do what is good for me and I will do what is good for you.
For example, are toys shared to keep the peace and to make sure everyone gets the same amount of time playing with toy? Or, is there a genuine spirit of delight in seeing a brother or sister being able to have fun, because that is a genuine service to Christ?
Is it wrong to offer rewards for doing what is right? Of course not. But beware of the danger of seeking only the immediate reward.
Manipulation is a subtle trap that will lead you and your children away from the grace of God and the gospel. Manipulation produces a heart that turns away from Christ, because there is much to lose. Obeying in the Lord produces a heart that cares first for God and follows the sacrificial model of Jesus.