Biblical parenting is first of all an exercise in biblical faith. This fact makes biblical parenting different from every other parenting methodology. A journey of faith cannot be accurately measured by visible markers. Other forms of parenting are measured by evaluating immediate responses–if behavior doesn’t change quickly, then the methods must not be correct. Thankfully, God calls us to trust him in faith. In biblical parenting, the primary objective is not to make the child happy, but to bring him to the cross of Christ. This brings us to a question posed by one of our readers.
Wendy left a comment on a recent post about blessing and obedience. She asked two significant questions. I’ll answer the second one here and the first one in the next post. Just as an aside, comments and questions like Wendy’s are enthusiastically welcomed and appreciated.
Wendy states that her five-year-old son sometimes responds to discipline this way: “You’re spanking me for something I can’t help doing.” Wendy then adds, “Where is the balance in both instruction and practice on this?” This question gets at the heart of biblical obedience.
Let’s begin by looking at the overall instruction for parents and children found in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 and Ephesians 6:1-4. Deuteronomy commands that children be taught about the things of God at all times during the day, not just when discipline needs to be administered. Parents are to bring the wonder of God to every corner of everyday life. Ephesians picks up on this perspective and adds the dimension of children obeying “in the Lord” in verse 1 of chapter 6. This teaches us that parental instruction begins with the commands of God, not with the behavior of children.
Thus, biblical parenting is proactive, not reactive. Biblical parenting assumes that there are absolutes that must be taught to children. Practically, this tells us that children must be disciplined to conform to God’s direction. The child is ultimately accountable to God. It follows that children do not have the option of deciding that they won’t or can’t obey. If God commands that children should prefer others before themselves, that command becomes the standard of their conduct. The parent is also directly accountable to God. If God has commanded that parents train their children according to his law, then that is what the parent must do. Just as the child does not have the option to disobey God, neither does the parent. Ephesians 6:4 directs that children must be brought up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. So, when a child protests that she is being spanked for something she can’t help doing, her response actually begs the question. The question must be what is it that God has commanded? If there is disobedience to the direction of God, discipline is not only appropriate, it is required.
In the context of God’s commands, consider the text of Hebrews 12:5-11. Let’s focus on verse 11 of that passage:
For the moment all discipline seems
painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of
righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
There are three important parts to this verse.
First, discipline is painful rather than pleasant. Discipline is meant to highlight the unpleasantness of sin. A child ought to be motivated to avoid this discipline. Sometimes that motivation is not based on an obedient response, so they may engage in some manipulating and maneuvering to avoid the discipline, as in, why should I be disciplined for something I can’t help doing? The answer? Because God says so. It is important that parents respond with pleasant, even words in such discussions, because it is pleasant words, and not anger, that promotes instruction (Proverbs 16:20-24).
Second, the fruit of discipline is not always seen immediately. As the second part of this verse indicates, it is later on that the fruit of righteousness is yielded. This is where the parents’ faith comes into play. As with any faith-based action, the assurance comes from things that are not seen (Hebrews 11:1). So, there may not be immediate confirmation that the discipline “worked.” Parents should not discipline simply to manipulate kids into better behavior. Christian parents are to discipline in faith, out of love for God, as God has directed.
Third, the peaceful fruit of righteousness comes to those who have been trained by it. The word for training here is the word used for gymnastics training. Thus, the training is detailed and rigorous. This concept removes the element of retribution from discipline. Biblical discipline is not aimed at getting even, but at pointing children to Christ and their need of him. The young child in Wendy’s example is in need of the transforming power of Christ. He does not have the option to decide not to obey.
Here is one way a scenario based upon Wendy’s question might unfold.
Daniel refuses to come quickly when called. When confronted by his mother that biblical obedience is doing exactly what you are told, right away, and with a good attitude, Daniel responds by saying he can’t obey like that. This reasoning needs to be turned into an opportunity for the gospel. So Mom says, “Daniel, I know that you can’t obey that way in your own strength. But Christ is able to help those who repent of their sin and seek God for a new heart that does want to obey that way. And this is why Mommy must discipline you. I pray that God will work in your heart. I pray that the unpleasantness of discipline will help you so that the peaceful fruit of righteousness will grow in you. But God is clear, Mom and Dad are to raise you the Lord’s discipline and instruction. And God’s Word is clear about how quickly you must obey. Let’s ask God for his help right now.”
God is in control, not the child and not the parent. The key component in this scenario is faith. Mom disciplines because her confidence lies in things that are unseen. She knows that only God can bring about the needed changes in her son. She is content to trust God that he will honor her faith in his time.
This is the first question that Wendy raised. We will look at the second question in the next post.