Discipline is About Compassion, Not Retribution

Posted on · Posted in Discipline, Gospel, Parenting

This is part two of a series of posts contrasting discipline with retribution. In the first post of the series, I highlighted this consideration:

Biblical discipline must not be seen as payment for the sins for which the discipline was administered. Retribution is not the goal of biblical discipline!

In response, the question many of you raised was, “How does this work itself out in everyday family life?” This post will begin to address that question.

In the first post, we saw how Psalm 103 provides direction on how to address the sins of your children. David calls us to compassion with these words:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.

As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

Note the important status of compassion in these two verses. Yes, God is concerned about sin. He is the holy God. His character is the standard of righteousness. However, God is also the standard of compassion. In this psalm, the Holy Spirit calls us to have compassion on children as they struggle with sin and the sinful nature of their birth. It is true, God does call you to go to war to win your children for Christ, but that war is not fought with weapons of the flesh. Rather, God calls you to fight with the weapons of the Spirit. Notice verse 13 again:

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

In Ephesians 6:4, Paul calls parents to raise their children with tender nourishment, not harsh commands. This is consistent with David’s words that a father’s compassion for his children is modeled after God’s loving compassion for his children!

Parents, your weapons in the war for your children’s hearts are the weapons of compassion. Specifically, these are: pleasant words, a gentle demeanor, a humble spirit, consistent application of discipline, and a constant appeal to the gospel rather than the harsh demands of fairness.

For example:

The Holy Spirit instructs us that pleasant words promote instruction. Proverbs 16:20-24.

It is gentleness that turns away anger, so resistance is to be met with humility and gentleness instead of anger and frustration.  Proverbs 15:1; 2 Timothy 2:25, James 1:19-20; James 4:6; Matthew 11:28-30

Fluctuation in consistent application of discipline is disruptive to everyday family life. Lack of consistency is unsettling to your children. It promotes scheming and encourages children to choose to manipulate instead of choosing to obey quickly and respectfully. Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; Ephesians 6:4

Fairness is the enemy of the gospel. As David says, God does not deal with us as our sins deserve! So when your children sin, respond with God’s weapons of compassion and the gospel rather than with arbitrary fairness. Fairness has to do with retribution. The gospel has to do with grace.

This means your discipline must be built on compassion and must not be about receiving fair punishment for sins. There is only one “fair” punishment for sin; the wrath of God! God, in mercy, does not call us to discipline our children with the goal of fairness or retribution. He calls us to discipline them with compassionate, focused care that reflects love, not wrath; mercy, not equity; the gospel, not retribution.

Related resources:

Everyday Talk

Everyday Talk

 

Shepherding a Child's Heart

Shepherding a Child’s Heart

 

Instructing a Child's Heart

Instructing a Child’s Heart

 

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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.