Children and Discipline

I want to thank again all those who have responded to our request for blog topics. Here is a response to a question we were asked. The question: “What are the implications of this verse?” Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Great question! And this is very topical in Melbourne and Australia generally at the moment. The discipline of children, particularly the question of smacking children, has been raised again and again. Recently a paediatrician in Melbourne called, once again, for smacking children to be outlawed. Emotions run high when this topic is raised, because we all think differently, and our children’s upbringing is very important to us.

Psychologists rightly point out to us how incredibly important our childhood and upbringing is. These are our formative years. A horrible childhood will affect us for the rest of our life. Growing up in a stable Christian family is an enormous blessing. Our proverb rightly points out that how we bring up our children will affect them for life – in this case for good.

No doubt one implication of this proverb is physical discipline. There are other proverbs that reflect this: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” () Our society is repudiating such discipline more and more. Interestingly surveys still seem to show that most parents agree with smacking their children. Of course such parents don’t mean by this that we can abuse our children. This is discipline,
done out of love, for the sake of the child. We should never smack in anger. But whoever spares the rod hates his child (so says the proverb). I may be tempted as a child to watch TV, play video games, and eat lollies all day. Discipline will help me gain self-discipline later in life. Perhaps my Chinese friends were disciplined too strictly as children, in that they had almost no fun and only work. But their behaviour as adults seems to me to be exemplary. Their discipline as children has trained them well for adulthood. (No doubt of course we can give our children discipline and fun!)

An even more important implication of our proverb is training our children in the knowledge of God. The Shema of tells the Israelites to diligently teach God’s law to their children. Paul says in that parents (especially fathers here) are to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord. It is not the responsibility of Sunday school teachers or CRE teachers alone to bring up our children in the training and instruction of the Lord. That is the responsibility primarily of parents. We need to read the Bible with our children regularly and discuss it with them. There are lots of good tools for doing this: children’s Bibles, studies, etc.

Note the warning in as well not to exasperate our children. We need to listen to them and not to be too harsh with them.

I could keep writing, but I need to keep my blog pieces more brief! Bottom line… If you are a parent: what are you doing to bring up your children in the training and instruction of the Lord? Are you sparing the rod or disciplining them (however that is done)?

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Photo Credit: © Olga Bogdanova – Fotolia.com

Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.

24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

3 thoughts on “Children and Discipline”

  1. Martin, I’ve heard Christians claim this verse as a promise concerning their children coming to faith in God. This is usually expressed in the context of parents whose adult children seem to have rejected the Scriptural instructions of their youth.

    The claim usually goes something like this, “My son/daughter isn’t a Christian, but we are claiming the promise of . We faithfully taught our child about God and are confident that he/she will become a believer.

    Would you please comment on this?

  2. Dear Don,
    Thank you for this question. I cannot imagine anything more painful than having children who are not believers in Jesus. One would, I am sure, keep praying to God that he would turn them back to him. That would be an incredibly difficult situation.

    That is why it is so important that we understand rightly what the Bible is actually saying. This is not a promise from God – at least not in the way that some people, to whom you refer, seem to understand it. Even if it were such a promise I would still surely have grave doubts about how I brought up my children. Did I teach them so clearly and faithfully the gospel? Do I understand it clearly enough myself? Did I get it across properly to them? Did I meet with them everyday to study the Bible? How much more could I have done? However their salvation is ultimately of course in God’s hands, not our own. We cannot convert anyone. Only God’s Spirit can turn (convert) people to him.

    Proverbs give general wisdom. Much of this wisdom could be discovered and known by people who do not fear God. But the emphasis here is on the word “general”. Proverbs gives generalisations. They are not meant to be rules about life that are absolutes and have no exceptions. Job and Ecclesiastes are the counterpoint to Proverbs, highlighting the exceptions. Proverbs would say that if you trust in God he will bless you, and this is generally true. Job shows an exception to the rule where what is generally true did not happen. Job’s friends were in error for applying such generalisations in Proverbs as absolutes.

    We must read Scripture by Scripture. Proverbs needs to be read in light of the other wisdom literature of the Old Testament, and in light of the New Testament. What it says is generally true, but not always. Claiming this verse as a promise shows a great and sad misunderstanding of this part of the Bible.

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