We’ve just had another birth in our congregation for which we all rejoice, and I am reminded of the great privilege of being given a child to raise for the Lord’s glory. But I am also reminded of the great responsibility that comes with that privilege.
Christian parents are instructed to raise their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). These are easy words to read, but they are not so easy to truly obey. Too often parents define for themselves “the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” rather than heeding the plain instructions of Scripture. For instance, God’s Word teaches us that
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.1 (Proverbs 13:24)
The Hebrew word translated “betimes” in this verse is shachar. Strong’s defines this word as “a primitive root; properly, to dawn, i.e. (figuratively) be (up) early at any task (with the implication of earnestness); by extension, to search for (with painstaking).” In other words, the faithful Christian is watchful for his children, looking for danger signs of a troubled conscience, a rebellious spirit which might be an indication of active sin. And when sin is discovered, he takes immediate action, i.e., he sets his heart on administering proper discipline to chasten the sinning child in love, for the child’s good, for the child’s ultimate blessing. Yet, how many parents make too little of sin, rebuking it verbally, but living with it practically by not consistently and effectively administering God-ordered discipline. To not discipline children when sin is manifested is, according to God’s Word, not love but “hatred!”
The Christian is to reflect the character of his heavenly Father in the affairs of his life, and God never shies away from administering proper punishment for the good of His children. In fact, the writer of Hebrews emphasizes this aspect of our Lord’s love, using it to encourage us that when we experience His chastening, we are experiencing His love. So should it be in the raising of our own children.
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
Two questions often arise regarding the discipline of a child:
1. What punishment is appropriate.
The punishment should fit the “crime.”
All three of my children were excellent students, so I was shocked when I was advised that my youngest son had “cheated” on an exam in 8th grade. When I spoke with those involved, I discovered that he had not cheated to help himself, but had responded to a request from a friend for help. Nevertheless, he had cheated, he had sinned. I was now faced with making a decision as to what his punishment should be. It had to “hurt.” It had to be effective in “breaking” his spirit, truly humbling him in the face of his sin. He was too old to spank. And issuing a “Time Out” or a “Go to your room until I call for you” would have been worthless (as such punishments are in virtually all instances in my opinion). However, as he was a starter on the basketball team and sports were very important to him, I immediately knew what needed to be done. I had to deny him the privilege of competing as he desired to do (and me the pleasure of watching him). I knew this was the most effective way at that point in his life to make it very plain to him that sin was not a “small thing,” and that I was going to stand on the side of righteousness even against my own son if necessary. At first I determined to remove him from the team for the entire year (they had not played their 1st game yet). Then, realizing that while his action was foolish and wrong, it was not to advantage himself, I relented and only suspended him for the team’s first tournament, a punishment that not only sent him the right message, but that impacted all others who were involved in or were aware of his sin as well. I believed this punishment “fit” his crime, and the results proved the soundness of my judgment in this case.
2. How much is “enough.”
When the child’s sin is exposed, depending on its seriousness and the child’s maturity level, there is often a display of apparently sincere sorrow, remorse, etc. But the parent must be spiritually minded enough to know that the appearance of things may not be the reality. It is virtually impossible initially to know if the emotions result from the shame of “getting caught” or truly evidence a true godly sorrowing which cleanses the heart. Only time will tell. Yet, too often parents feel that this “pain” is enough, and that additional punishment would be “too much.” We are always on dangerous spiritual ground when we allow emotions (ours or the child’s) to dictate to our actions rather than God’s truth.
It is the Christian parents' responsibility to be the representatives of God in the home. As the Hebrews passage above and many others teach, though the Lord is our great High Priest who feels our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15), has great compassion for our weaknesses, and intercedes for us according to the will of the Father when we sin (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1), He is not “soft” when it comes to disciplining us for our sins, quite the contrary. In everlasting love the Lord disciplines us according to our spiritual need, disregarding our tears and complaints. And Christian parents are instructed to do the same.
Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. (Proverbs 19:18)
If you love your children and desire God’s best for them, then truly raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Teach them early and consistently that God hates sin and loves righteousness. Teach them effectively that sin has consequences, as does righteousness. Most of all, teach them by your personal example and your godly parenting that you truly love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and that the law of your home is the law of God. If you will do this, you will have a blessed home and truly blessed children according to God’s holy standard, which is the only standard that matters.
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