There are so many contradicting views in today's society about how, when and why to discipline our children . . . so what should we do? We can start by tuning out the modern psychologists and pseudo-counselors who don't believe in God in the first place and start listening to what God, through Solomon, has to say.
Finding Wisdom in the Woodshed
When you decide to study through the Book of Proverbs, sooner or later you’re confronted with the subject of parental authority and, more specifically, the disciplining of your children.
Talk about a controversial subject, this is one of them.
There are numerous proverbs in Solomon’s collection that most people you live around or work with today would consider out of date and out of touch.
Proverbs like, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)
Or another one that says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)
Most people today would say, “No wonder that stuff is in the Old Testament – that’s where it belongs – in ancient history.”
Here’s an interesting Proverb that goes like this, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself will lead to his mother’s shame.” (Proverbs 29:15)
No matter how conservative or liberal, churched or unchurched, converted to Christ or an atheist . . . everyone knows that a child who gets his way is going to bring shame on his mother and father.
No Mom has ever bragged at the PTA meeting, “Yea, my Susy dropped out of 10th grade this year and is working 2 jobs to support her drug habit . . . we’re so proud of her.”
“Our son refused our help and our advice . . . he’s since left home and lives at the Rescue Mission – he panhandles in the parking lot of the Mall and at the corner of 1010/401. . . man, we’re so thrilled at what he’s doing with his life.”
No. Every parent, whether they think the word of God should be relegated to ancient history or not, knows intuitively that their child is better off when they walk in the ways of the wisdom of God’s word.
I want you to see for yourself that Proverb again – turn to Proverbs 29:15. Let me read again what might come as a surprise to you. “The rod and reproof give wisdom . . .” (Proverbs 29:15a)
According to Solomon, if you as the parent are not only going to hunt for the hidden treasures of wisdom, but help your child discover the hidden treasure as well, Solomon said, the rod literally serves as part of the treasure map to lead the way to wisdom.
Imagine that – wisdom is found in the woodshed.
And listen, we’ll balance this out as we go, but you ought to know that the Hebrew word for “rod” – yah-saar – can be translated literally, a club.
That’s serious business.
My Mom didn’t know that . . . she thought it meant a “switch.” She would send me out to the tree that was just outside the kitchen screen door to select the switch that would be used to communicate wisdom and drive folly from my heart. She believed this verse.
I’m just glad she didn’t know any Hebrew. She would have taken it literally, being the good dispensationalist that she is.
The truth is, today, the average parent will do anything but spank their child.
They might say that spanking a child will teach it to hit other children. Trust me, your child knows how to hit other children whether you spank them or not. In fact, with all the spankings I received, I never once challenged that kid I didn’t like in 5thgrade to a spanking. I never told him, “Hey, meet me out in the playground after school cause I’m gonna give you a spanking.” It never crossed my mind to do to that kid I didn’t like what my parents did to me.
Or perhaps, parents refuse to admit their child needs correction. So, they will argue with the teacher, the principle, the youth leader and later on the policeman.
Perhaps it’s nothing more than pride, unwilling to face the humiliation of a child in need of correction.
Listen, we all want our children to be at the head of the class, not sent to the corner of the class or even expelled from class.
Maybe you’ve struggled with these Proverbs because you came from a home where discipline was nothing more than physical abuse. Where hate and anger spilled over and spankings became beatings. There is a vast difference between a beating and a spanking.
I have a few books that I want to recommend to every parent with a son or daughter still living at home. It’s entitled, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Tedd Tripp.
Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart; Shepherd Press, Revised Edition, 2005
For Mom’s who want to read additional material, Ginger Plowman wrote similar counsel geared toward younger children. Her book is entitled, ‘Don’t Make Me Count to Three.” Perhaps you can identify with making that threat.
Ginger Plowman, Don’t Make Me Count to Three; Shepherd Press, 2003
I have enjoyed reading these books this week in preparation for our study. In fact, the reason I’m recommending them is because they will offer much more extensive, biblical advice on the subject of discipline that we will touch on today.
While I’m at it, another excellent work is called Family Life, by Chuck Swindoll, and it covers a variety of issues – my copy at home is dog eared and marked up over the years.
Charles R. Swindoll, Family Life; Multnomah Press, 1988
In Swindoll’s work, he quotes Dr. Albert Siegel who wrote this in the Stanford Observer, “When it comes to rearing children, every society is only 20 years away from total [anarchy]. Twenty years is all we have to accomplish the task of civilizing the infants who are born into our midst each year. These savages know nothing of our language, our culture, our religion, our values and interpersonal relationships. The infant is totally ignorant of democracy, respect, decency, honesty, customs, conventions, and manners. The barbarian must be tamed if civilization is to survive.”
Ibid, p. 102
Obviously, this fall short of true and full reformation since you can have educated, self-controlled people just as easily destroying society as barbarians.
But our discipline should deal not only with behavior but attitude and heart and spirit. We understand the greater issue is the corruption of the heart and sin fallen creatures who need redemption and spiritual growth.
That’s why Solomon writes in Proverbs 29:15, it isn’t just the rod, it’s reproof – verbal correction that reaches for the heart.
The Lord said in Luke 6:45, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
That’s a way of reminding every parent of the heart of the matter.
A child’s misbehavior reflects his heart. So often we get so sidetracked with behavior that we overlook belief. They really believe that lying is acceptable; that obedience is optional; that cheating is permissible. It’s easy to think that if we can just get them to stop doing those things, we’ve succeeded.
Adapted from Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart (Shepherd Press, 2005), p. 4.
That was the point of Christ’s warning to the Pharisees – who kept all the rules and never missed church. They lived clean lives and spoke of God with their respectful lips which had nothing to do with hearts. (Matthew 15)
A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commended by Christ, it is actually condemned as hypocrisy of the highest order.
Whether we want to admit it or not, Solomon was telling the truth – look back where he wrote in Proverbs 22:15 – Folly – or foolishness – is bound up in the heart of a child.
In other words, they were born with the ability to lie, cheat, disobey and declare their own will.
And very early in age they demand to know, “Who around here is big enough to take me on . . . who’s in charge?”
Several years ago the Minnesota Crime Commission released an interesting report on the untamed child. I was born in Minnesota . . . makes me wonder if my birth prompted this report.
Actually, I can’t imagine this kind of report being released in the 21st century, but it was released in the early 1980’s.
And I quote, “Every baby starts life as a little savage. (For all the new moms at Colonial, we know that your baby is a little angel . . . this isn’t about you). He is completely selfish and self-centered. He want what he want when he wants it; his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toy, his uncle’s watch. Deny these and he seethes with rage which would be murderous were he not so helpless. This means that all children, not just certain children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of infancy, given free rein to his impulsive actions, every child will grow into some form of criminal.
Frankly put, Mom and Dad, you’re dealing with a little sinner, who came into the world with a fallen, depraved heart. And he’s capable of committing anything under the sun, given the time, experience, availability, resources and strength.
Solomon writes, Folly is bound up in the heart of a child. The Hebrew word for “folly” literally refers to moral corruption – moral deficiencies – inability to make good judgment and reason.”
So you never have to teach them how to lie – you have to discipline them to be honest.
You never have to teach them to be selfish. You have to discipline them to share.
You never have to teach them to assert themselves. You have to teach them to submit to authority.
Long before they can speak, they test your authority.
Tell that 7 month old, “Honey, don’t touch that.” And what does little honey do. She looks you square in the face, never blinking an eye and reaches her hand out to touch it again.
She’s effectively saying, “I am the head of this household . . . didn’t you get the memo?”
Long before they can articulate rebellion and challenge your authority, they can act it out.
What are you going to do in response?
Solomon gives parents hope . . . the end of that Proverb reads, and discipline will drive it from him. (Proverbs 22:15)
Not quickly . . . just as Christ hasn’t driven from you your assertions and rebellions and pride. And He has committed Himself to daily discipline those whom He loves. (Hebrews 12:5-6)
You are actually initiating a godly process that God will take over one day in their lives. And if you have taught them to listen to you, they will be prepared to listen to Him.
I want to speak as practically and clearly about this subject as I can. In fact, as I thought about it, it struck me (no pun intended) that I have never before taught on when and how to deliver corporal punishment – in 21 years. And all the young people are saying, “Don’t change now!”
Actually, it’s about time.
Now, let’s lay down some ground rules for biblical discipline – the use of the rod – call it simply, spanking your child.
- First of all, you need to understand the difference between physical abuse and a painful spanking.
If you have a sheet of paper you might draw a line down the middle and put at the top of one side the word Abuse and on the other side the word Discipline.
There is a world of difference.
Unprovoked Is expected for certain
Unexpected behavior – you’ve already made it clear; there are no surprises.
Is motivated through Is prompted by love
hatred and anger and concern
Produces terror Produces security
Leaves physical scars Is painful but doesn’t leave scars
Creates resentment Creates respect for
against authority authority
Resolves neither behavior Resolves, forgives
or heart attitude and forgets
Adapted from Swindoll, p. 113
Remember, Discipline – the rod – always includes plenty of communication – or reproof. They go hand in hand.
Distinguish between abuse and discipline.
- Secondly, distinguish between immaturity and disobedience;
Maybe they really did forget . . . or they got sidetracked with the dog or completely overlooked what time it was.
- Third, distinguish the difference between inability and defiance.
Maybe they really can’t fulfill that task . . . for them, cleaning out the shed might be something that overwhelms them and they’re not sure where to start or how to do it.
If you are sure it is indeed an act of disobedience, or disrespect or deception – these are three D’s that I believe require a trip to the woodshed.
Let me give them to you again – disobedience, disrespect and deception.
Now, what happens when you know you’re headed to the woodshed with your child.
Let me give you:
Five Guidelines for a Productive Trip to the Woodshed:
- First, tell your child what their offense is and what their punishment will be.
This eliminates the possibility of spanking them in the heat of the moment or in anger. It allows for communication before the punishment which allows the child to understand the issue at hand is not their parent’s emotions but their own sinful actions.
- Secondly, deliver the spanking.
It might be 3 swats or 10 licks with the belt on the place God created for discipline – in fact, creating it with extra padding.
Slapping their face or punching them is not the use of a rod – it will never yield the intimacy and closeness that comes after proper discipline is administered.
Why? Because your hand doesn’t create the painful blow, but an inanimate object creates the pain and in the mystery of discipline, your children come to fear the leather strap or the switch or the paddle, they do not come to fear your hand.
- After the spanking, give them time to think and recover.
Depending on their age, you might leave the room, if they’re older and give them time to dry their tears. The younger they are the more immediately they need the reassurance of your love.
I remember when our college aged daughter was a little girl; immediately after spanking her she’d raise her arms for me to pick her up and tell her she was loved and forgiven.
As they get older you might leave the room for a brief period of time and then return to talk to them.
- In either case, fourth, you need to explain what God’s word says about their behavior, their attitude, their sin.
In a very personal conversation, deal with their heart issue. In fact, after punishment they are more open and ready to hear about the heart issues at stake than before. If all you were interested in was delivering pain for disobedience, you’ve finished. But pain in discipline merely acts as the doorway through which the heart is now tender and open to receive true wisdom.
It’s not unusual for me to get my Bible or quote a passage that deals with what the enemy of their soul wanted to accomplish with that sin. It’s the perfect time to let them know that the issue is larger than a lie or a stolen object or disrespect. It may very well be a life-long or even an eternal issue.
That’s why Solomon wrote – and if you’re still not convinced – listen to this Proverb, “If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol – or death.” (Proverbs 23:14)
This is a general principle that normally means discipline protects your child from greater harm.
That’s why you might spank them when they disobey you and run into the street. Why, because you want to associate pain with their disobedience which very well may save them greater pain – perhaps even death.
You are also teaching, especially your older children, what one author called the “harvest mentality.” That is, they are learning that they will reap what they sew.
So, lead them to pray, asking the Lord for forgiveness, because ultimately they need to recognize that they have sinned against the Lord – not just Mom or Dad. They have reaped what they sewed.
- The final step – step number 5 – after prayer – is a hug and words that clearly communicate “I love you and I have forgiven you.”
This is the perfect resolution to biblical discipline.
I remember getting a spanking from my father and 15 minutes later laughing and playing basketball with him in the back yard.
It was never a question of love for me. I never thought he didn’t love me. I just knew He loved Christ first. And I knew he was obeying the word of God and I grew in my respect for him, not the other way around. I knew they were ultimately demonstrating love for Christ and then loved for me.
This is exactly what Solomon delivered in Proverbs, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently (Proverbs 13:24)
Let me wrap up our study with two timeless truths about this subject:
- There has never been an easy time to raise children.
Just ask Adam and Eve. Ask Eli . . . and later, Samuel. Ask David and Solomon. Just as Mary and Joseph whose entire brood of children, born after Christ, stubbornly refused to believe Him until after His resurrection.
No century or generation has been without dangers and temptations. There’s never a perfect time to be a parent because we live in a fallen world.
But some times are more challenging than others and we happen to be experiencing challenging times right now.
Listen to what Carle Zimmerman wrote as he talked about the American culture falling into the final stages of disintegration and disarray. Zimmerman is a sociologist and historian and, while not writing from a Biblical point of view, he wrote that these common conditions became prominent in various cultures that self-destructed. America is only the latest one to come along.
He observed in decaying cultures, these common characteristics:
- An increased ability to divorce easily and without cause;
- The elimination of meaning in the marriage ceremony;
- Pessimism concerning earlier figures in their culture who had been considered heroic;
- The breaking down of inhibitions regarding adultery;
- The revolt of the youth against parents;
- A rapid rise in juvenile delinquency;
- The common acceptance of all forms of sexual perversion.
Charles R. Swindoll, Family Life (Multnomah Press, 1988), p. 33
Now get this; Dr. Zimmerman wrote this in 1947.
Today, every single day in America:
- 1,000 unwed teenage girls become mothers;
- 1,106 teenage girls get abortions;
- 4,219 teenagers contract sexually transmitted diseases – several of them incurable;
- Every day, 1,000 adolescents take their first drink of alcohol – most often from their own refrigerator at home;
- 135,000 kids brings guns or other weapons to school;
- Every day 3,610 teens are assaulted and 80 are raped;
- Every day 2,200 teenagers drop out of high school;
- Every day, 6 teenagers take their own lives.
Josh McDowell, Right From Wrong (Word Publishing, 1994), p. 6
If you don’t provide the safeguard . . . the standard . . . if you don’t set up the fence posts and protective boundaries . . . their world will do it for them or they will do it themselves.
And many will be led to despair and confusion and broken hearts and broken bodies and broken dreams.
Listen to one paraphrase of Proverbs 19:18. Discipline your children while they are young enough to learn. If you don’t, you are helping them destroy themselves.
Which leads me to offer this second truth:
Yes, there has never been a easy time to raise children; but secondly,
- There has never been a better time to shepherd your children than now.
Maybe you’re tempted to think, this will bring disruption and chaos into our home. We’re going to have a fight on our hands all the time.
Take it by faith . . . get good godly counsel . . . in fact, don’t go home tonight and tell your children that you are now going to begin following God’s word. And what they did this afternoon deserved a spanking . . . Pastor Davey said so . . .
Take your time. Clearly communicate that these 3 activities – or 2 or 4 – will bring about a spanking and show them where in Proverbs you’ve been commanded to discipline them.
And then watch what Solomon promised to those who will follow Christ in applying biblical discipline in their home, “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace.” (Proverbs 29:17)
Not chaos. Not turmoil. But peace.
Now’s the time to start. There has never been a better time to shepherd your children as a loving, authoritative parent than now.
There has never been a more critical time to start teaching the truth, holding the standard, lovingly disciplining sin than now.
My friends, may God give you courage and faith and trust in His word, enough to obey it and follow it and demonstrate it and model and then shepherd your children to do the same.