Editorial Comment: Read a more developed version of this piece at Christ Over All: “Talking To Our Children About Discipline.”
There is more to parenting than discipline and there is more to say about discipline than we explored last Sunday. Nevertheless, discipline in the home is of profound importance for our children’s earthly and heavenly good. It is God’s prescribed means to both and we neglect it to the peril of our children.
To that end, here is a recap of Sunday’s sermon, “A Father’s Discipline,” from Hebrews 12:3–17 with some resources for your help and encouragement.
The Word on Discipline
Sunday’s sermon was not about discipline in the home. Rather, Sunday’s words about discipline in the home were about the Lord’s discipline of his children. The author of Hebrews simply assumes that this is our common experience, a means of understanding the Lord’s ways with his people. Nevertheless, this is an important opportunity to ruminate on the nature and importance of discipline in our homes.
To that end, here’s an outline of Sunday’s sermon tilted in the direction of help for parents with paragraph pep-talks based on the work we did together in that sermon.
I. Discipline is not for everyone (12:5–8)
Discipline is an immense privilege. When God disciplines us, we’re told, “God is treating you as sons” (12:7). Discipline says something to our children: you are mine! It is a form of proof. Others may feed and shelter my kids for a time, but no one else will discipline them according to God’s Word (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; etc.). It says more than that they belong to us but that they are dearly loved by us. Discipline is not a form of rejection but a means of receiving our children by which they know they belong to us and to our families. For this reason, while discipline may instill fear in our children, we should not discipline from wrath. Rather, we should discipline from a controlled determination to love our children to maturity through discipline that is both corrective and formative.
In all of this, in the home as God designed it to be, the father takes primary responsibility. Both mother and father will discipline and should do so on the same page, but it is the father’s authority that stands behind the mother, for he is the head of his home. Discipline, let us remember, is not the first thing about parenting. It must be paired with and typically preceded by instruction. Neither is discipline the last thing about parenting, for it is not the goal. Rather, both instruction and discipline are for the sake of our relationship, just as our Father in heaven disciplines us so that we may know and enjoy him. Let us give discipline to our children and then let us give ourselves to them as the reward for that hardship.
II. Discipline is for our good (12:9–10)
Discipline is not only a privilege, but it is productive. When God disciplines us, “he disciplines us for our good” (12:10). That’s what we’re after just the same: the best interests of our children. Godly discipline in the home leads our children not only to respect authority in general, but to respect us as parents. More than respect, discipline in the home leads to fruit of peace in our homes—peace between us and our children, between our children and one another, and we pray between our children and the Lord. We do not save our children pain in the truest sense by forgoing discipline for whining, as an example, only to yell at them in disgust when we’re fed up. Discipline leads to peace. This is true even when our parenting is less than perfect. In fact, the text acknowledges this when it says of our parents, “they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them” (12:10). This clause indicates a measure of flexibility in our parenting, as we consider our children, our marriages, and the circumstances. Let us for this reason help one another without judging one another. We will each stand before God for our parenting, not for one another’s parenting—a help to friends and grandparents alike.
Equally, though, this clause nods to our fallibility (in contrast to God’s perfection). Our work of parenting is never co-extensive with God’s Word on parenting. Our timing, consistency, temperature, proportionality, and motivations are often off the mark. Let us labor tirelessly for our children’s good in each respect, but let us do so acknowledging that our practice is never as good as the principles we’re implementing. Understanding this brings a humility that saves our children from many forms of tyranny and allows us to grow and change so we get better for their sake. We are doing God’s work, but we are not gods. That’s good for this preacher and imperfect parent to hear as one who had to stand up recently and talk about parenting. As much as anyone, we need the Lord to bless our parenting more than we deserve. Marvelously, God uses our best and yet imperfect discipline for our children’s good.
III. Discipline is only for a moment (12:11)
Finally, discipline is periodic in nature. It is painful, yes, or else it is not discipline. Think about that, parents. Maybe love pats don’t work because they aren’t really discipline. Maybe inconsistency leads our children to bet on the possibility that we will let them off and in that way weakens their reflex for obedience. Discipline is painful and that’s God’s design. But, thankfully for everyone’s sake, if it is appropriately painful it need only be for a moment. On this matter of timing, it’s also important to note that the season in which parents can shape their children through discipline is short.
Thankfully, though, when discipline is over, our children are better for it. Not only better for this world but better for the next. While discipline is for the moment, by way of analogy with how the Lord works with his children, the experience of godly discipline in the home is a means of training our children to know their heavenly Father in heaven. Discipline wires their moral sensibilities, sensitizes their consciences, and provides a real-life model of how the Lord relates to them. Discipline is for the moment, and in this way it is also for forever.
Some Words on Discipline
I am not an avid reader of parenting books. I am an avid scanner and rummager through parenting books. Most of our parenting in our home has come like most yours: by way of a few Bible verses, constant conversation as a couple, and timely counsel from friends in church. Let’s make sure we’re talking together, sharing notes and strategies, and promoting faithfulness to all the Bible says.
Nevertheless, here are some resources I’ve found helpful over the years. Cherry pick what to read or listen to and when. Cherry pick what you plan to keep and implement.
- “Saturday Seminar on Biblical Parenting,” by Ryan Kelly. Ryan and Sarah Kelly have been of great counsel to our family over the years. They’re the ones I got that line from: “we need the Lord to bless our parenting better than we deserve.” Here’s a seminar in three parts: “The Salvation of Our Children,” “The Instruction of Our Children,” “The Discipline of Our Children.”
- “Attention, Affection, Authority: Primer for Parenting Young Children,” by Bob Kauflin, putting discipline in context when parenting younger children.
- Withhold Not Correction, by Bruce Ray. I don’t recall who recommended this to me, but I’m glad they did. A short volume meditating on and applying the proverbs to our parenting.
- Don’t Make Me Count to Three, by Ginger Hubbard. Self-explanatory. Early warning systems are not the way.
- “How Should Parents Discipline Their Children? Is Spanking Wrong?,” by Andy Naselli. A round-up of verses on discipline in the home with numerous helpful links.
- “Parents, Require Obedience of Your Children,” by John Piper and “Parenting 001,” by Kevin DeYoung, two helpful pieces, and medicine for different needs. Know thyself.
- Why Children Matter, by Douglas Wilson. You don’t have to follow Doug on everything to appreciate his wonderful writing on parenting and children. This is a readable volume with lots of practical advice.
- The Duties of Parents, by J.C Ryle and Hints for Parents, by Gardiner Spring, two short books, each over 100 years old, that will brighten your face and frame up discipline within the context of diligent instruction and a happy home.
- “The Family: Together in God’s Presence,” a helpful piece to round-out this list of links.
If I have done anything in this post, I hope I have disabused us of the notion that discipline in the home is contrary to grace that’s good for heaven. If discipline is from hatred or interested in externals alone, then it most certainly is. But in that case it is also not discipline as the Bible understands it.
No, discipline is for our good—our earthly good and our heavenly good. Let us give ourselves to it. And let us give ourselves wholly to our children.
You pray for me and I’ll pray for you.