Faith and Family

Thoughts about the ‘D’ word

This Sunday I preached the fifth sermon in the Faith and Family series at Romford Evan, on the role of children in our families. I have already written a post from the first half of the sermon about reasons why children honouring and obeying their parents is a good idea.

In this post, I’ve shared a few thoughts and pointers on the subject of discipline. I trust they prove useful.

#1 Discipline is a good thing!

‘Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.’ (Proverbs 23:13-14)

In our current cultural climate, we have lost sight of the fact that discipline is the primary means of equipping our children to be genuinely happy and content, living a long and happy life  Instead, we act as if discipline is a bad thing.

Proverbs 23:13-14 spells out that discipline and punishment will not end in death. Telling your children off, taking toys away, grounding them, or getting other authorities involved even… these things (as difficult and harsh as they may seem) will not kill them. Grabbing hold of a child and taking away their freedom to move around will not kill them, but wandering over the cliff edge will. Giving your child a measured smack on the hand will not kill them, but grabbing the pan of boiling water will. Phoning the police and having your teenager arrested will not kill them, but pursuing a deeper involvement with a firearm-laden street gang will.

#2 Discipline displays your love for them

“The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Hebrews 12:6)

When God disciples us, his children (generally by creation but specifically by faith in Jesus), he is showing us how precious we are and that he loves us. If God disciplines us because he loves us, then the same logic applies to us as parents.

It is precisely because we love our children that we want to spare them from the bad consequences of foolish or wrong behaviour and equip them with maturity and wisdom to lead a long and happy life. Conversely, if doing something foolish or wrong is ultimately bad for us, then choosing not to discipline our children means that we are happy for bad things to happen to our children. That doesn’t sound much like a loving parent, does it?

#3 Punishment is necessary in discipline

This is probably one of the things that most people struggle with in terms of actively seeking to discipline their children by issuing punishments for disobedience. We tend to focus on the immediate unpleasant aspects of punishment and do not lift our eyes to see the benefits it brings later on. Discipline must include appropriate punishments for disobedience in order to show that foolish or wrong actions always have negative consequences: people get hurt, relationships are fractured, society suffers. Lesser punishments given to a child warn them of greater punishments they will receive if they continue down the path of disobedience as an adult.

Moreover, discipline that includes punishment demonstrates the first part of the Gospel message. Our sin leads to the consequence of God’s wrath and his just punishment (Romans 6:23). But it doesn’t stop there, the Gospel wraps our disobedience in sin up in his grace in Christ, which is why our discipline must do the same…

#4 Discipline must begin and end with grace

We don’t deserve to be treated as sons and daughters of God, yet we are and that is why he disciplines us. Totally by his grace. This is how we as parents should seek to discipline our children.

Remember that discipline is embraced and enforced because you love them. Discipline is never a means of making our children better so that we might love them more. Instead, we love our children more by helping them to grow and mature, and so we discipline them. Likewise, look for opportunities to show grace in your discipline.

For instance, a few times with our children we have taken the opportunity in discipline to show something of the grace Christ shows to us. After disobeying or being naughty in a significant way, I’ll sit down with them and remind them of what they have done and explain that this deserves a smack on the hand as punishment, because what they did was wrong and they need to learn this. Then, I’ll take up their hand in mine and, counting to three, I’ll then smack their hand. But, because their hand is in mine, I receive the smack instead of them; I take their punishment. I then explain that just as I took their punishment for them, so Jesus wraps us up in him on the cross and takes our punishment for us. Grace, pure and simple, and in a very tangible way.

#5 Discipline takes both parents

Ephesians 6:1-3 speaks of children honouring and obeying their ‘parents’. This means that mum and dad must work as a team to enact discipline. Sure, Ephesians 6:4 focusses on fathers as being the ones responsible for bringing children up rightly in the Lord, but wives/mothers are invaluable helpers in this (Genesis 2:18). It takes both parents.

Don’t let children play you off against each other. This means that you will need to have talked about discipline beforehand so that you both sing from the same hymn sheet, so to speak. Typically, the mums deal with the everyday aspects of life, whereas time with dad is more concentrated. So, it is important that when the children get to spend time with dad that the work of the mother is reinforced and not undone.

For single parents, this means that you have double the work to do, and my heart goes out to you. You are facing a hard task, almost an impossible one. But God gives us grace upon grace to face every hurdle and he will give you grace as you face the hurdle of being a single parent.

#6 Make honour and obeying mum and dad (and others) a non-negotiable

Ephesians 6:1-3 does not make honouring and obeying parents and optional extra, so neither should we. Your expectation should be that your children will honour and obey you, and that disobedience in not expected. All too often, our expectation is the opposite. We expect our children to be dishonouring and disobedient (‘children will be children’ we say), and are surprised when they are not. Set the bar high on your expectations for your children but make sure you have the bar set high on forgiveness and grace, too. The combination of discipline and grace will enable your children to rise and meet your expectation. Indeed, our experience is that they soon begin to exceed your expectation in ways you hadn’t imagined.

#7 Your children are not worse than everyone else’s. Neither are they better than everyone else’s

The Bible paints a very clear picture of what sorts of people there are. In the Bible, there are sinners who know they are sinners and then there are sinners who think they are not. Which is why passages like Romans 3:10-12 spell out the fact that no-one is good. Except Jesus.

Some parents act like their children are the worst of the worst when their children are actually quite lovely. Other parents act like their children are perfectly lovely when they are actually quite naughty and even some who are simply little monsters who’d chew your ankles just for fun. The Bible’s verdict is that all of us are sinners in need of a saviour. That is true of me and you, and it is true of our children. Which is why the greatest thing you and your child needs is to hear the Gospel of Jesus and see it lived out in everyday life.

That said, it is also true that some parents are not be disciplining their children as they should, whereas others are striving to discipline but their children’s hearts are just hardened to their parents love and discipline. Still others are actually quite poor on discipline but have been fortunate to have children who are more inclined to obey than disobey, and then there are children whose parents actively discipline and their children respond positively to their parent’s love and instruction to them.

Whichever is true for you, remember and hold on to passages like Proverbs 23:13-14 and Ephesians 6:1-4. Remember that, apart from the Gospel of Jesus and life found through faith in him, one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is your love shown to them in appropriate, grace filled discipline… and so love and discipline them all the more.