A Study and Plan for Biblical Discipline in the Home
*This paper was originally written for the class GBC 537 Marriage and Family Counseling at Maranatha Baptist Bible College's Graduate School of Theology. For a copy of the paper which includes the footnotes please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most parents would agree that children are as different and complex as any adult. Children have different features, traits, attitudes, talents, learning styles, personalities, and temperaments. Learning to interact with, challenge, and rear children is a difficult, yet rewarding task. However, the challenge is complicated by the sinful nature of both the parent and child. The world's system has been inundated by ideas and concepts which are only inadvertently related to Scripture. In times of difficulty and stress the Christian parent must realize that the Bible, not psychology and Dr. Phil, truly is their only reliable source for parental practice.
This paper will seek to develop in its reader a Biblical understanding of discipline by examining the Biblical texts and the various "systems" of discipline and by developing a theology of discipline and a plan for implementing the theology. The reader should, therefore, understand that such principles will only be successful if they have begun a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and are actively cultivating the said relationship.
What does the Bible say about discipline?
When the Christian is confronted with a conflict or a problem he ought first to ask of himself, "what does the Bible say?" It is in knowing what the Bible says that one can accurately know what God says and wants His people to know about life and its challenges. In order to know what the Bible says about discipline, one will need to know what the Bible says about parents, children, obedience, and discipline.
Family: Parents and Children
The Bible, within its first chapters, begins to describe the Biblical home and its structure. Genesis 2:21-25 describes both the creation of woman and the creation of the marriage bond and family life. The section follows an explanation of Adam's work upon the earth. Adam has just finished investigating and naming the creatures that God had created. Adam obviously was not of caveman-like intelligence, as evolution would suggest, but he intuitively knew and questioned why God had not presented him with his help-meet. Adam here realized, as Moses explains, that he was incomplete even within his sinless state.
God presented this situation to make a point to all mankind regarding the importance of the marriage bond and its supportive nature. This is evidenced within verse 24, as noted by David McCloud; the verse acts as a parenthetical remark and, therefore, is applicable to every marriage. This parenthetical remark delineates that marriage and the family is an "exclusive," "permanent," "God-sealed relationship." The family is here laid out as the institute through which God desires for man to live and interact with God.
Furthermore, God has ordained that the focal point of the family ought to be the father and mother. Within the marriage bond, the husband has been ordained by God to be the head of the home, but the woman is to be the help-meet who has near equal authority and input into the decisions and discipline of the home. This is evidenced in passages such as Genesis 2:15, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:2, 13; 14:34-35; Ephesians 5:21, 22, 24; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:11–14; 3:4-5; and Titus 2:5. All of these above passages outline a number of key principles for the family relationship. First, the husband is the one whom God views as ultimately responsible for the decisions of the family. Men, especially those desiring an office in the church, are expected to exercise their authority over the family "well." Second, wives are viewed as those who should submit to their husbands, yet they are to be respected, loved, and appreciated. The wife is not one who should simply follow orders but is one who should be allowed to participate in the ordering of the home. Both husband and wife ought, therefore, to rule over their home well and set forth guiding principles for the children. Clearly Scripture emphasizes the importance of a proper husband and wife relationship in the disciplining of children.
In relationship to parental roles, the parents, especially the father, find that his example is to be found in the Lord. This is especially evidenced in Ephesians 3:14-15 where Paul explains that all families ultimately derive their names from God the Father. "God is the Father of all fatherhood. The very idea of fatherhood is found in the divine nature. Every human father is an imperfect reflection of our perfect heavenly Father." Truly the Bible proclaims that the husband and wife ought to look towards God for their direction in the instruction and discipline of their children.
Children, however, are not neglected from being a blessed and intricate part of the family relationship. While Scripture views children to hold a significantly different role from the parents, as will be examined in the section to follow, they are an important and God-given part of the family. Throughout the entirety of the Bible children are viewed as a blessing from the Lord. Gen. 1:27–28 contains God's instruction to Adam and Eve that they are now blessed of God and that they should be fruitful and multiply. Psalms contains a great wealth of information regarding the value of children, in passages such as Psalms 113:9; 127:3-5; and 139: 13-15. These passages in Psalms proclaim how that children are both a blessing from the Lord and how that God has intricately made them from their very conception. Mark 10:14 is of special importance to the relevance and importance of the spirituality of children. Within Mark 10:14 we hear the words of Jesus saying "suffer the little children to come unto me." Clearly Jesus noted and valued children and their ability to understand spiritual things.
Obedience, Discipline, and Discipleship
Though children are to be viewed as a blessing from God and as able to participate in spiritual things, they should not be viewed as equals or as more important members than that of the father and mother. The Scriptural priority lies with that of husband and wife as being the most important relationship of the family. God desires that the husband and wife live in harmony with one another, but God also clearly desires that children live in harmony with their parents. Childhood should be a time of great joy for both parent and child. In today's culture child-rearing has become more of a necessary evil than a "necessary good." Parents and children fight and bicker, each vying for the control of the other. It is society's rejection of God's plan which has led to much of the strife and contention among today's families.
The first step to understand God's plan for anything is to understand God's simple commands regarding life. In regards to the family and children, God's simple plan is that children are to obey their father and mother. This simple command is found throughout Scripture, though it is specifically stated in Exodus 12:20; Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:1-2; and Colossians 3:20. The Lord obviously desires that children be able to comprehend such passages, as each passage proclaims a clear and simple reason for why children ought to obey: "for this is right." "This is the motivation for children to obey their parents. It is the right thing to do before the Lord."
Though the child's role is simple, the parents have been given a much greater responsibility. God's simple plan for parents is that they act as disciplers of their children. The parents are those who are to bring up their children in the way of the Lord. Discipline is a necessary part of every family, yet it includes much more than mere punishment. Biblical discipline includes the teaching and correction of children. To be a parent one must also be a counselor.
In fact, the Hebrew word מוּסר musar, commonly translated as "discipline" in the OT, has a wide range of meanings that suggests various levels of discipline, including on one end of the spectrum "teaching or instruction" (Prov 1:2, 3, 7; 4:13), then progressing to "exhortation or warning" (Ezek 5:15; Job 20:3), and climaxing with "discipline or chastening" (Prov 13:24; 22:15; 23:13).
Throughout the Bible, parents are told that they should be raising children who know and understand the commandments of God. The Bible begins to describe that parents ought to teach their children things of the Lord in passages such as Deuteronomy 4:10; 6:7, 10-25; and 11:19. These passages sight that the curiosity of children ought to be an impetuous to learning the Lord's Word and that at every step of the day parents ought to be instructing their children.
Proverbs also describes numerous times that a parent ought first to be a discipler of their children. Proverbs 1:8-9 and 22:6 describe how that a wise child will hear the instruction of their parents and will not forsake to follow those instructions. These passages proclaim that the son who pursues the instruction of his mother and father will be greatly blessed. Furthermore, Proverbs 22:6 exhorts parents not to neglect the teaching and educating of their children in the way of the Lord. These passages proclaim the value of parental discipleship.
Unfortunately all of humanity possesses a sin nature which complicates the following of God's plan. Psalm 51:5 and Proverbs 22:15 describe how that both sinfulness and foolishness are a part of the very nature of children. For this reason it is necessary that parents discipline their children. Hebrews 12:7-10 describes how that parental discipline is more excellently described and accomplished by God.
Parental discipline is modeled after the way God disciplines His adopted children. If you want to know what it means to be a good father, it is essential that you look at the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. How does He relate with His only begotten Son? How does He deal with His adopted children?
What does the Bible teach regarding discipline? Does the Bible teach that Christian parents ought to spank their children? A proper understanding of passages such as Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; and 23:13-14 advocate that corporeal discipline is a necessity of proper discipline. Though some would teach that such passages are only advocating the necessity of discipline, inerrancy and a literal interpretation of Scripture require that one understand these to be teachings regarding one proper method of discipline, namely corporeal punishment through spanking. Furthermore, the Bible describes how that the Lord "chastens" His own children in passages such as Proverbs 3:11; 1 Corinthians 5; Hebrews 12:5; and Revelation 3:19. 1 Corinthians 5:5 describes how that a church is to hand one over to Satan should he refuse to submit to the discipline of the church. Clearly Scripture delineates a need for discipline, and that discipline may not always be a pleasant experience. A wise parent will gently use many forms of Scriptural discipline, realizing that a child would be better off learning now then he would as an adult.
Advocated Means of Discipline
Perhaps the most difficult means of parenting is in choosing the proper way in which children are to be disciplined. Within both evangelicalism, religion, and the world there is a vast array of advice vying for the attention of today's parents. Advice ranges from those holding that there should be absolutely no spanking of children to some who advocate that spanking is the only form of discipline one should employ. Which ever method of discipline parents choose to use, they must first realize that the mother and father have a Biblical responsibility to agree to support one another in their decisions to discipline.
The parents must also understand that in any form of discipline the safety and concern for their child should never be neglected. If scholarship agrees in anything, it is that when parents become overly aggressive and angry with their children they are more prone to abuse their children rather than merely disciplining their children. Parents must decide that they will not discipline out of anger before they ever encounter a discipline situation.
Opponents to spanking outline a number of studies and concepts which they believe clearly show that spanking is detrimental to the overall development and well-being of a child. It is both helpful and necessary that one consider such worldly insights, keeping in mind the Biblical commands, before agreeing upon a disciplinary plan. Opponents of spanking mention, first of all, that spanking is ineffective at achieving long term behavioral change in the life of the child. Most sources sight that spanking is very effective at changing short-term behaviors in children. The Christian should take this into consideration when spanking a child. The Bible does not teach Christians that one should merely spank their child without instruction or direction. In the studies noted, none of them mention whether a child was confronted with any form of Scriptural or non-Scriptural teaching concerning the wrong committed. The Christian would be wise to realize that spanking is not enough to evoke change in the child but that wise counsel is also needed.
Opponents to spanking note that spanking could trigger criminal or anti-social behavior simply because abusive situations have been proven to cause such behavior. This premise is truly mere speculation on the part of anti-spanking advocates. Some advocates note studies that appear to show that spanking produces children who have a higher likelihood of exhibiting depressive or psychological problems. However, this too should be viewed with the consideration that the study groups of such studies do not include only those who discipline according to the Biblical command. One could expect that mere punishment without counsel could lead to such problems.
Some also point out the possibility or tendency of some to allow spanking to escalate into abuse. They note that if one gets hit in an ear an eardrum could burst or if someone is hit too hard near a bone or muscle serious muscle problems could result. However, these ideas and studies should encourage the Christian to act properly, rather than to abandon certain disciplinary techniques all together.
Opponents of spanking do promote a number of disciplinary plans, steps, and techniques which are valuable. They note that parents should first be committed to discipline. Parents cannot simply discipline when they feel like it, but they should be consistent in their actions to their child. Parents also should be realistic in their expectations of the child. Parents should try to understand what their child is doing by trying to see things through the eyes of their child. Some techniques that are promoted are positive reinforcement, redirecting the child to appropriate behavior, verbal instruction, time-outs, the establishment of specific rules, grounding, and the withholding of privileges. All of these ideas are valuable and have their place.
Most proponents of spanking note that spanking is not an end-all. Other techniques and guideline must be established in order to produce Christ-like behavior in children. Dr. James Dobson notes six guidelines to discipline throughout many of his books on the subject. He notes that parents should "define boundaries before they are enforced," "when defiantly challenged respond with confident decisiveness," "distinguish between willful defiance and childish irresponsibility," "reassure and teach after the confrontation," "avoid impossible demands," and "let love be your guide." These guidelines also are valuable when considering an adequate method of discipline.
A Suggested Biblical Method of Discipline
A Biblical method of discipline will take into consideration as much information as possible when making a determination as to the rearing of a child. Christians ought to be the most learned people on all topics of life, as we ought to consider all of our actions carefully in seeking to honor the Lord. The following are, therefore, suggested as guidelines for Biblical discipline:
- The Christian couple must make their marriage relationship the primary and most important relationship of the family. A couple committed to marriage will likely be more successful parents.
- The Christian couple ought to consider and seek wise counsel in regards to the discipline of their children. A couple would be wise to lay out their methods of discipline before marriage and more seriously before the delivery of the child.
- A wise couple will talk constantly in consideration of their child's actions, always seeking to revise and improve their disciplinary methods for their child.
- Parents must determine the boundaries of appropriate discipline and make plans to protect themselves from anger and violence.
- Christian couples should realize that children often make mistakes. Parents should be willing to recognize that not every mistake must be punished but that every mistake should be confronted with loving counsel.
- Parents should develop a system of discipline that considers the Word of the Lord.
- The Christian couple ought always to realize that their disciplinary strategy must be made, and consistently enacted, in love.
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