How do you relate to your children? Do you do things to tease and aggravate them, and when they misbehave, lash out at them in anger? Or do you teach them what is right, gently guiding them in the way they should go, not using discipline as an outlet for your personal frustration?
“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
Last summer we became the proud owners of a German Shepherd pup, and I am amazed at how many lessons God has taught me through my interactions with him. First of all, let me say that just like children sometimes do, he misbehaves. When he is well-rested and fed, he tears through the house like he is on fire, chases his tail, jumps on the sofas grabbing off-limits pillows in his mouth and running away with them, jumps on us, “play” bites–it’s play for him, but since we have no protective fur on our hands it hurts–and pretty much makes it almost impossible to live with him. When he was younger we would simply open the back door and let him out to run his excess energy off, but we can no longer do this because he now chases neighbors and considers our attempts to get him back a game of tag.
The first time he did this to my husband, he lost his temper and lashed out at the dog with a snow brush. Yet, for the remainder of the day, the pup behaved worse than he ever had! What we must always remember is that in our relationships with animals, we are the humans and the fault is ours. If our pets are misbehaving, they’re simply being themselves and we haven’t figured out how to get them to behave. The same is true with children–we are the adults; when they misbehave we have to remember that they are immature people who are born with the same sin nature we all are born with and that it is incumbent upon us to figure out how to redirect their hearts, minds, and bodies toward good behavior. This is why the Bible warns us not to provoke our children to anger, but to rather bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
While Scripture does not forbid physical punishment, it is to be judiciously used for training, not as an outlet for our feelings of anger and frustration when we feel our children have failed us or not lived up to our standards and expectations. The Complete Word Study New Testament (Zodhiates) says, “paideia [training] is instruction, training by act and discipline. Nouthesia [admonition] is the milder term without which paideia would be incomplete. Nouthesia involves correction by deed as needed. In both words there is the appeal to the reasonable faculties.” We are to discipline are children–to train them to do right–but because they are human, we can also “appeal to the reasonable faculties.” Otherwise–if we misuse physical punishment and use it to lash out in anger–rather than cause them to embrace our vision and want to do right, it will only serve to embittered our children toward us and harden their hearts, and as with our pup, ultimately result in behavior worse than before. So how are we to properly bring up our children in the training and admonition of the Lord?
First of all, we are to make sure that God’s Word is in our hearts. Deuteronomy 6:6 says, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” We cannot teach our children something we ourselves don’t believe, or don’t believe enough to live. If Christ is our all, however, our children will be so much more likely to embrace Him too!
Secondly, we are to make sure they know what is right. This involves faithfully teaching them God’s Word, as well as breaking it down into what our children will understand, based upon their age. Deuteronomy 6:7-8 tells us:
“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Thirdly, we are to set clear standards and maintain consistency. Right behavior which brings praise must always be right, and wrong behavior that’s brings correction must always be wrong; these must not change based upon our mood.
We are also to correct them when they err. This does not mean that we must live with a paddle in our hands; to the contrary, if we are administering physical correction more than once or twice for the same offense, something’s wrong. While we certainly don’t want to injure our children, correction needs to be serious enough that it isn’t a joke–in other words, it needs to instill a serious desire to avoid repetition. When our pup was younger, we tried disciplining him with a newspaper, but he thought it was a game and started biting and chasing it. Then we tried a fly swatter–certainly not a cruel or unusual punishment, but it’s sting was serious enough to cause our misbehaved canine to run to his bed and behave. Hebrews 12:11 says, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Yet some parents misunderstand and get into the habit of spanking their children. That is not training! If you have gotten into a habit of spanking your children you’ve missed the point of training, and may even have crossed over into abusive behavior.
Furthermore, not all correction is physical. If your child has gotten off of the right path, there are many ways you can help him get back onto it, but you must objectively appraise whether it is working. Just as an angry unleashing of physical punishment on our dog was counterproductive, angry verbal assaults will also be. Rather, we are to do as Scripture teaches–we are to exhort them to do right. If you look up the word “exhort” it carries the implied meaning of coming alongside someone to help them go the right way. It is what we have done with our dog when he did not want to go to the chain outside–we put a leash on him and gently but firmly led him to where he needed to be. It is the idea of sitting down with a very young child and “helping” her pick up her toys, or sitting down with your older child to read his homework assignment and talking it out to make sure he understands or even physically sitting with him as he does it. Keep in mind that you must first know what your goal is–what you want to accomplish. Ultimately, who–what kind of people–do you want your grown children to be? If you don’t know this, you won’t know if they’re getting there.
So how did we solve our dog problem? Did we try to physically beat him into submission, even though that strategy was neither kind nor effective? We did what was necessary; we placed a strong, long chain around the water pump outside the garage side door and gently but firmly lead him out there to wear off some of that rambunctiousness. It may not seem as kind as allowing him to run free to do whatever his canine instincts desire, but is certainly kinder than having him put down should he have attacked someone. In the same way, curtailing your child’s foolish or even sinful whims may initially seem unnecessarily restrictive, yet in the long run it will yield “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
Keep us from provoking our children to wrath. Rather, help us bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Amen