Discipline and the parents’ toolbox

Published 10:50 pm Friday, January 24, 2014

By Rev. Chris Surber

Sometimes, when I see other kids marching in line at the store while my four little ones are squirting shaving cream on each other in the hygiene aisle, I begin to question the parenting methods my wife and I use.

Maybe I should give my children more of the discipline I got in the Marine Corps. Perhaps my wife should become a tiger mom and ditch the sensitivity she brings to mothering.

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But then I see things in my hyper-rambunctious kids that make me realize they are on their way to becoming godly little people.

Recently I listened to a conversation between my 5- and 8-year-olds in which the topics ranged from how they were going to set booby-traps for me around the house to where they will serve as missionaries when they grow up to the importance of believing in Jesus the way the Bible says.

Discipline and character cultivation are not mutually exclusive. In many ways, discipline is a means of cultivating character in children. But my experience lately with fellow Christian parents is that by and large we are out of balance. We are quick to boast of our tough discipline measures and slow to cultivate character with grace.

It’s almost like the measure of one’s spirituality has become how unrelenting we are with our kids’ discipline. Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (ESV) It’s true. Discipline has an important place.

But notice what Proverbs 13:24 doesn’t say. It doesn’t say the rod is the only tool in our parenting toolbox. Neither does the context of this and similar passages ever imply that discipline of children is anything less than a solemn act. It is not something to boast about.

It breaks my heart to have to be anything but joyful with my kids. Surely God’s Word speaks to His preference to reward faithfulness rather than judge sin.

There is no room for boasting about how scared our kids are of us. There is no room for unnecessarily intimidating our children. God disciplines us, His children, in order to perfect our righteousness. Not to tear us down. (Hebrews 12:5-11) He disciplines us to build us up.

I have to wonder if a parent who boasts about disciplining his child does so with malice. God disciplines with love.

Our discipline should be filled with grace. If we would be like God, we would be slow to anger and rich in love, like our Heavenly Father. (Psalms 145:8)

The purpose of discipline isn’t merely to prove who is the boss or to enforce what are sometimes arbitrary rules of imperfect parents.

The purpose of all Christian parenting is to cultivate faith and Christian character in our children. Sometimes sparing the rod is the best way to do that.

God delights in us. (Psalms 18:19) We need to instill discipline, but we need to parent like the Father: with love and grace in abundance.

Chris Surber is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk. Visit his website at www.chrissurber.com.