Christian pastor Tedd Tripp and his family were hosting his friend Nick after church one Sunday, and Nick’s girlfriend Angela came, too. During the meal, one of Tedd’s boys disobeyed, and he took him upstairs to a private room to discipline him. Angela asked what Tedd was going to do. “Probably spank him,” Tedd’s wife answered matter of factly. And sure enough, at that moment, a cry could be heard from upstairs.
Angela fled the house, extremely agitated.
Angela is not alone. Some of you may be agitated at the thought of parents spanking children. Some of us may have embarked on parenting determined that the Bible teaches spanking, but haven’t known how to do it, or have become fearful and stopped. Others are continuing to do it, but have nagging doubts.
We receive little reinforcement in the culture. George Holden, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, helped found the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children – which is a newly formed organization aimed at eliminating corporal punishment in the United States in every context. He says: "Spanking is a euphemism that makes it sound like hitting is a normal part of parenting.”
A few years ago, Murray Straus, sociology professor and co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, told the New Hampshire Concord Monitor (2/28/08): “This minute, in Concord, you can bet there’s some frustrated, angry parent slamming a child against a wall. Most of those kids are going to bounce off, unhurt. But one…will have a concussion. Then it’s child abuse.” Previous studies have shown that 90% of parents strike their toddlers, a statistic that’s held steady throughout the 30 years Straus has researched corporal punishment.
So words and their definitions matter:
“Slamming a child against a wall.”
“Strike their toddlers.”
When it comes to terms like this, we agree with Professor Straus, that, as he told the reporter, he would like to see a “decrease in the use of corporal punishment”— if we’re talking about physical violence, slamming and striking.
That’s child abuse, and we fear for the one who will give an account before God someday who has done such a thing to a little one. We hate such behavior; we denounce such behavior; and we charge you before God NEVER to do such things. Please do not associate this sort of behavior with faithful Christianity and biblical parenting.
But in this class we’re going to attempt to define biblical corrective discipline.
Recall that so far in the course, we’ve worked hard to impress on ourselves the importance of the heart. We strive to image God in our parenting, and God cares about the heart. If we work only to conform behavior, we miss what matters most to God—the attitude of the heart. And consequently we deprive our children of the Gospel.
So we engage in formative discipline and training — we lead our families in worship, we engage in many different forms of communication to reach our children’s hearts. Our goal in ages 1-5, we said, is to teach our children to be people under authority; and in ages 6-12, to teach them godly character. And in so doing, our aim is to reach their hearts and lead them to Christ—their true authority, and the Holy Spirit who can give them whole new characters.
But as we saw last week, none of this is to suggest that God doesn’t care about behavior, or that we shouldn’t address our children’s behavior. And biblical corrective discipline squarely addresses behavior—while still serving our goal of training the heart. Now, you see, we have the proper context for addressing behavior—we have loving parents, seeking to image God, who are most concerned about their children’s hearts.
This context is hugely important. Taking God’s instruction for conforming behavior out of this context is an easy way to fall into crass manipulation or selfish, anger-filled abuse.
So – going to look at three main points:
I. The nature of our children shows their need for the rod and the wisdom it imparts.
To understand God’s plan, we need to hear what God says about the nature of our children. If children are born ethically and morally neutral, then they do not need correction; they need direction. They do not need discipline; they need instruction.
But is their most basic problem a lack of information? Are all the problems gone once they get enough education?
Of course not!
Children are not born morally and ethically neutral. The bible teaches that the heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). The child’s problem is not primarily an information deficit. His problem is that he is a sinner.
The “rod” as it is called in scripture, functions in this context. It is addressed to meet needs within the child. These needs cannot be met by mere talk. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.”
When we speak of folly biblically we are not talking about mere childishness. Children spill milk. They pull things apart without knowing things can come apart. They run over mommy’s toes without knowing how wide the tricycle really is. We don’t discipline for childishness or even immaturity.
Proverbs relates folly or foolishness to the person who has no fear of God. He will not hear reproof. The fool will not submit to authority. He mocks God and lacks wisdom (the fear of the Lord). “The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). The fool lives out of the immediacy of his lusts, cravings, expectations, hope and fears.
Realize: It is a question of authority. Will the child live under the authority of God and therefore under the authority of his parents, or under his own authority – driven by his wants and passions?
For those of you who do not have children, trust this statement to be true: children, in their natural state, have hearts of folly. They resist correction. Allow this attitude to take root and grow through the teen years and you will have a child-like person in an adult-sized body that will submit to no one, no rule, no authority – certainly not God’s apart from his saving intervention and new instruction from scripture.
A key tool for driving out foolishness—the rod
Biblically speaking, God has ordained the rod of discipline for this condition. Biblical discipline drives foolishness from the heart of a child. The young child who is refusing to be under authority is in a place of grave danger.
Listen: Proverbs 23:13-14 says, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from death.” Your child’s soul is in danger of death—spiritual death. Your task is to rescue your children from death. Faithful and timely use of the rod is a biblical tool of rescue.
This rescue will not happen with mere education. Parents often ask: Don’t all kids eventually learn to obey? No, says Proverbs, “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother. Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” Prov. 29:15, 17. [Also look at Titus 3:2-4 and see if those of the world “learn to obey…”]
Remember we said that context matters. Use of the rod is NOT a matter of a fed-up parent venting his wrath upon a small, helpless child. That is not how we image God in our child’s lives! It is HIS to avenge; He will repay.
Rather, the use of the rod signifies a faithful parent recognizing his child’s dangerous state and employing a God-given remedy. The issue is NOT a parental insistence on being obeyed – that would be closer to authoritarianism.
The issue is the child’s need to be rescued from death – the death that results from rebellion left unchallenged in the heart.
The rod imparts wisdom
How can this be? Proverbs 29:15 says, “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.” It imparts wisdom.
The child who is not submitting to parental authority is acting foolishly. He is rejecting the jurisdiction of God. He desires to live his life for the immediate gratification of his wants and desires. He is choosing his own rule over God’s and that leads to death. It is the height of foolishness.
The rod of correction brings wisdom to the child by: (1) providing an immediate tactile demonstration of the foolishness of rebellion; and (2) imparting to the child a proper fear of punishment. Properly administered biblical discipline with the rod thus teaches the child that rebellion yields only trouble and humbles the heart of a child, bringing him back under parental instruction.
Hebrews 12:11 puts it this way: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Let’s further define “the rod.”
II. What is the rod?
The rod is a parent, in faith toward God and faithfulness toward his or her children, undertaking the responsibility of careful, timely, measured, and controlled use of physical punishment to underscore the importance of obeying God, thus rescuing the child from continuing in his foolishness until death.
Let’s go through that definition one step at a time.
A Parental Exercise
The Bible does NOT grant permission to all adults to engage in the use of the rod. In Scripture, it is always found in the context of a parent-child relationship.
An Act of Faith
God has mandated the use of the rod. The parent obeys, not because he perfectly understands how it works, but because God has commanded it. Its use is an expression of confidence in God’s wisdom and the trustworthiness of his counsel.
An Act of Faithfulness
This is an expression of love and commitment to your child recognizing that in discipline there is hope, and refusing to be a willing party to your child’s spiritual death.
It is not the parent determining to punish. It is the parent determining to obey. The parent is God’s representative undertaking on God’s behalf what God has called him to do. There are many biblical figures (like King Saul) who refused the responsibility of God’s command and jeopardized his own standing before God and that of the people he represented.
A Measured Use of Physical Punishment
The rod is the careful, timely, measured and controlled use of physical punishment. It is never a venting of parental anger. It is not what the parent does out of frustration. The parent knows the proper measure of severity for this particular child at this particular time. And the child knows how many swats are to come.
A Rescue Mission
The child who needs discipline with the rod has become distanced from his parents through disobedience. The application of the rod is designed to rescue the child from continuing in his foolishness and to restore peace between the parent and child and thus to the home.
Ephesians 6:1-2 says that obeying parents is the first of the commandments with a promise—namely, that it will go well with the child who obeys, and he will enjoy long life. But a child who disobeys has removed himself from the biblical “circle of safety,” and has placed himself in grave danger. Tedd Tripp tells of one of his brothers, who was about to disobey, being warned by his brother: “you don’t want to live long, do you?” One of the other kids said, “what will happen, will your dad kill you?!” No, of course—the wise brother was warning his brother not to step outside the circle of safety.
By God’s grace, the rod of correction returns the child to the inside the circle. It is a rescue mission. People say they love their children too much to spank them. Not so. The Bible says, “he who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Prov. 13:24. Do you love your children? Then you will use the rod with them.
III. How do I use the rod?
When you have given a directive that your child has heard and understood, and is within his capacity to obey, and he has not obeyed without challenge, without excuse or without delay, then the use of the rod is in play.
Keep in mind that “without challenge” means “without fussiness or complaining.” We must discipline for bad attitudes. God commands children not only to obey, but to honor, their parents. And a child that is talking back, whining, complaining, glaring, rolling his eyes, hitting or kicking is not honoring his parents.
1. Take your child to a place where you can speak together in privacy. Do not humiliate this little one. Show respect instead.
2. Tell him specifically what he has done or failed to do. Never spank for “general purposes.”
3. Secure an acknowledgement from the child of what he has done.
Sample: Here’s how a typical scenario and conversation would play out.
• Little Peter (five years old) was told and clearly understood that he was not to call his sister “stupid.” He has memorized Ephesians 4:29 (“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”)
• Peter, in front of his mother, angrily calls his sister stupid.
• Mother: Peter, you were told not to say that to your sister. Go to the bathroom and wait for me.
• [In the bathroom.] Mother: Peter, what was it you just called your sister?
• Peter: Stupid.
• Mother: That’s right. Are you allowed to call her stupid?
• Peter: No.
• Mother: So did you obey or disobey?
• Peter: Disobeyed.
• Mother: And what does God say has to happen when a child disobeys?
• Peter: They get a spank.
• Mother: I’m going to give you [x] swats.
o This depends on what you know about the child. Some require one; others maybe three or four, or even five.
• Apply the rod.
o It’s not necessary to pull down underwear, but pants can be hard to spank through. We use a plastic spoon from the kitchen. We certainly do not want to bruise the child. We’re looking for a flick or sting on the skin – not force and bearing down. You don’t need to pull diapers off a two year old – applying the rod on the back of a child’s thigh is effective. A good rule of thumb might be that you spank the hand (supporting the child’s hand) before they’re crawling and add the rod as they begin walking.
• If the child begins to speak and is crying heavily following the discipline, we’ll calm and hush them until they are more under control and quiet in their tone.
• Typically they’re looking at you now.
• Mother: Peter, mommy loves you very much, and I hope I never have to spank you again. Now, what’s the good news?
• Peter: God sent Jesus because people like you and me sin.
• Mother: That’s right. You sin, and I sin. And there’s hope for people like us, and it’s found in Jesus, God’s own Son. Jesus took our punishment by dying on the cross if we turn from our sins and trust in him. Let’s pray together.
o Mother can lead child in prayer or pray for child.
o Say mother leads child, she might pray: “Dear Father [pause], please forgive me for disobeying mommy and calling sister stupid. Please take my sin and put it on Jesus. And take His goodness and put it on me. And give me a new heart that loves you and wants to obey. Amen.
• Hugs all around. Check the child’s spirit. Is he overly discouraged or upset or rebellious? If so, it may be necessary to spank again.
• Then say, we’re all done. We won’t talk about this any more.
• Make sure little Peter and “Sis” have gone through a reconciliation process.
Do you see what a hopeful process this is?! You have addressed behavior, brothers and sisters. The children are learning they must not disobey. They feel safe knowing there are firm boundaries, and the home is a place of order. Children think they want to be in charge, but if they get their wish they are miserable—everyone is miserable.
Not only that, you have just taken a difficult, vexing event—disobedience—and led your child to the cross of Christ. A father in our church asked his 10 year old what he thought it was important for parents to know about spanking. He said:
I think it’s really important that you tell us that there’s good news, because without it we’d be without redemption. You would be enforcing the law, with no hope . . . without the Savior.
I can’t improve on that! With biblical corrective discipline, we enforce the law as God prescribes with the rod and then lead them to the Savior.
IV. Frequently asked questions
1. When is my child old enough? When your child is old enough to consciously resist your directives, he is old enough to be disciplined.
2. When is a child too old? There is no obvious answer. Clearly, the use of the rod should be falling as the child gets older. The rod is most effective in dealing with young children and should begin to dwindle, and our practice has been to begin to disappear around double digits (age 10).
3. Can I use time-out instead of spanking? Don’t substitute time-out for spanking. First it is NOT God-ordained. Second, it seems to prolong the problem. Use time out when you see your child tempted to sin (e.g., I see you are thinking about leaving the yard and stepping outside the gate; so let’s stop and think about this before you disobey daddy).
4. What if my child says, “But I didn’t hear you?” Avoid calling your child a liar if there is any doubt in your mind; there will be plenty of times in the future where you have no doubt. But you must also train your children to hear their parents’ voice above the crowd’s. They can do it. Tedd Tripp notes that he began spanking for a recurrent hearing problem, and the problem cleared up immediately. (This is where our advice from last week about bringing your child to you for a command will help)
5. If I follow your counsel, all I’ll do is spank. Usually not. Faithful, biblical discipline brings more obedience, less strife, more joy, less challenges and more peace to the home. There may be a bit of a mountain to climb at first, but the more faithful the discipline, the more responsive the child.
6. What if I’m too mad? Get your spouse involved or take a time-out yourself and get under control. Don’t pollute the process with your unrighteous anger. If you want to deliver the spanking, you’re not ready to do so. In fact, it’s better NOT to spank than to spank in sin…
7. What if we’re not at home? If the child is older, they’ll remember why they’re being disciplined when they reach home. If they are younger, you may have to overlook an infraction when you’re out. But this shouldn’t be a big problem since most of your training time is while at home. Don’t risk a charge of child abuse for publicly disciplining your child.
8. I’m trying to get out the door to make a doctor’s appointment or be on time for church and my child disobeys me, do I discipline and show up late? Sometimes. There have been plenty of times I verbally address a child for an act of disobedience, rather than taking the time to go through all the steps. Timeliness (for instance, if you have a particular responsibility) may be the priority over that particular incident. At other times, or if the foul is particularly flagrant, I may change my mind.
We began with proper warnings about misuse of the rod. I want to close by reminding us of Hebrews 12:11: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Brothers and sisters, let’s seek this harvest of righteousness in our own lives as God disciplines us—trusting in His good, fatherly purposes. And let’s not deprive our children of this harvest by sparing the rod.