In today’s culture of raising children by only positive reinforcement (everyone gets a trophy); how do we reconcile the discipline of a child and biblical truth? As a parent, I like to go to the book of Proverbs; it’s known as wisdom literature. This wisdom is not only something that someone experienced (namely the writer), but it’s supposed to be applicational—meaning, it applies to life. When we read Proverbs, we should think about them as a father gifting his son or daughter with his experiences, knowledge, and understanding about all aspects of life. There is much to learn in life, especially parenting, and a wise person will heed the advice of an elder, and definitely one who has already experienced it. One of the most beloved Proverbs concerning love, faith, and trust is Proverbs 3. However, among the insight given to us is wisdom and discipline—these two go hand-in-hand. Let’s briefly look at parenting, discipline, and wisdom.
Assuredly, no one enjoys discipline, but godly discipline is good, pure, and holy. As the writer of Hebrews states, if God is disciplining you, He is treating you as a child of His (Hebrews 12:7). The Holy Spirit’s work in us propels us to repentance. It is a form of discipline and one that we should never neglect or reject. The reason we receive God’s discipline is because He loves us. Think about it…God’s wrath is not that He punishes us or sets up boundaries, but His wrath is when He allows us to do whatever we want to do. Discipline is love. Discipline is instruction.
As a parent, if I were to allow my child to play in traffic, someone would lock me up for neglect and child endangerment. How I respond to her playing in the middle of the traffic, after I save her, is wisdom–but it must reflect the sincerity of the danger along with my love for her. Likewise, if God didn’t love us, He would turn the other way and give us up to our desires and passions (Rom 1). So, if God corrects us then He loves us; be encouraged with these words:
Proverbs 3:11-12, “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”
As well, we, who love our children, discipline them with the proper discernment. Some parents may choose spanking, some may choose time-out, some may choose another source. While I never condone beating a child, leaving scars (whether physical or emotional), or yelling and screaming, I do believe that there can be certain circumstances when a spanking, at a young age, can be effective–but I should clarify that the aim is not to inflict pain/harm, but to enforce boundaries. Spanking should always make you (the parent) have some kind of remorse, afterwards–that is normal, due to the love that you have for them. You never feel “satisfied.” But, let me state this, my father was more of a lecturer, even though we had a few spankings (and for me, the switch once!), but he would sit you down and try and reason with you for hours on end. I recall my older brother saying to me, “I wish he’d just beat me and get this over with?” But dad taught me the importance of spanking (I remember it well) and the importance of reasoning. When I became a parent, I was able to keep them both tethered together.
One other piece of advice that I would give: do not ever strike your child when angry, annoyed, or in rage. Discipline does not mean inflicting terror, harm, or striking. Discipline and wisdom must be coupled together. The best time for spanking, if you choose to do so, would be when you are calm, have prayed, and discerned if spanking would really be effective, or if it’s only for self-gratification (i.e. is this for me because I am angry? Can this be talked out?). However, it is the parent’s (hopefully prayerful) decision to use discernment and love, attached to discipline and wisdom.
Pro 3:13, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.”
The reference to “her,” in this Proverbs 3 passage, is “wisdom,” which is personified. That means the writer desires the reader to “know” wisdom as much as he or she could know a person; and so, he applies human traits to the word. Wisdom should be something that we seek after and yearn for (James 1:5). The Bible student (you and me) will be wise to heed these words, as wisdom is far better than gold, silver, or costly jewels. Everything you see on earth can be wiped away in an instant, but wisdom will stay with you.
Prov. 3:13-18, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.”
The parent’s greatest gift is to raise up a child to love, follow, and serve Christ: what a blessing! Wisdom teaches with encouragement. As Paul stated, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Provoking your child to become jaded, angry, or to put up emotional walls, is not the godly way of parenting. However, concerning teenagers, let’s just admit that if the teenager has made a statement, such as “I hate you,” do not take it so literally–you’re probably doing something right. Teenagers, in my opinion, are way beyond the spanking stage, but not beyond the discipline age. It is this time in your parenting life when you will need the most wisdom in directing your child(ren), to understand why boundaries in life are vital.
The writer is correct, wisdom “is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” If you learn to discipline as God disciplines, with long lasting mercy, grace, and boundaries, I think you will do well. It’s obvious that this is not exhaustive, and assuredly every situation can be different, but all need wisdom.