Spare Not The Rod

As Christian parents are called to love, train, and discipline their children, and children are called to honor and submit to their parents’ biblical discipline, how such discipline is carried out matters. In my time in counseling families over the years, especially those with young children, I’ve often heard parents wish they had a handbook for parenting, a handbook for raising their children. My response was, and continues to be, to encourage, comfort, and guide them in the Scriptures. The Bible really is a wonderful guide and teacher for parents to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. There are many principles, many tools to build godly character and wisdom in the hearts and minds of our children, as well as instruction about how to bring correction, when needed.

Though there are many passages we can study, Solomon gives us a lot to chew on and use in Proverbs. What are some clear things we glean from Proverbs 13:24? First and foundational, all biblical discipline is an act of love to our children. A good question to ask yourself is – “Do I love my children?” If you’re thinking – “Pastor, of course I love my children!” – that’s wonderful. Examine yourself and your practice – how is your love for your children evident or absent in how you discipline them? If we love our children dearly, Solomon says we will seek to be both consistent and prompt in our discipline. We won’t spare them from being corrected. We won’t let them do whatever they want to do. In fact, if we spare our kids from godly discipline, Solomon says we are showing we that hate them. Strong words to swallow, aren’t they? They may be strong, but they are the litmus, a guardrail, and medicine we all need in raising our kids. We need to correct them quickly so they aren’t seared and hardened by sin.

When Solomon speaks of sparing discipline, what specifically does he refer to? Sparing the “rod”. Now what is the rod that Solomon points out? The Hebrew word is shebet, which is a rod or staff “for smiting” and correction. This is same word, same rod that David speaks of in Psalm 23, that the Lord as his shepherd used to comfort him through correction. Although some argue that it’s reference in Proverbs 13 is symbolizing any kind of disciplinary correction, there’s no doubt that corporal punishment was approved in a variety of situations. We find this true in Proverbs 10:13, Proverbs 22:15, Proverbs 23:13-14, and Proverbs 29:15.

“The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” – Proverbs 29:15

In Proverbs 29:15, notice the rod and rebuke are separate forms of discipline that give wisdom. The consistent use and teaching in all of these passages reasonably leads one to believe that a physical, not symbolic, rod is prescribed. The use of the rod (i.e. spanking) is needed, particularly in the childhood years. There are also situations when rebuke is needed. There are many in which both are needed and appropriate to impart wisdom. Seeing that the rod should be used is one thing. Understanding when and how the rod should be used is another. I recommend Dr. Tedd Tripp’s book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, for walk through steps on how to do so well.

Now, there are a lot of people today who have turned away from spanking their children. Many in our society, many even within the broader church have done so, some of whom claim that any spanking is abusive. Clearly, if a parent is disciplining their child in anger, that is wrong and can be abusive. However, Scripture guides and teaches us here. Discipline carried out with self-control, a calm spirit, and with sincere love prevents spankings from being destructive or abusive. Again, the loving discipline of Christian parents should be pointing their children to the loving chastening of the Lord. It should be pointing and teaching them about His discipline of us as His children.

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; 12 For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.” –Proverbs 3:11-12

We all have had a variety of experiences (positive and negative) in our own upbringings, and maybe, others as adults, that influence decisions we make in disciplining our children. I’m sure we have a variety of opinions on biblical child-rearing. I encourage you to be prayerfully mindful every day of the godly love, patience, and wisdom that is needed in disciplining your children. Know also that I write this today being mindful that much wisdom is needed, especially with those who have experienced abuse. By God’s grace, may all of us seek to be guided by Scripture in what we think, say, and do in our walk with the Lord, as well as with our children.