In today’s social climate, discipline does not come naturally. Christian parents need to be challenged and stimulated to discipline their children. The reason why this is necessary is that many fail to recognise the authority of the Bible in this realm.
The latest books on child guidance and child psychology are unlikely to help. The Bible is our ultimate authority, our source-book, and believers who obey the Bible rather than being influenced by current opinions know the importance it places on discipline. In this article and the next, we shall be concerned with the Bible’s teaching on this important matter.
What is discipline?
What do we mean by discipline? The dictionary explains it in these terms: ‘Instruction; training, or mode of life in accordance with rules. Subjection to control. Order’. This brings out the basic ideas.
Disciplined children are children brought up according to a certain pattern. Their lives have been controlled and are orderly. Proverbs 22:6 puts it like this: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go’. There is a pattern to be followed, a direction in which to go. Discipline is the whole process of training a child in the right way.
It is helpful, at the beginning, to sort out in our minds some of the aims of discipline. What are we trying to do? Firstly, we are developing obedience to authority. Children have to learn to subject their wills to those who have been set in authority over them.
Our problem is that, by nature, we are all self-willed. Early in our lives we need to learn that everything cannot and should not be arranged to fit in with what we want. The importance of this can hardly be over-stressed.
Children who never learn to obey, and have everything their own way, grow up to be thoroughly bad husbands, wives, citizens, or even bad Christians. A child who will not play if he cannot have his own way, is tomorrow’s church member who resigns for exactly the same reason (suitably and piously camouflaged, of course).
Children need to obey the authority of their parents. They must learn to submit and align their wills to the guidance and direction of others.
Secondly, wise discipline means laying down guidelines for life. ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it’. By disciplining our children we are guiding them into the way they should live in later years. We are laying a foundation for adult life.
Discipline, then, is not just for the sake of the parents, to give them peace and quiet in the home! It is for the long-term good of children.
A third aim is to develop self-discipline in our children. This is very important. Discipline is not like programming a computer, so that it reacts automatically to the various ‘inputs’ it receives later. We are training people who, in due course, will have to take their own decisions and order their own lives.
No one can live a life pleasing to God without learning self-discipline, and parents must seek to inculcate this vital characteristic in their children.
In bringing up children we must never forget the importance of parental example. Our lives are always teaching those around us, even when our lips are silent. It is important, then, for Christian parents to set an example by their own obedience to God.
They must show that they are obedient to their heavenly Father, and that their lives are guided and controlled by his Word.
Moreover, Christian wives should take care to submit to their husbands. The same Bible that teaches children to obey their parents teaches also that the wife should respect the headship of her husband. There must be consistency in obeying the commands of Scripture.
Parents should set an example in personal discipline. If parents cannot order and control themselves, a child will soon realise that they have one standard for themselves and another for their child.
What is the good of teaching a child to be punctual, if the parent is always late for church? Is it fair to punish your children for outbursts of temper, when you cannot control yourself when irritated or annoyed? Discipline must begin with ourselves.
Not only is example important, but also the atmosphere of the home; the Christian home should be a disciplined one; that is, there should be order and control in the organisation of family life.
In many homes everything seems to occur haphazardly. Mum and Dad are not in control; the children are not under control; circumstance rules. No one knows when the meals are going to be ready, or when anything is going to be done. That is a hopeless situation in which to try to discipline children.
This is not to advocate a rigid, authoritarian rule in the home, nor is ‘office efficiency’ necessary. Where there is reasonable, flexible organisation and discipline, there will be happiness and contentment, and a suitable environment for training up children.
In considering this subject it is essential to see what the Bible says about the authority of parents. The dictionary defines authority in this way: ‘Legal power or right. Power derived from office or character or prestige’. We talk about ‘the authorities’, that is, those who have powers and rights over others.
The Bible tells us in Romans 13:1 that the governing authorities, ‘the powers that be’, are ordained by God, who has brought them into being to prevent anarchy in the world. Absence of authority means absence of order and control.
There are those who have authority in the civil realm. Peter writes, ‘Honour the king’ (1 Peter 2:13-17; see also Romans 13:1-7). The king derived his authority from God, and it was the duty of Christian people to submit to it. Today, similarly, Christians are to submit to the authorities, for they are still ordained by God.
In the area of home life, of course, the parents are the authority. ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”, which is the first commandment with a promise’ (Ephesians 6:1-2).
Parents, then, have God-given authority to discipline their children; the authority to command, advise, rebuke and chastise. This is a responsibility we must not shrug off. Parental commands must, of course, be given in love.
God commended Abraham in Genesis 18:19: ‘For I have known him, in order that he may command [not just advise] his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice’.
In 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (see also v.12) Paul speaks of the qualities that should be found in church elders and, in so doing, emphasises the authority of the Christian father in the home.
The leader should be ‘One who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence; (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)’. The father rules the home; he is the authority; he has his children in submission — not cringing slavery, but a loving obedience to one worthy of respect.
Husband and wife
In the home, both parents have this God-given authority. Yet, plainly, the father has the ultimate authority, and his wife should be able to rely on him to fulfil this responsibility. It is particularly important that husband and wife should back each other up.
If Mummy has said, ‘No’ to something and the child then goes and asks his father (or vice versa), the child must be firmly dealt with. Any disagreements between parents on the matter should be sorted out later between themselves. In the presence of the children they must support each other’s decisions.
In our society today, many have little respect for those in positions of authority. The cause and the remedy both lie in the home. It is here that the rising generation must learn to recognise and submit to those with authority. Parents have a God-given task which they must carry out.
To be continued