Tuesday, April 24, 2007

And one more thing…

Note: This will be a long post, but I think it is important enough that I ask you to, please, hang in there until the end. Thanks!
I really didn’t intend to write about corporal punishment. Frankly, it is such an unpopular subject in our more “enlightened” society that one risks inviting scorn for expressing support for it. My original posts on this subject began as comments in response to this post by Tim Challies about a humorous episode from the life of that great 18th century evangelist, George Whitefield. After reading some of the other responses to that blog’s post, and after thinking about it more, especially in light of Scripture, I decided the topic deserved more attention.

You see, Scripture deals explicitly with corporal punishment, endorsing the use of the “rod” as an instrument of discipline. I am aware that there are scholars who feel that “rod” is a figurative term, referring to non-physical methods of discipline rather than physical punishment. When I read the Scriptures, however, I am just not convinced. In my opinion, to define the “rod” figuratively is fundamentally a well-meaning attempt to make the Bible more palatable to our modern, Western sensibilities. It’s clear we are developing (have developed?) into an over-sensitive, “wussified” society, that is positively squeamish about the idea of physically punishing children when their behavior clearly calls for it. I was amazed to discover, in the few commentaries I have available to me, most commentators had very little to say about the “rod”. It seemed to me they were purposely avoiding the clear implications of some verses out of the fear that some might object to the suggestion that corporal punishment was desirable as a form of discipline.

My experience has been that most who object to the physical “rod” of discipline do so because they consider the practice to be abusive. Granted, child abuse does exist and it is always inexcusable. I mentioned in this post the unfortunate fact that there has been physical abuse in my extended family. So, I am very aware of the reality of abuse. However, I do not think the fact that some abuse the practice of corporal punishment is a justifiable (or logical) reason to abandon corporal punishment. In fact, I think that for parents to abandon the disciplinary option of corporal punishment in the rearing of their children is a serious mistake. Further, for Christian parents to disregard the option of corporal punishment in the rearing of their children is to disregard God’s specific instruction. It is sinful, and it is wrong.

My feelings about this have been deepened over the several years I have worked and taught in public high schools, dealing with other folks’ kids. I have become convinced that one of the problems with today’s teens (and there are a multitude of issues affecting teens, not just one) is that too many of them have never experienced physical punishment from their parents when they were younger and more manageable. You see, it’s too late, when the boy is 6-ft. tall and nearly 200 pounds, to try to rein in his behavior. If someone had “wore out his behind” when he was 3 or 4, he wouldn’t be the problem he is to his parents and teachers today at 17 or 18. My great-grandfather had little education, but he spoke the truth years ago when he said to one parent we knew, “If you don’t whup that boy’s behind now, one day he’s goin’ to whup your behind!” That’s true! How many parents have tolerated disrespect, disobedience and insolence from their 2, 3, 4 or 5-year-old child, perhaps thinking such behavior “cute”, only to end up with an absolute rebel of 15, 16 or 17 living under their roof, making their family’s life miserable? Our more “enlightened” society has brought us most of the bad news we hear or read about from our public schools. And then public school teachers and administrators get blamed because they can’t work miracles with these same young people who have been so poorly parented. About 2 weeks ago a student was bragging in class about the fact that, although he receives numerous detentions, he never serves them: “What can the deans do? They can’t make me serve a detention, and my momma doesn’t care.” This is what our “enlightenment” has brought us!

Again, I am not advocating abuse. I’m only pointing out that God has ordained the “rod” as a legitimate disciplinary option. Just as each child differs in nature and temperament, even so, the need to apply corporal punishment differs with the temperament and personality of the child. Parents must not rule out corporal punishment because it is a God-given option. We ignore the “operating instructions” of our Creator only to the detriment of our society. God knows what our children need—He’s their Creator, after all. Let’s look at the Scriptures:

Proverbs 13:24
“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”

To withhold corporal punishment when circumstances call for it is to hate the child, in that we neglect that which is in the best interest of his/her soul.

Proverbs 22:15
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”

I know this is the truth! Talking, alone, is not sufficient to dislodge “folly” from the human heart. However, most children will think twice if they know their parent “means business” and will spank their little behind.

Proverbs 23:13-14
“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 Sheol.”

The child might cry like you’re killing him/her, but it’s just an act (some of you parents know exactly what I’m talking about). Don’t let the little rascal bluff you out of following through with the punishment his/her misbehavior deserves. Spank him/her, and save his/her soul from something far worse than a spanking.

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

I have met teenagers who are a discredit to their parents. Their parents ought to be ashamed to have raised such insolent, disrespectful, inconsiderate, selfish, immoral wretches! Children weren’t designed to rear themselves; they need loving guidance, training, correction and, yes, sometimes they need physical punishment. Heed God’s instruction and spare yourself future shame.

Some would say they don’t care what the Bible says or suggests, corporal punishment is always wrong, it is always abusive and there is absolutely no reason to ever strike a child. I would ask you, then, does it matter to you what God’s word says? Are you suggesting you know more about human nature than God? Are you that smart?

Consider this: We’re told by the apostle John that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). If the infinite God is love, it should be obvious that we cannot possibly be more loving than God. If we’re nicer than God, I would suggest that we’re too nice. Look at this text:

Romans 1:28-32
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

Did you notice that among those who “deserve to die”, God’s word lists those who are “disobedient to parents”? Did you see that? A child who is disobedient to his/her parents, according to the word of God, is one of those that “deserve to die”.

Now, if the child deserves to die, by what definition is corporal punishment, rightly administered, abusive? The Bible says the child deserves far worse! God considers the child’s disobedience to be sin. In God’s courtroom, sinners deserve to die. Considered against the background of God’s justice, we see that corporal punishment is God’s merciful means to deliver a child’s soul from death.

Further, in imitation of our heavenly Father, corporal punishment is an act that demonstrates a parent’s love for the child’s soul:

Hebrews 12:5-8
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

Did you know that God the Father administers corporal punishment on His children? When we lovingly administer corporal punishment, we’re following the example of our heavenly Father. God “disciplines the one he loves.”

But, do you also notice how far our society has fallen? The writer asks, “What son is there whom his father does not discipline?” Sadly, the fact of the matter is, there are a whole lot of sons and daughters out there whose fathers and mothers refuse to discipline. The lack of lovingly administered corporal punishment is but one sign of how perverse our society has become, when measured by the infallible standard of God’s word. From God’s perspective, it is incredible that a child would exist who has not experienced his/her parent’s discipline. Supposedly, we “spare the rod” because we love the child. God says we’re lying to ourselves. If we truly loved the child, we would discipline the child. And discipline includes the “rod” or corporal punishment: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24).

Let’s finish this passage in Hebrews, and I’ll comment as we go along:

Hebrews 12:9-11
“Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them
[Notice, here, that parents who lovingly administer corporal punishment earn respect from their children]. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them [the fact that some parents have abused corporal punishment only proves one thing: those parents are sinners, just like you], but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant [corporal punishment should hurt], but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it [it’s worth it in the end].”


So, I leave this plea with believers: Don’t succumb to the perverse values of our society. God’s way is always the right way. Corporal punishment, lovingly administered, is God’s idea, not men’s: God knows what our children need. If you discipline your children—not for selfish reasons, but out of a genuine, loving and prayerful concern for their eternal souls—they will respect you. And, the Lord willing, eventually, they will thank you.

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