Child Discipline

Ephesians 6:4: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

What does raising a child in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” include?  Some advocate focused verbal instruction, some consistent church attendance, some mindless subservience while others promote corporal punishment.  What is God’s intent for raising children?  To determine the Biblical answer, we look to:

  • Historical Context: Written between 60-63 A.D., Ephesians 1:1 identifies the author of the Book of Ephesians as the Apostle Paul.  He intended all those that long for Christ-like maturity to understand the discipline needed to develop into true sons of God. Furthermore, Ephesians helps to fortify and establish the believer so he can fulfill God’s purpose and calling. The aim of this epistle is to confirm and equip a maturing church critical to God’s economy.  Paul’s writing breaks down into three main segments. (1) Chapters one through three introduce principles with respect to God’s accomplishment. (2) Chapters four and five put forth principles regarding our present existence. (3) Chapter six presents principles concerning our daily struggle.  Perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, the Book of Ephesians emphasizes the connection between sound doctrine and right practice. Paul argues that theology is practical. In order to live out God’s will for us in our lives practically – we must first understand who we are in Christ.

  • Grammatical Usage: “Provoke” in the Greek is “parorgizo” and means “to arouse to mindless wrath or anger…purposeless provocation”; “wrath” is “parorgismos” meaning “agitation resulting in a settled, abiding condition of the mind towards revenge”; “nurture” is “paideia” meaning “to instruct, train, discipline and correct”; “admonition” in the Greek is “noutheteo” and means “to put into the mind in the form of a warning.”
  • Literal Application: “And, fathers, stop exasperating your children!  On the contrary bring them up in the instruction and discipline of the Lord.”
  • Contextual Interpretation: The unwise parent exercises a dictatorial control over his child that tends to denigrate and degrade the child’s dignity and self-esteem.  While secular authorities emphasize the same, they do so from a humanistic orientation instead of every person created in the image of God Himself.  The Greek clearly indicates that discipline which results in an irritated, demoralized, exasperated, discouraged to the point of fostering revolt child is the wrong definition, therefore application.  In fact, what is admonished is a nurturing approach: Christian discipline designed to regulate character.  Father’s are addressed because they represent the head of the family upon who rests the ultimate responsibility of child discipline.  As such they should not burden their children with unreasonable demands, petty rules or favoritism.  Such actions cause children to become discouraged (Col. 3:21) and fail to accurately portray the Heavenly Father’s love for His children.
  • Scriptural Comparison: Parents must understand that just as there is no child of God who can escape the correction of the Heavenly Father (Heb. 12:6) since no Christian this side of glory is perfect, so there is no child in the Christian family who does not, at some time, on occasion, merit the correction of his parents.  Discipline is used to correct and train in the right actions and reactions to life and one another (circumstances/relationships). “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” (Hebrews 12:11). The Bible strongly stresses the importance of discipline; it is something we must all have to be productive people and is much easier learned when we are young. Children who aren’t disciplined often grow up rebellious, have no respect for authority, and as a result find it difficult to willingly obey and follow God. He uses discipline to correct us and lead us down the right path and to encourage repentance for our actions (Psalm 94:12; Proverbs 1:7, 6:23, 12:1, 13:1, 15:5; Isaiah 38:16; Hebrews 12:9).  God’s discipline is loving, as should it be between parent and child.

Corporal punishment, or spanking, should never be used to cause lasting physical harm or pain. Physical punishment should always be followed immediately with comforting the child and assurance that he/she is loved. Many Scriptures do, in fact, promote physical discipline. “Don’t fail to correct your children. They won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death” (Proverbs 23:13-14 NLT). There are also other verses that support physical correction (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 20:30). These moments are the perfect time to teach a child that God disciplines us because He loves us and as parents, we do the same for our children. 

In order to apply discipline correctly and according to biblical principles, parents must be familiar in the scriptural advice regarding discipline. As seen in the previous paragraphs, the book of Proverbs contains wisdom regarding the rearing of children. “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother” (Proverbs 29:15). This verse outlines the consequences of not disciplining a child: disgrace of the parents. Of course, discipline must have as its goal the good of the child and must never be used to justify the abuse and mistreatment of children. Never should it be used to vent our anger and frustrations.

Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” For all children, the way they should go is toward God. Teaching children in God’s Word is crucial for all children, who must understand who God is and how to best serve Him. With the strong-willed child, understanding what motivates him—the desire for control—will go a long way to helping him find his “way.” This child is one who must understand that he is not in charge of the world—God is—and we simply must do things God’s way. This requires parents to be absolutely convinced of this truth and to live accordingly. A parent who is himself in rebellion against God will not be able to convince his child to be submissive to his heavenly Father.

Once it has been established that God is the One making the rules, parents must establish in the child’s mind that they are God’s instruments and will do anything and everything necessary to carry out God’s plan for their families, and His plan is that they lead and the child follows. There can be no vacillating on this point. The children can spot indecisiveness a mile away and will jump at the opportunity to fill the leadership vacuum and take control.

The principle of submitting to authority is crucial for children. If it isn’t learned in childhood, his future will be characterized by conflicts with all authorities, including employers, police, law courts, and military leaders. Romans 13:1-5 is clear that the authorities over us are established by God, and we are to submit to them.

Some children will only willingly comply with rules or laws when they make sense to them. Give them a solid reason for a rule, constantly reiterating the truth that we do things the way God wants them done and that is not negotiable. Explain that God has given parents the responsibility to love and discipline their children and to fail to do so would mean the parents are disobeying Him. Where possible, however, give the child opportunities to help make decisions so that he does not feel completely powerless. For example, going to church is not negotiable because God commands us to gather together with other believers (Hebrews 10:25), but children can have a say in what they wear, where the family sits, etc. Give them projects in which they can take charge, like planning the family vacation, in order to practically demonstrate how important it is not to just make decisions but learn how decisions are made and the consequence for good and bad.  Often a child does not understand the consequences of decisions or the factors that lead up to correct or incorrect decisions.  By including a child in the decision process, parents engender a new thought process which ultimately underscores right and wrong based upon anticipated vs. actual results.

Parenting must be done with consistency and patience. Parents must try not to raise their voices, or raise their hands in anger, or lose their tempers. This will give a child the sense of control he longs for, and he will quickly figure out how to control you by frustrating you to the point of making you react emotionally. Spanking often fails with strong-willed children because they enjoy pushing parents to the breaking point so much that they feel a little pain is worth the price. Parents of particularly strong-willed kids often report their child laughs at them while they are being spanked, so spanking is not be the best method of discipline with them.

  • Conclusion: Perhaps nowhere in life are the Christian fruits of the Spirit of patience and self-control (Galatians 5:23) more required than with children.  A critical factor is that a parent is under control before attempting to exercise control over a child.  Just as the parent may have taken years to come to Christ or to come under the control of the Spirit, time is necessary in the nurture of a child.  Every child is unique and your child is your child for their entire natural life.  Just as God deals with us for as long as we have breath, so is our obligation to our children whether adolescents or well into their adult years.  Never forget that while God created time, we often are guilty of not allowing Him to use it in the lives of children (or ours for that matter).  His word will not return void, therefore our obligation to Him and our children is to live according to that Word with integrity and a determination not to compromise.  Our obligation isn’t to convert our children – that is God’s prerogative.  Our obligation is not to fail in our witness which contributes to our children’s rebellion.  If we do this, despite the pain associated with our children’s misguided decisions, we rest in the knowledge that, as parents, we have fulfilled Ephesians 6:4 and thereby laid the groundwork from which the Lord pursues each and every child of man to be His own.