Most people agree that discipline is necessary for the life of a child. But not all agree on what constitutes discipline and not all agree on its ultimate purpose. Even in scripture, we are given some notable examples of discipline gone wrong and sometimes absent altogether (1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Kings 1:6).
The purpose of discipline is instruction. It is designed as a corrective with a view to restoration, sanctification and transformation. Discipline without the cross tends toward bullying and oppression. Discipline, where the cross is central, is designed by God to transform and heal.
Punishment, on the other hand, is meted out in the simple interests of justice. The ultimate goal of punishment is not self improvement, but removal. When God finally pitches the wicked from His sight, it will not be with a view to restoration.
All true godly discipline points to the reality of the cross as the means by which we are restored to the household of God. And so, as strange as it may seem to 21st-century man, adorning our lives with the Gospel includes adorning them with the marks of discipline. The ultimate purpose of which is holiness.
In the Gospel, Jesus is chastised for the sins of mankind and this sets the context for our discipline.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes, we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
In Proverbs 13:24 we read that,
Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.
To withhold discipline, therefore, is to consign your child to endless frustration and ultimately, God’s grace notwithstanding, it is to consign them to death. It is to hate them; to not care less.
But the one who loves their child is careful to discipline him.
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The supreme example is the love of God that brought Jesus into the World (John 3:16).
Once we understand what God was accomplishing in His Son through discipline, we now think about the purpose of the discipline we administer to our own sons and daughters.
In the first place, the purpose of discipline is to bring us to God.
A child who sins, sins against God.
The purpose of discipline is not so the parent can get some frustration off their chest but to bring the authority of God to bear in a child’s life. Furthermore, because discipline is instructive it typically involves words. Those words are to bring the Lordship of Jesus to bear in a child’s life.
In the second place, discipline restores our place in the family (Hebrews 12:6-8). It restores our relatinoships with one another.
Discipline acknowledges that a fracture has occurred in the community and though painful, godly discipline reassures our hearts that we are loved and that we belong.
In the third place, the purpose of discipline is to keep those we love from harm. And so Solomon says,
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. (Proverbs 23:13-14)
Put simply, the goal of godly discipline is to train our children to lead productive, fruitful lives that love God’s commandments and see the discipline of the Lord as the love of a Father who cares.
Finally, the Bible not only calls for discipline but also tells us how it should be administered.
It is to be painful (Hebrews 12:11). Discipline that is not painful is not discipline. Patting a disobedient child on the bum through their nappy is not discipline, it just annoying.
It should be swift. Discipline, wherever possible, should also be immediate (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Counting to ten teaches the kid to count, and perhaps obey at 9. Delayed obedience is disobedience. If obedience is not prompt, then the discipline should be.
It should be consistent. Discipline should be consistent. It should be distributed evenly, consistently and fairly (Proverbs 20:10) and measured according to the sin, not immature motor skills. In other words, an accident with the milk should not be treated the same as pinching twenty bucks from dads wallet.
It should be calm and restore calm. Discipline should not be administered in anger (James 1:19-20).
To warn your child five times, then, fall into a spasm of verbal or physical rage for their failure to obey is not discipline – it’s you being a bully. At this point, the only thing you are instructing your child in is how to wage war when things don’t go your way. Immediate discipline tends to avoid this problem.
When we are disciplined, we are being treated as sons, whether we are young or old (Hebrews 12:7).
We may not always understand the immediate reason for God’s discipline but we are called to trust Him and respond with a contrite heart to the flat tire, the job loss and the kidney stones.
For those who refuse God, discipline is a warning of dreadful things to come. For those who love God and put their trust in Him, discipline is a promise of good things to come and an eternal home.