The central duty parents have is training up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. As many others have pointed out, this is not merely an academic pursuit, nor is it purely “spiritual” as though Jesus doesn’t have anything to say about mathematics or washing dishes. This nurture and admonition is a complete Christian culturalization, discipleship — learning to take every thought captive to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
There are many facets to this calling, and over the next number of weeks, I’d like to explore different pieces of this puzzle, beginning today with the biblical basis for corporal punishment. Now first off, we need to recognize the tendency we all have to a misapply Scripture. We are often most concerned about the ditches we are least likely to fall into. So strict parents are often strict precisely because they are afraid of being lax pushovers; and easygoing parents are easygoing precisely because they fear becoming blustering tyrants. But as it turns out they are probably more in danger of the ditch they are already in than the one they are peering through the binoculars at.
This means that when I bring up spanking and corporal punishment, some of you will start rubbing your hands together excitedly, and some of you get worried looks on your face. Some of you think I’m planning to defend your drill sergeant tactics, and others are afraid I’m about to. But our standard for love is God who in the first instance is a loving and faithful Father. We know that He is this way principally because He sent His own beloved Son into the world for us and for our salvation.
Nevertheless, we know that this God who is love sent His Son into the world to suffer. In fact, Jesus learned obedience by the things that He suffered (Heb. 5:8). The perfect Son was taught obedience through the pain He endured. Likewise, Hebrews reminds all Christians that we know God is our Father by His discipline. But this is not merely a Fatherly talking-to. This is a discipline that is painful (Heb. 12:11). God our heavenly Father, proves His love for us by inflicting pain in our lives, carefully, strategically, surgically – so that those who have been trained by it may yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11).
And Hebrews points out the converse: if you are not chastened, if the Father does not inflict disciplinary pain, then you have every reason to doubt that you are His child. You are not His son; you are illegitimate. But we can push this even further. Parents who refuse to carefully, graciously correct and train their children are refusing to imitate God, the Good Father. They are not loving their children. In fact, Hebrews would argue that they are treating them as though they are not sons.
Lastly, we should note that the results of faithful discipline are holiness, peace, and righteousness. This is not merely a begrudging compliance. God the Father disciplines us so that we might partake of His holiness. It’s a gift. And when we taste what He gives, we are thankful, peaceful, and want to share it with others. If you are disciplining children and not seeing these kinds of results, then you have every reason to wonder whether what you are doing is what God has in mind. It is not enough to believe in spanking and inflict pain and cause tears. God disciplines us for our profit, so that we might share in His holiness, so that we yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness. If there is more confusion, more anger, more bitterness after a spanking than before, stop what you’re doing, and get advice and counsel from trusted sources before proceeding.