In recent months, the issue of discipline (not my lack of self-discipline when it comes to food, but the disciplining of James) has been brought up in my family. Wenyu and I have had several discussions on this, and I wanted to use this article as an opportunity to research on the Christian position regarding discipline, in particular, whether discipline via the rod (or by extension some forms of physical punishment (“Physical Punishment”)) should be practised. This is especially since Physical Punishment seems to be widely frowned upon in the various parenting sources that we’ve looked at.
Discipline is borne out of love
Before we determine if Physical Punishment is to be administered in Christian households, we would need to determine the basis behind administering discipline. Discipline is borne out of love. In Hebrews 12:5-6, we learn that God disciplines those that he loves:
“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”
In the same vein, we are also instructed to discipline our children out of love. This can be seen from Proverbs 13:24 which states:
“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”
It is important that we discipline out of love, as our purpose behind disciplining our child is to ensure that our child improves, so that our child grows up righteous. This can be seen in Hebrews 12:10-11 which states:
“For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (emphasis in bold underline added)”
As can be seen from the passages cited, discipline plays a key role in the upbringing of a child, as it can guide a child in the way of righteousness, and turn him away from destruction. In order for us to do this, we would have to set aside our feelings of hurt or guilt when we administer discipline (yes, I now understand that my parents would also feel hurt when they disciplined me in the past) and instead focus on how discipline can help shape our children, as is instructed at Proverbs 19:18,
“Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” (emphasis in bold underline added)
In fact, it could be argued that we are not acting out of love for our children when we fail to discipline our children because we wish to avoid our own feelings of hurt or guilt when we administer discipline. As parents, we ought to be able to set aside our own feelings of hurt or guilt, and place our child’s interests, in particular, his ability to grow in the way of righteousness, above our own.
The Bible provides for the use of Physical Punishment
Having established that discipline is borne out of love and is necessary to set our children on the path of righteousness, let us now turn our attention towards whether Physical Punishment is demanded in Christian families. The Bible does provide for the use of Physical Punishment. An example of this can be found at Proverbs 23:13-14 which states:
“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."
In this regard, it should be noted that such verses are to be read literally, as there are no indications that would suggest that such verses should be read figuratively (i.e. that a literal “rod” need not be used). In fact, it is clear that a Physical Punishment is intended as a method of discipline as the Bible specifically mentions the use of Physical Punishment (the rod), alongside non-physical forms of discipline (reproof). Proverbs 29:15 reads:
“The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."
The same can also be seen in Psalms 141:5, where Physical Punishment (smite) is mentioned alongside non-physical forms of discipline (reprove). Psalms 141:5 reads:
" Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.
Seen in this light, it is clear that Christian parents must not shy away from Physical Punishment, when the need to do so arises.
Physical Punishment is not always demanded where discipline is required
The Bible does state that disciplining a child would necessarily require the use of Physical Punishment, as seen in Proverbs 22:15. However, it should be noted that Physical Punishment is not always demanded when discipline is required. In fact, the Bible does acknowledge that other forms of discipline may be more appropriate, as seen in Proverbs 17:10, which states:
“A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.”
While Proverbs 17:10 does not specifically relate to the administration of discipline on our children, the principle of tailoring the punishment to the child’s maturity or wisdom would still apply. Indeed, it may be more effective for us to adopt alternatives to Physical Punishment as our children grow older and mature, as the use of Physical Punishment then may result in resentment and impede our child’s growth in the path of righteousness. Such alternatives to Physical Punishment that are contained in the Bible include:
Consistent Instruction (Proverbs 22:6 provides that we should “train up” the child);
Rebuke (Proverbs 29:15); and
Acknowledgment of wrongdoing and Repentance (Revelations 3:19)
Growing up, I envisioned that I would be the “fun” and “cool” parent, allowing my son to grow up in a happy environment free from any form of pain. However, it is clear from the passages cited above that we must discipline our children, especially when it involves the potential salvation of our children. I hope that my son will one day be able to look back on the discipline that he received, and understand that I did so out of love, just as how I am thankful that my parents disciplined me when I was out of line in my younger days.