The Painful Side of Parenting

Behavior and Consequences

Paul uses a specialized word to describe one essential way that parents should meet the needs of their children (Eph 6:4). This is the Greek word for nurture or discipline, which means “child training.” It focuses on establishing rules for the purpose of establishing proper behavior. This activity involves both punishing wrong behavior with appropriate consequences and rewarding good behavior with appropriate benefits.

This practice recognizes the universal law of sowing and reaping. According to this inescapable reality of life, you will receive appropriate consequences or reward in return for the choices that you make (Gal 6:7). This is especially true for a born-again Christian who enjoys a parent-child relationship with God. As a good father, God does more than give good gifts to his children (Matt 7:11). He also meets your need for spiritual development through child-training (Prov 3:11-12; Heb 12:5-11).

Biblical child-training requires teaching children the consequences of wrong behavior. Parents often withhold consequences, choosing to say nothing, feeling that it is the loving thing to do, or choosing to get angry instead. Neither response teaches the truth about the real world, which is governed by the providence of God.

What is life like in the real world? When a grown man drives his car at 90 miles per hour, a police officer will issue him a very large fine. Then again, he may find himself admitted to the hospital with a life-threatening injury. When a grown lady oversleeps multiple days, despite repeated warnings, she will likely find herself without a job. She will also carry a damaging referral on her resume.

Children need to learn these realities early in the microcosm of their home. They should learn to obey rules and respect authority. When they fail to do this, they should receive appropriate consequences as a result. In the adult world, government, employers, and the providence of God will carry out these consequences and teach these lessons in serious ways. But God holds parents responsible to teach children these same painful lessons early, while they are young.

An Unpleasant Experience

The New Testament reveals that the child-training process God provides for his children may be painful and unpleasant (Heb 12:5-11). But this should not surprise you, because parenting like this is a very loving thing to do, even when God himself is the parent (Rev 3:19). In fact, a parent who refuses to discipline this way is demonstrating the opposite of love, which is hatred (Prov 13:24). Ultimately, it is a normal expectation that parents (especially fathers) will do this (Heb 12:7; Prov 13:24; 23:13-14).

The NT associates the word scourging with this child-training process, which speaks of severe punishment, even whipping (Heb 12:6). This indicates that proper child-training will be painful, involving a measure of mental pain and anxiety, which leads to regret and sorrow (Heb 12:11). This inner experience in the heart of a child should enables his inner propensity to make the wrong decisions to wear down, as when the disciples were physically worn out in the olive grove the night before the crucifixion (Luke 22:45).

The Rod of Correction

The Old Testament book of Proverbs gives practical and timeless parental advice, which the NT book of Hebrews echoes. It teaches that child-training is necessary because thick-headed, stubborn foolishness is strongly fastened to the heart of a child (Prov 22:15). Proverbs 13:26 reinforces the kind of discipline that Hebrews 12:6 portrays, urging parents to practice this earnestly and early in a child’s development. Parents should not refuse nor hold back from doing this (Prov 23:13).

Proper loving discipline is painful, but it is not destructive. In fact, it is destructive not to provide this kind of training (Prov 23:14). Though proper child-training is unpleasant for the parent and child alike, in the end it leads to a wise and respectful child who brings delight and rest to the hearts of his parents (Prov 19:18; 29:15). When you refrain from doing this however, the opposite occurs. Consider the tragic example of Eli, who lectured his sons, but did not restrain them through child-training (1 Sam 2:22-25; 3:12-14; cf. Deut 21:18-21). The rod of correction is an important and necessary part of child-training.

Two Necessary Cautions

A parent must take every precaution to ensure that he or she practices child-training in an appropriate, loving way that does not cause harmful injury. Proverbs 19:18 makes this very clear when it says, “do not set your heart on his destruction.” This means that a parent should never discipline in a way that causes injury or worse. Parents should know the difference between appropriate discipline that is painful and improper behavior that causes injury and physical harm.

Also, parents must remember that proper discipline in child-training should occur in concert with all that parenting entails: teaching Scripture in the home, preventing anger and frustration, providing your children with presence, breaking bad parental patterns, meeting your children’s needs, and providing them regular, clear conversations about what is right and what is wrong. Altogether, this prepares children to respect authority (God, parents, etc.) by obeying immediately, completely, and with the right heart attitude.

Review Questions

  1. Did your parents practice this aspect of child-training? If yes, did they do so in a biblical manner? How or how not?
  2. Do you practice this aspect of child-training? If not, then what is preventing you from doing so?
  3. How can your family put into practice what you have learned from this lesson?