The Discipling Parent/Teacher

By James Beeke

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

"Fathers" means those placed in authority. "Fathers" refers to our homes, churches, civil governments and institutions. Institutions include our schools. As parents and teachers, we occupy God-given positions of authority. How are we to exercise this authority? Ephesians 6:4 provides the answer, by nurturing and admonishing. We are called to discipline.

The root word of "discipline" is "disciple." A disciple is one who believes and adheres to that which he/she has been taught. A disciple is a follower: one who walks in the footsteps of his/her teacher. The goal of the disciplining parent/teacher should be to disciple, i.e., to pray and work that our children/students may become and develop as disciples. Disciples of the Lord, of Christ, of God’s Word. We are called to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, " not according to my own ideas, desires or plea- sures, but those "of the Lord."

Discipline is a boat with two oars. One oar is preventive, and the other is corrective discipline. If you attempt to row with one oar, what will happen? You will turn in circles but go nowhere. Pull stronger on one oar than on the other and you will veer to one side or the other. To travel straight toward your destination you need to pull equally on both oars. "Nurture" is the oar of preventive, and "admonition" of corrective discipline.

To nurture is to teach, to show, to lead. To nurture is the opposite of to assume, to ignore or to be inactive. When our children/students have not behaved appropriately, we should first ask ourselves, "Did I nurture them?" "Did I clearly instruct, show and lead them?" For example, "Did I assume, or did I clearly show my students the type and quality of report I was expecting?" "Did I assume, or clearly show my children the type of behavior that is appropriate prior to guests arriving?" Do I only tell my students/children to behave and assume they know how, or do I lead them to understand what "behave" means? Nurturing conveys love and genuine care. It builds a strong foundation of trust to carry the weight of corrective discipline.

Effective nurturing will prevent considerable misbehavior, yet admonition will also be necessary. Why? Because our children/students are sinners, as we all are. Admonition (or chastening or corrective discipline) are more than just punishing. Admonishing may include punishment, but it is more. Admonishing aims to disciple. Punishment is not an end in itself. Corrective discipline seeks to redirect the person, to correct the misbehavior. Chastening does not simply reason, "I punished him/her so that is cared for." Punishment alone focuses on the past misbehavior; correction on future behavior. Punishment dwells on the upsetting consequences of the child/student’s misbehavior; corrective discipline dwells on the child/student. Punishment emphasizes the offense; chastening emphasizes the offender. Punishment’s primary concern is retribution; admonishment’s is reformation.

God commands us not to provoke our children to anger. Punishing our children/students without an admonishing spirit will provoke them. God calls us to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." How does the Lord nurture and admonish His children? He is firm. There are consequences for misbehavior. Yet, His children experience His unfailing, gracious love. They feel His genuine care. Such chastening produces sincere respect, not angry rebellion.

We must pull on both oars, the oars of preventive and corrective discipline. We must pull steadily and consistently. Pulling by spurts and jerks will rock and tip the boat. May we increasingly learn how to disciple our children/ students as the Lord does His. Such firm love, such nurturing admonition touches the heart. It provokes to obedience, not to wrath. Are you a nurturing and admonishing parent, a disciplining teacher?