The Christian Parent or Teacher: Called to Serve as King

By James Beeke (Cont’d)

Kings are appointed to protect, deliver, and rule. As parents and teachers, we are called to protect and deliver our children from sin and danger. How we do this relates to their age and maturity. Parents must nurture their children from infancy to adulthood. As they mature, we must wean them from total dependency upon us as parents to make all discerning decisions for them, to discern God’s will from His Word for themselves, as young adults.

As a successful king, parents and teachers are to rule effectively in their families and classrooms. God’s Word teaches us this truth very clearly. "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him" (Genesis 18:19). "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). "One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity" (1 Timothy 3:4).

Ruling includes disciplining. The root word in "discipline" is "disciple." A disciple is one who is not only taught by his master, but is one who adhered to and followed the teaching of his master. This must be our aim when disciplining. When our children or students are very young they can be formed and molded far easier than when they become older. A young oak tree can be shaped and bent, but when it becomes old and solid, it defies your attempts to shape it. Diligently use these critical early years in the lives of our children and students. Once they become older and enter the teen years they will begin to think more for themselves and tend to form their own opinions. It will become more difficult to bend or shape them.

Discipline is both preventive and corrective. Scripture refers to preventive discipline as instructing and corrective discipline and chastening. Both are referred to many times in the Word of God. The following references provide some examples:

Preventive Discipline (or Instructing) -"And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates" (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

-"And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates" (Deuteronomy 11:19-20).

-"Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD" (Psalms 34:11).

-"We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and His strength, and His wonderful works that He hath done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments" (Psalms 78:4-7).

-"Whom shall He teach knowledge? and whom shall He make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:9-10).

Corrective Discipline (or Chastening)

-"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24).

-"Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying" (Proverbs 19:18). -"Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15).

-"The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame" (Proverbs 29:15).

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

Preventive discipline should reflect a:

  • Proper structuring according to God’s law.
  • Proper explanation of God’s law.
  • Proper spirit of God’s law.

Picture a family with three children, ages 8, 10, and 12. Some friends are planning to visit this evening with the parents. The parents, however, exercise no preventive discipline. The children behave very poorly. The children do not say "hello" to the guests. They frequently run in and out of the room where the adults are visiting. Mother must leave the room three times and Father once to try to find something for the children to occupy themselves with. They interrupt the adults’ conversations to ask for different things several times. After the guests leave, the children need to be firmly corrected.

Now picture this same family and event when preventive discipline (good teaching) is employed. Prior to the guests arrival, Dad and Mom speak with the children. They recite how to say "hello" when the guests arrive, where to sit, how to listen politely, and when to leave the room quietly. Several games and other activities are pre-arranged. The evening proceeds smoothly and the children deserve a compliment for their behavior. It is far better to speak preventively, ahead of time, than correctively, after the misbehavior has occurred.

Appropriate and clear preventive explanations are important. Teachers, explain to your Third Grade students that cheating is a serious sin and that you must deal with it seriously. Show them that cheating is both lying and stealing, for example: "If you take the answer to a test question from your neighbour you steal it. If you put your name on your test copy and hand it in to me you are lying. You are claiming that your answers are all yours and they are not. God sees and knows of this sin and so do you, deep in your conscience. Do not commit this sin. Never become a thief and liar just to possibly get another test question correct. It is not worth it."

Parents, exercise preventive measures when your seventeen-year-old son purchases his first car. For example, "Son, your mother and I will allow you to purchase this car, but on the following conditions. If we become aware that you are using it to drive recklessly, to go to unacceptable parties, or to places of sinful entertainment then you agree that the keys are returned to us and the car is grounded for some weeks, I will need your word of agreement to this, before we purchase the car."

Clear preventive discipline can reduce rebellious tendencies in teenage children and students. They knew ahead of time exactly what the consequences of a certain behavior would be. They chose to do it. Therefore, the corrective punishment is perceived as fair - not as shocking or overdone.

No matter how effective our preventive discipline is exercised, however, due to our sinful natures, corrective discipline will be necessary. When administering corrective discipline, or chastening, do so in the spirit of the following four principles. Discipline with:

  1. Love
  2. Firmness
  3. Consistency
  4. Purpose

1. Discipline with love. Convey love both before and after corrective discipline. Let our "negative" punishing, both as parents and teachers, be placed in the context of "positive" interactions. When our children or students only receive our personal attention when they are misbehaving or have done wrong, this is a dangerous sign. The risks of rebellious responses are high. Scripture warns us against provoking our children to anger. "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, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged" (Colossians 3:21).

2. Discipline with firmness. Love and firmness are the "two oars" for rowing our "discipline boat" on a straight course. Use only one oar and the boat continually goes in circles. One must be balanced with the other. You must use both. When disciplining, avoid over-warning, overreacting and over-worrying. Avoid over-warning. A warning may well be appropriate, and at times even two. But the "third strike" must have consequences. Avoid habitually raising your voice. Children soon learn not to listen until you really mean it, i.e., until your voice reaches a certain decibel range. Every child is different. One child is subdued with a look, another by a word of explanation, but others require more. If young children require a spanking this should be done by a parent with love (for the child’s best), with meaning (explaining why), with purpose (for correction), and with reason (not upon impulse or anger).

Avoid overreacting. The punishment should fit the crime. It should be fair and appropriate. Do not try to drive in thumbtacks with a sledgehammer. The following reflect appropriate examples of fitting corrective discipline:

A teenager boy yelled several insults and impolite comments out of the bus window at a neighbour who lived across the street from one of the bus’ regular stops. The school principal became aware of it. After a serious conversation, he instructed the boy to phone this neighbour to set a time to visit there with him to apologize. The boy rode with the principal to this house and an appropriate apology was made and, probably, an important lesson learned.

A frustrated mother tried numerous approaches to get her teenage girl out of bed in sufficient time every morning. Most mornings ended up to be a shouting match with both mother and daughter becoming angry and upset. After seeking advice, mother had this conversation with her daughter, "You know, Sally, many mornings I’m trying to get you up on time so that you are not late to school and you feel that you have plenty of time and that I’m rushing you. Both of us often end up upset. Starting next Monday, this is changing. I bought you this alarm clock. Your bus arrives every morning at 8:05 sharp. You set it and get up when you feel you need to. If, however, you miss your bus because you are late, I will only drive you to school on one condition and that is that you and I meet with Mr. Smithers, your principal, and you explain to him why you were late. If it happens again, we will do this again, and again, until the problem is solved." It happened twice that Sally was late. The first time it happened she was embarrassed, but the second time, she had to sit for thirty-five minutes in the office with her mom waiting to see Mr. Smithers. Teachers noticed and students snickered. She never was late again!

Effective corrective discipline is generally fitting and appropriate discipline. It teaches "my misbehavior produces consequences that are not desirable."

Avoid over-worrying. Use a "ticketing" approach for dealing with minor routine types of misbehavior. If some of your Seventh Grade students are talking too freely in your classroom, "ticket" this offense. If your rule is that no one is to talk while you are explaining a concept or giving directions at the front of the classroom, have some "Talking Paper Tickets" copied on colored paper ready on your desk. When someone talks inappropriately you can continue speaking but simply pickup a "ticket sheet", which requires a meaningful, neatly written paragraph response to four different questions. Students know that this "ticket" must be handed in by 8:30 the following morning or they must do another one during the noon hour. Consistent, calm use of such "tickets" will effectively deal with most routine, irritating behaviors. Did you ever notice how calmly a radar policeman can enforce the speed limit? No passionate speeches, no upset emotions, no threatening proclamations - only a ticket book. Yes, choosing to speed has consequences. Use this principle for routine offenses.

It is not wise to become upset time and again with eight-year-old Bob who procrastinates and eats so slowly that the rest of the family habitually waits for him to finish so they can close the meal. Simply establish a routine "ticket." When the rest of the family is ready to close, Bob must stop eating and the family closes their meal. Mom times how long it takes Bob to finish his meal after the others have left the table and he must sit on a chair doing nothing for that amount of time after finishing his meal. No lectures, no upset emotions, no anxiety or over-worrying - just a simple, routine, consistent "ticketing" consequence.

3. Discipline with consistency. If we cannot control ourselves, how will we ever be able to control our students or children? "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls" (Proverbs 25:28). If one day we are in a "good mood" and everything is permitted, and the next we are in a bad mood and nothing is permitted, but the slightest offenses are severely punished, your classroom or home is not stable - it is unsettling for children. Children need stable boundaries.

Have you ever driven across a high bridge? Were you fearful or uncertain when driving across it? Why not? Because it had solid, stable guardrails. Picture driving across the same bridge if all the guard rails were removed, only the road surface was left; there was no curb or guard rail. The road remains the same width. Why would you be afraid to drive across now? What if the guard rails were always moving in and out? Our children need the security of solid, consistent behavioral guardrails. The inconsistent parent or teacher will have constant discipline problems. Husband and wife, teacher and teacher cannot be divided. Consistency is critical, as Jesus taught, "And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand" (Mark 3:25).

4. Discipline with purpose. Chastening must aim for correction. Corrective discipline must seek for our children’s/student’s good, not to vent our frustrations. The following chart contrasts unbiblical punishing with biblical chastening:

BIBLICAL CHASTENING OR UNBIBLICAL PUNISHING?

Comparison Biblical Chastening Unbiblical punishing
Purpose: Redirects toward acceptable and appropriate conduct. A means to an end Inflicts a penalty for an offense. An end in itself
Focus: On future, acceptable conduct On past, unacceptable conduct - also frequently upon the child’s personhood
Attitude: Reflects love and concern on the part of the teacher Reflects hostility, inner frustation
Resulting Emotion in the Child: Security Fear, resentment and possible rejection
Motive: Reformation-seeking Vengeance -seeking
Consider the following example: Mom looks up from her sewing and says to her four- year-old son, "Robert, do not touch that plant." As she continues with her sewing, Robert returns to play with the plant. Two minutes later Mom notices this and raises her voice, "Robert...I said don’t touch the plant!" Robert moves to the other end of the table, but after Mom is busy again he returns. Five minutes later, Mom notices this and yells, "Robert, you get away from the plant this minute!" Robert now leaves. However, later that evening, as he is lifting several puzzles onto the table, he accidentally knocks over the beautiful table plant. Mom jumps up, yells at Robert, spanks him soundly, and sends him to his room, thoroughly upset with the damaged plant and dirtied table.

This mother has clearly taught her four-year-old Robert a lesson which she did not intend, i.e., wilful defiance is not as serious as accidentally damaging property. Childish irresponsibility can often be aggravating, but we must examine why we are punishing our children. Punishment is not an end in itself - it is a means to an end. The end is correction. The willful defiance of Robert is more serious than the knocked-over plant.

Possibly we are now all overwhelmed. How can we ever serve as we should, as prophets to teach; as priests to self-sacrifice, pray, and blest; and as kings to protect, deliver, and rule? Possibly the cry of Paul may be found in many hearts, "Who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Corinthians 2:16).

If we had to produce all these qualities of ourselves, then this article would end in despair. But, blessed be God, His Word does not end in us. It directs us outside ourselves to seek for our wisdom and strength from the Lord. He has promised to bless feeble means, also our feeble parenting and teaching, when needing, desiring, and praying for His blessing. The Lord can hit straight, even with a crooked stick. "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5). May our hope be founded with David’s, not upon our parenting skills, but upon God’s - upon His everlasting covenant faithfulness. "Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow" (2 Samuel 23:5).

What is unconditional, gracious love? How can a parent or teacher convey this? Let us close with the following story that illustrates this truth so beautifully:

A young man desired to return to his parents. Some years before he had terribly mistreated them and run away far from home. He had ignored all their loving advice and had not even answered their letters. He lived his life as a prodigal son, but God had now brought him to repentance and he desired to see his parents again.

Doubt and fear plagued his heart. Wonder if his parents would refused to see him? What if his appearance would hurt them even deeper and strike fresh pain in their hearts? How unworthy he felt! He decided to write his parents a letter. In it he wrote that he would be travelling by train to their city on a certain day, on the train which went right by the back of their property. "If I am yet welcome at your home," he wrote, "please hang a white sheet on the clothesline. But if not, I understand very well, after all that I have done."

On the appointed day, this young man was seated by a train window. With mounting feelings he recognized various sites from his former city. The train moved closer and closer. Eagerly his eyes searched for his parents’ home. Finally around the last curve, and there it was!

What greeted this young man’s eyes? There was not only one sheet on the clothesline, but the whole clothes- line was full of white sheets. The bushes were covered with them. His parents had even borrowed from the neighbors. The whole yard was filled with white sheets!