As we discuss discipline in our Thursday Bible Study, we want to look to God’s Word as we consider a dilemma many parents seem to face. I recognize the need for heart change, but as the mother of unregenerate little ones, I also realize that in spite of my best efforts to reach their hearts, I still seem to need to provide external control and motivators.
As some Christians (I’m thinking of the non-spanking variety) emphasize the importance of the heart, they also teach that external control is neither necessary, nor desirable. Is this true and biblical? I’ve been brainstorming any passages that might give me direction in how I ought to think, and am open to more suggestions.
Here is a portion of a poem by King David.
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go:
I will guide thee with mine eye.
Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding:
whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.
Notice the parallelism here. God speaks of His willingness to guide and teach, and then tells us not to be like an unteachable horse. God wants to guide us with his eye, not with external controls like a bit and bridle. I think the implication is clear that God will direct our paths one way or another, even using external controls that may feel just as confining and troublesome to us as a bit and bride might feel to an unruly horse. I’ve felt like that horse, sometimes, and pray now that God will help me to be sensitive to His gentle leading.
In the same way, as parents, our heart’s desire is for our children to be guided gently, but if they are unable or unwilling to be led by our eye, then our responsibility is to restrain them with other controls.
I appreciate the way my mom explains the relationship between external control and heart change:
A Christian parent restrains and controls his child’s behavior in the younger years at the same time that he endeavors to teach his child how to restrain and control his own behavior through a relationship with Christ…. Parental control is meant to decrease as the child reaches physical and spiritual maturity and his awareness and understanding of God increases.
Wise parents understand that children can only be made to obey and conform for so long. Unless the child’s heart is affected to such an extent that he desires to obey and is motivated by internal decisions and beliefs to obey, he will eventually rebel against the restraints and rules that a parent imposes in an effort to control behavior.
The goal is to train children to respond to God, for God goes with him through adulthood; the parents do not. Biblical discipline includes many means of accomplishing this goal, including patient teaching and training, as well as the administration of chastisements when an offense has occurred. pp 118-119
It’s easy to forget that our external control is limited, even when our children are very young. As they get older, the necessity of teaching the heart becomes more apparent. I don’t know how to reach the heart of my very young children as I ought. I need grace, mercy, and wisdom, and I need to be saturating my mind in God’s Word.
You can purchase your own copy of Mom’s book here, and read along with us. Next week we’ll be talking about myths of discipline.