Proverbs on Parenting
September 13, 2009 | Andrew Davis
Marriage and Parenting
So, almost 19 years ago, I began - Christi and I together began - the greatest adventure of our married life. I remember when Nathaniel was born (he's not here so I can speak his name from the pulpit without having asked permission first), but I remember very well wheeling him back in the little plastic bassinet and looking down in his face and telling him that I loved him but not feeling anything at all. I remember that distinctly; I didn't know him. How can I say I love you to this little baby that I didn't know? I guess I was loving him by faith at that moment, that I would grow to love him, and I did, and the other four children as well that the Lord has blessed us with. It's been an incredible adventure. Isn't it remarkable how children inevitably bring a smile to your face when you just look at them, when you consider what they do, when you listen to the things they say? You watch them develop. It just brings tremendous joy, and I could tell stories that would absolutely embarrass all of my kids, and I would get in big trouble when I got home, so I'm going to leave it off. I had one in mind even this morning, but I'm not going to share it… about an Amber alert and other things. But I won't get into all that at all because it wasn't even true.
I just thank God that even Joseph and Mary could have used an Amber alert in those times. You remember when they didn't even know where Jesus was? Aren't you glad that God did not look for perfect parents when He sent Jesus into the world? Nobody would have been able to do the job. And so, Joseph and Mary saying to one another, "I thought you had Him," "I thought He was with you," and back and forth, and then to the extended family, the cousins and all that, and no one knew where He was. And I just think that's a lesson to parents for all of us that we ultimately are not in charge of our children; they really are God's, that God alone can watch over them. God alone can protect them and prepare them for what He has in mind for them. We have many such lessons in life, and so, we are attending today to the topic of Proverbs on parenting.
Just a word about Proverbs in general, what a rich book it is. And I was talking to someone this morning about just this topical approach to Proverbs, which I've chosen to take, and I think it's the best approach to Proverbs. But I feel like I'm just taking different kinds of magnets and putting them on the same 31 chapters and bringing out different verses and putting them together, and the effect is just so powerful. Today, it's on parenting. It's going to be on work or on conflict resolution, or we've talked about money. It's just a powerful book. And I praise God for it in this one area of parenting because I remember distinctly when I was growing up, hearing regularly that we kids didn't come with an instruction manual. And I remember hearing that again and again, and I've come to realize, as a Christian, that really isn't true.
Dear friends, we have an inerrant instruction manual on parenting in the Bible and the Scriptures as a whole. 66 books of the Bible teach you how to be a godly parent. But I would have to say there's no book that gives more practical insights on how to parent your children than does this book of Proverbs, and so this morning we're going to roll up our sleeves, and we're going to look at different aspects of parenting from the book of Proverbs. And, as we study Proverbs on parenting, I want to just entice all of you - no matter what category of life you may be in - to listen carefully. Obviously, if you are a new parent this morning or a parent of growing toddlers or preschooler, something like that, you may feel you have the most to gain from the insights that come from Proverbs. You have a lot to learn, and you're ready, and it's that time of life. And so, I think it won't be hard for me to persuade you to listen.
If you are a parent of teens, I believe that this - the home base of the book of Proverbs - is counsel given from a father to a teenage son, getting him ready for what he's about to face as he ventures out into his life. That's why there's warnings about prostitutes. There are warnings about drunkenness and about falling in with the wrong crowd and all that because this is immature here, hearing from a godly father what to think about. And so, therefore, I think, parents of teens, this should be your home base right now in terms of how to parent your teens. And so also, if you are yourself a teenager, I would urge that you read this as instruction from your heavenly Father on what to do about these various issues of life. It really is a word given to you.
If you're an empty nester, you still have a lot to gain from this. Your children may be grown, and you may not be in that phase of active parenting as you were, but it could be very soon that you'll be grandparents. And they'll be coming to you for counsel, or at least you'll think they should come to you for counsel, and you'll be ready to give it when they ask you what to do. And certainly, you can at least make it a matter of prayer as you learn from Proverbs what godly parenting is all about; you can take these back to God in prayer.
And if you're single or a college student or a youth, you may think, “This isn't even on my radar screen.” Well, let me tell you something: if you're in college or just out of college, it ought to be on your radar screen. It could be very, very soon that you'll be asking some real questions about how to train a child. It's an incredible adventure. It's an amazing, a wonderful adventure, but it's one of the most complicated things you can ever do. You're dealing with the intricacies of a human soul. You're dealing with issues of sin, of life and death, of all of these issues, and you're seeing a reflection of your own heart as well. There are just so many things involved. And so, if you are a college student or a youth or single, you're out of college, but not married, I just want to say it may be a lot sooner than you think that you'll have to listen to this. And, second of all, even if in the providence of God, you never get married and never have children, you still ought to care very much how the next generation is being raised. It should matter to you. You should be able to get out of your own situation through prayer and counsel and encouragement enough to say “I care about how kids are being raised in this church and around the world.” So, for all of that, I just would like you to give careful attention to what Proverbs says on parenting.
The Urgency of Good Parenting: Life or Death
What Would It Profit A Parent…?
And I want to begin just with the issue of the urgency of good parenting. This is a life-or-death issue; if anything is, this is. I know that you parents want to give the best you can for your children. Most parents do. They want to give them every opportunity they can ever have, opportunities of education, food, clothing, and shelter, obviously, but the best you can give them. You want to give them a wealth of rich experiences. You want to give them musical instruments or sports or travel or different other things, and that's all fine, but let me ask you a question: What would it profit you as a parent if you should give your children the whole world, and they should lose their souls?
Fundamental Insights for the Soul Come through Parental Language
Thus, we come quickly to the urgency of good parenting. It is a matter of eternal life or eternal death. Now, fundamental insights from the soul come in the book of Proverbs in parenting language. Some of the famous little verses in the first 10 chapters of Proverbs come as the counsel from a father to his son. That's kind of the home base of the language of the book of Proverbs - a father giving advice to his son.
So, Proverbs 1:7 and following says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Hear my son, your father's instruction and forsake not your mother's teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck." So there, this incredibly important statement, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge," is given in the context of a father giving counsel to his son, to listen to his father and mother's advice. Again, Proverbs 3, "My son, do not forget my teachings, but let your heart keep my commandments. For length of days and years of life and peace, they will add to you. Trust in the Lord with all of your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths." Again, it's said in the context of a father giving advice to his son, and I believe the greatest advice - the greatest counsel a godly parent can ever give to their son or daughter - is this: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel!
“Train Up a Child”: The Most Famous Parenting Verse in Proverbs
That's the greatest advice a parent can ever give to their child, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved." And, dear friends, you know you get ample teachable moments on that one, don't you? You get to come again and again and again to the gospel, and so you should. Now, when we come to Proverbs and parenting, perhaps there's one in particular that may pop up in your mind. Proverbs 22:6, which says, "Train up a child in the way he should go. And even when he is old, he will not depart from it." This probably is the most famous verse on parenting in Proverbs, maybe even the most famous verse in Proverbs. Many parents have read this verse, perhaps you've memorized it; perhaps you've cross-stitched it. Perhaps it's framed and above somebody's desk, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he's old, he will not depart from it." Some Christian parents who have wayward kids have claimed that somewhat as a promise that their wayward kids will at some point return to their solid upbringing in Christ. The sad thing is that the verse doesn't teach about returning to anything; it actually teaches about staying in a path that you are started in early on.
So, I really wouldn't go to that verse. I would rather go to the Prodigal Son and teach based on that and how the father is ready to receive back a prodigal. I remember when I was taking Hebrew in seminary, and my Hebrew professor just burst everybody's bubble on Proverbs 22:6. The Hebrew literally says, “Train up a child according to the mouth of his way." It's kind of an awkward Hebrew expression. Or “according to his way,” or “carefully according to his way,” and “even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Well, just about every English translation inserts the word “should.” “Train up a child in the way he should go,” implying that the training is along the line of what he should do. What my Hebrew professor said, is it, as far as he was concerned... it didn't read that way.
He says that Proverbs is generally pessimistic about the heart of a child, the natural way of a child, and, if you train up a child according to his way - in other words, give the little brat anything and everything he wants (permissive parenting) - he'll be expecting it his whole life. "Well, that's a different way of looking at that proverb. I wouldn't have cross-stitched if I knew that's what it meant." But actually, I'm not sure I hold that analysis either. My view is a little bit more in the middle. The word "train up" in Hebrew literally means dedicate as you would a house. You can dedicate a new house or, even more significantly, the dedication of the temple. It has to do with setting up a house or a temple on its first day in the direction that it's going to go.
And so, therefore, I think what it means is that habit patterns start very early. And, however you set that child, they're going to be following that path their whole life. Again, the book of Proverbs is a book of tendencies, not absolutes, but habit patterns start early. Children are very much like wet cement; they're setting every day. They come in moldable or shape-able. You can pour them and put them in a mold, et cetera, but as time passes, they are less and less under direct control, and they just get set. And so, be careful how you train them early on because those habit patterns start early. I think that's really what it's talking about: a child that's never learned to deal with their sin nature. They haven't learned to deal with their selfishness or their aggression. They haven't learned to be other-centered. They're going to be struggling with selfishness their whole life in ways that perhaps others that had better parenting won't.
If they grew up in a home where there's a regular pattern of family devotions, and they see their father and mother having daily quiet times, and they are trained on how to do daily quiet times, and they're trained in how to do that, they probably have less struggle in their lives having regular quiet times than others that didn't get that training. So thus, good parenting at an early age is an urgent issue. I think that's what Proverbs 22:6 is saying.
Wisdom: A Life-or-Death Issue
And wisdom itself, in the book of Proverbs, is a life-or-death issue. Proverbs 13:14 says, "The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death." You know the death we're talking about here isn't merely physical death, although the book of Proverbs tends to be a bit horizontal and focused on this life. Yet, we know that the stakes are eternal. Eternal life. Eternal death. And so, Proverbs 15:24 says, "The path of life leads upward for the wise to keep him from going down into the grave." And the fullness of Scripture tells us what's beyond the grave, and that is judgment. So, the central concern of Christian parents every single day should be, as I've already said, to bring your children to the cross of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God the Son. He came into the world as a human being, that He might take our sins on Himself, that He might suffer and bleed and die in our place on the cross. God didn't leave Him dead, but on the third day, God raised Him from the dead. That, my friends, is the only hope for sinners like us, and, as parents, you need to bring your children to that gospel again and again.
Think about what Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it” - Lois and Eunice, grandmother and mother - "Those from whom you learned it and how from infancy, you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." That is a parent's task right there: from infancy, training them in the Scriptures so that they can be wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
So, let me just pause and ask: Are you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus? Let's just set parenting aside for a moment. Someday, each one of you who hears me today will stand before God. Are you ready? Are you ready to stand before God? Are you ready to face eternity, either with God through faith in Christ or apart from God because of your sins? What's the sense in listening to a sermon on parenting and not hearing the gospel? Repent and believe. But I just want to say to you, parents, bring your children again and again to the gospel, not just one time, but again and again.
Good Parenting Not Required, Nor Guaranteed, for Heaven
However, having said that, good parenting is not required for heaven. All over the world, there are bad parents who are not bringing up their children in the fear and nurture of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are a lot of different flavors of that. There are Buddhist types, and there are Hindu types, and there are Muslim types, and there are atheistic materialistic types and all that. None of them are bringing up their children in the fear and nurture of the Lord. None of them are bringing their children to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Is it over for those children? I tell you it's not. But the grace of God can cut across bad parenting and rescue people whose parents were never believers at all. So, praise God for that. It's not over for you if you weren't born in a Christian home. I've heard it said again and again by people who do comparative religions and all that, "If you're born in a Christian area, you'll be a Christian," and all that. Listen, we know as Christians, that's just not true. It's the grace of God alone that saves people, and so we can go to other countries where there are no Christian parents teaching their children these things, and have hope that some of them will repent and believe the good news.
Isn't that wonderful? Secondly, I want to give you this. Good parenting doesn't guarantee heaven either. This may be the bitterest part of all for Christian parents, but it is true. And I think you know it, just because you and your spouse are godly, just because you pray, you train them well, you saturate them in the Scriptures, you bring them to church, you try to lead godly lives in front of them, you try to be honest about your sin and confess it, put sin to death by the power of the Spirit, there's no guarantees that any of your children will be with you in heaven. No guarantees at all. And I think this is important to meditate on. There is no machinery of good parenting that produces regenerate kids. It's not like Henry Ford with the Model T assembly line thing, if you get all the machinery right, you're just going to go ka jing, ka jing, ka jing, one godly kid after another. It just doesn't work that way.
Dear friends, that's behaviorism. "If you get all of the parenting strategy right, they will believe." I do not believe that. I believe that we need to as best we can get the parenting right. God is a God of means. He does use good parenting to bring kids to Christ; He does. But it's not guaranteed.
The Goal of Good Parenting: Heartfelt Obedience to the Lord
The Basic Cry of a Parent
Alright, so what is the goal of good parenting? What are we shooting for? What is it we want? Well, we want heartfelt, delighted obedience to the Lord. That's what you're looking for. You're going after the heart. You want them from the heart to delight in Jesus and follow his ways; that's what you're looking for. The basic cry then of a parent, which you heard Jim read earlier, Proverbs 23:26, "Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways," that I think is probably one of the key proverbs and what you're shooting for in parenting. Proverbs 23:26, "Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways."
So, the focus is on the heart. Above all else, a big pitfall, I think, of Christian parenting is the tendency to raise a brood of hypocrites who will outwardly conform to religiosity but have no heart relationship with Jesus Christ. They know how to speak the language. They know where to go and what to do and all of that sort of stuff. "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me," said the Lord. The danger is raising Christian moralists who do all the right things, who say all the right things, who give their money in the right direction, but their hearts are far from Christ. That's a great danger. What we're looking for is a heart delight in Jesus, that they would delight in the ways of the Lord, that they would know that His yoke is easy and His burden is light, that they would come to Jesus of themselves and delight in Him from the heart.
Obedience to the Law Must Come from Heartfelt Obedience
And so, all obedience to the law must be heartfelt obedience. Proverbs 3, "My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments. For length of days and years of life and peace, they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart." So, the godly father and the godly mother, they're seeking that. They're seeking heartfelt obedience, that God's ways are written on the hearts of the children.
This is one of the gifts of the New Covenant, one of the blessings of the New Covenant. From Jeremiah 31, God's going to make a new covenant in those days. It's not going to be like the covenant He made with their forefathers. He said, "I'll put my laws in your minds and I will write them on your hearts." He's going to give us a new nature, and He's going to write the laws on the hearts. So therefore, in parenting, you're always going for the heart. Whenever the child sins, you've got to reason with their hearts. Now, I know it in a very early age, it's hard. The communication is not quite there. There's some certain patterns that get established, and that's fine, but more and more as they get older and older, it's a matter of the heart. Bringing the child to understand the heart issue behind the pattern, "Why did you do this? Why did you take your sister's cookie? Why did you hit her back?"
I was thinking about a t-shirt that someone told me about once, "It all started when she hit me back." I thought, "Wow, I need that shirt." Okay? “It all started when she hit me back.” Alright, did it? Did it really? I tell you what, sometimes I feel like a circuit riding judge when I come home. I sit down, "Alright caseload, case number 1173-C, bring it up." And you're just sitting there on this case and trying to find out what happened, but the goal of it is to get to the heart. "Why did you do what you did? What does it show about what you love and what you hate? What's going on in there?" So, the goal of good parenting is heartfelt obedience to the Lord.
The Core of Good Parenting: Loving Persuasion
God, a Reasoning Father
The core of good parenting is loving persuasion, or I would say the strategy, might be a better word than "core", the strategy of good parenting is loving persuasion. Our God is a reasonable and reasoning father. He reasons with us in the Scriptures. Again, and again, He shows us why. He answers our why questions, not all of them, but many of them He answers why. And so, it says in Isaiah 1, "The Lord says, Come now let us reason together. For though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you're willing and obedient, you'll eat the best of the land. But if you resist and rebel, you'll be devoured by the sword, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." That's a Father reasoning with His children about consequences, about blessings and curses. That's how He is. In that very same chapter, it talked about God as a Father who reared children and brought them up, but they rebelled against Him. Isaiah 1. So, on behalf of the Father, Christ also is constantly reasoning with us, reasoning with us so that we would have a certain heart attitude.
The Father in Proverbs: Reasoning and Persuading
Therefore, the father in the book of Proverbs is constantly reasoning and persuading. Again, that same one, Proverbs 23:26, "Give me your heart, my son." He's pleading with him. He's saying, "Please, I want to plead with you to give me your heart so I can persuade you about something." A father can't compel the son to do this. You can't make the son give him the heart. It just isn't going to happen. It's got to do with persuasion, and so there are many such persuasions in the book of Proverbs. Just read through, and you see them. Proverbs 2:1-5, "My son, if you receive my words, if you treasure up my commands within you, if you make your ear attentive to wisdom, if you incline your heart to understanding, then you'll understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Proverbs 2:1-6.
Proverbs 1, right after "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge," he then reasons with him to not throw in with highway robbers and thieves. Bad company corrupts good morals. He doesn't say it there, but he says, "Don't join in with bad people." He's reasoning with him. Or again, to guard his heart. Proverbs 4, he says, "My son, be attentive to my words. Incline your heart to my sayings. Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the wellsprings of life." Again, but the strategy is reasoning, persuasion. He explains why he should guard his heart because it's so important. Everything comes from your heart. He's reasoning with him, or he persuades him not to fall in with the wicked woman, the immoral woman. In Proverbs 5, he says, "My son, be attentive to my wisdom. Incline your ear to my understanding that you may keep discretion and your lips may guard knowledge for the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end, she is bitter as wormwood. And now, O sons, listen to me and do not depart from the words of my mouth, keep your way far from her, do not go near the door of her house."
Do you not hear a father pleading with a son, reasoning with him? That's the whole strategy on parenting. So, if you asked me, if you came to me and you asked, "What is your strategy on parenting?" It's that I'm going to go for the heart by reasoning with them from Scripture. That's my strategy. There's going to be disciplines - we'll talk about that in a moment - but that's my strategy. My basic strategy is I want to reason with their hearts from Scripture concerning what God wants from them.
The Antidote to the Parental Abuser
This also, I think, is the antidote to the parental abuser. We're going to talk in just a moment about the rod, but I think the antidote is that the parent isn't always saying, "Because I said so, that's why." There is a reasoning process where the child, little by little, starts to understand the worldview of the parent, which hopefully is scriptural, and why they make the decisions they do, and why this is wrong, or what they should have done instead so that they understand. I do believe there is a time to say, "Because I'm the mommy, that's why." I think there is a time for that, especially at the younger stages, "I just can't... We don't have time to explain everything, you just need to learn how to obey." And that's true with God too, isn't it? God doesn't tell us everything. Did He tell Job everything? He didn't tell Job everything. He just says, "Because I'm God, that's why." And it was completely satisfying to Job in the end, but still, there's a balance here. There's a balance. This keeps you from being an abusive parent that's also playing the tyrant role and saying, "Just 'cause I'm in charge." Instead, you're showing the reasons why, and it's a reasonable faith we follow.
The Resolve of Good Parenting: Loving Discipline
How God Disciplines His Children
So now we get to the issue of the resolve of good parenting, and that is loving discipline. Loving discipline. Our God, our heavenly Father, disciplines us as His children. The book of Hebrews in chapter 12 literally quotes Proverbs 3, just quotes it verbatim, and it says, "You have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons," says the author to Hebrews. That's how he introduces it. He's addressing you as sons, “My son” - comes Proverbs 3 - "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you because the Lord disciplines," or scourges or punishes, "everyone He loves and He scourges everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?" So, if you're a child of God, you are disciplined by God according to His wise patterns.
The discipline could be anything. It could be a physical affliction, a sickness. It could be a financial reversal. It could be losing a job. It could be any one of a number of just circumstantial issues that are grievous to you. Anything that causes you trouble, that could be discipline from the Lord, but God does bring... He brings strokes in your life. He does. Now, I don't say that every disease or sickness, whatever, is a discipline for sin; I don't say that. But I do believe that we, as children of God, ought to see our time here on earth as under the discipline and training of God in reference to sin.
Sarah Edwards, who was a godly woman, when she found out that her husband, Jonathan Edwards, had died suddenly from a smallpox vaccine, she had probably one of the most heroic godliest reactions in church history. And she talked about the goodness of God in giving such a godly husband and father, and she said, "Let us kiss the rod." What an incredible response. Let us kiss the rod is basically, "I want to be trained by you, Father. I want to be disciplined by you. I want you to be my Father. I know I'm a sinner. I need that kind of training." And so, we should be looking at it that way.
And So, Godly Parents Must Discipline Theirs
So, God does discipline us as His children, so also godly parents must discipline theirs. There are many of these commands. They're actually somewhat famous in the book of Proverbs. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” isn't in Proverbs. I looked for it, couldn't find it. But really what it is, is a summary of these proverbs that do talk about the rod. That's what it is. That basically you're doing your children no favors by not bringing adverse circumstances, even painful circumstances, to them when they sin. That's not love. That's not kindness. It's really sloth to some degree. It's really self-serving, and I think all of us may struggle to some degree. And maybe there's different... Those that struggle on the tyrannical side and those that struggle on the lazy, self-serving, sugar daddy or sugar mommy's side. But the fact of the matter is, it isn't loving to not deal with your children's sin.
So here are some of the proverbs. Proverbs 13:24 says, "Whoever spares the rod hates his son." Wow, what a statement. "But he who loves him is diligent to discipline him." In our day and age, many of a worldly mindset look on corporal punishment as, by definition, child abuse. They see no distinction whatsoever between loving discipline and child abuse. It's all the same. The Bible actually teaches the exact opposite. Child abuse is not to discipline your children when they sin. That's abusive to them, because sin is a terrible master, and if they don't learn to deal with it and to put it to death by the power of the Spirit, they're going to be under the tyrannical boot of sin their whole lives. It's not loving not to do it.
And so, it says in Proverbs 23:13-14... And by the way, in Proverbs 13, it speaks about being diligent to discipline. Dear friends, if you're a godly parent and you want to do a good job in this area, it takes remarkable diligence. Did you think you just had to discipline one time for that sin? Just once, and that was it. "I remember distinctly disciplining you for that, that should do it." Are you that way with God? Just one time he had to deal with you and from then on, you never did it again. That's just not honest, and so you have to be diligent to discipline. It's not just one time.
Proverbs 23:13-14 says, "Do not withhold discipline from a child. If you strike him with a rod, he will not die." I love the way Jim read that as though, you know, "Don't think he's going to die if you give him a spanking." Actually, it's quite the opposite. If you strike him with a rod, you'll save his soul from Sheol. Sheol's actually on the other foot on that one. Proverbs 19:18, "Discipline your son, for there is hope; Do not set your heart on putting him to death." Again, the idea is, it's more dangerous to the eternal welfare of your child to not discipline them than it is to discipline them. Again, Proverbs 29:15, "The rod and reproof give wisdom." Notice the combination, rod and reproof. Rod is the discipline, and reproof is the verbal correction, so that they understand what's going on.
"Rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother." So just let him go. Let him grow wild. Let their little hearts run whatever way they want to go. Well, shame is down that road. You don't want to do that so you need to discipline, and you need to train them. This passage teaches, I think very much, as Dr. Dobson said years ago, "Parenting is not for cowards." I mean it takes a lot of courage; it takes a lot of consistency.
The Rod: Both Symbol and Reality
Now, what is the rod? What do we mean by the rod? I believe that it's both a physical and metaphorical reality. I do believe it's physical. That means I believe in corporal punishment. So, what do we mean? I think we mean something that administers some temporary reminder, shall we say? That brings some kind of pain, but no damage to the organs or flesh in any way. So, there is a part of the body that seems to be well-designed for this. If you grew up ice skating, like I did, you know very much what part of the body that is. It's just designed for this, and it recovers very quickly. I've been told many times by those very dear to me, "But it hurts, it hurts." Well, of course it hurts. If it didn't hurt, it wouldn't be discipline. If I sat them down and gave them a lollipop for that sin, I'd be teaching a different lesson than I want to teach. It's got to hurt, but it can't do damage.
I also believe the rod is a metaphor. There comes a point where you just don't do that physical stuff anymore. You just do other things, like God does with you. God doesn't give you a spanking on your rear end. Well, He may, I mean, it's possible that He may do that, I don't know that it'll teach a lesson, but we'll save it. It actually taught me something... Why am I talking about this? Anyway, it taught me something when I was learning to skate, "Don't do that, or you'll fall." But at any rate, God for the most part, brings other pressures to bear on the life; it's still a rod. And so, as the kids get older, they may have something they want to do, an outing they want to go on, a football game they want to go see; there's maybe something they want to do. You make it conditional, "I want to see this happen. If it doesn't happen, you're not going." When it doesn't happen, they need to not go, or you're going teach them a bad lesson. And it's tough, but... Believe me, it's tough because of the emotions and all that that get involved, and we are among the most wicked parents that have ever walked the face of the earth. It's really unbelievable, the abuse that we have put our children through and not permitting them to go to such and such an outing. But at any rate, the fact of the matter is, there are different kinds of rods, and we need to be consistent in administering.
The Need for the Rod: Original Sin and Actual Sins
Why is the rod needed? Because of original sin and actual sins. Original sin. Friends, they come into the world from Adam with a bend toward rebellion; they just do. Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, and the rod of reproof drives it far from them. Because of their nature, their nature isn't essentially good. "My kids are essentially good kids." Well, no, they're not. If they're descendants from Adam, they're essentially rebellious and they need to be trained by the heavenly Father out of that rebellion, but also because of actual sins, so they don't get in habit patterns, the rod is needed for that.
The Administration of the Rod
How should the rod be administered? Well, it should always be done with a loving motive. That is a key, dear friends. You don't want to be an abuser? Check your motive. If your motive is anger, you have been inconvenienced by this child, you have been embarrassed by the child, those are two of the greatest bad reasons that kids get spanked. The parent has been embarrassed or the parent has been inconvenienced, some juice has spilled or some other thing has happened, those are two bad reasons for that. That's not what's going on. It shouldn't be done in anger, and it should always be done with a respect for the child as a human being before the eyes of God, the throne of God. They're not yours; they're God's. Someday, that little boy, that little girl will stand alone before Jesus. You won't be there. And so, have respect for that child as a human being created in the image of God.
The Vast Difference Between Loving Discipline and Child Abuse
There is a vast difference between loving discipline and child abuse, and I think we know that. I've been trying to describe it, but you know there's an increasing threat, dear friends, to parenting rights from our surrounding culture. You should be aware of that. It's getting more and more dangerous to try to raise your children in the training and nurture of the Lord. Our surrounding culture is less and less biblically oriented. I was shocked to find out that, in November of 2007, legislation was proposed in the state of Massachusetts - Massachusetts State Legislature - considering a bill that would make it illegal to use corporal punishment even in the privacy of your own home. Can you even believe that? Just ponder that. Ponder what it would take to enforce that. Ponder that it would happen here in the US. Even in my bizarre state, home state of Massachusetts, 6% favor the legislation, 93% are against. Well, thank God for that, but even that public opinion can change.
In 1979, Sweden became the first country in the world to ban spanking. Many, many other nations followed suit. 19 in the world have banned it. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children issued a policy statement saying it was their settled conviction to get rid of corporal punishment the world over as soon as possible. And they want the US to sign off on a treaty that would include these kinds of statements. All of this exposes, I think, a fearsome trend of the government to get increasingly involved in the parents' training of children. By the way, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children never mentioned abortion at all. I did a search on it. I searched on spanking, and 385 references came up under the search mechanism. I searched on the word “abortion,” not a single reference came up. That is no accident, friends. It's been purged; it's been blocked in the software. Do you understand what I'm saying?
They just bifurcate it, and so the government says there is no right for the laws to invade a woman's womb, but there's every right for government to invade the relationship of parent-child in this matter of godly discipline. Remarkable! What we have to do is be aware of what's happening in our culture. There are some that propose a constitutional amendment in the US supporting parental rights, including the right to homeschool your children. That certainly would be an effective means; I just don't think it's very likely. It's possible. I mean anything's possible, but only four constitutional amendments have been passed in the last, I think, 60 years. So, it's very, very difficult to get a constitutional amendment passed, although it may be the very avenue that God, in His sovereignty, will bring about.
But, at any rate, you need to be aware of your rights as parents and be careful. I'll tell you - the horror story is amazing. State of Washington, some teenage, 13-year-old said his parents brought him to church too much, so he was depressed. And so, they brought it to court, and the court mandated they could have their child back if they signed a statement saying they'd bring him to church less frequently. Well, what is the government's role there? What does that even come from? But that's the country that we live in, that's one of the states of our Union, the State of Washington. So just beware, be alert, be prayerful.
The Delight of Good Parenting: A Godly Child
So, what is the delight of godly parenting? Well, a good child. A child that turns out well. 3 John 4 says, "I have no greater joy than this: To know that my children are walking in the truth." That is true for godly parents too. Isn't it a delight if you see your kids, your grown kids, walking in the service of the Lord? They've been trained, and they are godly. It's a delightful thing. And many proverbs hold out this joy. Proverbs 15:20, "A wise son makes a glad father." Proverbs 23:24-25 says, "The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice. He who fathers a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and mother be glad, let him who bore you rejoice." So, delight in them.
True Wisdom Comes from God
If they should come to faith in Christ, don't take credit though. You know the statement “God has no grandchildren?” Okay? Thank God, He gave you a role, but it was God who gave them birth. As many as received Him, to them, He gave the right to become children of God, children who are born not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God. So, when they come to faith in Christ, you will be delighted, and you'll know Who did it; it wasn't you, it was God that did it.
The Heartbreak of Good Parenting: A Wayward Child
What is the heartbreak of good parents? It's a wayward child, and no book in the Bible so clearly and accurately describes the prodigal as does the book of Proverbs. It's a heartbreaking thing. Proverbs 17:25, "A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him." Proverbs 19:13, “A foolish son is ruin to his father.” Proverbs 13:1, "A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke." Even to the point of cursing parents. There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers, or who kicked their widowed mothers out of the home. Proverbs 19:26, "He who robs his father and drives out his mother is a son who brings shame and disgrace." So, that's the heartbreak of godly parents, and that's a child that ends up a rebel.
What is the remedy? Well, the book of Proverbs holds out two remedies: One of them is delightful, and one of them is terrifying. The delightful remedy is that the prodigal will return, that the rebel who's wandering away from God will at some point come to their senses and come back to the father, just like in the parable of the prodigal son. And so, it says in Proverbs 14:27, "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death." And Proverbs 16:6 says, "By steadfast love and faithfulness, iniquity is atoned for. And by the fear of the Lord, one turns away from evil." So, that's the delightful remedy, that the prodigal will come back. The prodigal will come back to Christ.
The terrifying remedy is sudden and instant death and damnation. Proverbs 20:20 says, "If one curses his father or mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness." Big picture, utter darkness in the New Testament. That's hell, dear friends. The cursing of father and mother is a road to hell, and so parents need to know that their children need to obey them for the sake of their own souls. Again, Proverbs 29:1, “A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed without remedy."
The Only Perfect Parent: God the Father
Well, we've looked at parenting today. There's more we could say. Let me finish with this: There is only one perfect father. There's only one perfect father, and that's God the Father. God the Father deals with this according to Hebrews 12, according to His wisdom, that we may share in His godliness, that we may inherit His righteousness. That's why He disciplines us. We, fathers, discipline for a short time as we think best so that we can achieve certain goals. God knows what He's about, and He will do it perfectly.
If you are a son or daughter of the living God, you are in the hands of a loving Father, and He knows how to get you to heaven. Amen? He knows how to finish your training and get you up to heaven, and in the end, you'll be like a son, you'll be like a daughter standing around the throne, looking at the face of your heavenly Father, knowing that the skill of a parent, God the Father, brought you there. Close with me in prayer, if you will.