Child Discipline in an Age of Therapeutic Goo #4

Sharing Options
Show Outline with Links

The Nature of True Discipline

Sermon Video


The title of this series of messages refers to child discipline. We have come to the point where we need to define that word discipline. What do we mean by it? The English word is descended from the Latin disciplina, which refers to a course of instruction, learning, or knowledge. Discipline is necessarily teleological, meaning that it is directed toward a particular end, that end being graduation, or completion, or maturity. But graduation into what?

The discipline is both positive and negative. The positive would include being given the harder work of fourth grade, not as punishment, but rather as a reward for having done so well in third grade. The negative aspect would be getting held back from recess for having squirreled around too much during class. But both the negative and positive are aiming at the same goal. The positive inculcates, and the negative corrects. So sensible discipline addresses both immaturity and misbehavior. An immature child is being what a child simply is. A disobedient child is compounding the problem, fighting to hang on to immaturity, and bringing a child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord addresses both problems.  

So it is important not to confound discipline and punishment. Punishment simply has justice in view, while discipline has correction in view. 

The Text

“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:5–8; cf. Rom. 5:3-5).  

Summary of the Text

Our two texts are related to these two aspects of discipline, negative and positive. The text from Ecclesiastes has the duties of the civil magistrate in view, but the principles involved in it are directly applicable to the management of the home. They transfer straight across, and there are three principles. The sentence must be consistent, in that this verse is true all the time, and should be remembered all the time. There should not be erratic enforcement. Second, it needs to be effective (it is a sentence). And last, it needs to be prompt—no delays or postponements. Without this approach, life in the home will tend to slide inexorably toward moral disorder.

Peter describes growth in virtue, which is the point of all godly child rearing. Now Christian virtue needs to be grounded on the bedrock of grace, meaning that education in virtue is no substitute for gospel. Jesus died and rose for the sinful and wretched, and virtue is always a downstream effect of sanctification. But with that said, you start with faith, and supplement it with virtue (2 Pet. 1:5), and the next layer puts knowledge on top of that virtue (v. 5). When the knowledge has dried, add temperance (v. 6). The next two coats are patience and godliness (v. 6). But this is not the end of it. Put brotherly kindness on top of the godliness, and love on top of all of it (v. 7).

That Word Teleology

I used the word teleology a moment ago. This simply means that there is a point to the whole thing. It is directed toward a certain outcome. You are going somewhere. When we are not thinking like Christians, we are tempted to treat any suffering we encounter as being pointless. “How could there be a point when we don’t understand the point?”

The point is maturity, that being a maturity in Christ. That is the destination. We are exhorted as Christians to be mature in our understanding (1 Cor. 14:20). But we are living in the middle of a full-scale revolt against the very idea of maturity, with the result that the unbelieving world has sought to infantilize an entire generation. They have in a great measure succeeded, and we see signs of this kind of arrested development everywhere. As this disaster is flooding into the Church, our bulwark against it needs to be godly discipline.

So the contrast between a Christian community bringing up boys and girls in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and the outside world should not be understood simply as one wanting to have “good little boys and girls” while the other group allows them to be naughty. The situation is not a static one. Everyone, like it or not, is growing up into something. You are either growing up into Christ, or you are growing up into Gollum—diseased, malicious, and infantile.

A Fatal Substitution

People do not just abandon the obvious good of maturity all at one go. Such a folly must be accomplished in stages. The early American ethos used to emphasize character—stout honesty (Prov. 20:10), a robust work ethic (Prov. 26:16), and craft competence (Prov. 22:29). But by gradual stages, we have come to substitute personality in for character—and we have various colorful ways of talking about how we despise the results: all hat and no cattle, all foam and no beer, all sizzle and no steak.

But in the last generation or so, we have managed to make the whole thing far worse. It used to be that the personality-monger, all teeth and handshakes, and a glossy prospectus, would at least do her thing to you in person. But now she can be an Instagram “influencer” run through three different filters, but with her real life as hollow as a jug.

Character is built in the difficulties. Character grows when you are out in the rain, picking up rocks. Personality grows (or thinks it does) when it is being flattered, stroked, cajoled, and otherwise lied to. If your daughter posts something online that is dumber than a box of dirt, she is going to have a hard time seeing how dumb it was if she immediately got a bunch of likes. That seems like validation, but all it proves is that this generation has a lot of boxes, and a lot of dirt.  

So if you are not preparing your children to identify and fight all those lies that the world is dedicated to telling, you are simply preparing one more tasty morsel for the world to devour and digest. If you want your daughters to grow up to be mothers in Israel, then you must not be content when they are acting like they have just enough squirrel brains to download the next Taylor Swift song. If you want your sons to grow up to be valiant in battle, you had better not coddle them when they complain to mom about how math hurts their feelings. Young people do not have any constitutional right to be silly.  

Adulthood is when you become what you have been becoming all along.    

By What Standard?

The task set before every Christian is to grow up into Christ. Christ is the standard. He is the standard for men and women, and for every boy and every girl. This is the path we must run; He is the only curriculum. Our covenant children are in second grade, and their parents are in junior high. The grandparents are in high school and have started to think about graduation. But this is a school where all the upper grades are called to help out the lower grades.

“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things which is the head, even Christ.”

Ephesians 4:14–15 (KJV)

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments