Biblical Child Discipline in an Age of Therapeutic Goo (2)

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In order to work through a series of messages on parenting, it is necessary to pay some attention to the parents themselves. The parents are the ones doing the work, and the quality of the participle (parenting) is going to be dependent on the quality of the source. If the parent is foolish, so will the parenting be. If the parent is dictatorial, so will the parenting be. If the parent is wise, so will the parenting be. So rather than turning immediately to the interactions between parent and child, it is necessary to look first at the relationship between the parent and God.

The Text

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:1–3).

Summary of the Text

Every Christian, regardless of their station, needs to present their bodies (and whatever it is their bodies do) as a living sacrifice to God. Your bed is an altar, your car is an altar, your chair at the dinner table is an altar, and from that place, all day long, you present your body and whatever your body is doing, as a sacrifice to God (v. 1). This would include speaking to your children, and it includes disciplining them. What you do in this area needs to be acceptable to God, and be offered up as a reasonable act of worship.

We are created as conforming creatures, and so it is not a matter of whether we will conform to a pattern, but rather which pattern we will conform to. Paul says here that it is not to be the pattern assigned by the world (v. 2), but rather that we be transformed through the renewal of the mind—conforming to the entire goodness of the will of God (v. 2). And then we come to the place where we see how it all plays out. It plays out in what we think of ourselves. Do not think of yourself more highly than you should (v. 3), but rather to think of yourselves in a God-given and sensible (sophroneo) way (v. 3). The transformation being spoken of results in humility.

Three Kinds of Parents

Parents are assigned the rule of their children. Children are instructed, for example, to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1). They are told that they must honor their parents (Eph. 6:2). They are told that their responsibilities to their parents do change over time, but some sort of responsibility is always there (Mark 7:10-11). The commandment to honor parents is not a commandment that ever expires (Ex. 20:12). We can see that, if we put all this together, parents are assigned the rule of their children as they grow. This being the case, we can divide parents into the three broad categories of rulers that we find in Scripture.

A ruler can be foolish and indulgent (Prov. 25:5). A ruler can be foolish and dictatorial (Ecc. 4:13). And a ruler can be wise and prudent (Prov. 20:26). Bringing this down into the micro-kingdom of the home, parents can be indulgent, parents can be tyrannical, and parents can be authoritative and wise. In the nature of the case, the wise parents will be humble, and therefore not that sure about how wise they are being. The dictatorial parent thinks he is simply being firm, and the indulgent parent thinks she is simply being kind. Moreover, an indulgent parent can just believe she is “balancing out” a dictatorial parent, and so they each lean opposite ways in the canoe, which is how you capsize it. But regardless, no one should think of themselves more highly than they should.

And always remember our propensity to guard against the sin we are least likely to fall into. The indulgent parent is all on his guard against tyranny, and the tyrannical father is being very careful to not be too soft. Remember this observation from Screwtape: “The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers when there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”

Why Not Ask?

At this point it is easy to throw up your hands in mock despair, and lament the fact that this is just too hard to figure out. But perhaps the problem is not that it is too hard to figure out, but rather that we are too hard to want to figure it out. Lewis again:

“It is no good passing this over with some vague, general · admission such as ‘Of course, I know I have my faults.’ It is important to realize that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives the others just that same feeling of despair which their flaws give you . . . But why, you ask, don’t the others tell me? Believe me, they have tried to tell you over and over again, and you just couldn’t ‘take it’ . . . And even the faults you do know you don’t know fully. You say, ‘I admit I lost my temper last night’; but the others know that you’re always doing it, that you are a bad-tempered person” (The Trouble With X).

So why not ask? First, ask God to reveal where you actually are on this map of parental demeanor. Are you indulgent? Are you harsh? Are you kind and wise? “Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24).

And then, having humbled yourself this way, ask one further thing from God. Ask Him to speak to through your family and friends. Then go to them and tell them to please be straight with you. If they are critical, you promise not to get angry or to go weird on them. “Would you describe me as an indulgent parent, a harsh parent, or a wise and kind parent?” Do not do this with just one person and then go put their opinion in the bank. Ask 5 to 10 people and see if you start to notice a pattern. You do not need to just flat believe whatever anybody says, but you do have an obligation before God to listen without being defensive. You asked. Too many Christians have adopted a foolish approach to automotive maintenance, which is “don’t lift the hood if you don’t want to know.”

And also, if someone takes this exhortation to heart and comes and asks you what you think, be gracious and kind, but don’t lie for the sake of peace.

Love Is

As you evaluate the “parenting” that is going on in your home, do not attempt to tinker with the fruit. All the initial attention should be given to the tree.

“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”

Matthew 7:17–18 (KJV)

And if the examination brings you to a point of humiliation and regret, take it as God’s kindness to you. “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head” (Psalm 141:5). Do not despair, and do not drop your name into that glorious passage in 1 Cor. 13, in order to overwhelm yourself with a sense of your sinfulness. No . . . put Christ’s name in there and use that passage to look to Him.

“Christ suffereth long, and is kind; Christ envieth not; Christ vaunteth not Himself, is not puffed up, doth not behave Himself unseemly, seeketh not His own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”

1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (KJV)

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Andrew Lohr
Andrew Lohr
1 month ago

Uh, typo:  “Ask Him to speak to through your family and friends”–to YOU through?
(2nd para above “Love Is”; starts “And then, having humbled…”

1 month ago

Your blog post offers a thought-provoking exploration of the foundational aspect of parenting—the relationship between parents and God. I appreciate the emphasis on the importance of the source (parents) in determining the quality of parenting. The analogy of presenting one’s body as a living sacrifice to God in various aspects of life, including interactions with children, provides a profound perspective on the responsibility of parents to reflect God’s character in their parenting. The delineation of three kinds of parents—indulgent, dictatorial, and wise—offers a practical framework for self-reflection and evaluation. Your insights into the potential pitfalls of each parenting style and… Read more »

Nathan Tuggy
Nathan Tuggy
1 month ago

There’s starting to be a swell of lazy ChatGPT-generated flattery like ‘mathew’ below on a lot of the comment-open posts here. Can y’all be a little more aggressive in purging these out?