Biblical Child Discipline in an Age of Therapeutic Goo #5

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Discipline as Genuine Love

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In our message last Lord’s Day, we defined what we mean by the word discipline. Our subject this week is “discipline as genuine love,” and so it is important to begin with a definition here also. What is the meaning of love? What does it mean to love God, and what does it mean to love our neighbor? These are the two great commandments, and so we should know what they summon us to. How are we being called upon to live?

To love someone is to treat someone lawfully from the heart. To love God is to do what He calls us to do, and to do it from the heart. Nowhere does Scripture identify love with our emotional “feels”—that approach being an error that is currently destroying millions. At the same time, we are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Dt. 6:4-9; Mark 12:30), and this would certainly include our “feels.” In includes our emotions because it includes everything. But this simply means that our emotions must be obedient, along with the rest of our being. But obeying commands is not the same thing as issuing commands.

So loving God means doing what He says to do, from the heart. “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And His commandments include bringing up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, applying physical correction as necessary, and providing loving instruction all the time.

The Text

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: But he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Proverbs 13:24).

“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, my son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness” (Hebrews 12:5–10).

Summary of the Text

Words like love and hate are to be defined by the Scriptures, and not by our emotional frame of mind. There are sentiments out there that we might call kind, or loving, or tender, but which are toxic by the standard of the Word. If a man mixes up a batch of cyanide or arsenic, it does not much matter how much emotional sugar was put into the recipe. The sweeter, the more dangerous.

And so Proverbs defines hatred of a son—a form of disowning a son—as withholding the rod. But when we think of all the people out there who withhold this form of correction, what is it that motivates them? Is it what we normally call “hate?” No, it would be what we would normally call sentimentalism or tenderness, or kindness. But in its true colors, it is nothing but hatred.

The Hebrews passage teaches us something similar. One of our assurances of our adoption as sons is the fact that God chastens us. He doesn’t spank the neighbor kids, but rather His own (vv. 5-6). We should endure chastening, knowing it to be a mark of sonship (v. 7). If you don’t receive this kind of correction, then that is a sign that you are a rejected bastard, and no legitimate heir (v. 8). And if we revered our earthly fathers who did this, then how much more should we do the same with the Father of spirits (v. 9)? Our earthly fathers did it with temporal goals in view, but God has our ultimate holiness in mind (v. 10). Notice that while the divine and human goals might differ, the process of discipline is similar enough to compare them.

The Cold Concrete of Covenant

The illustration here is aimed at the relationship between parents and children, but it actually applies to all your relationships—so keep that in mind. But settle all of this in your minds first with regard to your marriage, and the children God has blessed you with.

You build your household the same way you build a house. Go down into your basement and look at the concrete walls. They are hard, cold, straight, and gray. There is no warmth to them at all. They are not approachable, or cuddly. And because there is no warmth there, it is possible to have warmth elsewhere in the living areas. So now go upstairs and look at the living room—pillows on the sofa, curtains, soft carpet, pictures on the wall. The surroundings there are truly pleasant. But the only reason anything is pleasant is because the concrete is where the concrete is, and the living room stuff is in the living room. Try to roll up the carpet, gather the cushions, throw on the sofa, and then attempt to erect a stud wall on that.

It will be the wobbliest thing in the world, and this would explain why your family interactions are so full of so much unedifying drama. You are trying to build a happy family on a pile of throw pillows. Like the house in the Lord’s illustration, it will not withstand any kind of storm (Matt. 7:24-27).

The Greatest Act of Love

What was the greatest act of love ever performed by a human being? The answer to that question has to be the love that Christ showed on the cross for us when He laid down His life as a sacrifice for sin—doing this when we were still in rebellion, still in our sins. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This was the greatest act of love ever, and it is the template for measuring every other act of love (1 Pet. 2:21; Eph. 5:25).

And yet, Christ didn’t feel like it. “Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). And on the basis of what He felt, He prayed earnestly in the Garden of Gethsemane—asking His Father three times if the cup could pass from Him. “And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words” (Matthew 26:44). And so He obeyed the will of His Father, from the heart, and He did so for the joy that was set before Him. That joy was not behind Him, pushing, but there before Him, beckoning—the way a field of grain beckons a farmer doing the hard work of plowing the field months beforehand (Heb. 12:11).

This is all the love of God for us.

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.”

1 John 3:1 (KJV)

The love we experience in our salvation is a triune love. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). Everything the Son sees the Father doing, He also does, love included. “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love” (John 15:9). And the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). The persons of the Godhead always work together in harmonious unity.

So there was love in the assignment of the mission, there was love in the execution of the mission, and love in the application of the mission. It began with love, and it ends with love, but never forget there was agony in the middle. In the midst of everything, it was no fun at all. The Lord Jesus did not go to the cross on an emotional high. So our Savior was no sentimentalist, and neither should you be. 

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