Spare the rod and spoil the child. Despite common belief, this familiar saying does not come from the Bible, but from 17th-century English poet Samuel Butler. It is likely, however, that the poet may have been thinking of Proverbs 13:24 when he coined the maxim: ″Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.″
Butler’s saying seems to advocate corporal punishment, warning that not doing so will produce a badly-brought up child. But Proverbs gives a more complete picture of discipline. While we often see discipline in physical terms, Proverbs shows us its intention to correct, train, and nurture godly character, and emphasises the reason behind it: love.
Love is shown in careful and caring discipline. It is a characteristic of God not to leave us as we are, but to discipline us-because He loves us (see 3:11-12).
In Hebrews 12:7-11, the writer likens God’s discipline of His sons to that of a human father. Our fathers’ discipline lasts only a few years and may be imperfect, but God’s discipline is lifelong and leads to holiness and Christlikeness. If we accept discipline from our earthly fathers, how much more so should we accept it from God!
Just as the wise would readily accept careful discipline, so we should be ready to discipline our children. But why do children need discipline?
Because of original sin, the life of every child has a bias towards folly (Proverbs 22:15). Involved, caring discipline (the rod) is thus needed to get rid of this folly (see also 19:18; 29:15, 17).
The ″rod″ in Proverbs 13:24 implies physical discipline. Today, we have a proper sensitivity to the use of corporal punishment, but remember, withholding the right discipline will not help the child (v. 18).
Proverbs 13 contains more wise advice to teach our children, such as to speak wisely and truthfully (vv. 3, 5, 17), to be diligent (vv. 4, 11), and to avoid bad company (v. 20). Ephesians 6:4 reminds fathers not to frustrate their children, perhaps by having inconsistent or unreasonably high standards. Rather, they are to nurture and train children in the way of the Lord, and be examples of godliness to their children.
Discipline that is motivated by love, insightful, and appropriate for the emotional make-up of each child-this is the pattern of child-raising that is endorsed by Scripture.
How can you apply God’s discipline and correction in the lives of your children in the way taught by Scripture?
Are you a nurturing, godly influence to your children or the young ones in your life?