Marriage and the Family - 15 - Solomon's Cure

Chapter 15

Solomon’s Cure

It is axiomatic that every society values discipline.  Its philosophy and form may vary from culture to culture, but its importance is never questioned.  Even though we face a crisis in authority in modern western nations today, with an almost schizophrenic mentality, we extol the virtues of discipline. Think only of the high estimation people place upon “well-disciplined” drill teams; think of the effort expended to train “well-disciplined” soldiers and commandos? A résumé or letter of introduction, describing the possessor as having a well-disciplined mind or lifestyle is an admirable trait to possess.

From where then does this ability to self-discipline arise? Is it a natural trait that only needs proper cultivation? Is it something which is acquired through the experience of life?

In the post war years in America, there arose a new philosophy on discipline. It was a reaction against the harsh, unjustified repression of children. It extolled the virtues of allowing children free expression, and it encouraged permissiveness. Though this vogue has passed from the minds and teaching of many leading psychologists, the effect of this teaching still lingers in the minds and homes of many. This itself underlines two great dangers which we as parents must avoid. There is first of all the danger of creating a false set of alternatives. It is frequently shown how that repressive and excessive discipline is wrong. Many conclude then that the only other alternative is permissiveness. This is a false set of extremes. The Word of God balances us and affords the right approach to discipline.

Carried to their respective extremes, both permissive and restrictive discipline can lead to problems. It is the thesis of this paper that there is a biblical alternative which is known as “authoritative,” in which parents enforce standards, but also encourage individuality, expression and independence.

The second danger relates to imbibing the thinking of men when it runs contrary to the Bible.  Many intelligent, unsaved men, unknowingly endorse the principles of discipline as seen in Scripture.  When they do, we can agree with them.  When they differ, however, we must in confidence abide by the teaching of God.  The very fact that opinions and ideas change from generation to generation should warn against a wholesale acceptance of every new insight that is published.

Much of the harmful teaching that is given is based upon a very wrong supposition.  This supposition is that man is basically good and only needs encouragement to nurture his goodness.  When children grow up and display traits that are wrong, a frantic search is carried out, looking for “what went wrong.” The mentality prevalent is that something has influenced or restricted the child, forbidding his goodness to surface. No Christian needs to be reminded that the plain teaching of God’s Word is contrary to this. Psalm 51:5 and Isaiah 64:6 underscore the inherent problems of the human condition. Paul’s New Testament unfolding of the doctrine of depravity is in complete accord with this. While man is capable of doing morally right deeds (witness Cornelius, Acts 10), his natural tendency is to evil, and he is utterly devoid of any ability to meet his need before God.

There is perhaps no book in our Bible so devoted to the principles of discipline as Proverbs. Its value to us is heightened by the fact that it is a book addressed by a father to his son (1:8). Throughout the book we are presented with contrasts. One of the most common is the wise man and the foolish man. The distinguishing feature in many cases is the ability of the wise man to foresee the consequences of his course, while the foolish pass on blindly. This sense of responsibility is invaluable to ingrain in our children. The awareness of a moral universe with cause and effect, sowing and reaping, action and reaction is one of the chief goals for which parents strive.

These valuable traits are the fruit of discipline in the home. If we follow Solomon’s use of the “rod” through Proverbs, we will learn

The Necessity of Discipline:

We have already touched upon this point earlier.  Solomon’s perspective, however, should also be heard. Some may think that his mention of the rod carries with it only the idea of corporal punishment.  It is enlightening to notice that the Hebrew word for “rod” is actually the same word used in our Old Testament for tribe, scepter, and authority. Its first usage is in Genesis 49:10. Taken together then, it appears that the word carries the thought of the establishment of authority and standards. Bring this thought then down into Solomon’s teaching.

In Proverbs 22:15,  “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” What Solomon is teaching here (and we shall return to pick up another thread later) is that there is something that is ingrained in the nature of man that needs an external authority to control it. Now it is essential to understand what Solomon is talking about here. “Foolishness” is not a sense of humor or simply a tendency toward lightness. The word in the original contains the idea of stubbornness, self-will, and refusal. It is rebellion and disobedience that is in view here, not humor or boyishness.

The natural tendency for self-will and rebellion must be curbed early. It is often pointed out that Solomon’s teaching is balanced by Paul’s when he admonished fathers, “Provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). The danger to be avoided here, according to Paul, is the possibility that a child might not only have a broken will, but a broken spirit. A father who is overly rigid with severe rules and regulations and harsh punishments, who knows only criticism and little, if any, praise, who is quick to note wrong in others but slow to own his own error, is not carrying out Paul’s or Solomon’s counsel. This leads to a broken and defeated child.  Linked with this is the thought expressed in Proverbs 23:14, “Thou shalt beat him with a rod and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”  It is essential that every child learn to recognize and bow to authority. The first place that every child learns this is in the home. One of the goals of home teaching of authority is to prepare the child to recognize God’s authority in the moral-spiritual realm. That appears to be the link which Solomon is drawing in this proverb.

It is surprising to hear the thinking of parents in our society today.  Many, at times, question me about discipline and its role in the home. They question if they should discipline for fear of repressing some “creative” instinct or destroying the “spirit” of the child. I frequently have to point out how that for the remainder of that child’s life he will have to bow to authority in one sphere or another. The signals of the policeman controlling traffic must be obeyed solely because of the authority which his uniform affords him. Yearly taxes must be paid because of the authority of the government. Jobs and careers all involve some order of authority and subordination. If a child does not learn discipline in the home, where will he learn it?

But given that discipline is essential in the Christian home, what of its nature?

The Nature of Discipline

How is the father to carry out his divinely imposed responsibility to establish an atmosphere of authority in the home? Is it accomplished by donning a policeman’s uniform, complete with club? Does he become a one-man detective agency for the “good of his family?”  Does he assume the role of a despot whose word cannot be challenged on questioned?

Insight may be afforded by straying from Solomon one generation. Sadly, Solomon’s family did not learn well the lessons which their father taught. Rehoboam was confronted by a crisis in authority when he came to the throne (1 Kings 12). The question which he faced then, which we are considering here, is similar – how to establish authority. The advice of his younger counselors was to threaten his subjects into submission by a show of authority. The older, wiser advisors counseled him to establish authority by serving his people and showing understanding. The results of his ill-founded decision are known to all.

An invaluable lesson to underline here is that no one, apart from God, can establish his own authority. I am always a “man under authority.” The only way in which a father can have authority is to be the father the Word of God instructs him to be. Coming short, or extending beyond the Scriptures in his parental role will lessen his authority. My authority then is derived from God and His Word. It is incumbent upon me then to know what the Word of God instructs as to parenting.

A mother’s authority is also derived from her position as a helpmeet to her husband.  She gains, not loses, authority by her subjection to his leadership. Friction between parents quickly leads to a breakdown in this chain of authority. Children may begin by trying to listen to both parents, but quickly learn to listen to neither.

I learn then from Solomon and Rehoboam that authority can be established with understanding, patience, and love. I am not promoting permissiveness here. The Word of God is affording us an insight into the nature of authority in the home. Consider for just a moment your own case. Why do you bow to the authority of God and His Word? Is it solely because all power is in His hand and discipline will follow if you disobey? Isn’t it more because you trust the hand and heart that wields that authority? Do you not bow because you know He loves you and only wants your best?

If our children obey only because of punishment, they may well be obedient children, but they will not be mature. That type of obedience is the lowest rung on the ladder of development.  We all strive for willing obedience from our children because they trust and love us, knowing that we are the wiser and desire only their good.

Return now to Solomon and his proverbs.  In Proverbs 13:24, we read, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”  Now we tend to turn this verse around and think that we prove our love to our children when we discipline. The verse, however, is teaching that love is the basis for the discipline. Because we love, we discipline. Correction, then, is not done in the spirit of anger or revenge. Any parent who disciplines in a rage of anger would be better controlling his own spirit first, before he tries to control another’s.

Anger at sin and rebellion is not wrong in itself. The key is to “be angry and sin not.”  If you are able to express your anger at the deed without berating the person, then swift and angry judgment will be effective.  If, however, you cannot control your anger, then it may be dangerous.

Along with suggesting the motive for discipline, this verse also touches upon the manner.  “Betimes” carries the thought of consistency and timeliness.  Discipline is hard work.  Just ask any parent. Today’s rules are enforced, only to be challenged again tomorrow. Allow a child to go beyond limits today and they will automatically assume that liberty from thenceforth.  As parents we must assure that our word means exactly what it says. We have all heard parents issue a warning to their children two or three times before finally saying, “Now I really mean it.  If you don’t do what I say”  What message have they sent to their children? Didn’t their word mean it the first time? This is where consistency is so important. Words and warnings must mean exactly what we say or we have weakened our authority before our children.

Discipline is not only hard work; it is a full time job.  I am not faulting mothers who must work because of unusual circumstances, but we must never leave the raising of our children to others.  To know your child, being sensitive to his personality needs, would appear to me to take all a mother’s time and talent.  Being a mother at home demands more wisdom than being a career woman in the working world; it is more challenging than the boardroom; yet it is also more rewarding than the financial benefits of the world.

But discipline must not only be consistent, it should also be swift. This is also embodied in the word “betimes.”  “Sentence against an evil work,” must be carried out speedily (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Threats and warnings of the future mean little to a child.

Discipline Should Be Prompt

Solomon also touches on the methods of discipline. The allusion to the rod itself is valuable. It obviously suggests not only the establishing of authority as we have mentioned earlier, but it embraces the idea of corporal punishment. There is nothing wrong with this form of correction. It is quick and to the point. It is, however, not the only means of correction. Proverbs 29:15 links it with reproof. At times this may be all that is necessary. If physical punishment is called for, we must remember to display our displeasure at the deed, not our anger at the person. In Proverbs 22:15, to which we have referred, it is rebellion and stubbornness that must be punished, not failure, errors and mistakes.

There must be unity in the setting of standards and in the carrying out of discipline. If there are disagreements, it is far better to voice them in private. Nothing will so undermine the authority and discipline of the home as division between parents. Far better for parents to compromise between themselves and then present a united front, than for each parent to hold out for his or her own style of discipline. Don’t allow child raising to divide you as parents.  Parenting was never intended to be a popularity contest. It is not your responsibility to make your children love you. Your task is to bring them up in the nurture (training and discipline by example and actions) and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

Keep rules to a minimum. Someone has well said “Many rules, many transgressions.”  Make the rules reasonable. Be fair and willing to discuss from the Scriptures the “why” for your rules. Remember that within the realm of restraint there is independence. The “bit and bridle” which control the horse without understanding (Psalm 32:9) must be slackened to allow the horse to be useful.  As children grow in understanding, the reins must be loosened in keeping with their level of maturity.

Neglect of Discipline

In Proverbs 29:15 and 23:13, two results of an undisciplined life are presented.  The first involves shame and sorrow in this life:  “A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”  The latter Scripture involves the eternal welfare of the child:  “Thou shalt beat him with the rod and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”

None of us would advocate the abandonment of discipline. What we do need, however, is to learn in the presence of God and from His Word what constitutes scriptural discipline for the family, and then seek divine help to carry it out in our homes.