THERE ARE NOT many sermons preached from the Book of Proverbs. It's not that the Proverbs are hard to understand. Some of them are only too painfully clear. But to present the Proverbs as part of the one portrait of Christ, the God of our salvation, is not easy. As a result, preachers fall into the error of making the Proverbs so many moral homilies that apply to all men.
As we consider Proverbs 29:15, therefore, I urge you to regard this as the authoritative instruction God has given His people to rear their children in Christ, because only then do we see the importance of heeding this word:The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.I. The Need for Discipline
This proverb expresses a general maxim that can indeed be applied to all the children. The rod and reproof are proper means to show every child how best to function in society (if that is how you want to interpret "wisdom"); and a child undisciplined and turned loose brings his mother to shame.
If we make of this text a general rule for all, however, then we fail to see the beauty of the gospel here. For in Scripture the first meaning of "wisdom" is Christ. With that in mind, we recognize that this text gives instruction on child rearing to parents who are part of the body of believers.
Who is this child of the covenant of whom this verse speaks? We find the answer in Psalm 127:3: "Children are an heritage of the Lord." It means that covenant children are God's possession entrusted to our care. As their custodians, we are not to do with them as we please.
Condemned already. We believers know that from the moment these children are conceived, they are sinners, worthy of everlasting hell. If we are not blinded by their preciousness, we can see them projecting that wretched sinful nature already in their infancy.
They need to be taught, therefore, that they, like ourselves before we became saved, are under the wrath of God, that they need to repent for their sins, and that they can escape eternal punishment only by trusting the Lord Jesus as their Savior. And they need to be shown the difference between truths and lies, according to the word of God.
To that end God has given believing parents the authority to exercise over the children God has given them. When you think of the Fifth Commandment, for example, you can see that it is perfectly adapted to the character of the child. That is why it is incredibly foolish to talk about the "rights" of children.
Shame. Our text says that the child who is undisciplined and left to himself brings his mother to shame. A clearer picture of misery and ruin cannot be conceived.
What do people see when they look at your children and mine? If people can look to a Christian home and see in it a God-honoring structure of order and a respect for authority that stands out in contrast to the self-seeking, man-centered thinking that has permeated both the world and Christendom, it will be one of the most powerful testimonies to the truth we claim to believe.
Is the loving but authoritative discipline of Christ seen in you as parents? Without it, all your so-called love of the Scriptures and the truth of God will be seen by those around you as so much hypocrisy. If our neighbors look at our homes and do not see any greater degree of godliness in them than they have in their ungodly homes, they will conclude that what we proclaim have no practical bearing on the way we live and the way we teach our children to live.
We have a responsibility to order our homes according to the Word of God, so that they bear a positive witness to the truth of God's covenant.
II. The Instruments of Discipline
"The rod and reproof give wisdom." The rod is an important instrument in the discipline of our children. It is not easy to use, because it is contrary to modern-day teaching. The world has so corrupted the concept "love" that it says to let a child do his own thing is an expression of love. And it says that spanking a child is tantamount to child abuse.
The Scriptures teach something quite different. For the God who tells us to love and not to hate also declares in Proverb 13:24, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son." Love necessitates correction with the rod and reproof!
The rod is a generic instrument that might take several different forms. It was used as the shaft of a spear. It sometimes denoted a scepter, a mark of authority. But the rod was also an instrument used to administer corrective and physical discipline. For us it might be a stick or a switch or a firm ruler. But whatever that instrument may be, it is a means to return the wayward child to the right course.
Applied in love. To use the rod on a child rightly requires lovethe love for God and the love for the child. All too often, where physical discipline is exercised, it is done out of anger. And that's where child abuse comes in. We, who have the responsibility of disciplining our covenant children, must always do so under God's authority and with God's manner and attitude. That attitude is revealed in Hebrews 12:6-8: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.God does not abuse us in His chastening. He does it in love.
There is two reasons, I believe, that God prescribes the use of the rod. For one thing, it takes time and effort to get it out. To reflect God's attitude of love through our reactionary, impatient, sinful flesh, it is necessary that we slow down and think about what we are doing. Slapping a child on the face with our palm, beating on them with our fists, striking them with any object close at hand or anything like that would be an act of rebellion on our own part.
The chastisement of the rod, used in love, is mercifully inflicted and is quickly over. The corrected child is not looked upon with disdain for hours and even days. He is not kept in mom's and dad's "doghouse".
Furthermore, God's call for the use of the rod takes into account the child's physical welfare. God created a particular part of the human body capable of receiving the impact of the rod without injury. When applied properly on the child's buttocks, it is keenly felt but causes no injury.
Reproof. Reproof, which is verbal instruction in godliness, is the second instrument of discipline. There are times when discipline can be handled by reproof alone. Proverbs 17:10 says, "A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool." Now, if reproof works the sorrow of repentance, then let the rod be spared.
If not, however, Proverbs 19:18 applies: "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying." Do not spare the rod just because the child is crying. But never use the rod without reproof.
The child being disciplined must be shown the error of his way before God and he must be instructed in righteousness. We ought to teach our children to evaluate their own specific actions in the light of the Scriptures. They must learn to bow before the authority of God.
Tender words. Biblical discipline also requires words of love. The wrath of God was exercised toward us that we might hear those precious words of His, "I love you in Christ Jesus." Even now, when we experience the chastisement of God, it is to draw us closer to our Lord. When we understand that precious truth, then we ought to express our love to our children especially when we are called to use the rod. We must assure them that the rod is administered out of a heavy heart that loves that child.
It is a terrible thing when confessing Christian parents spank their children, but fail to reprove them and to point them to the love of Christ. How wicked it is for a parent to spank a child and leave him like a dog to lick his sores. No wonder such children run to their rooms, slam their doors, and mutter under their breaths, "I hate you." God demands both the rod and reproof.
Prayer. Nor should we forget that belonging to reproof is prayer, which brings parent and child alike close to God. The necessity of prayer in the discipline and instruction of our children cannot be overemphasized.
For one thing, we parents must repeatedly approach God seeking wisdom on how to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and how and when to discipline them. We need to pray for grace to obey His Word and to bow humbly before His wise instruction. For we know that if God were to reward us according to our iniquities, every one of our children would walk the way to hell.
And we need to pray for our children. We ought to do that specifically, naming each one by name and praying for the specific needs of each child. More than once, I have heard the testimony of a child of God speaking of his Christian father's failure to discipline according to the Biblical standard. But one thing that father did, in the presence of his children, was to fall on his knees to beseech God's forgiveness for himself and God's mercy towards his children. Such prayer leaves on the mind and soul of a child an impression that will never leave him. In prayer also, we are to reflect the love of Christ toward us. He prays without ceasing, serving as our faithful and constant intercessor by His Holy Spirit.
III. The Result of Discipline
"The rod and reproof give wisdom." God has so ordained that through proper Christian discipline, He will reveal the wisdom of God to the child. He reiterates in Proverbs 22:15, "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him." The rod of correction, administered with reproof, drives foolishness from the covenant child of God.
That does not mean that you and I by our actions bring our children salvation. If you examine your discipline in the light of what you have learned from the Scriptures, you know that that is far from being true. All we have done is bring them a corrupt nature. Nor does that mean that God is a debtor to usthat if we bring up our children in the discipline of the rod and reproof, He is indebted to save our children. But according to His eternal and sovereign good pleasure, He has determined that this is the way in which we must lead our elect little ones to Jesus.
Obedience. There is no greater blessing for our children, as children of of God, than to have godly parents who obey this Word of God, who use the rod and reproof when God requires it. Such is a reflection of the love of God in Christ Jesus for us. That love of God is rooted in the giving of His own Son for our adoption. Our Father did more than show His love in the cross.
He also constantly assures us of that love by leading us in the way of righteousness. He assures us of His love, not only by chastising us, but by speaking to us in the preaching of the gospel. As parents, we too need to taste that love. We must be prepared to confess our sins one to another within our families, and so to demonstrate in the family our belief that confession and forgiveness of sins is the only way to salvation. May we so love one another for Godís sake. o
Rev. Steven Key is pastor of Randolph Protestant Reformed Church, 229 Hammond Street, Randolph, WI 53956.
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