Discipline has got a bad press. It has become synonymous with punishment and punishment has become synonymous with abuse which society condemns. It is no surprise that society has swung to the opposite end of the spectrum and is overly permissive, giving their children whatever they want thinking this is loving. Christians have rightly seen the error of permissiveness but often just counter this by talking about discipline in terms of “firm but fair” punishments.
But no matter how fair the punishment is it’s still missing the point as it assumes that discipline is about punishment!
Discipline comes from the Latin word discipulus which means pupil, from which we got discipina which meant instruction and then the word disciple – a follower, a learner:
In fact it wasn’t until the thirteenth century that the word became associated with punishment and it was due to a perverted understanding of being a disciple – that the body was bad and so must be punished by scourging.
Principally parents are called to disciple their children in the same way that Jesus discipled the twelve and Paul discipled Timothy and others in the churches he established.
However, once we get this idea the next mistake we make is to confuse discipling primarily with instruction and knowledge. That if we tell our children what to do, if we give them the right information then they will make the right choices*. After all the “expert” in the world’s eyes is the one who has studied and got a PhD.
This idea is not Biblical it’s Greek. It comes from Plato’s dualistic worldview that said the spiritual realm (which included the mind) was good, but the physical realm (which included the body) was bad. This was one of the reasons why discipline ended up as self-flagellation because the ‘bad’ flesh had to be punished!
The Biblical/Hebraic worldview is holistic. If you want to teach someone you show it. Jesus didn’t just give the disciples teaching and knowledge. The disciples lived with him they saw, for example, how he healed and then Jesus sent them out to do the same.
This is why repeatedly Christ said “follow me” not “listen to me”.
This is why we as parents should not be saying “do what I tell you” or “do as I say (not what I do)” but like Paul we should be saying “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1 NKJV) and “for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Cor 4:15b-16).
During a prayer time when I was despairing about one of my children I felt God say “be the change you want to see”. So like Jesus and like Paul I need to live my life openly in front of my children. I need to model the life that I want them to emulate because God has designed us for discipleship – for copying others.
For example, I want them to learn how to depend on God so I need to show them my dependency on God. This is why I don’t use a satnav even though I am hopeless at directions. It puts me in a position where the children see me calling out to God for help in finding the way. It puts me in the place where I need others to help with map reading. It puts in a place where I’m on the edge and have to depend on the Spirit to not get frustrated and call for help and if I mess up then my children will see me apologise to whomever is helping. A comfortable life will never come close to modelling this.
* How many times have parents read “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6) and thought this is principally about teaching them the bible and sending them to Sunday school.