Tom Lane

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The Purpose of Discipline

Written by Tom Lane  |  Found in: Main Articles

All of us have been in a restaurant, shopping mall, or Wal-Mart and seen a child “out of control” in need of correction and thought, “that would never happen under my watch.”  Then as we watched things unfold we may have said something like, “That kid would be toast, why don’t the parents do something!”  It’s the equivalence of armchair quarterbacking by grandparents, friends, family and even strangers.  It is also true that before we become parents we absolutely know what we would do, or not do, allow and not allow, it is so obvious as we observe a child’s meltdown.  However, when we became parents we found it is not as easy as it looks.  All sorts of factors come into play… naps, without naps, new environment, hungry, ADD personality…all of a sudden what seemed clear and simple as a spectator is not that clear at all.


Then we become aware of the scriptural mandates related to parenting like “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he won’t depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6; “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Proverbs 13:24; “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” Proverbs 22:15; Or how about this one, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.”  Colossians 3:21 


Add on the foundation of biblical truth, and personal experience, society views that any act of physical correction to a child is abusive and what we find out is this: parenting is difficult and complicated!  Doing it well requires God’s assistance.  No parent is smart enough to produce God’s best results alone.  Understanding our need for heavens assistance will naturally lead us to ask a simple question.  What is the purpose of discipline?  Is it to satisfy vows we made in response to other peoples out of control children?  Is it to save us from public embarrassment because of our own children’s behavior?  Noooooo….well then, what is discipline’s purpose? 


Discipline has two distinct purposes but a singular focus.  The singular focus of discipline is to teach our children how to respond to God by the way we allow them to respond to us.  Will they obey His command to stop or will they carry on with the activity of the moment as long as they desire?  Will they ignore Him and make Him count to three, while raising His voice before they respond to His commands?  Will they respond only to angry threats of punitive action?  In actuality, how they respond to God will most likely mirror the way they are responding to us.  The focus of discipline is training.


We are our children’s image of God.  If we really understand this fact we will carefully craft our response to them knowing that our response is creating in them their impression of God!  We must ask, “How does God respond to us?”  Is He gracious, kind, understanding, does He raise His voice in frustration, does He give us firm boundaries, does He correct us for disobedience?  Are we modeling what God is like in the way we respond for our children to understand?  Our goal should be to parent just like He does, knowing that without His help we can’t consistently reflect His nature to our children.


Once we understand that the focus of discipline is to train, we are able to work toward fulfilling the two purposes of discipline.  The first purpose of discipline is to teach an obedient response to our voice so that as adults they will make the transition to respond to God’s inner voice as He speaks to them.   And the second purpose is to teach them to embrace boundaries as good and necessary in their life so that when they are adults they will embrace God’s boundaries and live under His blessing. 


As good teachers we respond to our children’s behavior, both good and bad, to reinforce, establish, and correct them in order to fulfill these two purposes.  To accomplish this work of parenting it takes diligent effort and the assistance of the Holy Spirit.  I have good news!  The Holy Spirit will help our parenting effort if we will ask.  However, be aware that when you ask you will become the learner even as you act as the teacher.  We must learn God’s ways to impart them in our responses to our children.


If you’re not a parent yet, no worries, it is a good time to check your own response to discipline issues both past and present before you have the blessing of children and the responsibility of parenting.  The discipline you have received in your life may not have been as purposeful as I have described.  Maybe your parents didn’t know any better. Maybe they disciplined you the way their parents disciplined them.  The Bible tells us that we suffer because of a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). The discipline you received may have been harsh or even punitive or it could have been neglectful and nonexistent.  Allow God to heal your past hurts and embrace His love and discipline in your life right now.  No matter what you’ve experienced God is ready to become your father and His discipline is always loving and redemptive.


May God bless all your efforts to reflect Him and His greatness!  May discipline fulfill its God ordained purpose in your life, as well as your children’s, and may you enjoy parenting in partnership with God!!




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