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I’m your host AMBrewster, and today we’re finally going to talk about what so many parents really want to know. And I hope you’re ready to approach parental discipline from a biblical perspective with me.
Now, there is so much to say today . . . in fact, after I got all of my talking points on paper, I realized I needed to chop this episode in half. So, instead of a 4-part series, this is turning into a 5-part series.
Anyway, even after removing half of the content, there’s still no time to lose. And I won’t be able to belabor any one of these points because — in reality — each point could be its own episode. Maybe one day in the future, they will be, but for now, I want to set out the goals and expectations for parental discipline broadly so we have a trajectory for our homes.
Obviously, if you need additional help understanding how to implement any of these specifics in your family, please reach out to us at Counselor@TruthLoveParent.com.
Here we go.
Let’s start with some important introductory ideas that need to guide all of the corrective discipline in the home.
1. Foundational Concepts
First, we’re going to use the word “discipline” a lot today. In Hebrews 12 we learn about divine discipline as it’s compared to parental discipline. The Greek word translated “discipline” all throughout the passage is a word that refers to training. And that’s the perfect word to use to describe the consequences about which we’ve been talking. Consequences are a vital part of the teaching, reproving, correcting, and training process.
Now, of course, it’s important to realize that discipline is not merely a corrective term. We’ll be using it that way today and next time as we talk about consequences for sin, but — please understand — that discipline also includes the comfortable consequences our kids receive from being obedient. The ideas of consequences and discipline need to be clearly understood in your home as referring to the whole process of learning and growing, but we’ll talk more about that in a couple episodes.
However, today we’re looking at the Secondary Consequences God expects us to give specifically when our children sin. That’s the framework for the rest of the conversation.
And that’s the second foundational idea for today. On our last episode I made the observation that God expects parents to give consequences for sin, but I didn’t go into any detail about it.
So, let me say right now that God definitely gives parents Inherent Authority with which He absolutely expects that they will give Secondary Consequences in addition to the Primary Consequences He gives. The parental need to give Secondary Consequences is the clearest of expectations.
Now, some may ask why Secondary Consequences are necessary if the child is already receiving Primary Consequences.
One reason has to do with something we saw last time. People are often ignorant or blind or defiant when it comes to Spiritual Consequences, and they don’t realize what’s happening, and they don’t learn from the Spiritual Consequences.
If the person had learned from the Primary Consequences, there would be no need for the Secondary Consequences. But when we don’t learn from the Primary Spiritual Consequences, the Secondary Physical and Relational Consequences help the process. That’s the whole point.
I almost hate to use this example, but it’s like homework. Homework is completely unnecessary for the child who truly learned the material in class. But it’s really important for the child who wasn’t paying attention, didn’t get all of it, needs more practice, thinks the subject is stupid, and the like.
God gives parents the Inherent Authority to utilize Secondary Consequences as part of the child’s spiritual formation. And this is clearly evidenced in some of our favorite parenting passages including Ephesians 6:4, “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
However, in order to truly understand what God’s expecting from us, we absolutely must not force an inappropriate definition into the word “discipline. “Discipline” isn’t simply affirmations and positive reinforcement. As mentioned earlier, Hebrews 12 compares the discipline of God to the discipline of a loving father, and the Greek word for discipline in Hebrews 12 is the same word in Ephesians 6.
In the Hebrews passage God says “For those whom He loves, He disciplines.” And then unlike the Ephesians passage, He further clarifies what discipline includes, “And He scourges every son whom He receives.” And later in the passage He says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
We absolutely cannot be true to the Scriptures by whitewashing painful discipline from the New Testament. It can’t be legitimately done. People can be ignorant of this truth, and they can lie about this truth, but you cannot honestly say that grounding and spanking and confiscating and the like have no place in a Christian home. That is untenable. It’s wrong.
And — of course — all the Old Testament teaching concerning painful consequences is completely consistent with God’s role for New Testament parenting. We absolutely must not dismiss the biblical data concerning the rod simply because the word itself isn’t used in the New Testament. I’m sure you all recognize that the English word “sex” doesn’t show up in most good translations, but that doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say on the subject.
The idea of painful consequences is all throughout the Scriptures, and it’s consistent with the Old Testament explanations concerning the parents’ Inherent Authority to give painful consequences.
“He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” (Proverbs 13:24)
“Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die.” (Proverbs 23:13)
“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)
"The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)
Now, for anyone who isn’t really serious to understand this and only wants to make excuses for hating God’s plan concerning consequences, if you’re going to try to use the whole “Aaron, should we then stone our kids because they did that in the Old Testament too?” garbage, you have to know that you’re only showing your ignorance and missing the entire point we’ve been making over the past two episodes.
The parents didn’t stone their kids in their backyard on their own authority, the government did. God didn’t give the parents the Inherent Authority to punish. Stoning was punishment. So, no, stoning isn’t an example of Old Testament parental discipline. It’s an example of Old Testament governmental punishment. The Children of Israel were living in a Theocracy, and since the government’s standard for evil was God’s, then, yes, unrepentant and high-handed disobedience to parents was supposed to be punished just like all other high-handed, unrepentant crimes.
But it wasn’t the parents simply killing their kids in order to punish them.Therefore, no, the fact that we’re not allowed to stone our kids does not mean that appropriate Secondary Consequences should not be part of the teaching process.
But I think most of you agree with me on this point.
But I do need to be fair and balanced in this because God’s Word is. There are those who recognize that far too many people abuse their parental role and dole out punishment instead of consequences. These people don’t believe it’s Christ-honoring to lash out in sinful anger for selfish reasons and call it godly discipline. And those people are right to contradict such behavior. I agree with them wholeheartedly.
But we absolutely must not stop obeying God so that we don’t disobey Him.
Let me say that again. We absolutely must not stop obeying God so that we don’t disobey Him.
We can’t say, "Even though the Bible says we should give painful consequences, we’re not going to give painful consequences because we think that God will be happier with us if we don’t.”
When we live like that, we’re no better than the pharisees. We see our righteousness as being a result of our actions instead of understanding that our actions flow from being righteous. We don’t earn favor with God by being “nicer” than He commands. We please the Lord by obeying Him.
Of course, no, the method of Christian discipline is not to “bring the pain” in petulant, abusive power-plays. But the answer is also not to lie to our children and disobey God by never giving them painful consequences for their sin either.
God absolutely expects parents to utilize Secondary Consequences in order to teach the Primary Consequences.
So, by way of a far-too-long-introduction, we’re using the word “discipline” a lot today because it refers to consequences designed to teach. Second, we need to submit to the fact that parental authority has been entrusted by God — in part — to utilize consequences to teach our kids. And, yes, those consequences must hurt in appropriate ways. We’ll talk more about this in a moment.
But, lastly, I want to quickly define Secondary Consequences, and then we’ll spend the rest of our time illustrating what they are and how they work.
Secondary Consequences are Physical and Relational Consequences given by an authority that are used to point back to the Spiritual Consequences of sin.
Let’s break that definition down real quick.
Secondary Consequences are not spiritual in nature. They are physical and relational only.
They also are an intentional act by an authority. If my child disobeys and touches the stove — thereby getting burned — the burn is the natural Physical Consequences of her Spiritual choice to sin, but the burn is not the Secondary Consequence she may have to receive from an authority because she sinned.
And the last part of the definition teaches that Secondly Consequences absolutely must point back to the Primary Consequences or we’re right back to giving punishments because we’ve made the wrong things the main things.
Alright, let’s illustrate all of this in its totality. The first few points will be review.
2. Practical Secondary Consequences
1. Your discipline must not be punitive.
We started the conversation with this two episodes ago because too many of us have been lied to or have lied to ourselves about our perceived “right” to punish our kids.
“We’re the parents. It’s our home. They’re our kids. God says I have to punish them.” All the excuses we use to justify doing His job in their lives will only ever make things worse.
And that leads us to . . .
2. Your discipline must submit to the Primary Consequences.
The second episode was all about the nature of consequences because we can’t appropriately give something we don’t understand.
Not only that, but we had to learn that God has a plan for consequences that is far bigger than the small part we play. Parental discipline is a necessary, but vitally secondary part of the picture.
Until we submit to God’s plan to use consequences in our children’s lives to teach them important truths about Himself and themselves, we will never discipline our kids correctly. Until we recognize that the Primary Consequences of sin are designed to teach our kids the most important truths in the universe, our discipline will only distract from what God is trying to do. Until we understand that our parental discipline is not intended to accomplish any of our goals and priorities (to the degree that they aren’t identical to God’s goals and priorities), our discipline is going to make our children better worshippers of self instead of worshippers of God.
This is why we and our kids need to recognize that whatever consequences we give must submit to and support the more important ones. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes Secondary Consequences aren’t even necessary because — Lord willing — we’re making it easy for our kids to learn from the Primary Consequences. That’s a beautiful thing when that happens.
And all of this means that we may have to completely revamp the entire foundation of our consequences. That’s as it should be, and we’ll talk more about how to do this practically in your home.
3. Your discipline must communicate truth.
We have to stop using punishment motivation and terminology. The consequences my kids receive have nothing to do with daddy being mad, inconvenienced, frustrated, or the fact that “I can’t take it anymore” or “I’ve had enough” or any of the other selfish, self-worshipping, terrible motivations we communicate when we give consequences.
A lot of unbelievers argue that parental discipline is nothing but a temper tantrum thrown by the biggest babies in the home. And — to be fair — parental punishment is just that. But biblical discipline needs to be different. It’s not about us; it’s about God.
Therefore, how we communicate about the consequences must be biblical. This includes how we talk about consequences in general as well as how we deal with them specifically.
If the parental discipline we give our kids is truly Secondary to the Primary Consequences of sin, then we must communicate it that way.
Now, this is not permission to baptize our selfishness in biblical terms. It’s not about using the Bible to bludgeon people. That’s not honest. That’s not being truthful.
The Secondary Consequences have to point back to and grow from and be filled with the truths of Scripture — that is the whole point of the consequences — that the children would learn the spiritual lessons God has for them from His Word.
And this also means that . . .
4. Your discipline must communicate love.
Now, this is another place where people get hung up. The same wrong view they have about God gets thrust into conversations about consequences when they ask questions like, “How could a loving parent ever cause pain in their child’s life?”
That is nothing more than an admission that the person doesn’t understand what biblical love is. And they don’t understand how biblical authority (including God’s) works.
And, though we don’t have time to talk about that today, we did a whole series about the nature of biblical love that you should totally check out.
Simply put, when we love our kids, it is clear in everything we say and we do that we are working according to God’s plan for our kids. It’s His plan in His way for His purposes and in His power. That is the only loving response.
Selfish motivations to not use painful consequences and only speak in airy tones because we don’t want our kids to not like us (or not feel shame or not be sad) is not loving. It’s inherently self-worshipping, and all that flows from self-worship is biblical hatred, not love.
Now, when you remove punishment from the table and recognize that your discipline needs to follow the Primary Consequences in truth and love, then . . .
5. Your discipline must unmistakably point to the Primary Consequences.
For some of you, this will potentially be the first “new” concept we’ve discussed. Perhaps you understand that Christ-honoring discipline is not punishment, but instead is meant to support the Primary Consequences in truth and love. But what does it actually mean for Secondary Consequences to point to the Primary ones?
It means that talking about the vital connection between the Physical/Relational Consequences and the Primary Consequences is more important than anything else you can say. You must point back to the spiritual truths before the consequences are given, in the moment you’re giving them, and throughout the duration of the consequence if it lasts over a period of hours or days.
And I’m going to give a solid, real-life example of this in a minute. But — before I do that — as part of this step, let’s quickly consider three more points . . .
6. Your discipline must teach that sin hurts God.
When you discipline your kids, is their biggest takeaway the fact that they have displeased God . . . or made their parents mad?
Now, I’m not asking about their biggest takeaway of your verbal teaching. I’m talking about their biggest takeaway of actually being sent to their room, or having technology confiscated, or being spanked. When the consequence is happening and when it’s done, are your kids able to escape the reality that their sin was first and foremost against God?
Similarly . . .
7. Your discipline must teach that sin hurts others.
When your kids are doing those extra chores, are they clearly able to see that the extra vacuuming is nothing compared to the fact that they are suffering a breakdown in their relationship with the people in their lives?
How about . . .
8. Your discipline must teach that sin hurts your child.
Believe it or not, this one is even more difficult to teach.
We don’t want our kids to fear the loss of privileges or the instigation of pain. Only caring about how I’m being affected is selfish thinking. And let’s be honest, too often people only care about the Secondary Consequences for the same reasons they didn’t care about the Primary Consequences.
They were so consumed with what they wanted that they didn’t care what God wanted for their lives. That’s why the Primary Consequences weren’t even in their minds when they chose to sin. And now because their own comfort is paramount in their lives, they don’t want any Secondary Consequences.
But that’s not really the hurt your kids need to see in their consequences.
It’s so easy for us to default to pragmatic warning. We say things like, “When you act like that, no one will want to be your friend, “If you keep that up, you’ll be fired from every job you’ll ever have,” and “You’re ruining your life; you’re going to end up in jail before your 18.”
And we say things like that because we know that personal pain is sometimes the only motivator. But that’s not the job of discipline. It’s not about self-preservation. It needs to be about God’s best interest in their lives.
So, when your child has received their Secondary Consequences, is the third biggest lesson in their mind the fact that they have hurt themselves spiritually? Has the teaching and consequence drawn their mind to the spiritual impact of their sin?
Now, let me take these first 8 principles and illustrate them.
I hope to show you a simple example of parental Secondary Consequences that is not punitive, submits to the Primary Consequences, is truthful, loving, and unmistakably points back to the Primary Consequences by making a big deal out of the fact that their sin has hurt their relationship with God, others, and themselves . . . all for the purpose of elevating the spiritual lessons God wants them to learn.
Here we go.
Let’s say that my daughter has a curfew, but she arrives home almost an hour late. Barring any legitimate emergency, she has clearly disobeyed. And let’s say that this is becoming a pattern in her life.
Now, this example is going to be on the simple side. We’re not going to get into the weeds imagining that she comes into the house lying and arguing and the like.
That’s not to say that these principles don’t apply to the terrorist zombie kids as well. But — for now — we’re keeping this example on the simple side.
So, she walks in, and now it’s my turn to help her grow in Christ.
After asking all the wise clarifying questions (so that I’m not incorrectly assuming anything and making certain that I know what really happened) I may say something like, “I and your mother have shown you all the biblical reasons we expect you to be home by your curfew. We’ve taught you how obeying us in this regard keeps you physically and spiritually safe. We’ve already equipped you to be successful in this. You know how to estimate time, you have a phone, you know how to communicate in advance if you believe there’s going to be any problems. And we agree that you could have been home on time if you tried hard enough . . . but you didn’t.
“And you also know that when you sin, it ushers very real and very serious Spiritual Consequences into your life. Your sin builds walls in your relationship with God. Your repeated failure to come home on time shows Him that you care more about your fun than His expectations that you obey your parents. And — speaking of your parents — your sin has legitimate consequences on your relationship with us, but also your siblings, your friends, etc. It’s becoming harder and harder to trust you, and your desire to do your own thing regardless of our expectations shows that you love yourself more than you love us. And then there’s the fact that your sin ushers destructive Spiritual Consequences into your life. It reinforces your sinful behavior every time you do it, and it lies to you about God and yourself.
“God very graciously allows these very real Spiritual Consequences to come into your life because He wants you to see the danger of your way. He doesn’t want you leaning on your own understanding. He knows that doings what’s right in your own eyes will only end in destruction. He wants to you submit to Him and give Him the preeminence in your life that He deserves.
“But despite these important lessons this is the third time this month you’ve disobeyed by coming home late. You don’t seem to be recognizing your sin. You’re not learning from the Primary Consequences God is so graciously bringing into your life to draw you to Him. But you also don’t seem to be learning from the other Secondary Consequences we gave you earlier this month. Do you remember when we had to bump your curfew up by an hour? And so, you’re going to be receiving a new Secondary Consequence. Lord willing, this time you’ll start realizing that sin hurts and desiring to worship God instead of self.”
“But, Aaron, what’s the consequence?! Is she grounded? Is she losing her phone? Is she being sent to a boarding school?! What?!”
Well, we’re going to get even more specific and practical next time. This was the point in my notes when I realized that there wouldn’t be enough time today to do this topic justice.
Next time, we’re going to pick up right here where we’re leaving off to see the practical execution of the consequences . . . that probably wasn’t the best verbiage to use. :-)
For now, though, can you see what needs to be done to make the Primary thing the Primary thing?
I didn’t really talk at all about how hurt I was or how her sin affected me personally or how disappointed I was or anything like that. It wasn’t about how she disrespected me and is throwing away her life and how she doesn’t deserve to live under my roof. Yes, there are Relational Consequences that affect our relationship, but I didn’t milk that point so that she knew how much I had been affected . . . because it’s not about me.
These God-given opportunities to parent our kids when they’ve sinned is all about what God wants them to learn. He deserves our children’s love and worship and obedience, so my love and worship and obedience in my parenting needs to make it all about Him.
Now, before we end today, I do want to remind you that it will be so important to keep this conversation going. Yes, I introduced the consequence by pointing back to God, and if the consequence has any significant duration to it, I will have to keep bringing it back to God. And then when the consequence is finally over, I will want to again reiterate how this is all about the lessons that God is trying to teach her.
We never want to run the risk that our kids will miss the all-important primary pain because they’re so distracted by the supportive secondary pain.
So, how well do your Secondary Consequences achieve these goals? Do they steer clear of punishment because you recognize that God has far more important lessons for them to learn? Does it submit to and support those lessons? Do you communicate it in truth and love? Is the entire experience designed to set the Primary Lessons up in an unmistakeable way? Does your teaching and the accompanying consequences leave your children undeniably focused on the fact that their sin has hurt their relationship with God, their relationship with others, and themselves . . . but that there is a far better way?
I pray they do, but I also am encouraged by the fact that we serve a God of change. Though He never changes, He loves changing His people. We all need to grow, and God wants to use this study to mature all of us as we help mature our kids.
So, if you’re not where you need to be. If you punish your kids, if you make the consequences about you, if you can’t see the spiritual lessons God has for your kids . . . there is hope in Christ to learn and grow.
Please share this series on your favorite social media outlets so that other Christian parents can learn to give consequences that please the Lord, and always remember that the TLP Counselors are ready and willing to help apply these principles to your unique family situation. You can email us at Counselor@TruthLoveParent.com or call us at (828) 423-0894.
I hope you’ll join us next time as we once again open God’s Word to discover how to best worship God with our parenting.
To that end, we’ll be discussing the second part of this episode and get even more specific about giving valuable Secondary Consequences.
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