Recently my wife and I were doing some “spring” (by faith!) cleaning. As we made a pile of things to be discarded, I came across something that I asked Jill to make sure that we did not pitch. It was a necktie that had been carved out of wood and given to me as a gift many years ago when as a young family we lived in Australia.
A fellow pastor friend is a very gifted wood worker and he carves objects as a hobby. He made me this necktie complete with clip-on hardware (I’m not sure if he seriously thought I would wear it!). Though I never intended to use it as a fashion accessory I did however find a wonderful use for it: It became my biblical “rod” to help my children to learn that obedience is a wonderful way to adorn their life—from head to foot.
Though it no longer has any practical application in this area, nevertheless it holds great sentimental value. You see, by practically applying this piece of wood, it quite literally became a tie that bound dad and daughters together.
When giving instruction concerning discipline I would sometimes say, “Do I need to get my tie?” Of course they were not thinking, “Yippee we are going to play dress up!” Rather they were aware that something a lot less fun was imminent. And though at that point they were being raised as dispensationalists, they were not confused about the meaning of “soon”! The warning often had an immediate transforming effect, and if it didn’t, well, what followed most certainly did.
Of course, in our day the idea of a piece of wood as a means of corporal punishment is tantamount to accusations of child abuse. No doubt, there are those who abuse corporal punishment. But I am not going to undermine the premise of this article with a thousand qualifications. Simply put, the abuse of a good thing does not nullify the validity of God’s clear admonition to use the rod to teach our children the beauty of obedience. The rod of discipline, applied biblically, forms a tie that binds the heart of the child to the heart of the parent; and more importantly, it is a means of grace to bind the soul of the child to the Saviour.
In several places, the Bible instructs parents about the occasional need for the use of corporal (“bodily”) punishment on their children (see Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15). Its purpose is to lovingly secure the obedience of the child for his or her ongoing welfare. The purpose of such discipline is not to secure merely momentary obedience, but rather it is to teach the child their ultimate need to obey God—forever. In other words, though the rod is applied to the buttocks, the goal is to win the heart. God has a very unique anatomical view of the person!
Unfortunately, Christian parents may at times be guilty of missing the wood of principle for the tree of practice. In other words, we can be guilty of being reactionary rather than thoughtful as we apply the rod. We are never to spank our children in anger. And that is never as in N-E-V-E-R! Rather, only when we have our own hearts under control are we permitted to spank our children. After all, if the purpose of such discipline is to produce godly obedience, then those meting out such discipline are to model godliness. Sinfully striking a child is, well, sinful.
Further, though the Bible teaches that corporal punishment is necessary in raising our children, nevertheless it is not to be our sole means to do so. And neither should it be our first response.
Certainly when the child is very young then the rod will be used more than when the child is older and has better reasoning abilities. Further, when the rod of discipline is applied consistently and “memorably” when the child is younger, it will not be as necessary when they are older. In other words, there will come a day—sooner than later—when the tie that binds will be a wonderful keepsake rather than a painful means to the “end” (literally!).
The use of the word “rod” is instructive when you consider its Scriptural significance. When the Lord called Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, Moses realising his own inadequacy for such a task, was hesitant to do so. But the Lord used Moses’ rod to encourage him that He would use him to do the otherwise impossible (Exodus 14:1–5). Significantly, the Lord intimated that through the rod the people would “believe” both Moses and God (v.5).
The use of the rod became a means of miracles; it quite literally became a means of God’s gracious deliverance (7:9–10, 15–20; 8:5, 16–17; 9:23; 10:13; 14:16; 17:5–7, 9–16). In fact, the authority of God became so closely associated with the rod of Moses that it was referred to as “the rod of God” (4:20; 17:9). Moses wielded it, but God vindicated it. By the rod, others were made aware of the person, the power and the authority of God. The rod was intended to secure reverence and deliverance. So it is with the rod wielded by parents.
When parents use the biblical rod of discipline correctly, then God attends it with His authority. And wonderful results occur. The child is pointed to God as the ultimate authority and an opportunity is created to proclaim the gospel to the sinning child. The inflicting of pain is followed by the injection of hope. Yes, the biblical rod of discipline properly used by parents is a wonderful means of grace. Wield it wisely and wield it well.
Unfortunately, parents, like Moses, are at times guilty of abusing God’s rod.
In Numbers 20:1–13 we have the record of a frustrated, because temporarily faithless, Moses taking matters into his own hands. God had commanded Moses to speak to the rock and then water would flow for His thirsty people. Moses, in anger, struck the rock. Note the revelation of his heart: “Hear now you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” Well, Moses, not really! Actually that was God’s responsibility. Moses forgot that the rod was God’s, not his. And Moses paid a dear price for his failure. But the sorest result was that he dishonoured God before those whom he was leading (v. 12).
Parents, we cannot change the hearts of our children. But God can. Our sinful anger is merely a confession of our own unbelief and arrogance. Use the rod, but use it biblically. That is, use it as the rod of God. When you use it, remember and rely upon Him.
When a parent loses his or her temper with the rod, he or she is no longer disciplining but is rather striking the child in anger. That is no means of grace but rather a grave abuse of power. Such behaviour is not a tie that binds but rather a rod that breaks. The results can be both physically and spiritually destructive.
One day your children will be older and they will reminisce about how they were disciplined. What will they remember? That is entirely up to you. Will they remember the rod as a means of grace which bound their heart to yours and ultimately to God? Or will they carry the painful memory of an angry parent? Make sure that your rod is God’s rod. For when it is, then it will be a tie that binds.