Saturday, February 23, 2008

the nature of discipline

A few weeks ago, our pastor said something that I didn’t quite agree with (I really dislike disagreeing with my pastor but I know there would be something wrong if I didn’t find myself disagreeing, we are, after all, both human). Our pastor is doing a series on the book of I Timothy. On this particular Sunday (I can’t remember the reason but there was a good one), he explained a grammatical analysis he did of the Greek in the book of Timothy (he also did it on the rest of Paul’s letters and said that they almost all followed the same pattern). He compared the verbs to determine if they were imperative, suggestive, etc. Most of them were suggestive.

In other words, they weren’t commands they were suggestions on the right thing to do when walking the Christian walk. They were suggestions on how to make decisions and do the right thing. He suggested that if we were disciplinarian parents we should consider how God speaks to us in the books of Paul and be less imperative with our children. My mind instantly revolted. I should say that after giving it thought I realize that since he is the parent of college age children he is probably thinking more in the teenage mode in which case he is right. Teenagers need guidance but they also need to be allowed to make their own (hopefully) wise decisions.

However, in the case of children the ages f DramaQueen and Stinkerbell, to make suggestions and allow the child to make decisions about issues of life and death and health and illness is to ask for a disaster. Even to allow your child to always decide what they are going to eat is to invite a disaster when they are old and pay the price for a life of poor quality food with heart disease and diabetes. Children need to learn to obey and they need a firm understanding of cause and effect before they can make their own decisions.

I once heard it suggested that the need for children to learn to obey isn’t just a health issue and the command isn’t really about obeying parents. Children who learn to respect and listen to the God-given authority of their parents are much more likely to hear God’s will in their life and listen to it and to make good decisions because they’ve learned the habit of listening and obeying.

I was mulling the above for the rest of that Sunday and the following Monday. That Tuesday I was given the foundation that my ideas were wanting. The scope of the Bible shows us the nature of growth and the movement from the need to have strict rules and an enforced adherence to those rules to the time when freedom is given and decision making is allowed.

People often complain of the harshness of the Old Testament God. The Ten Commandments are without a doubt imperatives and often when people disobeyed the rules set forth in Exodus and Leviticus the result was instant death or at the very minimum very painful. IN the New Testament, we are told in James 1:25 that freedom is found within the law and Jesus summarizes the Ten Commandments into two laws that are all about love, “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:38-40

Why? Most people think God changed. He didn’t. The penalty for sin is still death, only now if we confess our sins and repent we are forgiven rather than punished by instantaneous death. So why are the rules gentler? It is simple. In the Old Testament, God was working with an infant nation that needed to grow physically and spiritually. It needed to be preserved until the day that Jesus was born. Parents do the same thing we are preserve our children until they reach maturity. Until they are mature, we must protect them and sometimes protection is a strict rule.

After Christ died, the nation of Israel no longer needed preservation they were grown up and their role as Jesus family had been fulfilled. God now allows his Church to come to him. Until Christ, God’s people were a small tribe in a vast world of temptation and needed to be preserved but still they were unfaithful and wandered away. No longer does God hold His People tightly. He sets them free and allows them to come to Him and allows them to suffer the results of their poor actions. They are teenagers. Like the prodigal son, we screw up but we are always welcomed home. God does not tie us to His apron strings any longer.

Someday we will be adults and will join God in our celestial home.

I love how complex the Bible is and how it resonates and means and supports so much in our life. It is a complex document and to think that it could be written without divine oversight is absurd. I am always amazed at how if one starts thinking about the choices we need to make and start using Jesus’ summary of the law to make a decision, we soon discover that the right decision (made in love) always falls into the obedient side of the either/or of the Ten commandments. How profound that those seemingly harsh and excessively strict laws actually teach us the mature and right way to Love!


  1. This is especially interesting to read since I am doing Grace Based Parenting with my bible study. I think you have some really good points about this.

  2. This is a very good post! Going along with what you said, I think it's about recognizing boundaries.

    A simplistic illustration that comes to my mind is that NO one should run out into the middle of a busy street. Little ones must be constantly safeguarded against that. Slightly older children must be reminded on occasion not to get distracted and forget the lesson of toddler-hood. Adults (hopefully!) know better. Everyone is constrained by that same boundary, but the necessity for enforcement varies according to maturity level.

    You are writing some wonderful posts, Melissa; I am enjoying them very much. I wrote you a novel in reply to the "interruptions" post, but never could find an uninterrupted time to scale it back to a reasonable reply. How ironic is that? ;o)

    Enjoy your time with your mom! Hugs to you!

  3. Hmm ~ I hope that illustration made sense. It was supposed to parallel spiritual growth and the training of children. I removed a paragraph from my reply because it was so long. Re-reading my comment, perhaps I should have left it in ~ lol. :o)

  4. Absolutely! I have always felt that way about the difference between thew Old and New Testament (and LOVE the Old Testament.)

  5. Anonymous8:45 AM

    Oh goody I can comment, our server kept going down last night so I could only manage a brief comment on your other post...I digress...

    I agree, great post, I totally agree with you, it's finding balance between teaching our children grace by offering mercy but also teaching them vital life saving lessons and life enhancing lessons of discipline, safety and good manners.


    Sarah x

  6. So insightful. Thank you! I often find myself pondering tonal differences in the Old and New Testaments. But I really like your explanation here. I think our brains work in a similar way :)