One of the repeated themes in the biblical book of Proverbs is the concept of discipline.
A fool despises his father’s discipline, but a person who accepts correction is sensible. — Proverbs 15:5 (CSB).
Anyone who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever listens to correction acquires good sense (15:32 CSB).
Wise parents discipline their children. They take the advice of Solomon in Proverbs 29:17, Discipline your child, and it will bring you peace of mind and give you delight (CSB).
The concept of discipline is not primarily punishment, though some is involved. To discipline is to train, like an athlete trains her body in order to compete. Like a good writer says no to many other enticements in order to sit in his chair, putting words on paper. Like a great guitarist spends countless secret hours picking the strings. Discipline involves training to follow a certain path, correcting deviant behavior, and keeping your sight on the goal.
Godly parents begin their parenting with the end in sight. When God entrusts a baby to a couple, he gives them about eighteen to twenty years to invest in that child. The goal, however, is not for them to be perpetually dependent on the parents. The aim is to raise a responsible adult.
When my oldest son turned nine, it hit me hard. He was halfway to eighteen, which meant from then on, the time I had with him at home ahead of me was less than what I had behind. One day Hendrix and I rode in my grey Honda Odyssey on the Clinton-Laurens highway in South Carolina. He had just turned nine, and out of the blue I told him, “Son, the first nine years of your life my goal was to help you be a happy child. Do you know what my goal is the next nine years?” He said, “No.” I replied, “My goal is to help you become a man.” Hendrix grinned from ear to ear, always eager to grow up and be independent.
Tracey and I laughed through the years many times that we don’t want them living in our basement, eating our food, and playing video games instead of working when they are thirty years old. (We’ve actually told them by then we want them saving money to buy their parents a beach or mountain condo.) We want to raise wise, responsible adults.
That is why the Bible emphasizes the training of youth. It is why parents want to teach their children how to obey at a young age.
God expects our first-time obedience. Biblical accounts record such behavior:
When the Lord told Abraham to sacrifice his son, the Bible says the Patriarch rose early the next morning, saddled his donkey, and prepared to obey.
When Jesus gave Peter an instruction regards fishing, though Peter admitted it seemed illogical, he replied, “But if you say so, I’ll let down the nets” (Luke 5:5).
In another account, King Saul received clear instructions from the prophet to attack and completely destroy the Amalekites and all of their animals. Instead, he chose to keep some of the best for himself. Samuel appears and rebukes him for his disobedience, offering this admonition:
“Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).
Raising children to be fruit-bearing disciples of Jesus Christ means teaching them first-time obedience. Because God doesn’t like to count to three.