Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Child Training & Consequential Reproof

Ephesians 6:1-3: 1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3 so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

In the broadest sense of the expression, consequential reproof is being used here to refer to God’s provision of chastisement by means of specific consequences for sin. This aspect of reproof is very important in light of the fact that it is a universal form of rebuke that will follow us all throughout the rest of our lives. Because of this, children should be trained in such a way that they can learn to appreciate this form of reproof. The Scriptures give us several examples of what consequences may come for sin, for example: If you don’t pay your bills then you will receive the consequences for such negligence (Proverbs 6:1-2). If you fail to take care of your household then it will decay and become broken down (Proverbs 24:30-31), and the perverse use of one’s mouth will bring ruin (Proverbs 6 & 18). Foolish behavior will be met with the consequential reproof of the Lord. This reproof is providentially given by the Lord, especially to those who are His children for their greater good. However, we must remember that great caution must be applied when attempting to ascertain if God’s hand of reproof is being applied for specific sins. When we attempt to interpret life’s experiences we must guard against the error of merely assuming that all hardships are the direct result of a particular sin. For example, when the disciples encountered the man who was born blind from birth in John 9, they queried about what sin the blind man or his parents had committed, such that this ailment came to be. The Lord’s answer clearly redirected their thinking, for it was neither that he sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God might by displayed in him (John 9:1-3). When difficult circumstances come our way, it is in keeping with wisdom and humility to seek the Lord in an attempt to understand the purpose of His providences (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). But it is important to exercise great wisdom and caution when attempting to interpret life’s circumstances. Sometimes our comprehension of trials may be very clear, at other times we may have to admit our inability to comprehend God’s immediate purposes. However, if you fail to pay your bills and you go to jail for it, wonder not! Whether we suffer for doing good, or evil (1 Peter 2:15-20), God’s profitable word reminds us that He is working all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

These broader principles of life also apply to the family, including children. As parents, we are in the process of learning how to ascertain life’s circumstances appropriately, that is, Biblically. As we grow in wisdom in this area, we must aid our children such that they too will think Biblically about their circumstances. It is certain that they will experience the natural consequences for sin, and when they do they will need the wisdom of the Word to understand the Lord’s loving reproof in it all. Parents should avoid the superstitious approach of the disciples, but if a child burns his hand on a hot iron after being commanded “No! Do not touch!” then there should be little mystery concerning the relationship between their failure to obey and the injury they received! Consequential reproof can take many forms, arising in many contexts. There will be times when consequential reproof will come by means of events that take place outside of the parent’s direct influence (i.e., the child who touched the hot iron when ignoring the parent’s warning). At other times, consequential reproof can be supplied by specific events that are initiated and governed by parents. In this latter category it is the parent who directly supplies the consequences for sin. Consider the following examples.

  • Temporary isolation for gossip: Proverbs 20:19 He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip.

  • Temporary isolation for selfishness: Proverbs 21:13 He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.

  • Temporary isolation for mockery: Proverbs 22:10 Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out, Even strife and dishonor will cease.

  • Removal of various privileges for selfishness or laziness: Proverbs 13:4 The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat.

  • The temporary loss of responsibilities in the home because of sin: Proverbs 28:10 He who leads the upright astray in an evil way will himself fall into his own pit...

  • A loss of a meal for laziness: Proverbs 20:4 The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, So he begs during the harvest and has nothing. (2 Thessalonians 3:10 “...if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.”)

  • Temporary removal of property for disobedience: Proverbs 13:18 Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, but he who regards reproof will be honored.

The loss of privileges for the sins of gossip, selfishness, mockery, laziness, or general disobedience can be very effective in offering punitive reproof to children. Like the use of the rod, the use of consequential reproof should be designed in order to offer a safe but effective rebuke to the child. A loss of a single meal will not lead to malnutrition; nor will an hour of isolation lead to insanity. The extent to which these methods of reproof are employed should be measured with careful consideration in order to achieve a balance of compassion and a needful rebuke. Parents will learn, over time, what forms of reproof are most effective with their children. For some children, an hour of isolation can be a small vacation for them, while for others the loss of certain responsibilities in the home could be a great victory. But it could also be that for these same children that the removal of certain property or the loss of a meal could capture their attention and cause them to consider their sin more clearly. The point is simply this: what is effective for one child may not be as clearly effective for others, therefore, parents must watch, listen, and learn as they apply such reproof.

It is oftentimes argued that such reproof caters to a fleshly motivation for obedience. Such a concern is well advised since it is true that fleshliness should always be a concern in all matters of obedience to God’s Word. However, the concern over fleshly motivation actually applies not only to devices of consequential reproof, but it also applies to the rod of reproof. This is so because both means of reproof deal in the language of grief and pain. The pain of the rod, the pain of hunger, the pain of isolation etc., all bear the common root of this universal language of grief and pain. Therefore, there will always be a danger that children would obey only so that they might avoid the pain of any of these forms of reproof. While it is true that the avoidance of pain will have some part in one’s motivation in obedience, it cannot be the goal of the parent for such to be the principal source of motivation. Our highest motivation must be the love of God and His good pleasure, and secondarily, the love of our neighbor. The fear of consequences for sin should take on a tertiary role of importance, at best. This concern of motivation never ends however, not only in parenting, but even in the lives of mature Christians. What parents should do in order to direct their children to a right motivation is to use the pain of reproof (whether by the rod, or by circumstantial reproof – or both) as a tool to show them the ugliness of sin and thus direct them to the goodness of the Savior, Jesus Christ, who came in order to save His people from their sin.[1]


[1] Matthew 1:21 “And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.”