When I asked my son, Jonas, what makes a good parent, one thing he said struck me: "Don't give the kids whatever they want. Because if they get whatever they want, they won't know what's right." Limits are good us—they give shape to our lives. Parents give children limits through consistent, loving discipline that reflects the discipline of God in Hebrews 12.
God’s Fatherly Limits for Us
When we look at God's fatherly limits for us in Hebrews 12:7-11, we learn 6 things about our discipline for our children:
1. Discipline is an act of love (v.7)
What parent doesn’t love their children? When God brings us through suffering, we can see it as His love for us, teaching us, training us to know and follow Him. Parents who love their children discipline them. “God is treating you as sons.”
2. Failure to discipline is hatred. (v.8)
If your whole life were rainbows and roses, it would be a mark that God doesn’t love you! It takes discipline to grow up and become our best selves. Failure to discipline a child is a mark, not of love and compassion, but of hatred and contempt for their potential.
3. Discipline trains children to receive their limits. (v.9-10)
A parent’s discipline leads children to respect them. Discipline from God the Father, in turn, leads us to submit to Him. If our sinfulness leads us to try to transcend human limits, and that is an inherently bad thing, then discipline teaches us to trust, not self or sinful pride, but our loving Father.
4. Discipline is unpleasant. (v.11)
These Christians are suffering persecution. They are being maligned, scoffed at, imprisoned, betrayed. And God is ALLOWING this. It isn’t because He is incapable of stopping it. It is because He has a gospel vision for their lives. It is because He is not satisfied with where we are, but has a greater goal for where we will end up. Discipline is unpleasant. But that unpleasantness is key to growth.
5. Discipline bears fruit.
This is an essential component of gracious discipline. Bringing the unpleasant aspect of discipline into our children’s lives without the goal of bearing fruit is tantamount to punishment, if not plain cruelty. We have NO RIGHT to punish our children. We do not punish—by grace Christ was punished for us (see 1 Peter 2:24)! We correct and train—we discipline. We lead our children through unpleasant experiences so that it will bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
6. Discipline is divine.
Earthly parents are an analogy of God’s loving care for us as His children. When we discipline our children, we are participating in God’s work in their lives. When we discipline our children in love, to instruct, and to bear fruit in their lives, we are imaging our Father in heaven.
The Grace of Limits
Hebrews 12:3-7 teach that mom and dad get to reflect the Father and His loving discipline for their children. We discipline, in part, to teach our kids the way God created the universe to work, according to His law and the "if this, then that" principle that is a prerequisite to godly wisdom.
How should parents do this? What discipline method should be used? Hebrews quotes Proverbs, which elsewhere discusses "the rod" (Proverbs 22:15; 13:24). This does NOT mean abuse, and parents must remember our authority in our children's lives is given by God for their good. Rather than prescribe method, as a church we want to encourage everyone to discipline in community. Talk with others, learn from each other, be accountable to one another.
Most importantly, remember that you will make mistakes and need repentance throughout your parenting. Give grace to your kids, and receive the grace of Christ.
Raising Humans Homework #3
If you are a parent, sit down on your own and/or with your spouse and answer the following 3 questions together:
- The life stage and appropriate limits for our child(ren) are _____________.
- Currently, we ensure those limits are upheld in our child(dren)’s life by ________________.
- We will live in community by honestly sharing our discipline practices and parenting struggles with these trusted brothers and sisters _____________.
- Extra Credit: Ask a wise brother or sister who has spent time with your children this question: “Do you think my children understand their God-given limits? Do they understand them too well (not free to be themselves)? Or not enough (TOO free around others as to make them uncomfortable)?
Reflection & Application Questions
- What kinds of limits has God given you in your life? How do you view them?
- What is one God-given limit that you seek to transcend? Why?
- What does it look like to humbly submit to your God-given limits?
- Do you believe that God's discipline for you (and yours for your kids) is an act of love? Why or why not?
- If you have kids, in what ways do you seek to reinforce the God-given law principle in their lives, "if this, then that"? How consistent are you in this?
- Is it easier to give your children the law or to give them the gospel? Why are both necessary to their development and knowledge of God?
- Is the way you discipline your children honestly submitted to Christ? Are there things about your parenting that you don't want Him to touch? Why or why not?