“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”
It is the responsibility of parents to lead and direct their children. It is also the responsibility of parents to hold their children accountable, which means exercising discipline when necessary. There are two other Proverbs that teach this same principle:
“Folly is bound up in the heart of the child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22.15)
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” (Proverbs 23.13-14)
The word for “discipline” in these verses is our word musar. The intent of musar is always learning, development, and growth. It means the disciplined process of teaching and training.
Sometimes, as part of the process of disciplined learning, it is necessary to administer discomfort. However, the discomfort should always be productive discomfort. There should be consequences for wrong behavior, and the consequences should be uncomfortable.
With regard to parenting, to fail to hold children accountable is a big mistake. As it true with all forms of leadership, if you permit it, you promote it.
A key message in Proverbs is that the parent who withholds discomfort from the discipline process actually causes harm to the child. Indeed, the parent who “spares the rod” often does so because the parent is avoiding the personal discomfort that the parent would experience in applying discipline. It is a self-centered act by the parent. The parent is uncomfortable making their child uncomfortable, so the parent withholds discipline.
Proverbs equates this to “hating” the child, which is an amplified way of saying “not loving” the child.
It is also necessary to make sure that the discipline/consequence that is administered is intentionally and purposely instructional. Again, this is the very meaning of musar.
The big warning: Do not punish out of anger or impulse. Discipline that is delivered impulsively and in anger is highly foolish and potentially abusive. An angry, out-of-control parent is not acting wisely. An impulsive outburst by a parent is a lack of self-control, and it communicates mismanaged frustration, not musar. It is unlikely to do anything but cause resentment on the part of the child.
That sort of impulsive discipline is an example of what Paul refers to in Ephesians when he exhorts fathers not to exasperate their children.
There is, of course, much controversy today regarding the practice of spanking. Keep in mind that the “rod” referred to in these verses need not be spanking. In fact, the vast majority of the time that the wise parent uses the “rod” … it is a“time-out” or some variety thereof.
Wise parents — if they choose to administer a swat or two — do so rarely, never in anger, and always with instruction in mind. The goal is not to punish; the goal is to teach. When the situation calls for discomfort to be administered, it is productive discomfort, wisely administered.
The NT book of Hebrews tells us that there are times that God — as our wise Father — administers discipline.
“Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12.5-6)
Discipline is part of the process of learning and growth. It is part of what it means to have God as our Father. Therefore, we should not resent the Lord’s discipline, nor should we grow weary when he reproves us and corrects us.
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” (Hebrews 12.7-10).
The purpose of discipline is that we grow in godliness. Yes, sometimes discipline is uncomfortable and even painful, but that is part of the process. To avoid the discomfort is to avoid the growth.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:11-13)
Trust God, submit to his authority, do the work of musar, and grow.