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The Lost Art of Fatherly Discipline

Gavin Peacock

Much of fatherhood depends on a man’s understanding and application of discipline. In an anti-authority and undisciplined culture even the word is not well liked. Even when many men try to apply this they seem to lack perseverance or consistency.  It seems like fatherly discipline is a lost art. Owen Strachan and I deal with this aspect of fatherhood in our book The Grand Design. Here’s an excerpt.


Discipline is essential

"David’s regular failure to discipline his children is highlighted in First Kings 1:6. Speaking with reference to Adonijah, the author says: “His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so?’” (1 Kings 1:6). David indulged Adonijah. He sinned by omission in not correcting him and training him. The result was a spoiled and disobedient son who eventually turned into an entitled young man.

Acting early prevents ruinous consequences later because a child left undisciplined today will become the bane of society tomorrow. When he exercises justice, a father shows care for the child he disciplines, and (if it is the case), for the one his child sins against. However, too often fathers are afraid to “displease” their children: they are afraid of pushback, or a bad reaction. Especially with teenagers there is often a fear that they will run away or indulge further in sin if a father imposes correction and restrictions.

Ultimately, a father who doesn’t discipline is seeking his own comfort. In that case, the father has forgotten his responsibility as head of the home and as the primary authority over his children. But too often the authority structure is reversed. Discipline sometimes requires spanking, but it always involves training and correction. “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). Discipline is essential to the training of a child.


Coddling for comfort

Fathers who coddle their children and will not exercise biblically mandated authority sin by their omission, and do harm to their children and others through them. This may also provoke their children to anger and resentment through their lack of loving correction. A man who says, “I’m a softie—I could never spank my disobedient child” is, without knowing it, robbing his children of essential spiritual formation. Though he thinks he is being loving, he is actually being cruel, for children need to learn obedience (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 6:4-9; Prov. 13:24). To be taught to obey in a loving home is a gracious gift of the Father who himself must be obeyed as an expression of love (1 John 5:3).


Aim for the heart

Nevertheless, fathers must discipline with the right attitude—not being harsh or domineering, which will provoke children to anger (Eph. 6:4). In other words, the impatient self-serving, severe father can cause a child to become disheartened. Fathers must discipline their children by dealing with the heart issue behind their sin. They should direct their children towards what pleases the Lord, not simply their father or mother. They must display the displeasure of God (He is holy and hates sin) and the mercy of God (He is merciful and offers forgiveness). This way a father shepherds his child’s heart and directs it towards the grace of the cross of Christ. Behavior modification is superficial.


In sum, discipline should be consistent, loving, and wise. This is true of both parents: a Christian mother’s teaching is kindness to be received and wisdom to be heeded (Prov. 31:26). Nevertheless, as we are at pains to say, fathers have a unique role as head of the household to lead in the discipline and instruction of their children (Eph. 6:4). A godly father uniquely displays the Fatherhood of God (Heb. 12).

So much of a father’s work is heart-work in order to produce repentance and faith in his children. In his autobiography, John G. Paton tells of his father’s loving discipline. With serious issues he would go to private prayer. Paton recalls, “...we boys got to understand that he was laying the whole matter before God; and that was the severest punishment for me to bear... We loved him all the more when we saw how much it cost him to punish us...we were ruled by love far more than by fear.”"


So fathers, let us take courage and lovingly train our children with that aim. And let us rediscover the lost art of fatherly discipline.


Modified from The Grand Design (pp.106-108).