Jesus did not say “spare the rod spoil the child”

If you read some Christian websites or books about Christian discipline or raising Christian Christ-like children, or making a Christian home, you will find some very helpful information. Often, there is a section defending spanking.  It will talk about Proverbs 13 and 22. “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them”(13:24) or “the rod of discipline drives folly from a child” (22:15).   Now I’m not here to preach about spanking. I’m not an expert in child psychology, and I will confess that occasionally we spanked our children. Lewis got spanked exactly one time. Connie tells me Lewis was two years old. Caleb was a baby. For some reason Lewis hit Baby KB, who knows why. I thought two year old Lewis needed to feel how his actions impacted his baby brother. I spanked Lewis saying afterwards, “This is what hitting feels like. I spanked you on your bottom and it didn’t hurt that much because God gave you padding back there. Lewis when we hit people it hurts. We don’t hit.” There is something odd and maybe wrongheaded about spanking in order to teach a child not to hit.   I’m not advocating spanking. Indeed I’m not going to preach about spanking, except to say do not spank in anger and there are many effective disciplinary measures besides spanking.   I do want to talk about a theology of raising our children.

In order to preach about raising children, we need to consider the “spare the rod, spoil the child” idea. Many Christian Websites and books trumpet this idea as an almost cornerstone of their child rearing theology. This week I read a very popular Christian parenting website. It offered some great ideas about instilling a culture of personal discipline instead of reactive punishment. In seven sections on discipline it lauded one Bible verse “spare the rod and spoil the child”. It assured parents “A lot of people may not like those verses, but the Bible doesn’t really give us the option of picking our favorites and ignoring the ones we don’t like. These are part of the inspired Word of God, and we have to approach them that way.” But friends, that’s simply not the case. We live under grace and not the law. There are Old Testament teachings that Christians no longer uphold. The whole system of OT sacrifice goes away with Christ. We do not uphold Deuteronomy 21:18-21 that instructs parents to drag their rebellious child before the town council naming his gluttony and drunkenness for punishment. Deuteronomy proclaims: “all the men of his town must stone him to death. In this way, you will purge this evil from among you.”  We reject where Exodus 21:15 prescribes stoning a son who disrespects their parents and Exodus 21: 17 that names striking a parent as a capital offense. Friends, we adhere to that law.  Let us not take our theology of parenting from a very different ancient culture or with a sense of wooden legalism. Let us look to Jesus, “for (Jesus) is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.” Let us remember, “if the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it” (Hebrews 8:6-7, 13).

Friends, Jesus talks about children in a new way, with a new ethic, a new commandment. In an ancient society that gave no rights and few privileges to children, Jesus offers a new understanding of children. Hear the Word of God from Matthew 18:2 “Jesus called a child, and placed the child in the middle of the disciples and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’ ”

Now Jesus inherited a world where children were considered secondary or tertiary, out of sight, and out of mind. Children were not to be seen in the world of adults except to serve. In Mark 10 when the crowd crushed in close and parents begged Jesus “bless my child, bless our children, pray for our babies, lay your hands on them” the disciples said “no, no, no Jesus is too busy for this. Kids need to seen and not heard!” But Jesus welcomed the little children and laid his hands upon them and blessed them. When you welcome a child you welcome Jesus. Jesus preaches “Let the little children come unto me and do not hinder them because to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 9). Jesus preaches to the adult centric world “whoever welcomes such a little one welcomes me.”   Whoever welcomes such a little one welcomes me.

Now think about the children in your life, think about your children. Think about them when they were babies. Whoever welcomes such a little one welcomes me. Think about them when they were starting school like some of our children just learning to read. Whoever welcomes such a child welcomes Jesus. Jesus is always found among the powerless. Think about children when they go off to middle school. Think about them when they go out on their first date, go to prom, profess faith in Christ, and one day get in that car and drive off. Whoever welcomes such a little one welcomes Jesus! Think about a child standing next to you when the preacher said “who gives this woman to be married to this man?” and maybe you pulled her closer and reluctantly answered “her mother and I.” Whoever welcomes such a little one welcomes Christ. Think about that child. Think about children. “When you welcome a child, you welcome me.” Our Theology of Children does not begin with the rod of correction but with our children cradled in the arms of Jesus. Our theology of raising children begins “whoever welcomes a child welcomes Jesus!”

Hear Jesus teach, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. …Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.”

And Jesus says if you harm, mistreat, look down upon, have a superior attitude over, are arrogant towards, or stand above a child, it would be better for a millstone to be tied around your neck and to be cast into the sea. Jesus speaks with a wild protectiveness of children. He speaks Mamma Bear. Think about Jesus’ ethic. Think about the contrast with the Old Testament law that prescribed death for a rebellious child.   Hear Jesus pleading no, no, a thousand times no! Jesus demands that we welcome the child, welcome the child. In fact Jesus warns these little children have an angel in Heaven who stands so close to God, that they continually see the face of the Father. I used to pooh-pooh this idea of the guardian angel. I don’t know exactly what I think about it today, but Jesus speaks of it and clearly the idea that children are beautiful, blessed and precious to God is Scriptural. Knowing that children are a treasure from God is the beginning of Christian discipline.

Welcome the child. Thank God every day for your child. There may be times when welcoming your child is trying. One of our children went through a season or phase when I thought “I want to just kick his little tail.” I would half-joke “he knows where the line is by crossing it.” Maybe I should acknowledge I borrowed that line from my dad who said of me “Paul knows where the line is by crossing it.” My teenage years consisted of trying to take a little more ground from my parents…especially my dad. As a dad, when I stopped getting upset and started to pray more, giving thanks for my child, I realized that he was trying to grow up and that he was grieving our move. My parenting job was to help him navigate that stage.   He was frustrated and acting out. I needed to help him find God’s path. Welcome the child and welcome Jesus.

Remember that children, even sullen teenagers are a gift of God. They are sinful little gifts from God. Children enter this world not knowing right from wrong. They must be taught what is right. Oh we say “they’re precious,” and they are. However, they are sinful. They cry until they get what they want. We have to teach them not to cry for a new toy! We have to say “don’t hit.” When they are coming unglued we must teach them to “use your words baby, use your words.” We must coach articulating their feelings. We teach them not to steal their preschool neighbor’s toys. We teach sharing. We have to teach them to wait their turn. We must teach them not bear false witness. Anyone who ever asked a child “did you eat those cookies?” knows kids can lie.   We must coach them up into behaving as a moral human being. We must cheer-lead them above their more base natures. We teach them that ice cream alone will not sustain them. We must teach them that when homework doesn’t come easy they must lean into it. We must teach them not to quit when adversity comes their way. We must train them to say “thank you” to the clerk and to life! We must train them up in the way that they should go. Proverbs 22:6 implores us “Train children in the right path, so that they will not leave it when they grow old.” The ancient wisdom is much richer than spare the rod. Friends, raise them, love them, cherish them, but teach them the way of God. First, we welcome the child. Our Second task is to train the child.

Sometimes friends, you have to make children temporarily unhappy in order to achieve a lasting goodness. Now, I am at a dangerous age to preach about raising children with boys 17 and 15. So I preach with fear, trembling and deep humility. But very truly, I say unto you: God is calling you to be the custodian of your child, not their comrade.   You must be your child’s personal ethics trainer not their pal. You must be their life coach. God is not calling you to be their friend. Being your child’s friend is a crazy idea. It speaks to our cultural hedonism that we think that our children must be always happy and we need to be their pals and provide them with happiness.   A few Fridays ago, our den was filled with teenagers spending the night. Our children and their friends don’t always want to go to bed.   They want to stay up all night. We as moral custodians know that they have games and band practice the next day. We as seasoned life travelers know that sleep cycles get messed up after 12 pm.   Now, I know some of you may not have the inner strength to say no, and say “I want to be their friend.”   Just know this, they don’t need another friend. In fact our teenage children don’t want us to be their friend. They don’t want us to hang out with them. As a teen did you want your parents to hang out with your friends? Did you want your parents to dress like you, listen to your music, and talk about your movies? Well of course not. I would have been mortified if dad showed up in Air Jordans, Levis 501 shrunk to fit with a button fly too, a boom box and a U2 shirt. Are we just cooler now as parents or have we forgotten what parents are? Children want you to be the parent. Well, maybe they don’t, but they desperately need you to be their parent. They need you to be their parent, not their pal. You need to exercise spiritual and moral leadership inside the home.

You must be the one who preaches the word of life: “Don’t hit, be nice, forgive, give, tithe, eat your veggies, remember who you are, if there are drugs you come home, share your toys, clean your room, be nice, don’t belittle others, be thankful, brush your teeth, if you drink you will not drive a car purchased by me, pray about it, what is the magic word, write that thank you note, if your grades suffer your phone is turned off, you will not show that much skin, treat every date with respect, let’s pray, be careful who you run with, get ready for church, do your homework, don’t give up, it’s time to go to bed, and I Love you!”

You must be their custodian, coach, principal, priest, pastor, teacher and personal trainer.

Train them. Lead them, Love them. Give them responsibility. Don’t be an oligarch, patriarch, tyrant, dictator, overlord, or jerk. Just be in charge. In a culture where a father’s words could bring the most severe sorts of punishment Paul preaches “Fathers provoke not your children to wrath” (Ephesians 6:4) Jesus says it is better to use a millstone as a floatation device than to drive them off God’s path or harshly rule your children. Don’t holler at them. When you do, apologize! Don’t yell unless they are about to run into traffic. You’ve lost when you’re yelling. Yelling is saying “I don’t have the authority or the willpower to lead you.” Love is the golden rule. Firmly do what a child needs you to do for them! Welcome them. Embrace them. Train them.

Years ago, my cousins, Connie, my mom and our four kids were walking down the trail at Yellowstone. We had just left these great amazing volcanic pools of multi-colored acidic water. We did not know it, but we were about to see an osprey catch a trout out of stream: one of the most breath-stealing scenes I have witnessed. Nine descendants of Ark and Clackie Simms hiking in Yellowstone and here comes a kid complaining and lollygagging behind his tired parents playing his Nintendo. Connie grabbed the Gameboy from his startled hands and flung it into a steaming sulfurous volcanic pool. Well, Connie did not really she pantomimed doing this. Let me be clear, she did not toss a strangers device into the volcano. She just wanted to. Now let me say, “Thanks be to God for Nintendo!” because Nintendo made our 18 hour drive to Yellowstone much better! Once in the National Park we made a rule: “don’t miss a moose, turn that off.” Our rules allowed our boys to see an osprey pluck a foot long trout from a stream. We said “no” to Super Mario Bros so they might play on the Creator’s playground.

It’s your job. It’s our job. We are their custodians. We are their life coach. We teach ethics. We preach Christ. We welcome them. We train them. We say “no”, so that they can hear the Divine “yes”.

Who else will teach them Christ? Who else will teach our children how to live? The world will not. Their devices will not. Their schools will not. Friends, it is on us. We have promised them, God and each other. “With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround them with a community of love and forgiveness; that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others.” (UMC Baptismal Covenant)

Oh church, our young parents need you so much to stand with them. It has never been harder to raise Christ-like children. It is not enough to be a cultural critic. No, our parents need your help, support, smiles, welcome, kind words and prayers. They need you to get to know their names. Let us welcome the children in nursery, in Sunday school, at the House, in Dossett Homes and in our neighborhoods. Let us say to Tullahoma “let the little children come unto me” and let us not hinder them.

Why must we be our children’s custodian, coach, and personal life trainer? Well friends the reason we must be the custodians and coaches of moral excellence and Christ-like living is that life is hard. Life is beautiful, but it’s hard. Sometimes the winds blow cruel and callous. “Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock” (teachings of Jesus) Matthew 7:25.   When the cruel winds howl, when they don’t get in, get the letter, get the date, get sick, get the news, or get to go, then they need a foundation that won’t collapse.   When your world is collapsing, your X-box will not give you life, neither will Rocky Top nor Nissan Stadium, neither will travel-ball or band, nor any of those other good things. Friends we must coach our children in the things that bring life. Welcome them. Train them. Be a parent, not their pal. No, treasure these children, love them but lead them…love them but lead them… love them but lead them. Amen

Spare Me the Rod” Friday, September 18, 2015

Pastor Paul Purdue’s Friday’s Rough Draft

We offer this draft to assist those with difficulty hearing.

On Sunday, we ask God to perfect this sermon in our hearing

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