The Rod and Reproof:
The Loving Discipline of
Rev. Steven Key
"The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left
bringeth his mother to shame." Proverbs 29:15
The living God takes very seriously the baptismal
vows which parents make and the responsibility He gives all parents when
He gives them children.
Discipline is the order of God's government, an order
given to us because He knows that we are sinners—indeed, that we are
conceived and born in sin. Today, the wickedness of the society in which
we live has also permeated the church. And it has not left us
unaffected. The Lord has entrusted to us as members of the Protestant
Reformed Churches a most beautiful truth, that of the covenant. God
takes us into His own life of fellowship and love, and causes His own
covenant life to vibrate through us His people. And He has directed us
clearly how we ought to function as His covenant people in the midst of
our families. But there is an unrelenting effort on the part of Satan to
destroy our families. And there is an unrelenting effort to destroy the
truth of the covenant as it applies in a very practical way to family
life and the instruction and discipline of our children.
In obedience to God, we parents in the Protestant
Reformed Churches present our children to God for the administration of
infant baptism as a sign and seal of that everlasting covenant of grace.
(In the worship service where baptism is administered, parents make vows
before God in answer to the following questions in our Baptism Form.
First. Whether you acknowledge, that
although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are
subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet that they
are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of his Church
ought to be baptized?
Secondly. Whether you acknowledge the
doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament, and in the
articles of the Christian faith, and which is taught here in this
Christian Church, to be the true and perfect doctrine of salvation?
Thirdly. Whether you promise and intend to
see these children, when come to the years of discretion [whereof you
are either parent or witness], instructed and brought up in the
aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to
the utmost of your power?
For many of us in the Reformed church world, it has
been hundreds of times that we have heard these vows of the Baptism Form
answered with a simple, "Yes." But how many times have we truly
meditated upon the meaning and significance of those vows? For example,
we acknowledge that our children are sinners, holy only in Christ. We
confess our belief that the doctrine taught in this Christian church is
the true and perfect (or more accurately, the "complete") doctrine of
salvation. We promise and acknowledge our intention to instruct our
children and to bring them up in that complete doctrine of salvation.
But do we realize that that doctrine is not only a knowledge of the
various fundamental truths of Scripture's doctrine, but that it also
involves much more? Do we realize that the doctrine contained in the Old
and New Testaments is also all that which God teaches us concerning the
way of the Christian life and the way of family life and the way we must
discipline our children? Yes, usually contrary to methods of
child-rearing proclaimed by the psychologists and "experts" of this
world, God Himself gives us clear instruction in child discipline. That
is not to say that it is easy instruction. That is not to say that we
will even agree with that method of discipline, as far as our sinful
minds are concerned. But when God Himself gives instruction, you and I
must not only listen; we must obey.
The Book of Proverbs is filled with rich instruction,
also concerning the upbringing of covenant children. Yet, I think any
minister who understands the importance of Christ-centred preaching will
tell you that to preach from the Proverbs is very difficult. There are
not many sermons preached from the Book of Proverbs, certainly not
series of sermons. It is not that the Proverbs are difficult to
understand. They are often only too painfully clear. But when preaching
from the Proverbs it is difficult not to fall into the error of making
the Proverbs so many moral homilies that apply to all men. It is easy to
overlook the Proverbs as part of that one portrait of the God of our
salvation in the face of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as we consider the words of Proverbs
29:15, I urge you to heed the call that we have here with respect to the
training of our children—not because I say so as a parent who thinks
he knows it all, but because the only wise God says, "The rod and
reproof give wisdom." And it is exactly when we understand this as
something far more important than instruction in child psychology, when
we see this as the authoritative instruction God gives us to rear our
children in Christ, that we see the importance of heeding this word. I
call your attention, therefore, to:
The Discipline of the Rod and Reproof
I. Necessary Discipline
The necessary discipline of which the text speaks
is that of training a child. And, more particularly, when we
remember that the Scriptures are addressed to the church of
God, and here specifically to covenant parents, then we see
that the writer refers to a child of the
It is true that this proverb expresses a general
maxim that can be applied to all the children of men: The rod and
reproof are proper means of discipline for all children to help them
best to function in society (if that is how you want to interpret
"wisdom"); but a child undisciplined and turned loose brings his mother
to shame. That is true as a general rule for all men. But if we make of
this text a general rule, a proverb for all, then we fail to see the
beauty of the gospel here, and we fail to see its specific application
to the covenant family and to the rearing of our covenant children. For
we must remember that, in Scripture, the first meaning of that word
"wisdom" is Christ. When we bear that in mind, then we recognize that
this text gives instruction with reference to the child who is
established by God within the sphere of the covenant, and therefore to
parents who are members of the church of Christ.
Who is this child of the covenant of whom the writer
According to Psalm 127:3, "Children are an
heritage of the LORD." That means that our children are given to us by
the Lord Jehovah. Covenant children are His possession. They are not
ours to do with as we please. He appoints us custodians of the children
He entrusts to our care. And it is necessary that we remember that we
are dealing not with our own children, but with God's children. That is
a truth that was understood among the Israelites.
Especially in Israel, among the people of God, there
was a tremendous interest in children. This was undoubtedly due to the
doctrine of the covenant and the promise which God had given the
patriarchs, to establish His covenant with believers and their seed, as
an everlasting covenant. Though they understood the history of Jacob and
Esau, and the truth that the line of election and reprobation cuts right
through the outward sphere of the covenant, though they understood that
they could not presume the salvation of their children, the Israelites
nevertheless viewed their children as covenant children, children whom
God had given them to bring up within the sphere of His kingdom and law.
And therefore the lives of the children of God to a large extent
revolved around their children. That becomes evident if you take a good
Bible concordance and study the words translated "child" in the Old
Testament. There are some nine different Hebrew words for "child," each
describing that covenant child from the viewpoint of various stages of
his development and maturity.
But we must remember that at the foundation of all
these facts concerning the various stages of child development lies the
truth that our children are born dead in trespasses and sins, and are
righteous only in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Discipline is a necessary part of the life of a
These children, to whom we give our affection and
whom we love so dearly, are sinners, worthy of everlasting hell from the
moment they are conceived. And even as regenerated children, they have
an old man just like you and I have, warring within them. If you are not
blinded by their preciousness, you can see them, already in infancy,
projecting that wretched sinful nature.
And most often, the sin that our children project is
that particular sin or number of sins that plague our natures as their
parents. We must confess that to our children, too, and teach them: We
see our sins in you, children. And, boys and girls, because you have the
same sinful natures that we have, you too must learn the truth in Jesus.
You must learn to put off the old man of sin and to put on the new man,
to put on the life of Jesus. You too must be sorry, exceedingly sorry
that you have sinned against God. And you too must be taught that true
joy and happiness in our lives is only in God through Jesus Christ. For
the more you see that, the more you will be thankful that God has saved
a sinner like you. And the more you will want to keep God's commandments
and to live unto Him.
To that end God has ordained that there be a
relationship of authority which parents exercise over the children God
has given them. That is necessary because of the nature of the child.
When you think of the fifth commandment, for example, you see that it is
perfectly adapted to the character of the child. That is why it is
incredibly foolish to talk about the rights of children. God Himself
knows the life and development of the child. He has ordained not only
the way of physical development, but also the way of spiritual
development. He sees that children are sinners, who, if left to
themselves, will bring shame not only to Him, but to His church and even
to the one to whom that child is closest—his own mother. That is the
point of the last part of the text before us.
The child who is undisciplined, the child who is not
brought up with the rod and reproof and then who is let go as a young
adult, brings his mother to shame. A clearer picture of misery and ruin
cannot be conceived. How often have you not seen a mother laugh off the
evil temper of her child? Perhaps we even have done it. A son's or a
daughter's wretched nature is passed off as the accident of childhood so
that a mother will say to herself, "That evil temper will pass away, as
he gets older and I am able to reason with him more. Time will take care
of it." God here teaches us that time of itself fixes nothing! Time only
strengthens and brings about the maturity of that wicked nature! That is
a certain fact.
You and I cannot project the future of our children.
We cannot know what lies in the future as far as health or sickness,
height or strength or talents or positions that our children may have.
But of one thing we may be absolutely certain, according to God's own
Word—that child, without the government and discipline ordained by
God, will rush on under the impetuous and wicked impulse of his own will
and, left to himself, will bring shame as he runs toward destruction.
The sound discipline of heavenly guidance is our Father's blessing. His
most fearful curse is to give us up to our own ways, to walk in our own
counsels, as we read in Psalm 81:12. A child left to himself will only
show in all of his life that hatred of God and his neighbour which
permeates the whole of his nature.
I cannot overemphasize the necessity of exercising
Christian discipline toward our children, for the salvation of our
children and the reflection of God's glory.
What do people see when they look at your children
and mine? If people can look to the homes of Protestant Reformed
believers and see there a God-honouring structure of order and a respect
for authority that stands out in contrast to the shallow, man-centred
thinking that has permeated the world and the church today, it will be
one of the most powerful testimonies to the truth we claim to believe.
Is the covenant fellowship of God reflected in your family life?
Is the loving but authoritative discipline of Christ
seen in you as parents, as you exercise discipline toward your children?
Without it, without obedience to the precepts of God in the rearing of
your children, all your so-called love of the Scriptures and the truth
of God will be seen by all those around you as so much hypocrisy.
The manner in which our children are trained to
conduct themselves in the worship service, in school, in the
neighbourhood, and at home, reflects upon the truth which is revealed in
If we take our children to church, only to give them
toys to play with, if we do not teach them to sit still and to be quiet
in the worship service and to listen and to bow before the authority of
Christ, we make a mockery of God Himself.
For by such action, we teach our children that church
is not all that important, and that the Word preached is something we
only have to sit through and bear.
If our neighbours look at our homes and do not see
any greater degree of godliness in our homes than they have in their
ungodly home, they will say that our religion is so much garbage, and
our Christ means nothing, and the truths that we proclaim have no
practical bearing on the way we live and teach our children to live.
We have a responsibility to order our homes according
to the Word of God, so that they bear a positive witness to the truth of
God's covenant as we live in His loving fellowship as those redeemed by
Christ and who love Him.
And, I might add, that responsibility is placed upon
us not only as individual parents, but also as churches. We all are
responsible to help and lovingly to encourage one another in
disciplining our children. I say that being fully conscious of the fact
that this frequently is an area where we are least free to speak. J.C.
Ryle, a 19th century preacher and writer in the Church of England,
remarked in his book The Upper Room,
As a minister, I cannot help remarking that there
is hardly any subject about which people seem so tenacious as they are
about their children. I have sometimes been perfectly astonished at
the slowness of sensible Christian parents to allow that their own
children are in fault, or deserve blame. There are not a few persons
to whom I would far rather speak about their own sins, than tell them
their own children had done anything wrong.
That attitude seen in the 19th century is no
different today; perhaps it is worse. May God deliver us parents from
such an attitude.
Your children as well as mine need discipline
according to the instruction of our heavenly Father. Solomon writes in
Proverbs 19:18, and I quote literally, "Chasten thy son, for there is
hope; and set not thy soul on making him die." That latter is what you
do, if you refuse to chasten your children according to the will of God.
So necessary is the discipline of our children, that it is literally a
question of life and death, all within the sovereign counsel and will of
God. When our children do wrong, they must see in us the wrath of God
against sin, that they may also see forgiveness in Christ Jesus.
II. Twofold Discipline
The rod and reproof is the twofold discipline we
are called to administer to our children.
Contrary to the well-known teachings of Dr. Benjamin
Spock, and the teachings of many who have rejected the Word of God, the
rod is a necessary instrument in the discipline of our children. So
important is that rod that God tells us in Proverbs 13:24, "He that
spareth his rod hateth his son."
The rod of discipline is not easy to use.
The world has so corrupted the concept "love," that
our deceitful hearts would readily say that it is love to let a child do
his own thing, so to speak.
And I would have you mothers notice that the mother
is mentioned specifically in this text. Because the father's calling is
to provide for the family, the calling of the early discipline of your
children falls primarily upon you mothers who are at home. That is one
reason you are mentioned specifically. But I would submit that there is
another reason you are mentioned in connection with this calling to use
the rod and reproof. If the father's stronger character generally
induces him to "provoke his children to wrath," which Paul warns us
fathers against in Colossians 3:21, does not the mother's softer and
generally more tender nature lean toward the opposite evil? Would you
mothers attempt to correct your children with a few harsh words, or with
a mild, "If you quit that right now, I'll give you a piece of candy?"
The Scriptures, however, teach something quite
different. Woe be unto you parents who refuse to heed the Word of God in
the discipline of your children! For God tells us to love, not hate. "He
that spareth the rod hateth his son." Love necessitates correction with
the rod and reproof! If we love our children, God says that we must
administer discipline and correction.
The rod is a generic instrument which might take
several different forms. It was an instrument that was used as the shaft
of a spear. It sometimes denoted a sceptre, the mark of authority used
by one who ruled. But the rod was also an instrument used to administer
corrective and physical discipline. For us it might be a stick or a
switch or a firm ruler. But whatever that instrument may be, it is a
means to return the wayward child to the right course.
We must also note in this connection, that rightly to
use the rod on our children requires love. All too often, where physical
discipline is exercised, it is not done out of love either for God or
the child. We who must administer such discipline to our covenant
children, must do so under God's authority and with His manner and
attitude. That attitude is revealed in Hebrews 12:6-8: "For whom the
Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If
ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is
he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement,
whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and no sons." God does
not abuse us in His chastening. He loves us.
There is a reason also in this connection that God
prescribes the use of the rod. It takes just a little time and effort to
get the stick out. And for us to reflect God's attitude of love through
our reactionary, impatient, sinful flesh, it is necessary that we slow
down and think about what we are doing. Slapping your children around
the head and beating on them with your fists, whipping them or beating
them with any object close at hand, or anything of the like, is nothing
more than abuse of the children whom God has entrusted to your care. And
if that has been your ungodly method of punishing your covenant
children, you must repent before God and before your children this day!
God instructs us to use the rod in love.
The chastisement of the rod, used in love, is a
chastisement quickly and mercifully inflicted. Although our children may
question it, there is no punishment more mercifully inflicted than the
rod. It is God's method, which is quickly over, with no need to look
with disdain upon a corrected child for hours and even days. The rod is
not a punishment that keeps the child in mom's and dad's "doghouse."
Furthermore, God's call for the use of the rod takes into account his or
her physical welfare. God created a particular part of the body capable
of receiving the impact of the rod without injury. It is evident that
God did not create every part of the body to receive the blow of the
rod. When we parents administer the discipline of the rod in love, then
we do not do so to injure. That means that we are not to strike our
children in the back, where we may cause injury to the spine or the
kidneys, nor in the stomach, nor on the head or hands; but on the flesh
of the backside where, if the rod is used properly, it may be keenly
And if you ask, what about the older children, the
text speaks to that also. We may agree that the rod is good for young
children. But how should we discipline our teenagers? Well, you may be
surprised to hear that teens are not to be excluded from the use of the
rod when necessary. It is striking in the text, that Solomon implicitly
calls for the use of the rod and reproof until the child is an adult.
The term "child" refers—as is clear in the Hebrew term used—to a child
who has reached the age of independence, who is ready to move out of the
house and marry.
You will find, when you administer discipline to your
child as God commands and as you nurture that child to receive more and
more responsibility and to become more and more dependent upon God, that
the rod will not often be necessary with your teenager. As a covenant
child matures in the way of loving discipline, under the diligent use of
rod and reproof as a child, he learns to experience joy and peace in the
home. He grows in the knowledge and understanding of the Word of God, of
the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. He realizes that obedience to
God is the way of happiness. And the rod is less frequently necessary as
a means to instruct. But it is still a means.
But along with the rod must be reproof.
"The rod and reproof." When the rod is used, God has
ordained discipline to be twofold. Proper Christian discipline is not
dictatorship, rule by might with the rod alone. To separate these two is
to ask for the chastisement of God to fall upon your head. Eli gave the
reproof, but spared the rod; and he had to suffer the torment of hearing
that his sons were slain by the wrath of God, and the ark of the Lord
was taken by the Philistines. Others, contrary to the Word of God, use
the rod alone. Now, there are many times when a matter of discipline can
be handled by reproof alone. The indication of Proverbs 17:10 is, if
reproof works the sorrow of repentance, then let the rod be spared. If
not, use the rod and let not thy soul spare for the child's crying. But
never use the rod without reproof.
Reproof is verbal instruction in godliness.
The child must not only be steered away from the path
that leads to hell, but he must be shown the error of his way before God
and he must be instructed in righteousness. Our children must be taught
to evaluate their own specific actions in the light of the Scriptures.
They must be taught to bow before the authority of God. They must be
taught why the thing that they did was wrong in the eyes of God.
Biblical discipline requires words. How much do you think you would get
out of my preaching, if all I did was stand in the pulpit from week to
week waving my arms and making contortions with my face, but never
saying a word? The message of the gospel cannot be communicated by mere
gestures or by pounding the pulpit. Nor can the instruction in Christian
discipline be communicated if all that our discipline amounts to is a
painful pantomime with a stick. The wrath of God was exercised toward
us, that we might hear those precious words, "I love you in Christ
Jesus." And even now, when we experience the chastisement of God, it is
to lead us in the way toward heaven.
When we understand that precious truth, then we ought
to express our love to our children especially when we are called to use
the rod. We must reprove them, expressing our love for them. We must
assure them that the rod is not administered out of hatred, but out of a
heavy heart that loves that child in Christ. What a terrible thing it is
when confessing Christian parents beat their children, but fail to
reprove them and to point them to the love of Christ. How utterly wicked
it is for a parent to spank a child only to leave him like a dog to lick
his sores. It is no wonder when such children run to their rooms, slam
their doors, and mutter under their breaths, "I hate you." Such an
attitude expressed by a parent who uses the rod, but never reproves in
love, has no semblance whatsoever to the attitude God expresses in
chastening His spiritual children. God demands the rod and reproof.
And we ought not forget that belonging to reproof is
prayer, which brings parent and child close to God. The necessity of
prayer in the discipline and instruction of our children cannot be
overemphasized. For one thing, we parents must repeatedly approach God
seeking forgiveness for our failure to exercise discipline as He has
ordained. We need to do that today and every day. We need to pray for
grace to obey His Word and to bow humbly before His wise instruction. We
need to pray for much wisdom in dealing with our covenant children. For
we know that if God were to reward us according to our iniquities, every
one of our children would walk the way to hell. And we need to pray for
our children. We ought to do that not just generally, but specifically,
naming each one by name and praying for the specific needs of each child
and bringing before God the specific problems we face with each child.
More than once, I have heard the testimony of a child of God, speaking
of his Christian father whose discipline fell far short of the biblical
standard. But one thing that father did, in the presence of his
children, was to fall on his knees to beseech God's forgiveness for
himself and God's mercy towards his children. Such prayer leaves on the
mind and soul of a child an impression that will never leave him. In
prayer also, we are to reflect the love of Christ toward us. He prays
without ceasing, serving as our faithful and constant Intercessor by His
In all things the Lord God calls us to reflect Him, also in the
administering of Christian discipline to covenant children. And He says
to us in Proverbs 3:11-12: "My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD (despise not His use of the rod on you); neither
be weary of his correction (of his reproof): For whom the LORD loveth he
correcteth (He reproves); even as a father the son in whom he
III. Rewarded Discipline
The rod and reproof give wisdom—and that is
rewarded discipline. God has so ordained that in the way of proper
Christian discipline, He will reveal the wisdom of God in the face of
our Lord Jesus Christ.
The rod of correction, administered with reproof,
drives foolishness far from the covenant child of God. Such is the
promise of God (Proverbs 22:15). That does not mean that you and I by
our actions make our children God's children. If you examine your
discipline in the light of what you have heard from the Scriptures, you
know that that is far from being true. All we have done is give them a
corrupt nature. Nor does that mean that God is a debtor to us—that if we
bring up our children in the discipline of the rod and reproof, as He
has commanded, that He is indebted to save our children. But according
to His eternal and sovereign good pleasure, He has determined that this
is the way in which we must lead our elect little ones to Jesus.
There is no greater blessing for our children, as
children of God, than to have godly parents who obey this Word of God,
who use the rod and reproof when God requires it.
Such is a reflection of the love of God in Christ
Jesus for us. That love of God is rooted in the giving of His own Son
for our adoption. Our Father did more than show His love in the cross.
He also constantly assures us of that love by leading us in the way of
righteousness. He assures us of His love, not only by chastising us, but
by speaking to us in the preaching of the gospel. As parents, we too
need to taste that love. We must be prepared to confess our sins one to
another within our families, and so to demonstrate in the family our
belief that confession and forgiveness of sins is the only way to
salvation. May we so love one another for God's sake.