Disciplining and Disciplined (Proverbs 6:23)
I. Of Mouths and Moms
I've shared before about an incident that is famous in my family, an incident involving yours truly when I was in kindergarten. Without going into the details, it's enough to say that little Bryce let loose on a group of older bullies with, to borrow a phrase from the movie “A Christmas Story”, “a steady torrent of obscenities”. I, of course, had no idea what any of the words meant. I just knew they were typically used as weapons, and that's exactly how I wanted to use them.
Amusingly (though not at the time... amusingly...) my mom happened to be just outside the school bus and heard my explosion of profanity. Needless to say, she was not happy. I was promptly marched home and handed a bar of soap. Why a bar of soap, you might ask? Because, according to my mother, I needed to have my mouth washed out... literally!
Now, undoubtedly, some people hear about a child having their mouth washed out with soap and chuckle. But others may think, “That sounds like cruel and unusual punishment.” And so we might ask, what would drive a mother to have her child stick a bar of soap in his or her mouth?
Let's bring that question with us as we turn over to Proverbs chapter 6 this morning.
II. The Passage: "The Way of Life" (26:13)
As we return to our ongoing study in the book of Proverbs, we find ourselves back in the first section of the book, chapters 1-9. This is where Solomon, king of Israel, is encouraging his son to prize and pursue wisdom. As we've seen, he does move on, beginning in chapter 10, to encourage his son to also ponder and practice wisdom. We'll move in that same direction this morning. But let's start with 6:23. Solomon reminds his son...
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life... (2x)
Now, I want you to notice those keywords in the first half of the verse: “commandment” and “teaching”. Is Solomon speaking here about God's “commandment” and “teaching”? Well, if you look back at verse 20, you'll read this:
My son, keep your father's commandment, and forsake not your mother's teaching.
So what Solomon is describing here in 6:23 is the preciousness of what might, at times, seem oppressive. A father's rules and regulations, a mother's instructions and restrictions, are not lame (as so many kids conclude). No, they are light! They are a lamp! They are intended to point children down the right path; a path that is helpful, healthy, and whole.
But how is that related to the second half of the verse? What does Solomon mean when he talks about the “reproofs of discipline”?
Well, reproof is related to rules, and to be reproved regarding a rule is to be 'called out' for breaking that rule. “That was not right. That was not okay. You were in the wrong. No, you were at fault. That is not acceptable.” Reproof. Related words would be reprimand or rebuke.
But again, what are “reproofs of discipline”? I think what Solomon has in mind here is rebuking a person in order to refine a person; not just a pointing finger, but more so, a helping hand. It's one thing to assign blame because you're feeling angry and vindictive. It's quite another to find fault in an attempt to shape someone's character. I believe that's what Solomon means when he talks about a father and mother's “reproofs of discipline”.
So parents, pay special attention to what God wants to reveal this morning. But please know... this is also not just for parents. Let's think about “reproofs of discipline” by looking at two ways Proverbs speak to the issue of parental discipline. First, in the second half of the book, we find many proverbs that speak to...
1. An Earthly Parent's Love
Solomon doesn't mince words regarding discipline and parental love. He writes...
Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death. [19:18]
Parents, cycles of counsel and correction can be tiresome, and sometimes feel ineffective. But God says through Solomon, “there is hope”. When we give up on rules and reproof, we are, in effect, handing our children over to death. That's why Solomon, in 6:23, described “reproofs of discipline” as “the way of life”. Now all that may seem a little extreme, but it isn't. I'll come back in just a minute to that issue of life and death.
Before we do, consider how Proverbs uses this image of “the rod” to help us think about parental discipline. For example, we read in chapter 13, verse 24...
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
Why do children need “reproofs of discipline”? Proverbs 22:15 reminds us that...
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
For those who believe it is more loving to have a 'hands off' approach to parenting, or who simply offer candy-coated verbal prompts or bribes, Solomon writes this in Proverbs 29:15...
The rod and reproof give wisdom, a but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
Now in light of all this, I think it's accurate to say that some of us hear these “rod” verses, and think, “Yep, sounds like my mom's wooden spoon, or that paddle, or the 'switch' my dad used on my rear end when I got in trouble.” But others of us hear that language and think, “That's tantamount to child abuse. No child should ever be hit with anything by any adult, even a parent.” So what should we conclude? Are the Scriptures condoning child abuse?
The answer of course is no. We need to recognize that “the rod” in this passage is a 3000 year old, ancient Near Eastern, cultural device used to point us to a bigger and more important concept: discipline. If we get stuck arguing about spankings versus 'time outs', and miss the larger point, we will hurt both ourselves and our children.
What is that larger point? That genuine love for our children must lead to genuine reproof and discipline. And love-based correction and consequences are exactly what these passages address. Not anger-based correction. Not disappointment-based correction. Not frustration-based correction. Not venting through correction. There are certainly wicked people who have and would use a rod to harm a child and try to justify it as discipline. And there are wicked people that ground their children out of anger, as some kind of 'power play'. Both approaches are absolutely wrong. That is not what these verses are describing. They are describing how a quote-un-quote 'rod' should always help (not harm) a child, whether that quote-un-quote 'rod' is a spanking or a loss of privileges or even... a bar of soap in the mouth. Again, this is discipline based on genuine, healthy love.
We asked earlier, “What would drive a mother to have her child stick a bar of soap in his or her mouth?” Well, for my mom, it was love. You might disagree with her methods. Heck, I might disagree with her methods. But I'm thankful she loved me enough to correct me, to give me consequences, and to talk with me about the power of words to either hurt... or to help and heal.
Let me offer two more verses about “the rod”. This is what Solomon tells us about what is wise:
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 [that is, “the grave”]. [23:13, 14]
Please note that last part: discipline can save a child from the grave. Remember how we talked about life and death earlier. I believe what Solomon has in mind in passages like this is how discipline teaches a child about morality and consequences and submission to authority.
If a child, especially when he or she grows up, has not been given a moral grounding, if he or she doesn't think realistically about the consequences of their actions, if they cannot recognize or learn from their mistake, and if they aren't taught how to submit to those in authority, not only could they find themselves living in relational ruin or locked up or dead, but even worse, they could develop a genuine contempt for God and his commands. So talking about life and death in the context of discipline is not an exaggeration.
This leads us to the most important point in this discussion. In the context of Proverbs, the “reproofs of discipline” that flow from an earthly parent's love, should ultimately flow from...
2. A Heavenly Parent's Love
Turn back, if you would, a few chapters to Proverbs 3. Look at what we discover in vs. 11, 12...
My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline or be weary of his reproof,  for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Even before Solomon talks to his son about his own fatherly commandments or his wife's teaching, he reminds him of that higher love... and... that higher discipline; that higher love... and... that higher reproof. Why is that so important? Because Solomon understands that if a parent is ever to discipline for God, he or she must first be disciplined by God. How could we ever command and teach our children well if we don't believe this about God's word...
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline [his reproofs of discipline] are the way of life...
What does Proverbs 3 tell us about the kind of discipline God give? How does he reprove? Verse 12: He does so in love, “as a father [does with] the son in whom he delights.”
Please hear this: the importance of parental discipline finds its ultimate significance in the fact that God, who is love, gives both correction and consequences as an expression of his parental love. How could Solomon, or any Hebrew parent do any less? But wait. What about us today?
III. Consider Him Who Endured
Let's finish this morning with another passage, written explicitly to followers of Jesus, and written about this same topic of parental discipline. Turn over to Hebrews 12, and consider with me what God has revealed:
[After pointing them to Jesus and his endurance in doing the will of God, even to the point of death on the cross. The author writes...] Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? [wait for it...] "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." [Sound familiar? That's Proverbs 3:11, 12!]  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.  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.
Brothers and sisters, didn't I tell you this study wasn't just for parents? Even if many of us are the parents to whom Proverbs speaks, what we discover here is that every believer is the child that Proverbs describes. Isn't folly “bound up” in my heart as well? Don't I need it driven far from me? If left to yourself spiritually, wouldn't you also bring “shame” to your heavenly parent? Don't we, as sinners saved by grace, as born-again followers of Jesus, don't we also desperately need to learn more and more about “morality and consequences and submission to authority”? Believer, we need God's discipline.
How was God disciplining the disciples addressed here in Hebrews 12? By circumstances that were (v. 11) “painful rather than pleasant”. Why was he disciplining them through these painful circumstances? Because in the face of pressure, they were, unlike Jesus, choosing compromise instead of endurance. Wasn't all this just a sad reminder of their failures. No! Above all, it was a wonderful reminder of God's fatherly love. Look at verses 7 and 8 again...
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons [and daughters]. For what son is there whom his father [any loving father] does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
If this morning you are under the weight of hard, hard circumstances, and that pressure is revealing areas of sin and doubt in your life, be encouraged. God's fatherly love is at work. Look again at the reassuring reminder of verse 11...
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.
Don't you want to be trained to become more like Jesus? Don't you want to enjoy the peaceful fruit of righteousness, the very thing that characterized the life of Christ on earth?
If so, welcome the 'rods' that God permits, the 'rods' that God chooses to use in your life, whatever form they take. Even when the pain clouds our sight, welcome these 'rods' as a child who trusts in the how and why of his loving parent.
And if you aren't sure this morning that God is indeed your Father, then know that by trusting Jesus Christ this morning, trusting him as your only hope, for both this life and the next, that you can become a child of God because of the grace he freely gives.
May all of us turn away from the folly bound up in our hearts, and trust that through the death and resurrection of Jesus our soul can be saved; that we have truly found “the way of life”.
Let's pray. Parents, pray for the beautiful, but hard work to which God has called you. And for all of us, let's give thanks that we have a heavenly Father who loves us this much.