Steadfast Dads — Discipline

April 27th, 2012 Post by

When I was a young man I knew everything there is to know about how to discipline children.  I watched others and noted what they did that was wrong.  I resolved what I would do if and when I had children of my own.  Then God decided to show me how much I knew about disciplining children.  He gave me a dozen of them, and with each additional child I learned how little I knew.

If we look at discipline as a “how to” manual of a system of rules, we may end up getting mugged by reality and finding ourselves frustrated and at a loss on how to manage.  What “works” with one child will not “work” with another.  Lists of rules are appropriate for bureaucratic institutions in which there exists no personal bond that naturally binds the people to each other.  Everyone follows the same rules.  There are consequences for breaking the rules and those consequences are spelled out.  Clear regulations clearly set forth and strictly enforced.  Discipline!

That may be good for something, but it’s not for the Christian family.  Here’s a radical suggestion for you: You don’t need rules.  What you need instead is an attitude.

In the historic Epistle Lesson for Palm Sunday St. Paul urges the Christians in Philippi to “have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”  Think like Jesus thought.  Adopt his attitude.  That’s what discipline is all about.  It’s about attitude.  Jesus was God in the flesh and as such he deserved to bask in his glory.  But he chose to embrace humility.  He, who was Lord, served.  He humbled himself all the way to the death on the cross.

This is how he took our sins away.  He took them off of us by bearing them himself.  This is also him showing us how to live.  The pattern for living that Jesus followed is given to us Christian fathers to follow and to teach to our children.

The so called “experts” tell us that we must teach our children self-esteem.  So the educationists imagine and so children are raised as insufferable, self-centered, ill mannered brats.  What we must teach our children is humility.  This is not demeaning to them.  It is exalting.  To submit to authority is not merely to obey rules.  Children know all about rules.  They are supremely legalistic.  This is a feature of their innate pride.  They use the rules to elevate themselves above their peers, and even above their parents.  To submit, to be humble, is more than following rules.  It is to embrace a subordinate relationship.

Consider what Jesus did and how he thought.  He was in the form of God.  Not only was he God of God, light of light, very God of very God, he also enjoyed the form of God in his humanity.  But he chose to humble himself in obedience to his Father.  He did so as the representative of all humanity in order to redeem us by his blood.  It was the supreme act of subordination.  And that is what our heavenly Father would have us teach our children!  To humble themselves in obedience – not to a list of rules! – but to God himself and to us, God’s representatives.

Put simply, teach your children respect.  This is your duty under the Fourth Commandment.  You do not have the right to permit your children to backtalk you or sass you.  You may not permit them to speak disrespectful words, display disrespectful gestures, or express a disrespectful attitude.  Your child does not need a list of rules to follow.  He needs a father who demands respect.  In the Large Catechism Martin Luther speaks of a “majesty” that is “hidden within” parents.  It is the divine majesty!  God made you a father and it is God who governs his children through you.  Don’t forget it!

To get respect from your children requires you to give respect to your children.  There is no sin in getting angry at sin, but just as our heavenly Father does not curse us but deals with us kindly even when he corrects us, so there is no place for insults, taunts, and other degrading methods of humiliation.  The father teaches his children to humble themselves before God by behaving in a humble fashion himself.

Finally, in teaching our children to be humble and respectful we teach them the context in which we receive the gospel by which God exalts us.  Our true dignity is from Christ.  His humiliation led to his exaltation and to ours as well.  You teach your children both law and gospel.  Do as you teach.  Admitting your sin to your children is no sin.  Forgiving them freely and without strings is so sin, either.  For this is true discipline.



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  1. Monique
    April 27th, 2012 at 16:09 | #1

    Thank you Pastor Preus. This is great sound advice.

  2. Bernie Grebe
    April 28th, 2012 at 09:51 | #2

    Excellent!! MANY parents need to read this!!

  3. revaggie
    April 30th, 2012 at 09:17 | #3

    Depends on the experts, some say you need to beat the sin out of children and into submissionPearl.

    There is a difference between developing healthy self-esteem and creating a self-centered brat. At the center of healthy self-esteem is to know who you are in Christ. Other than that I would say good general advice.

  4. Rolf Preus
    April 30th, 2012 at 10:27 | #4

    What is healthy self-esteem?

  5. Not Buying It
    May 4th, 2012 at 08:26 | #5

    Sounds like advice to foster an unhealthy relationship with your kids where they would never really open up to you and there would always be the subordinate discomfort.

  6. Pastor Rolf Preus
    May 4th, 2012 at 10:09 | #6

    Interesting concept: “subordinate discomfort.” Well put! I suspect that there is something inherently uncomfortable about being subordinate, inasmuch as our sinful flesh knows no law other than its own will. The discomfort of being subordinate to parents is a reflection of being uncomfortable with divine authority as well, since the latter is the strength of the former. There are two ways out of this problem we rebels have with authority. We may deny it or we may flee for refuge to God’s infinite grace in Christ where we have forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    The expression of disrespect toward those whom God has placed over us is an assault on the divine majesty. Rail against it if you will, but it would be far better to repent of our sins against the First and Fourth commandments and find forgiveness in the suffering and death of Jesus for us.

  7. Not Buying It
    May 8th, 2012 at 10:05 | #7

    So if one does not have unconditional subordination to parental authority, no matter how unjust that authority may be, they are guilty of an assault on God’s divine majesty?

    Suggesting that a disambiguation between parents and God is theologically fallacious places humans on a pedestal of justified totalitarianism.

  8. Pastor Rolf Preus
    May 8th, 2012 at 12:01 | #8

    I have said nothing to suggest unconditional subordination to parental authority. Unconditional subordination is owed to God alone. Parents may not require their children to disobey God’s commandments. Neither may any human government.

    On the other hand, subordination to unjust authority may be good, as God says through St. Peter: “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.” (1 Peter 2:18-20)

    God works through human agency. The man in the robe up in the pulpit speaks for God. We listen to him as to God himself because God has put him there to speak. The woman caring for her children speaks for God. They are to listen to her as to God himself because God put her over them to care for them.

    Totalitarians break this bond between God and his government through human agency. Witness the most prolific murderers of the 20th century — Mao Tse Tung and Joseph Stalin come to mind — whose atheism set them free from any boundaries on their authority. Without God, everything is permitted. Totalitarianism is a feature of atheistic ideology that operates outside of any conception of the the Fourth Commendment. Mao opined that authority comes out of the barrel of a gun.

    God is not just a theory or an idea. He speaks and acts through human beings. Show me a child who displays disrespect for his parents, and I will show you a child who does not fear God. I suggest that you read Luther’s Large Catechism on the Fourth Commandment. He explains it much better than I can.

  9. R.D.
    May 8th, 2012 at 14:59 | #9

    Thank you, Pr. Preus for sharing your experience with us young parents. I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with four of your sons a few years ago. Listening to them talk theology with Jesus always at the center of the discussion showed me there was a better upbringing than the often pietistic one I had received. Your writings on this topic are invaluable to us new parents and our children!

  10. Barry Propst
    May 17th, 2012 at 05:59 | #10

    The parents’ appreciation for both Law and Gospel and understanding their distinct purposes goes a long way toward informing parents as to how to approach child rearing, I believe.
    Thank you very much Pastor Preus for your speaking, sharing, & teaching here and in other places!

  11. December 9th, 2012 at 14:37 | #11

    It makes me giggle reading these disparaging comments now that I know a couple of your kids Rev. Preus. Thank you (and your wife!) for this marvelous series!

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