We have raised our own three kids (now in their twenties) and through personal experience as well as working with countless families; we have learned that not every child responds well to spanking. When we spanked our intense son Daniel he would glare daggers at us defiantly as if to say, “What good does hitting me do?” His spirit wasn’t “breaking” the way the books we were reading said it should. We began to question the effectiveness of harsh discipline and decided to look more deeply at what the Bible says about spanking. (Read L.R. Knost’s commentary here.)
So we put away the books, and with the scriptures as our guide we wondered, “How would Jesus discipline?” Obviously he never spanked anyone, but a thorough look reveals that Jesus responded in a variety of ways to “misbehaviors” he encountered.
What Did Jesus Do?
Consider Jesus’ varied approaches to greed. When confronting money changers in the temple, Jesus overturned their tables and scattered their coins (John 2:14-16), an act of strong confrontation, no discussion. Later, Jesus thoughtfully challenged the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give to the poor (Luke 18:18-25), inviting him to deeper character and faith. But with Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector suspected of swindling, Jesus simply announced he would stay at his house. His act of grace to a greedy man (who was despised by most of society) brought repentance and salvation (Luke 19:1-9). One sin: Greed. Three very different approaches.
The Goal of Discipline Isn’t Gaining Control
Jesus’ goal in any corrective situation was not to modify behavior but to change hearts. To get people’s attention in heart-changing ways, he looked beneath the overt sin. This led him to a variety of actions. Sometimes he asked questions. Sometimes he got firm. He often stayed calm. Once he silently drew in the sand. Maybe he even smiled once in awhile.
Practice Finding Perspective
So when kids misbehave, take the time to get perspective. Ask God for compassion and wisdom, even if it’s just a quick prayer. Delay your response if possible until you have some insight into your child’s heart, and what might be causing the misbehavior. Then with an eye toward heart change, consider a new response. Maybe even smile.