Not all acts of disobedience are the same meaning that not all acts of discipline should be the same. In this post we will consider how 2 Timothy 3:16 provides helpful guidance for teachers or parents in helping choose the right course of discipline when a child misbehaves.
Disciplining a child is one of the more challenging aspects of classroom management or parenting. Not only is disciplining a child one of the least desirable aspects of being a teacher or parent, knowing how to discipline—what discipline is deserved—is often the most difficult part of all. There has to be a better way than extending the same discipline for every offense, or spinning a homemade “Wheel of Discipline” to choose how we will respond when a child misbehaves. Thankfully there is: 2 Timothy 3:16 overlaid on top of a common way to categorize our theological convictions.
If you have spent any time on Twitter, you know that people like to bicker over pretty much every doctrine there is. While sometimes we need to go to bat to defend a foundational doctrine and be willing to divide over disagreement (e.g. Jesus being the only way to salvation), there are other times when we need to agree to disagree in unity (e.g. our understanding of the end times) or not even worry about our differences (e.g. the color of carpet in the fellowship hall). We can think of these three categories as first level issues (agreement is of vital importance), second level issues (agreement is important, but disagreement can exist), and third level issues (agreement is not important).
First Level Discipline Issues. This would be disobedience that stems from an intentionally disrespectful and disobedient heart toward God or others. Whatever act of disobedience springs from this heart posture deserves the strongest of responses, a rebuke according to 2 Timothy 3:16. These offenses cannot be treated lightly or ignored because the heart of the child is at stake. For his or her own good, we need to intervene to provide a loving, but firm rebuke.
Second Level Discipline Issues. This would be disobedience that stems from what can be thought of as natural sinfulness. Unlike first level discipline issues, the child’s heart is not openly defiant against God or others, but they are still pursuing sin, requiring correcting according to 2 Timothy 3:16. We want to point out how the child has sinned and how that sin dishonors God and hurts him or her. We also want to coach the child on how to resist such sin in the future.
Third Level Discipline Issues. This would be either sins committed in ignorance or accidents because of a child’s carelessness. This level of discipline requires the “softest” response we find in 2 Timothy 3:16—training. Many times the child may not even know he or she did something wrong. Because there was no intention to sin, rebuke and even correction would not be fitting, but rather training—instructing the child in how to glorify God in his or her conduct in that situation.
You surely have noticed that I did not provide any specific ways to rebuke, correct, or train. That’s because there is no “right” way. Each child is different so rebuking, correcting, and training may look entirely different from one child to the next and it will likely look vastly different from a classroom to the home.
But here are three final tips on how to discipline a child.
First, never discipline out of anger. That means absolutely ever. Discipline in anger is an oxymoron. Discipline is always done out of love with a view of what is best for a child. Discipline in anger is done to feed the adult’s pride and can lead to physical, mental, or emotional abuse.
Second, discipline in the classroom must follow the church’s policies and procedures.
Third, discipline and grace are not mutually exclusive. Look for times and ways to extend grace to the child—for all three levels—to paint a beautiful picture of the grace God extends to us in Christ Jesus.
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to Lifeway. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.