He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. – Proverbs 13:24
If we want to honor our Father in heaven, we must discipline our children here on earth. In doing so, we reflect His character and His love for us. By instructing our children in good behavior, we prepare them for how to live as an adult and – with God’s mercy and grace – for how to live a life of service to the Lord. The Bible is filled with instructions for us on this matter, as well as good and bad examples.
When Samuel went to serve the Lord, he was placed in the care of Eli. This was a bad environment, because Eli was a failure as a father. His worthless sons stole the meat from people sacrificing it to the Lord, threatening to take it by force if it was not given to them. They had sex with women in the temple. (See 1 Samuel 2:12-16.) But God was with Samuel, who was dedicated in his heart to serving the Lord.
That is why it was so sad when Samuel failed his own sons by not disciplining them. (See 1 Samuel 8:3-5.) The sons of Samuel were so corrupt that when he was old, the people of Israel did not want to have them rule over the nation and asked for a king instead. After watching Eli fail so badly that God killed his sons, and after watching Eli himself be struck down by God, Samuel did not heed the one lesson he should have learned.
But that is not the only failure of God’s servants in discipline. King David did nothing when his wicked son Amnon raped his sister Tamar. Because of David’s failure to act, his other son Absalom then took vengeance on Tamar’s behalf, murdering Amnon. Absalom became a problem for his father later, staging a coup and humiliating David by having sex with David’s other wives in front of the people of Israel. When Absalom was killed by David’s faithful servant Joab, David openly and loudly mourned Absalom, embarrassing the people and leading to a stern and well-deserved rebuke from Joab. (See 2 Samuel 13-19 for the whole sordid tale.)
But David didn’t learn his lesson. Despite the fact that the throne of Israel was supposed to go to Solomon, David’s son Adonijah rebelled against his father’s authority, staged a coup and took the throne for himself. We see a very sad description of David’s relationship with his son in 1 Kings 1:6, where the Holy Spirit reveals to us that David never crossed his son by questioning his behavior at any time.
Keep in mind that David, who was also an adulterer and murderer, was a man after God’s own heart. It is an incredible blessing for us that Scripture records for all time the terrible failings and sins of God’s people We can take comfort in those examples, knowing that our sins do not condemn. It is God’s grace that saves us, not out own works – which would damn all of us to eternal torment in Hell. The Apostle Paul reinforces this point when he writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that we have no temptation but that which is common.
God’s commands to instruct our children continue in the New Testament. In 1Timothy 3:4 and 3:12, the Apostle Paul explains that one of the qualifications for bishops (elders) and deacons is that their children must be under control and well behaved. The Apostle Paul further commands children to obey their parents in Ephesians 6:1-3 and Colossians 3:20, reminding of God’s promise for those who honor and obey their parents and reminding fathers to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord while not provoking them to wrath.
But earthly fathers and mothers are a pale and flawed shadow of the perfect Father above. In all of our interactions with our children, we are to be pointing to the perfection of God and always instruct our children to worship and serve Him – even if that is in conflict with what we as parents want.