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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART THIRTEEN

SERMON PRESENTED ON  06-11-16

        This will be Sermon number 13 in my continuing series on the book of Proverbs.  Last time we spent the entire sermon time discussing Proverbs 11:24-25 where Solomon writes about a generous man prospering and those who refresh others being themselves refreshed.  Today we will begin with Proverbs 12:1.

       Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.

       As we have already seen in our examination of the Proverbs, Solomon has a lot to say about the acquisition of knowledge, understanding and wisdom.  In Proverbs 12:1 we see Solomon associating the love of discipline with acquisition of knowledge and goes so far as to say that to hate correction is to be stupid.  Solomon is instructing that one way to gain knowledge is to be disciplined and accept correction and one way to be stupid is to resist discipline and correction.

       The Hebrew word translated “discipline” in this passage is “muwcar” (moo-sarw) and has the general meaning of correction, admonition and chastisement.  The Hebrew word translated “correction” is towkechah (to-kay-khaw') and has the general meaning of to reason together and to show the right way.  It can also mean to chasten or rebuke. It is rendered as “rebuke” in a number of English translations. 

       The Hebrew word translated stupid in the NIV is a word used to describe dumb animals. Solomon is essentially saying that a person who won’t be corrected is like a dumb animal.  Some translations render this word as “brutish.”

       Solomon uses the words discipline and correction interchangeably in the Proverbs to get the point across that a wise person will gladly respond to chastisement and rebuke and change his behavior accordingly.  

       We humans tend to resist correction because it is seen as a diminishing of our self image and sense of self worth.  We often see discipline and correction as damaging to our self-esteem and injurious to our ego.   To be disciplined and corrected is to admit we are wrong about something and that we need to change our thinking and behavior.  We humans don’t like to admit we are wrong and we tend to resist changing our behavior.  Throughout the Proverbs, Solomon instructs that discipline is the pathway to righteous behavior.  For example, Solomon has a lot to say about disciplining children in order to instill within them the proper behavioral frame of reference.

       Proverbs 13:24:  He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

       Proverbs 13:24: Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.     

       Proverbs 22:15: Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.

       Proverbs 23:13-14: Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.

       It is apparent that when Solomon speaks of using a rod to discipline a child he is not speaking figuratively of a rod as some suggest but is speaking of using a literal instrument of some sort to inflect a certain level of pain in order to impress upon a child the need to change his behavior.

       The fact that Solomon says that if you punish a child with a rod he will not die shows he is talking about a literal inflection of pain inducing punishment that while if may cause some  temporary discomfort, it is not going to kill the child.  This kind of punishment is generally referred to as corporal punishment.

       Some question the use of corporal punishment as being an acceptable form of discipline.  In parts of the world, the use of pain inducing punishment of a child is virtually considered child abuse and you can be arrested for implementing such punishment.  Modern thinking is that corporal punishment is cruel and inhumane and should be illegal. 

       The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international and regional human rights treaties require states to prohibit corporal punishment of children in all settings of their lives.  Countries which have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international and regional human rights instruments are under a legal obligation to prohibit and eliminate all corporal punishment of children in all settings, including the home.

       Forty-nine countries have ratified this Convention which means it is now a crime in these countries to engage in corporal punishment of children, including in the family home. These counties include Sweden, Poland and many South American countries where it is now illegal to spank your child.  There is movement a foot in the US to sign on to these conventions which would make it illegal to spank your child in the US as well.

       The OT Scriptures are rather straightforward in instructing us that corporal punishment is an appropriate method of discipline.  While modern thinking is that corporal punishment can result in irreversible psychological damage to the child, Solomon writes that such punishment can save your child from death.  What he is saying is that by inflecting some temporary disciplinary pain to correct wrong behavior, you may well save your child from serious long term pain and suffering and even death due to wrong behavior.

       Proverbs 29:15: The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.

       How many children in modern society are left to themselves and end up disgracing their mother and father.  Failure to discipline a child for improper behavior is a failure to properly parent such child.  Parenthood is all about teaching and training a child to be disciplined in their behavior and to conduct themselves in an ethical and moral manner.  Solomon instructs that the rod of correction imparts wisdom.  Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge and understanding.

       Some argue that corporal punishment engenders anger and hatred on the part of the person being punished.  Yes that can occur.  This is why if one chooses to use corporal punishment to discipline a child, it must be done in such manner that the child is made to understand that the punishment is for their ultimate good and not just an expression of a parent’s anger at a child’s misbehavior.

       Punishment of a child, corporal or otherwise, should never be done to alleviate anger and frustration because the child’s behavior led to an inconvenience or embarrassment for the parent.  Such punishment of a child is self-centered and is retributive and not corrective.  Punishment of misbehavior should never be retributive.  It should never be done from a spirit of reprisal or revenge. Such approach to punishment can lead to anger and hostility on the part of the child and provoke a child to become rebellious and hateful. Paul alludes to this in his letter to the Ephesians.

       Ephesians 6:4: And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.

       Punishment of a child should always be done from a position of out-going concern for the present and future welfare of the child.  In other words, punishment, whether corporal or otherwise, should be done in love.

       While anger and frustration with a child’s misbehavior is a normal emotional response to such behavior and is the initial motivation to facilitate some type of punishment, the ultimate goal must always be the facilitation of change in the child’s behavior so that such child is protected from harm.  As Solomon wrote:

       Proverbs 13:24: Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.

       The goal of punishment for bad behavior is to change such behavior to protect a child from the negative consequences of such bad behavior.  That is the message Solomon is trying to get across here.  Discipline and correction, which may include corporal punishment, should be for the purpose of shielding a person from continuing to make choices that lead to harmful results.

       Proverbs 29:17: Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.

       Unfortunately, discipline of our youth is sadly lacking and the result can be seen in the increasing incidence of juvenile crime in our cities.  Much of the car jacking taking place in the Milwaukee area is being done by juveniles.  I have to ask where the parents are.  The answer is that they are not there.  Many of our youth are left to do their own thing and parents have little awareness of what they are doing.  Parents that do try to stay on top of things and discipline their children have to walk a tight rope because of the increasing prohibitions against any punishment that may inflict physical pain.  Our young people are keenly aware of the restrictions being placed on their parents and take full advantage of it.  This would not have been the case under the Old Covenant (OC)..

       Deuteronomy 21:18-21: If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

       In today’s world this appears as a rather over the top penalty for misbehavior.  This OC directive goes quite a bit beyond corporal punishment as that term is generally understood.  Obviously the stoning of a rebellious child, or anyone else for that matter, is not a dynamic of the New Covenant.  When the religious leaders came to Jesus with the women caught in adultery and asked if she should be stoned in accordance with the Law of Moses, Jesus answered by asking that those among them without sin should cast the first stone.  They all walked away and Jesus forgave the women and told her to discontinue her sinning ways.  Stoning for wrong behavior is not a dynamic of the NC.

       Some argue that if stoning of a son or daughter is not a dynamic of the NC, neither should corporal punishment be allowed under the NC.  It is argued that the Proverbs of Solomon are based on OC values under which Solomon lived and those values have been modified by the grace provided under the NC. It is argued that you can’t eclectically choose not to stone but it’s OK to use the rod to inflict punishment.

       This argument is not valid. When Solomon wrote the Proverbs, he wasn’t doing commentary on the Law of Moses or dynamics of the OC.  Solomon was reflecting on the dynamics of life in general which included the need to discipline ones children in order to shield them from harm.  It is in this context that he speaks of using corporal punishment. Solomon wasn’t basing his Proverbs on OC regulations but on observations of human behavior in general and the cause and effect that we all experience.    

       What does the New Testament teach about corporal punishment?  While the New Testament addresses the issue of stoning as we saw, it doesn’t directly address the issue of corporal punishment of children or anyone else for that matter.  Some point to Paul’s giving of qualifications for being an elder as evidence that spanking is prohibited under the N C.  Paul stipulates that a bishop or elder not be a striker according to the KJV rendering.

       1 Timothy 3:2-3:  A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous (KJV).

       The Greek word translated “striker” in the KJV has the basic meaning of to totter or shake.  To totter is to stagger or stumble.  It would appear Paul may have been following up on his prohibition against not being given to wine by alluding to not being a drunkard, that is, one who staggers or stumbles.  Where the KJ translators got “striker” from I have no idea. The NIV renders the Greek as violent.  Paul does not appear to be addressing the act of striking someone.

       All this being said, it would appear the use of corporal punishment in the disciplining of children is a personal choice.  If it is used, however, it must be used in a context of love and never in a retributive manner as already discussed.

       In addition to Solomon’s instruction as to correcting and disciplining children, he has a lot to say about correction and discipline in general.  We began today’s discussion by citing Proverbs 12:1 where Solomon writes that, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.  Let’s take a look at several other teachings of Solomon on the issue of discipline and correction.

       Proverbs 10:17: He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.

       Proverbs 13:18: He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored.

       Proverbs 15:32: He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding.

       In Proverbs 10 Solomon writes that those who are willing to be disciplined show the way to life but those who ignore correction lead others astray. Those willing to accept discipline and change their thinking and behavior will live a better life and be able to share what they have learned with others with the result being a better life for others as well.

       A customer and I were talking at Milk ‘N Honey the other day and discussing how people are sometimes unwilling to take the time to study the available information about ways that would improve their heath and therefore they never experience improvement in their health.  The customer then made the interesting comment that when one is willing to learn a teacher will appear.  What this customer was implying is that if a person is willing to lean, information is available.  You just have to be willing to seek it out.

       The same is true with discipline and correction.  If one is willing to be disciplined and corrected, the knowledge is available to make the necessary corrections which will lead to a more abundant life for oneself as well as others with whom such knowledge can be shared.  On the other hand, as Solomon points out, whoever ignores correction leads others astray.  They lead others astray because they continue to share false uncorrected information.  It’s the blind leading the blind.

       In Proverbs 13 Solomon writes that poverty and shame comes to those who disdain correction, but those who give regard to reproof will be honored.  We all know people who have experienced difficulties in life because of a refusal to accept correction.  Probably all of us in this room can look back on our lives and see where we failed to heed correction and the result wasn’t pretty.  Being willing to accept correction is critical to avoiding many pitfalls in life.

       In Proverbs 15 Solomon writes that those who ignore discipline despise their own selves. When we are unwilling to consider discipline we are working against ourselves.  We are shooting ourselves in the foot so to speak by our failure to recognize a need to evaluate our behavior and make any appropriate changes. 

       This being said, it is incumbent on us to be very careful in the giving and the receiving of correction.  People are often all to willing to correct someone else when in reality their correction isn’t valid.  Therefore, it is incumbent on us to have all the facts straight and insure that our giving or receiving of correction and discipline is valid.  Giving correction must be predicated on making correct judgements.  But didn’t Jesus say we should not judge so we won’t be judged.  Yes Jesus did say that but as context will show, He wasn’t saying we should never judge anyone.

       Matthew 7:1:  Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

       Some Christians read this passage and immediately conclude that we humans are never to judge other humans.  We are never to draw conclusions about the behavior or the motives behind the behavior of our fellow man.  Is that what Jesus is teaching here.  Are we never to judge others and if we should happen to slip and judge someone, do we place ourselves in danger of being judged in a manner that we don’t want to experience?

       The Greek word translated “Judge” in this passage is krino.  It appears 114 times in the NT and is translated judge about 80% of the time in most English translations but is also translated into several other English words. The basic meaning of this word in the Greek is to separate, distinguish, make a decision, select or chose. In reviewing the many ways in which krino is used in the NT and other Greek writings, it is a word that has to do with making a choice, making a decision or drawing a conclusion about something or someone.     

       Is Jesus instructing us to never make a decision, or draw a conclusion about another person?   If to judge someone is to make a decision or draw a conclusion about someone, it is obvious from the scriptures that Jesus was not instructing that we are never to judge anyone in any manner.  You will see by reading the very next statement Jesus made that He is not prohibiting judging others but He is explaining that there is a right way and a wrong way to judge others and that we will be judged according to how we judge others and not if we judge others. 

       Matthew 7:2: For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

        Here Jesus says we will be judged in the same way we judge others.  This statement presupposes that we will be judging others.  Jesus is not prohibiting the judgement of others.  He is not prohibiting the making of decisions and the drawing of conclusions as to the behavior of others.  What Jesus is saying is that if and when we do make judgements as to the behavior of others, we better be very careful as to how we make such judgements because how we judge others will determine how we are judged.  Jesus goes on to show with one of His famous illustrations exactly what He is talking about.

       Matthew 7:3-6: Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

        Jesus speaks of removing the speck in your brother’s eye which is to make a judgement about something related to your brother and in removing the speck in your brother’s eye you are in essence correcting him. You are saying to your brother, “brother, you have a problem and here is what you should do about it.” You are bringing to his attention something that you feel needs to be corrected in his behavior.  You are drawing certain conclusions about your brother’s behavior and have decided to confront your brother with the changes you feel he should make. 

       In this illustration, Jesus is clearly showing we can judge our brother.  He is also clearing showing how we are to judge our brother.  We are to first judge ourselves.  We are to first yank the plank out of our own eye so we can see clearly in removing the speck in someone else’s eye. This is a beautiful illustration of how we must get our own lives in order before we go about trying to facilitate order in the lives of others. 

       It is a common human behavior to want to correct perceived problems in others while all the while we are experiencing those same or similar problems and doing very little or nothing to correct them in our own lives.  We know we have the problem, but instead of doing what is necessary to correct it we find someone else who has a problem and begin to critically look at their behavior even to the point of butting into their life about the problem while all the while failing to correct problems in our lives.  Jesus calls this being a hypocrite.

       As covered earlier, the goal of punishment for bad behavior is to change bad behavior to good behavior so that the negative consequences of such bad behavior can be avoided.  Discipline and correction, which may include corporal punishment, should be for the purpose of causing a person or persons to stop making wrong choices that lead to harmful results.

       We see in the Hebrew Scriptures that God had to constantly discipline and correct the Israelites.  The Israelites were constantly making choices contrary to the will of God.  God repeatedly warned Israel that they would be punished if they failed to obey the terms of the covenant He made with them.  They didn’t heed the warnings.  The only way left for God to get their attention was to inflect pain on them.

       Parents experience this with children all the time. Often telling a child to behave is like talking to the wall.  They just keep doing what they are doing and ignore the request to stop misbehaving. Even when threatened with punishment they still continue to misbehave. If the punishment involves having privileges removed or the modern method of the so-called time out, there may be some response but in many cases the only thing that works is corporal punishment provided it is administered in a loving way.  God spanked the nation of Judah real hard by having them taken into captivity by Babylon. Scripture shows that while in captivity, many finally admitted to their sin and showed repentance.

       Just as a parent disciplines their children, God is seen in the Scriptures as disciplining us as His adult sons.  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews makes a point of this as seen in Hebrews chapter twelve.

       Hebrews 12:5:   "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

       The Greek translated “punishes” means to flog or scourge.  Now God doesn’t literally flog or scourge us but he does allow us to experience adversity as a test of our faith.  The writer goes on to say:

       Hebrews 12: 6,11: Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?  If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

       No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.   

       Discipline is seen as a tool of training that produces righteousness and peace for those who are willing to be trained by it.  May we all strive to be trained by correction and discipline as we continue in our Christian walk.

PART FOURTEEN