Legalism vs Common Sense, or – Spare the Rod

Legalism vs Common Sense, or – Spare the Rod

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

Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

I was raised in a very strict home.

My father was the authoritarian dispenser of discipline in our family. What he decreed happened, or else!

Or, I could describe it this way-

I was raised by Godly parents.  My father did his best to teach me that there were consequences to my decisions by applying loving but firm discipline.

The manner in which you describe my upbringing, depends on your perspective. In today’s politically correct world, it is likely that my father would be reported for being over-zealous, if not somewhat abusive. My backside was no stranger to his leather belt.

Let me give you two examples that even to this day stand out vividly in my memory.

The first goes under the heading of honesty.

I was with my father at a public pay phone where he made a telephone call. At the end of the telephone conversation, he hung up the receiver and as he did we both heard the sound of change falling into the dispenser.


Yipee! I shouted, we can buy an ice cream cone. My dad’s response? “No, son, the money is not ours.” And he proceed to re-deposit the coins into the coin slot of the telephone.

“Dad!” I protested, the next person will get the money – not the telephone company.

Of course such logic from a child didn’t matter – there was a principal to teach and a principal to be learned.

The second example goes under the principal of obeying the law, or living by example.

One afternoon my father and I went for a walk. When we came to a pedestrian crossing, I observed that there no traffic in any direction – it was a quite Sunday afternoon. As I was about to step off the curb, I felt the strong tug of my fathers hand on the back of my jacket accompanied by a gruff scolding that I should never walk against a DON’T WALK sign. “Christians obey the law,” he pontificated!

“But, Daaaaad…”

He cut me off as I was about to explain that there were absolutely no cars coming. “Don’t argue, son, regardless – we obey the law of the land.”

He went on to explain that it didn’t matter that no cars were coming – it’s a matter of principal and besides it was a testimony to others. I didn’t dare tell him that not only was there no traffic, there were no other pedestrians, so no one could see us. What kind of testimony was that?

Almost as if he could read my mind, he added, “Never mind, God can see you even if man can’t.”

At the time it just seemed like more rules, more strict demands on a little boy that just wanted some freedom.

Of course, what I didn’t understand at the time was that these were in fact well-intentioned lessons taught by a father who had difficulty expressing himself warmly and lovingly to his son. And who knows? Maybe this was the only way I would learn these important principals.

Over Twenty Years Later

I found myself in the same position – not sons, but daughters. I, too, took the opportunities that life presented to teach my daughters important life-principles. With God’s help, I hopefully delivered the lessons with a little more grace.

But I’m not sure I succeeded in the grace department when I listen to my daughters retell of their strict upbringing.

Do you think my father taught me the best way he could?

By the way, ask my friends, even as a grandfather, I can’t bring myself to walk against a “Don’t Walk” sign without hearing his voice.

Oh yes, would you put the coins back in the slot?


  1. Denita

    Oh my, this is so familiar! My parents were not strict. In fact, for the first few years of my life they let me run roughshod over them and everyone else. When they finally tried to apply discipline, it was not consistent and it was very easy for me to play my father against my mother. I wish the discipline had been consistent, because now I am having to grope my own way through parenting with my children. I can see how God has been working in my heart, however. Having the consistent example of the Father in Heaven has helped me with teaching my kids as well as increasing my own self-discipline. And (unlike my own childhood experiences,) Eric and I work together as a team, so the kids have quickly discovered that they are incapable of playing “But Daddy Said I Could…”

  2. Don

    Thanks, Denita. If there is one thing I can say about my father, it is that he was very consistent. What he said he did; what he believed he lived.

    Ian, your conclusion is the same as mine.

    I am who I am in large part due to the godly influence of my father. I’ll write more about my Dad in a future post, and from that you will see that his influence on my life was very important and positive. My prayer is that I can be a similar influence on my daughters and grandchildren.

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