What Does Proverbs 13:24 Teach About Parental Discipline?

What does the Bible say about discipline? The Proverbs about child discipline teach something different from what many assume. They teach loving discipline.

The book of Proverbs teaches practical wisdom for all people at every stage of life, including the parenting stage. Parenting should be a wonderful time of life when children are growing and developing.

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about parenting.

But not all the proverbs are easy to understand, and some may even seem inapplicable to parents today. One example of a proverb like this could be Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”

Notice the strong words used in this verse: “rod,” “hates,” “loves” and “disciplines.”

What exactly is this verse teaching us?

What does “rod” mean?

Let’s examine the word rod in this verse.

The word rod had multiple meanings in the Hebrew language. It could refer to a rod, staff or stick used to assist in walking or for protection from wild animals or other threats. But in ancient times a rod or staff was also used to identify the patriarch of a family or leader of a tribe.

In other words, it represented authority and leadership within a family or tribe of people. It signified who had the authority, responsibility and role in guiding, teaching and disciplining within a family. It doesn’t necessarily mean we have to use the modern-day equivalent of a rod as a punishment tool.

Here’s a helpful quote about punishment methods from our blog on the “Four Phases of Parenting:”

“Discipline can include various forms of punishment to correct disobedience (Proverbs 29:15). Parents have to determine which forms of discipline are most effective with their individual child. Spanking, a very controversial form of discipline, can be a helpful tool for teaching obedience and respect, when used properly.

The meaning of “spare” the rod

The word spare in this verse means “to keep back, to withhold, halt, spare; to be spared, be relieved” (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary).

Neglecting our God-given parental responsibility of correcting and teaching our children is a form of “hating” (or lacking love for) our children. So “sparing” the rod essentially means parents or guardians are failing to fulfill their parental responsibility to correct, guide and teach their children. It describes a lack of discipline in children’s lives from the authority figures who are responsible for their care.

This short proverb tells us that neglecting our God-given parental responsibility of correcting and teaching our children is a form of “hating” (or lacking love for) our children. 

That is a very strong statement!

Parents who neglect to discipline their children are not showing love—even though they may think they are. Let’s further explore why neglecting discipline is such a big problem. 

God disciplines His children

To understand this, we have to first examine God’s parenting style. He is, after all, our Father—and is the ultimate Parent (with a capital P!). How does our Father discipline His children? Notice what we learn in Hebrews 12:5-11:

“And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’

“If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.

“Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

God corrects, teaches and disciplines us because He loves us.God corrects, teaches and disciplines us because He loves us. Because He wants to see us learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. Notice that the writer acknowledges that physical fathers discipline their children, but not necessarily perfectly. God, however, disciplines us with perfect love. He sets parents the perfect example to learn from.

Godly discipline should be with the intent to yield the same results God is looking for: “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” in us. It should produce in us the ability to make good decisions in life based upon what is right.

This should be our goal in disciplining our children. We want to guide and teach them how to live, how to recognize good from evil—what will help them in life and what will hurt them.

This principle is reinforced in Proverbs 3:12: “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.”

Going back to Proverbs 13:24, we see the emphasis is on love: “But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”

Is this verse applicable to parents today? Do you, as a parent, love your children? Hopefully, all of us with children genuinely love them and desire to show that love to them in an appropriate way.

One way we can show our children godly love is to discipline them promptly and lovingly when they do something wrong. Discipline here means to instruct, to train, to guide and help someone gain strength and self-control.  

Parenting is not easy. It’s an enormous responsibility. It is a constant challenge of our patience. It takes time! And it takes the desire to discipline in a way that shows godly love.  

Do not provoke your children  

The apostle Paul provides some more helpful guidance on discipline. “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Paul is saying there must be a balance to discipline. Paul encourages the training and instruction that leads to strength and self-control, and that helps our children grow to make the right decisions in life. But he also warns against provoking our children.

If our children cannot clearly tell that we are disciplining them because we love them, it can provoke them to anger and even bitterness.Too often, parents go from one extreme to another. At times there may be little guidance and discipline, and at other times, parents can be too strict and harsh, disciplining out of anger and frustration. It’s very dangerous for parents to correct their children just to feel better themselves! If our children cannot clearly tell that we are disciplining them because we love them, it can provoke them to anger and even bitterness. This can lead to serious problems later in life.

The more time and effort we give to working with our children from a young age, and the earlier they see that we love them and genuinely care for them, the easier parenting will be as they get older.

But that doesn’t mean that there will never be pushback and attitudes!

Remember what we read in Hebrews 12:11: “No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful.”

How often do children say “thank you” for correction? How often do our children tell us that we are doing a wonderful job of disciplining them? We will probably never hear that. At least not when they are still kids. But if we love them and want what’s best for them, we must be diligent in our responsibilities as parents.

It takes work and effort from an early age.

Teach your children God’s Word

Notice what the apostle Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-15: “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Timothy had been taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood. Who taught him? His “grandmother Lois” and his “mother Eunice” 2 Timothy 1:5.

Timothy’s mother and grandmother loved him. They apparently took the time and effort to teach and discipline him from a young age. Remember that teaching and guiding is a vital part of what discipline means.

This was Proverbs 13:24 in action!

So, parents, let’s never neglect our God-given responsibility to teach and discipline our children.

To learn more about this important topic, read our article on “Disciplining Children.”

Topics Covered: Relationships, Social Issues, Parenting

About the Author

Tim Waddle

Tim Waddle

Tim Waddle is a husband, father and a minister of Jesus Christ. He has pastored congregations in Colorado, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland in the United States, as well as pastoring internationally in New Zealand and Australia. He and Valerie, his wife of more than 30 years, currently live in the Houston, Texas, area where he serves as pastor of the Houston South congregation. In addition to these responsibilities, he has also served as senior pastor for congregations in Kenya and Tanzania for over 15 years.

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