Desiring God interviewed Paul Tripp on the question of obedience, how God motivates it and how we should and should not use threats and punishments to motivate obedience. Both answers are worth listening to, but let me highlight them here as an encouragement to delve further.
We all struggle as parents with how to get our children to obey and do what we ask them, when we ask them. Tripp makes to point that it’s not just obedience that we are after, or God is after, it’s about our heart. The Israelites were often rebuked not because their sacrifices were not right, but because their hearts were not right.
Tripp says this about our parenting:
If a parent is yelling at a child, it’s not because they want their
hearts. They want to create enough fear in that child so that they’ll
do what they want them to.
If I had the heart in view, I would never motivate that way because
it’s damaging to the heart of a child. God’s warnings, on the other
hand, are never damaging to the heart. They’re after the heart, because he knows if he doesn’t have my heart, he doesn’t have me.
Obedience in our children is not just found in the act, it is found in their heart. It’s OK, according to Tripp, to use threats when you have to get obedience quickly, to use threats. But it’s important to follow that up later. Here is one example.
But I know, because we’re in a service of worship, that I’ve got to
take this child out so that we can deal with it and bring him back in.
So I say, “You need to be quiet. If you’re not quiet, that’s a direct
disobedience to Daddy, and we’ll go out, I’ll paddle your little
bottom, and we’ll come back in again. And hear me: Daddy is willing to
do this forty times, because Daddy won’t lose, because Daddy can’t
lose, because Daddy represents Jesus. And you will not be the Daddy of
But I know we’re not done. And so, maybe Sunday afternoon, I’m going
to get with that little one and say, “Let’s talk about what was going
on in that service.” And I’m going to get after the heart.
He also addresses proper rewards, rewards related to character.
And I think there are proper rewards, rewards that are character rewards, not materialistic rewards.
For example, I could say to my fifteen-year-old son, “Look, Mom and Dad
have made you come in at 9 o’clock over the last year, but we’ve just
seen real responsibility, real wisdom in your life. So we’re going to
extend that a couple hours, because we really do believe we can trust
you.” That’s a reward, but it’s a character reward.
It’s different than saying, “You want that mountain bike? That
mountain bike can be yours. All you have to do is…” Because that
takes that heart in a different place. He may submit to doing X just
because there’s a physical thing at the other end of it, yet no desire
to obey at all.