By Charles Mallory

When one steps into the world of parenting, an overwhelming sense of responsibility ensues. If we are honest, we gravitate to the rhythms and lessons of how we were raised in our own families. We reach back and, whether good or bad, model our parenting skills by what we experienced growing up.

The same is true when it comes to balancing compassion with the rendering of discipline with our children. We may be able to recall loving memories with our own parents, but I am sure we can quickly remember those times when we were made to stand in the corner, received a paddling, or had our mouths washed out with soap. I think it is safe to say that we could all tell some pretty heated discipline stories.

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“God calls us to exercise our parental authority lovingly and with grace and mercy.

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We can discover how compassion enhances discipline so they can work together. We can see them as two sides of the same coin. On one side is the given authority of the fifth commandment to “honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). On the other side is a reminder that this privilege is a responsibility not to rule, but an obligation to love, train, and guide.

In Scripture, we find these well-known verses from the Apostle Paul: “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Keeping these verses locked in our hearts helps us to remember that these two attributes of authority and compassion will always work together and will never work independently without the other. God calls us to exercise our parental authority lovingly and with grace and mercy.

Growth + Goals

We should feel comfortable giving commands, direction, and wisdom to our children. But we should also feel comfortable training their character by bringing reasonable and tangible consequences after any form of rebellion or disobedience.

I’ve heard it said that if we don’t train them to obey, we are essentially training them to disobey. That is why it is crucial to master the art of correcting rather than punishing. Yes, it is the law that punishes, but it is love that corrects.

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“We should never set standards that we already know are out of their reach.

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We want to encourage growth and change rather than using strong emotions of anger to coerce them into correcting wayward behavior, actions, and thinking. We will not make progress turning into an ogre and putting our children under the duress of being shamed or penalized. Our bad behavior will not correct their bad behavior.

How then can we keep compassion and authority together and not violate Paul’s admonition to not embitter or exasperate our children? We keep them together by setting realistic goals that we know are obtainable. Our approach should not be to dominate or rule with overpowering authority.

We should never be harsh and unreasonable by making restitution impossible to achieve. We should never set standards that we already know are out of their reach. We want to avoid despair and discouragement as much as we want to avoid outright rebellion and resentment.

Compassionate + Consistent

If there is one thing we can do to start moving forward with balancing authority with compassion, it must be our consistency. Their best way of learning is seeing life through your example that is trusted and assured through consistent godly behavior. It is just an obvious conclusion that children will become confused and frustrated when our message becomes scattered, unpredictable, and inconsistent.

Along with consistency, we partner it together with compassion. In exercising authority, we must also be comfortable expressing affection through words and action. After all, God loves us this way and continually demonstrates it to us.

Emotionally Connected

Scripture shows that the Father lavishes His love in affectionate and tender ways. It is also shown to be expressive and intimate: “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs” (Zephaniah 3:17 NLT).

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“We want them to see Christ in us and feel His love through us.

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God delights in you! He loves you so much that He will even sing songs of joy about you! We can exemplify these same attributes from our heavenly Father by fostering a warmhearted, emotionally connected relationship with our children.

When we smile, hug, and talk with them, we are showing them the Father’s love. When we listen to and laugh with them, we reflect His affectionate care. When we pick them up rather than crushing them with punishment, we reflect God’s grace and mercy.

Long lectures, stern warning, whippings, and hours of church services will not replace what hypocrisy removes. If we want our children to grow up like Christ, we must first be secure in our own relationship with Christ in order to reflect Him to our children. We want them to see Christ in us and feel His love through us.

Holy Influence

If you will bear with me for a moment longer, I believe we can add just a bit more to help us maintain a balance of authority and compassion. Although connected to church leadership, I believe Peter has something valuable for us in our approach toward our children:

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2–3).

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“We have been given the privilege of influencing an eternal soul.

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Someone who is “lording” over someone is doing so through domination, manipulation, and intimidation. If you wish to lead with power and authority, then do so by the power and authority of the Holy Spirit igniting a holy life within you and from you. Never be a toxic bully to your children or to anyone. As I have been told repeatedly, that respect will never come to those who demand it.

Always keep the long-term goal in mind: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Balancing authority and compassion can happen through a lifelong relationship with Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that is modeled consistently in our lives and invested into the lives of our children so they will desire Jesus and choose to embrace Him for themselves.

We have been given the privilege of influencing an eternal soul. Let us grow and deepen our own relationship with Jesus so that we can properly imitate our heavenly Father as we bring holiness and care into the lives of our children. Compassion mingled with authority should be our two great bedrocks as we build both our household and the household of God.

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Charles Mallory is a retired Army chaplain who serves as co-pastor with his wife, Jennifer, at Clever Free Methodist Church (Gateway Conference) in southwest Missouri. They have raised and home-schooled their three children in both church and military settings throughout their many assignments encompassing 12 different states. Charles also likes to share the fun fact that he was born in a “small town” in Indiana called Seymour.

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