When I was growing up on Long Island, I was given, as one of my chores, the daily responsibility of sweeping the kitchen floor after supper. I was expected to do this task whether I felt like it or not. I did it repeatedly and regularly day in and day out for many years. I never really enjoyed sweeping, but went from hating it to tolerating it. As the years went by, I continued sweeping until I went to off to college. At last, I was finally liberated from “the bondage of the broom.”

Twelve years ago, when I first came to Atlanta, I was preparing lunch in the basement kitchen of the church, which had been graciously loaned to me for our first counseling office. Opening the pantry door, I discovered a pile of sugar in the middle of the closet floor. What do you suppose my next conscious thought was? If you are thinking “Sweep it up!” you are wrong. My next conscious thought came after I had walked out the kitchen door, walked down a long hallway, entered a utility closet, located a broom, left the closet, and was walking back down the hall again on my way to the kitchen with the broom in my hand. My next conscious thought was, “Lou, what are you doing? Nobody asked you to sweep the floor. No one is going to give you brownie points for sweeping the floor. You’re sweeping the floor because it is the right thing to do.”

How Disciplined Are You?

The years I spent sweeping the kitchen floor as a youth, as well as the subsequent discipline I had gone through since then, had been used by God to develop a good habit. A habit is something that is practiced so frequently that it becomes “second nature.” It is a routine that has become so natural that it can be accomplished quickly, easily, automatically, and (as in my case) unconsciously. I had, over the years, disciplined myself for the purpose of sweeping up a messy floor. Paul told Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness:

“But discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).

The word discipline in the Greek of the New Testament scriptures is gumnazo (from which we get such words as gymnastics and gymnasium), it means to exercise or to train. The idea is that of a man who starts training with weights to increase his strength. The first day at the gym he attempts to lift 80 lbs., but finds he cannot get the barbell above his head. Consequently, he decides to start with only 50 lbs. He discovers that he can press the 50 lb. barbell 12 times over his head. He then continues to exercise with this weight for one week. The next week he increases the barbell weight to 60 lbs. He maintains the 60 lb. weight for seven days, then graduates to 70 lbs. All the while his muscles get stronger and larger. Week by week, he continues increasing the weight until after two years he is easily pressing over 175 lbs. On the two-year anniversary of his having begun weight-training, he walks over to the 80 lb. barbell, which he couldn’t lift above his shoulders two years ago, and with one hand lifts it all the way over his head. His muscles have become so strong and so large that what was once impossible, has now become an easy feat—because of training and exercise (gumnazo). This is exactly what happens when we exercise ourselves for the purpose of godliness. What once seemed impossible becomes easy (second nature).

The Gumnazo Principle

Now what does all this have to do with children? Consider the following two verses from Hebrews and keep in mind the meaning of gumnazo as you read:

“For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained (gumnazo-ed) to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14).

The context of these two verses is a rebuke. Some of the Hebrew Christians had not developed to the point of being teachers as they should have (with respect to the time they had been given to grow to maturity in Christ), and were now being rebuked. The biblical author uses developmental language to contrast the growth and training of children to the growth and training of Christians. He assumes that the reader understands an essential universal principle of child development that our culture seems to have forgotten—training. Two words in particular are employed to communicate this principle. I like to refer to it as The Gumnazo Principle. The word gumnazo is used again in this verse as it was used in 1 Timothy 4:7. Again its meaning “to train by exercise” can be clearly seen in this passage. The second word, which actually appears first in this text, is the word exis, which means “a habit or a practice that has been produced by continuous past exercise” so that it has become “second nature.”

Next, let’s consider Hebrews 12:7-11:

“It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained (gumnazo-ed) by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

The context here is “how to handle a spanking from God.” The author is exhorting his readers to endure chastening from the Lord, knowing that it will produce the “peaceable fruits of righteousness to those who have been exercised (gumnazo-ed) by it” (KJV). As we saw before, a contrast is made between how children respond to chastening by their fathers, and how Christians are to respond to chastening by their heavenly Father. Again, the author assumes some knowledge of that essential principle of child training I have referred to as The Gumnazo Principle.

Training Your Apprentice

The Gumnazo Principle can be illustrated by the example of a blacksmith who is training an apprentice. Apprenticeships are not as popular today as they were during the early days of our nation when Benjamin Franklin, for example, served as an apprentice for his older brother. Then, it was not uncommon for the apprentice to live with, be provided for, and be subject to the master craftsman. An apprenticeship was a thorough, intense training that usually lasted for seven years. Basically, it was training by practice, practice, and more practice, until the apprentice got it right.

The master craftsman would likely first explain and demonstrate the equipment. Then he would allow the apprentice to observe him going through the entire process of making a horseshoe from lighting the forge to shoeing the horse’s hoof with the finished product, explaining each procedure in great detail. After a number of observations, the master craftsman would allow the apprentice to help with some of the procedure. Instructing him, the master would allow the apprentice to try the procedure. He would correct him on the spot should he make a mistake, and require him to do it again until he got it right.

The master may have stood behind his apprentice, holding or gripping his hands over the hands of the apprentice, as they would hold the iron in the fire until the iron had just the right glow of red. Then, hand in hand, the master craftsman and the apprentice would quickly bring the iron to the anvil; and hand in hand, the master would demonstrate to the apprentice just where to hammer the iron and just how hard to strike it. Then, he would put it back into the fire and so on until the horseshoe was complete. After a few exercises of this hands-on training, the master would be ready to allow the apprentice to try the procedure by himself. Still standing behind his student, he would observe the apprentice’s work, noticing every detail of workmanship. Then, as soon as a mistake was made, immediately he might say, “No, this way.” Again grasping the hand of the apprentice, he would show him precisely how to correct his mistake. That’s The Gumnazo Principle in action!

In Today’s World

Imagine what it would be like if the master craftsman had simply explained the procedure one time, and when the apprentice made his first mistake, the master said, “Wrong! No dinner for you tonight. You’d better improve tomorrow.”

“That would be cruel, unmerciful, and a violation of education,” you say.

Yet that is the way many Christian parents “discipline” their children. “That was disrespectful!” they say, as they cruelly slap the child across the face with the backside of a hand, while feeling good about the fact that they identified exactly what the child did wrong—being disrespectful.

The Gumnazo Principle maintains that you haven’t disciplined a child properly until you have brought him to the point of repentance by requiring him to practice the biblical alternative to sinful behavior. This would involve not just asking forgiveness for the disrespect, not just identifying the sin by name (two essential steps in biblical discipline); but also by responding with a respectful alternative to the disrespect using the appropriate words, tone of voice, and non-verbal communication.

Imagine what it would be like trying to teach your son how to tie a double Windsor in his necktie or trying to teach your daughter how to make and roll out a piecrust without The Gumnazo Principle. At some point, unless you have unlimited time and resources, you would have to stop the process of verbal instruction and show your child how to correct a mistake. If the gumnazo principle is vital for teaching such relatively simple and temporal tasks, how much more is it necessary for teaching the application of eternal truth and the development of Christ-like character.

Adapted from The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo. Published by Calvary Press. Copyright © 1997 by Lou Priolo and Calvary Press.