In Paul’s first letter to the church of Corinth, he writes the verse above. He asks them if they would prefer that he comes with a “rod” or with “love and a spirit of gentleness.”
The rod, as studied before, is obviously not a literal one. And this question is obviously a rhetorical one.
Paul was not asking the church if they wanted him to beat them with a literal rod. The rod was a symbol of his authority as a spiritual father to them.
In Greek, “rod” is the word “rhabdos.” A “rhabdos” symbolized the harsh and severe rule of a harsh and severe ruler much like the Roman rule of the day. The Romans would often use rods as a method of corporal punishment for crimes committed.
While the Jewish law prohibited a man from being beat more than 40 times (Deuteronomy 25:3), the Roman law had no such prohibition. Under Roman law, a person could even be beat to death with rods! This is why Paul makes a distinction between the Jewish beating with the whip and the Roman beating with rods that he received:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.
Three times I was beaten with rods…
2 Corinthians 11:24-25a
These public beatings were not administered as “spankings for children,” but rather as a punishment for criminal offenses. They were carried out by order of a judge for breaking the law – either Jewish law or Roman law.
So when Paul asks the church which they would prefer – that he come with the rod or with a spirit of love and gentleness, it is obvious that if given the choice, we all would prefer to be treated with love and gentleness – especially by those with authority over us.
Paul is making the point that we can live under the law (and the punishment that comes from the law) or we can live under grace (and the love and gentleness), and of the two, grace is greater!
By giving the choice between the two, we see that they are mutually exclusive. We can come with a rod or with love – but not with both. If we come with a rod, we are not coming with love. If we come with love, we cannot come with a rod. Which will you choose?
- How do I usually come to my children: with a rod (rules and punishment) or with grace (love and gentleness)?
- In Paul’s view, was the rod a positive tool that we should use in our parenting?
- Would my children say that our relationship is characterized by love and gentleness? Ask them!
- Would my spouse say that our relationship is characterized by love and gentleness? Ask him/her.
- Does God come to us with the rod or with love and gentleness?
- The opposite of the word “gentle” is: rude, rough, violent, harsh, severe, unkind, and uncontrolled. In what ways have I been rude, rough, violent, harsh, severe, unkind, and/or uncontrolled with my children?
- How can I repent for my lack of love and gentleness?