Like it or not, discipline is part of life. To live well and be effective always necessitates discipline. Without it, we easily slide into habits that become defeating. Discipline challenges natural tendencies of laziness, carelessness, lack of focus, and even defeat. Most of us would quickly admit to needing more rather than less discipline. But it doesn’t come easily.
The word discipline carries a range of meaning from teaching to punishment. It includes educating, training, coaching, correcting, and chastising. The overall aim of discipline is to develop the moral, mental and physical character of an individual; to foster skills, abilities, character traits, and behavior patterns whether personal or social. Discipline can be self-imposed or gained through outside forces and influences. Typically, the later leads to the former. Common spheres of discipline include, home, school, law enforcement, military, athletics and Church. When a society becomes undisciplined at any level, everyone in it suffers.
It should not surprise us to learn that God also believes in the value and need of discipline. God repeatedly reminded his people that he disciplines those he loves (see: Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6). God’s discipline is compared with the discipline of an earthly father who cares enough to train his son (Deuteronomy 8:5; Psalm 103:13).
When Christians experience God’s discipline, sometimes they respond like children who resent the discipline of their earthly fathers. The most comprehensive Scripture passage on discipline is presented to believers who were in danger of misunderstanding and resenting God’s purpose in discipline (Hebrews 12). The early Christians to whom the text was written were under intense persecution for being followers of Christ. In their suffering, they felt that rather than being loved by God, they were abandoned by him. Had God forgotten them? Was he concerned about their difficulties? How should they read their circumstances on earth in view of their membership in God’s family? How does the horizontal of life relate to their vertical connections with heaven?
The author writes, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7). Discipline, he reminds them, is a mark of sonship—of belonging, even if it is packaged as hostile treatment from unbelievers. The believers were warned not to “make light of the Lord’s discipline” or “lose heart when rebuked by him” (Hebrews 12:5). When difficulties involve mistreatment from others, it is hard to understand how God could be in control. It is much easier (more natural) to view ourselves as victims of evil rather than objects of God’s loving discipline.
In an amazing move from past to present, the NT author warns his readers not to forget the word of encouragement that addresses them as sons (Hebrews 12:5). Then he quotes Proverbs 3:11-12: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Originally, this text was written by Solomon to his son (centuries ago!). But, there is a univocal applicability in the ancient text that reaches all of God’s people (the nature of scripture). What was written centuries earlier, “addresses you”!
Consider the Old Testament character Joseph. Although sold into slavery by his own brothers, years later he said to them, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you … so then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:4,5,8). He also said, “You intended to harm me (no denying that!), but God intended it for good (no over-ruling of this!) … (Genesis 50:20). Joseph refused to view culpably evil secondary causes of his suffering as superior to God’s sovereign goodness.
“We shall best understand what Joseph says if we carefully observe what he does not say. Joseph does not say, `Look, miserable sinners, you hatched and executed this wickedplot, and if it hadn’t been for God coming in at the last moment, it would have gone far worse for me than it did.’ Nor does he say, `God’s intention was to send me down to Egypt with first-class treatment, but you wretched reprobates threw a wrench into his plans and caused me a lot of suffering.’ What Joseph says is that in one and the same event the brothers intended evil and God intended good. God’s sovereignty in the event, issuing in the plan to save millions of people from starvation during the famine years, does not reduce the brothers’ evil; their evil plot does not make God contingent. Both God’s sovereignty and humanresponsibility are assumed to be true” (D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p. 150).
Commenting on God’s discipline, J. I. Packer wrote,
“the God of whom it was said, ‘He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms’ (Is. 40:11) is very gentle with very young Christians, just as mothers are with very young babies. Often the start of their Christian career is marked by great emotional joy, striking providences, remarkable answers to prayer and immediate fruitfulness in their first acts of witness; thus God encourages them and establishes them in ‘the life.’ But as they grow stronger and are able to bear more, he exercises them in a tougher school. He exposes them to as much testing by the pressures of opposed and discouraging influences as they are able to bear — not more (see I Cor. 10:13), but equally not less (see Acts 14:22). Thus he builds our character, strengthens our faith, and prepares us to help others. Thus he crystallizes our sense of values. Thus he glorifies himself in our lives, making his strength perfect in our weakness.”
“There is nothing unnatural, therefore, in an increase of temptations, conflicts and pressures as the Christian goes on with God — indeed, something would be wrong if it did not happen.” How does God carry out his purposes? Packer answers, “Not by shielding us from assault by the word, the flesh and the devil, nor by protecting us from burdensome and frustrating circumstances, nor yet by shielding us from troubles created by our own temperament and psychology; but rather by exposing us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to him more closely.”
“This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another: it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold him fast. The reason why the Bible spends so much of its time reiterating that god is a strong rock, a firm defense, and a sure refuge and help for the weak, is that God spends so much of his time bringing home to us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust our selves to find, or to follow, the right road.” (Knowing God)
When life feels unbearable because of our difficulties, we must turn to the God who “comforts us in all our troubles” (II Corinthians 1:3). Confess your belief in his goodness in spite of your circumstances, and be confident that, “our momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (II Corinthians 4:17). Remember that the Lord disciplines those He loves.
There are a number of bottom lines to life. One of them is the fact that we need discipline—on all levels of existence! When feeling the weight of discipline, we know that, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Hebrews 12:11). But we must follow the text to remind ourselves that, “Later on,” discipline “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:12).
Be patient. Bear up under it. God is at work. “Later on, it produces…”. Christian maturity is not possible without discipline. “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” As a dear friend use to say, “Get with the program! God knows, He cares and He is in control!” (Dr. B).