Thursday, May 17, 2018

Discipline Isn’t a Dirty Word

When you hear the word discipline, what comes to mind? 

Discipline is a versatile word with a variety of useful meanings. There’s the discipline of a talented musician, practicing for hours daily to refine her talents. Or the discipline gifted athletes use – perhaps a tennis player, ice skater or runner – to refine their skills for competing at a high level. Or the discipline a goal-oriented person uses to stay focused and avoid becoming distracted from the objective.

For some, however, the word “discipline” carries negative connotations, like it’s a dirty word. Take, for example, the parent who says, “I never discipline my children.” This may mean the individual somehow believes parental guidance stifles, that it inhibits a child from discovering his or her uniqueness. I don’t think discipline is detrimental in that respect, but perhaps that’s a subject for a future discussion. 

More likely, the parent equates discipline with punishment. As in addressing wrong or inappropriate behavior with a spanking, withholding something good, isolating them, or some other penalty. However, as we read and trust the Scriptures, it becomes clear discipline isn’t optional. It’s mandatory. In fact, if we’re sincere about following Jesus Christ, discipline should be anticipated – and welcomed.

A trellis "disciplines" roses
to flourish in all their beauty.
Proverbs 19:18 warns, “Discipline your children while there is still hope.” Proverbs 3:12 states, the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Hebrews 12:5-11 expresses it most eloquently, observing, My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?... No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

What does this discipline look like? Does God sit us in a corner, or put a dunce cap on our heads when we don’t do right? Does He lash out at us in anger to demonstrate His displeasure? We find the answer in Ephesians 6:4, which says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” The purpose is not to frustrate or discourage.

The Greek word for discipline in this passage has several shades of meaning, including training, instruction, chastisement, and correction. But based on what? Another passage, 2 Timothy 3:16, informs us: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” We’re to use the Bible to “train up a child in the way he should go,” as Proverbs 22:6 explains it.

It’s clear that from God’s perspective, our approach to discipline – whether it’s for our children, someone we’re mentoring, or our own lives – shouldn’t be based on a whim, personal preference, or whatever happens to be the current trend in our society or culture. Discipline should be based on what the Lord reveals and teaches in His Word.

Whenever I think of discipline, I envision a tomato plant tied to a stake to ensure it grows vertically, not horizontally. Or a rose bush climbing a trellis. In both cases, they aren’t being restricted or harmed. They’re being “disciplined” to grow as they should, so they can be most productive.

A jet in flight needs to make course corrections, as does a ship sailing across an ocean. Discipline becomes an effective means for making necessary course corrections in our own lives, as well as those of our children, people who work for us, and even those we mentor and disciple. Our goal is to teach them what they need to know, correct when they’ve veered off course, rebuke wrong thinking and behavior, and train them in the best ways to live. 

A disciplined life is intentional and purposeful, ultimately a life that seeks to serve and honor our God. An undisciplined life, lacking focus and a clear target, never knows when, or if, it’s hitting the mark.

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