Yesterday I posted some things about discipline and grace and it set me to thinking about it a lot more. Here are some more thoughts.
- Grace vs. Discipline. If we are asked BY GOD to suffer in the flesh, to ‘arm ourselves with the same purpose (1Peter 4:1)’, how does that jive with the operations of a God of love and grace? Are we allowing bondage and servitude and legalism in the back door through teachings on discipline? Before you go on with this, I want you to pause and let yourself really inwardly ask this question, to honestly consider it. You might pray, “Lord, if it is true that You LOVE me and have mercy and grace so strongly for me, WHY all this talk about discipline and such? Why do You make it so hard?” It is important that you truly own up to your own doubts and internal fears and anger about this, you can’t just go day by day reading trite theories about things. There is certainly a danger in teachings about God’s discipline, in that it leads to a wrong fear and a subtle underlying disbelief in His love and mercy and grace. Some people become very dejected in their faith and are constantly expecting to be punished and disciplined all the time, and expect that most of God’s dealings with them are going to be harsh and disciplinary. Let’s look at the most famous text for this subject:
“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” 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 by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12:4-13, NASB.
One of my sons sometimes has a bit of trouble keeping current with his school work. Recently when I called him to task, and grounded him from a number of things, he got very upset and wanted to know why I was “going Nazi” on him about it. He later went on to say that he feels that he can’t talk to me about anything any more, and he feels that I am always angry with him. From my perspective, I love him, I didn’t even raise my voice, and I seek nothing except success and healing for him. We have a tendency to overplay the harshness of our discipline, don’t we? If God presses through our conscience or something that we have an area needing correction, we are likely to view all of His kindnesses through that lens, because it speaks most loudly. However, this discipline is far from the final message God has for us. There is a very big difference between punishment and discipline. Discipline sees weakness and failure and brings whatever measures to bear to bring strength and healing. It has nothing to do with justice or moral wrong-doing. Punishment has more to do with facing the consequences for moral wrong-doing. Here we are talking about discipline, not punishment. In the end, discipline is meant to be joyful, but not in the moment of pain.
In fact, the discipline of God is the surest sign of His grace. He means to keep with us, to lead us on, to take us to a point of blessing and peace, even when we ourselves resist. He is more committed to our good fortune than we ourselves are! Isn’t it true that our closest friends, the friends we trust most and have known the longest, are the ones that tell us the things we really need to hear? God is not less than our closest friends. Grace means God really means to bless us, to keep with us, to bring us to a place of true and lasting joy. Discipline is one means to this end, but it is not His whole voice nor is it by any means the only thing He has to say. It is an occasional season of revelation to us when we are having trouble hearing more reasonable voices.
- Kinds of discipline. This is a point of clarifying terms, because we tend to use the word ‘discipline’ in two ways. There is self-discipline, or the ordered and focused life that is effectual in its purposes. The disciplined life says yes to the right things, even when it is hard, and no to the right things, even when it is hard. The disciplined life knows its callings, gifting, and strengths, and forsakes other interests in order to excel in them. The disciplined life lets others win at their callings, lets other excel, and focuses on its own complementary success. The second kind of discipline is God’s discipline, or rather the discipline of another imposed upon an otherwise undisciplined person. In both cases discipline means the same thing – the focus on a higher goal through sometimes difficult means. If one does not or cannot discipline themselves, bring themselves to a place of order, to a place of focus and success, another must do so. It is the same idea, but its source is either self, or another person, or God.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you.” Psalms 32:8, 9, NASB.
- Group discipline. Discipline in a group is even harder, and even more rewarding. Whether it is a family, or the workplace, or a church or parachurch group, it can only come to fruition if there is a common vision, and a strong gift of leadership and administration is present. Even with these, there is another element to discipline within a group that is most difficult. The members must agree to submit to the authority of the leadership and the administration of the group’s vision and efforts; they must ‘believe’ in the vision. Just as a little fly ruins the whole ointment (“Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.” Ecclesiastes 10:1, NASB), so one undisciplined member of the group can ruin the whole effort. Each member must be individually disciplined to achieve the goals of the whole. The leadership must be ready to expect resistance and lack of discipline, but most people truly welcome the success and order and sense of belonging to a fruitful endeavor which is larger than themselves. Many times the reason the group falls into disorder and lacks success is because the vision is uncompelling, the leadership is weak, and the affairs of the group are not administered well. Other times it is because one or more undisciplined members are not brought to discipline or expelled (“Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out, Even strife and dishonor will cease.” Proverbs 22:10, NASB.)