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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Have you been spanked lately? Discipline of Christians

I misplaced my car keys this morning. How should I react?

Hebrews 12:5b “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (ESV, emphasis added. All Bible quotations from the ESV.)

What is discipline? The Free Dictionary tells us that the word may be used as a noun, or as a verb. Here are three of the noun meanings:

1. Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.
2. Controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self-control.

4. Punishment intended to correct or train.
The verb meanings are closely related.

If God disciplines us because He loves us, and this discipline is designed to train us, that leaves two important questions.
1) Why does He do this? Or, better put, what particular improvement is God trying to achieve in us? I think the answer is simple, yet profound: Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

God wants us to be the best representatives of Christ, in this world, that we can be.

Just as Tiger Woods needs to practice, and listen to others, in order to achieve greatness in golf, we have to practice, and listen to others, to achieve Christ truly in us.

2) How does He do it?

There is no magic formula given in the Bible. Just as no good teacher, parent, coach or boss will treat every pupil, child, team member, or employee exactly alike, God doesn't discipline all of us in the same way. (I'm not speaking of favoritism here. Jane may need someone to get in her face, but Joan may do better with a quiet word.)

I believe that God disciplines us in at least these ways:
Discipline through words: The Holy Spirit speaks to us; through our conscience; through the words of family, friends, and co-workers, even non-Christian co-workers or friends who have our best interests in mind; through the Bible; through Christian leaders and peers. Nathan disciplined David in this way. It worked. God sent other prophets to the Israelites, and even to the people of other nations. Sometimes it worked, usually it didn't.
Discipline through harsh circumstances, such as persecution, famine, disease, war, loss of loved ones, loss of property, emotional anguish. Generally, God seems to try words first. But that doesn't always work.

Does this mean that apparent believers who are going through such bad circumstances are being disciplined? Not always. See Hebrews 11:32-38. See also 2 Corinthians 11:22-28. Neither does it mean that going through bad circumstances is a sign of God's love. It may be, but we shouldn't count on bad circumstances as showing us that we are loved. We are loved, but bad circumstances may just be our own fault, or just normal things that happen to everybody. Everyone's light bulbs have to be replaced, sooner or later. Everyone's kids go through teething.

Discipline by the church: Sometimes, God chooses to discipline through the church. (This is in addition to discipline through words, which may be administered by the church.)

This post, which quotes Jesus, in Matthew 18:15-17, discusses what to do if a Christian offender, when dealt with, refuses to repent. Jesus said to let such a person be as a Gentile and a tax collector, which seems to mean excommunication, or, as the Amish put it, shunning. See the Wikipedia article on Shunning, which is not just about the Amish, but is broader, and also indicates other scripture which commands this practice. I am linking to these passages. They are Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 3:14-15; 2 John 1:10-11. Does that mean to stop talking to such people, or to stop loving them? Of course not. It means that we must no longer treat some people as part of our Christian fellowship.

Finally, death: I don't want to get into the question of eternal security here. There has been many an argument on this subject, and I won't repeat those. Whatever the state of their salvation at the time, Ananias and Sapphira died.

Jeremiah 30:11 and 46:28 tell us what we already know, namely that God's discipline is just. We should continually be examining ourselves, to see if we are achieving true Christlikeness. As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 13:5: Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

I should have prayed that I would find my keys. (I haven't yet) I should have looked for them, as thoroughly as I could. I should have asked myself how God could be using this to teach me something -- more care, more dependence on God, and less on things, or less pride in not losing my keys, for example.

God help me to meet all the tests of being like Christ.

*   *   *   *   *
October 2, 2009: My wife found my keys, thank God.

Bonnie has written a post on discipline which, like everything Bonnie writes, is well worth reading.


i am Grateful... Kerry i am. said...

Amen to this brother: God help me to meet all the tests of being like Christ. ALL JOY!

George said...

OK, so I just read that you (actually, your wife) found your keys. Now, in retrospect, do you think you were being disciplined in one way or another today? If the answer is yes, then I have full confidence that you passed with flying colors.

Dana Vissage said...

I enjoy reading your blog. Hope you and Faye are doing well!

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Kerry i am.

We are doing well, Dana. Thanks.

George, I can't be certain, although my best guess would be that I have learned that I should be even more forgiving of my wife when she loses things.