nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
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:
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.
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.
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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.