Discipline Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Discipline

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Discipline is training intended to acquire or improve knowledge, skill, character, or spiritual vitality.

In Scripture

Discipline is a form of love: "My child, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves the one he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights" (Prov. 3:11 - 12). "Discipline your children, and they will give you rest; they will give delight to your heart" (Prov. 29:17). "[Y]ou have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children — `My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.' Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to 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, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:5 - 11). "I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent" (Rev. 3:19).

Discipline shapes how we live: "The commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to preserve you from the wife of another, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress" (Prov. 6:23 - 24). "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but those who hate to be rebuked are stupid" (Prov. 12:1). "[F]athers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). "For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled" (Titus 1:7 - 8). "Although [Jesus] was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Heb. 5:8).

Points to Ponder

Healthy discipline of another derives from unconditional love. God disciplines us — and we discipline children, pupils, or others — out of a hearty desire to see them live well. We would be derelict to let them proceed in an undisciplined life given that sooner or later a lack of discipline leads straight into trouble. Even self-discipline stems from a healthy self-respect. We want to be everything God intended us to be.

Good discipline, whether imposed by another or by ourselves on ourselves, is a pain, especially at first. It would seem more comfortable to let things slide. But the rewards of discipline overwhelm the pain. Discipline is the basis of freedom and power. A basketball forward who does a spin move in the lane or a concert pianist who rips off a fortissimo run in octaves need strength to do these things, but they also need fluidity. They need what we might call strong fluidity or fluid strength. They are playing, but "playing within themselves." Behind their masterly mix of power and freedom lie hours and hours of painful, sweaty discipline. This is work for play. People who practice spin moves eventually make them part of their game. People who work for years on scales and arpeggios one day begin to play music.

Free and disciplined lives are a kind of music we offer to our parents, to our teachers, to friends and family and colleagues. By offering the music to them, we also offer it to God.

Some virtues appear to spring from God-given temperament. We all know people who seem to have been born sweet. But for most of us, most of the time, good spiritual hygiene depends on the practice of time-tested spiritual disciplines. The disciple is not greater than his master. If Jesus needed to learn obedience, so will Jesus' disciples. We will need to train our brains, hearts, hands, eyes, and tongues to get us in shape for robust Christian living. Eyebrows, too, when they still have a haughty spirit. Fortunately, says Dallas Willard throughout his writings, the essential disciplines for Jesus' disciples have been taught and learned for centuries, including by our Lord himself. And they are available right now.

What are these disciplines? Here's a sampling from Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines. Solitude and, within it, silence to expose ourselves to ourselves ("What if there turns out to be very little between `just us and God'?") and to provide a natural context in which to listen to God. Silence is also an excellent discipline in those crowds, says Dallas, where otherwise our tongues would keep "going off automatically." Fasting and, within it, meditating upon God's word. Fasting is "prime self-denial," a way to expose "how much of our peace depends upon the pleasures of eating" — a superficial peace, no less. Meditating secures in our lived experience the conviction that "we have meat to eat that the world does not know." Secrecy about doing good and being good in order to mortify pride, vivify humility, and relieve yourself of the need to be hot stuff at Bible study. Study of God's word to dig up the treasures buried there and live off them. Worship and, within it, celebration in order to mortify despair and to draw us into joyful repose in the household of God. Because we all become like the one we worship, blessed are those whose god is the Lord! Feasting, dancing, singing, all at God's glad invitation, make us neighbors to the towering oaks who "clap their hands" before a storm because they are dusty and God is just about to give them a shower.

Deliberate consciousness that the first heaven is the air around us, that God is alive in it, and that, bidden or unbidden, God is awfully present there. This is a presence we cannot flee, and that, if surrendered to and dwelled in, will give us peace. All prayer, including short prayer ("Help, Lord!") is inescapably and gloriously local.

Confession of our sins to each other as well as to God. This anchor of twelve-step programs is a powerful mortification of the old self, which is why we shrink from it. And, of course, it's open to terrible abuse. Who but God can bear to know not only what I said, but also what I almost said? Still, if you confess to a friend that you lied to him, believe me, says Willard, your confession will "marvelously enhance" your ability to get it straight the next time.

"Works righteousness" vs. sanctification It's important to see that this program of renewal has nothing to do with "works righteousness" as the Reformers used that term. In the wonderful world of Dallas Willard's theology of Christian living, justification is still entirely by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. But sanctification is another story. Mortification of the old self and vivification of the new one take not only God's gift, but also our effort. No theologian should try to get us off the hook here. Patience, for example, is not only fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5; it's also our calling in Colossians 3. And nobody ever became patient without the daily exercise of self-control, especially in the left lane behind a poky driver.

Cost The disciplined life will cost us. But, the undisciplined life will cost us far more, now and forever.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.