In English, the word discipline can either refer to the correction of someone who is doing wrong (as in a parent disciplines their child), or, it can refer to the structure one is either subjected to or subjects themselves to (as in what military boot camp is designed to accomplish) that produces a very orderly and structured behavior and temperament. These two ideas are not foreign to the scriptures and in fact, we see them go hand in hand.
The Hebrew word mûsâr is translated 50 times in the King James Old Testament and we see it rendered as chastisement, discipline, instruction, correction, doctrine, rebuke. It is related to another word, yâsar, which is translated 43 times as punish, reform, chastise, instruct, reprove, teach. It should be noted that these words carry the theme of restoration, whether of thought, doctrine, or action. Discipline’s purpose isn’t castigate through self-righteous means. Discipline is also something that is not the means by which we get into favor with God. Regardless of how disciplined our lives are, the righteousness we need to stand true and holy in God’s sight and presence is His righteousness (which He freely bestows to all who would simply align themselves, by faith, to the resurrected Christ.) For our purposes in these posts, we want to examine the various scriptures that were identified in the first post (get caught up here: https://libertythrugrace.com/2019/05/04/church-discipline-pt-1-observations/), and to make sense of discipline in the world of the believer (in and of him/herself) and as the believer lives within the body of believers.
Discipline: an Effectual Working
I wanted to start with this notion of discipline first as it is often not given much attention (at least when the topic of discipline is being discussed). As I mentioned above, no matter how rigidly we structure our lives and our time and regardless of how meticulous we adhere to those structures, none of that amounts to anything where the righteousness we need is concerned. Why would God look to a religiously-disciplined life when He has the resurrected Christ seated with Him? Christ was disciplined in this regard to fulfill the Father’s will – even in His death. The chastisement that was ours became His. The correction and rebuke that could rightly be levied our direction was levied in His direction. In other words, by the death of Christ, not only did Christ demonstrate discipline to the Father’s will, but demonstrated discipline to assume our discipline upon Himself. When we attempt to be disciplined (for righteousness before God), we quickly realize (or at least should) how horrible of a job we do, yet, Christ dropped His shoulder and led into the wind – the wind of Sin and Death – as He climbed to His place of execution.
Philippians 2:8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
But, does this mean that because Christ was disciplined on our behalf (both receiving discipline and exhibiting it) that we are free from a disciplined life? Where our standing with God is concerned, yes, we are free from that for Christ was all the discipline that was necessary. However, as believers, discipline is something that is very valuable as it helps us to navigate through this world’s currents. This discipline is not the religious structure and mandates that are often laid out for the believer to adhere to. This discipline is not yielding to a legalistic demand in order to be found pleasing in the sight of other religious men. This discipline rather executes itself passively at first, with an active response necessary from every believer. What we are not going to do is to lay out a bunch of things whereby you can bring more order and organization to your physical life and how you manage your time. This is indeed a variant on the idea of discipline, but this post is concerned with how we interact with the discipline of God. How we interact may, as a byproduct, have influence on our physical lives, but that is not the focus. We would be remiss to conclude that our physical lives’ order should be the focus and assume that a yielding to the discipline of God would not have any impact thereon. If we yield (passive) to the discipline of God, it will bring forth opportunities for our decisions (active) – how we will choose to respond to His discipline.
The discipline of God for believers isn’t fire and brimstone from the sky, but is fire and brimstone from the revelation of Himself in us. When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he makes mention that Christ was revealed IN him. This is a telling statement because Paul is describing when he met Christ on the road to Damascus, but yet Paul’s words to the Galatians are a bit stronger than just reciting an initial introduction to Christ. Rather, Paul is describing Christ being revealed IN Paul.
Galatians 1:15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, 1:16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
There was something God accomplished in Paul – He revealed His Son IN Paul. Something happened in the heart of Paul that transformed him from the murderous blasphemer to a preacher of the Son of God. This is the fire and brimstone of God’s presence, disciplining as only it can. In other words, we should not look for God’s discipline to be in the form of physical calamity, but we should look for it in the person of God Himself. When the believer ALLOWS the presence of God to reveal Himself IN them, the believer is then faced with a choice – the choice of how to respond. The more of God we allow Himself to reveal in us, the more we encounter the opportunities to be rebuked, corrected, instructed, taught, reproved – the more disciplined we become as our hearts and minds are transformed. The inward manifestation of the truths of the Son of God blossom in outward expressions of faith, grace, mercy, truth and so on – in other words, a disciplined life. I know it isn’t natural for us to gravitate towards discipline being about these things, but this is how God works on each believer.
1Thessalonians 2:12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory. 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
We’ve spoken before that a walk that is worthy of the Lord is not an admonishment to muster self-righteousness in order to please God, but it is an acknowledgement of all that God has called us to, in Christ–not just an acknowledgement, but allowing those truths to permeate our very existence. In other words – we become disciplined. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that they walk worthy of God and that they have the right mindset to do so. When Paul first preached the gospel of grace to these Thessalonians, they didn’t receive it as if it were the words of idle men, but as in truth – as it were the words of God Himself. This doesn’t mean Paul was viewed as deity, but that the message Paul spoke was so powerful that they concluded it to be nothing short of divine origins. But, it wasn’t just the fact that they aligned themselves with this truth of Paul’s message, but that something happened – it effectually worked in them. Although different circumstances, the Thessalonians essentially had that same experience as Paul. When the risen Son of God was preached, something happened (effectually worked) in the hearts of the Thessalonians. Like Paul, the Thessalonians were instructed of great doctrine and it corrected their thinking – they were disciplined by the message.
Hopefully, when you think on the word discipline, you find it to be a much deeper idea than just a proverbial spanking from heaven. There is so much involved in how God disciplines us; how we discipline ourselves; and how discipline impacts us corporately for us to render it as just a synonym for judgment. Paul even understood that the written record of scripture would discipline those who would allow them to influence their hearts and minds. Note Paul’s words to Timothy,
2Timothy 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 3:17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
It is easy to look at verse 16, but let’s not forget 15 and 17. Notice based on verse 15 that verse 16’s reference to ‘scripture’ would be the Old Testament. This isn’t to suggest that Paul’s words are not scripture (as Peter seems to attest – 2Peter 3:16), but simply to allow Paul to mean what he says at the time he wrote it. Paul knew how great the Old Testament scriptures were in that they were able to make Timothy wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Those scriptures served the purpose of opening Timothy’s eyes to faith. (Same thing Christ said to the skeptical Jews in John 5:38-39). How is this so? How could the Old Testament scriptures do such a thing? Easy – because all of them were inspired by God and therefore were profitable for doctrine (teaching/learning), for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. Or, perhaps we could say, the scriptures were profitable to discipline Timothy unto truth, but not just a one-time thing, but to discipline him by thoroughly furnishing him unto all good works. It was the effectual working (discipline) of the scriptures that brought Timothy to a wonderful realization about faith and Christ, and it was that same discipline that continued to work in him–teaching him, correcting him, reproving him, instructing him–so that he could stand complete as a man of God having been completely equipped with all that is necessary, unto the good works of God.
Keeping this in mind will be important when we tackle the idea “church discipline.” We will look at the verses from Part 1 (linked above), but also hopefully see how so-called ‘church discipline’ is much more than rendering a corporate verdict on a believer for sinning, but is a continual working that we’ve all been called to. Just as we can allow God to work in us, so too do we have the ability and opportunity to work in others – that’s discipline.