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The Value Of Discipline

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Introduction

            Bernard Palmer, the author of the Danny Orlis series, has written a book about their experiences with his son called “My Son, My Son.” Palmer was married and he and his wife had a boy. Before the boy was very old, Mrs. Palmer passed away and Mr. Palmer was left alone with his little son. For a few years, it was just the two of them, but then Mr. Palmer married again. His son was a hand full and with the new marriage and other babies that came along, things did not get any easier. As the boy grew, they had all kinds of problems with him and as soon as he was old enough, he left home and got into a drinking and gambling lifestyle. In the book Palmer describes the struggles they had, how his son eventually became a Christian, but not until he had so destroyed his body that he died as a young man. He also talks about some of the principles of raising children and mentions that they often thought that perhaps they should have been more diligent in discipline. During the time that he was a single parent and then because they wanted to be fair to him in the new marriage, they did not always discipline him as they perhaps should have. Although he does not say that this was the only reason his son went astray so badly, he does indicate that it was a factor.

On Mother’s Day, I talked about one important aspect of raising children. The Bible teaches us the importance of a consistent example of Christian faith as one of the most important aspects of passing faith on to our children. Today is Father’s Day and I would like to talk some more about raising children. I would like to add another component to the different parts of child rearing that we need to consider and that is the aspect of discipline.

The Bible has a number of verses that tell us that we should discipline our children and we will take a look at them, but to begin with, I would like to set the concept of discipline into a larger context in order to help us understand the value of discipline.

I. The Value Of Discipline

Frito Lay potato chips has a commercial on TV which challenges the listener,  “Betcha can’t eat just one.” What is it called when we choose to eat just one? It is called discipline.

A. Definition Of Discipline

            What is discipline? One definition, found in Miriam Webster’s Dictionary, is “to train or develop by instruction and exercise especially in self-control.” Discipline has two primary aspects to it and that is the aspect of instruction or learning and the other is the aspect of limits. I like to think of discipline as learning to recognize and live within the boundaries which lead to life.

            Those who engage in sports understand that discipline is an important part of preparing for their sport. Next Sunday is the Manitoba Marathon and anyone who will go out and run in that marathon will not make that decision on Sunday morning. In order to be able to do that, it takes discipline for several months of running on a regular basis to train your body to do the long distance.

            Last week we visited Merlin and Wanda and their family and they have 6 month old puppy. They told us about the efforts they are putting in to training the dog including a special collar and obedience school. Discipline is being used to teach the dog to be a friendly, but useful watch dog.

            Some of you have heard your parents say to you that you can’t go out and skateboard, or watch TV until your homework is done. That too is a form of discipline in which your parents are concerned that you learn and they set the limits to help you do that.

            All discipline then has the similarity that it involves some limits, some boundaries and that it has a goal in mind of training or learning something. In the illustrations we have looked at, you will notice that there are two kinds of discipline. There is self discipline and imposed discipline. In the one case, we choose to set the limits which will help us accomplish our goal. In the other case, someone else sets the limit to help us learn some valuable lesson.

B. The Value Of Discipline

            It is important that we talk about discipline because today we live in a society that, in many respects, does not like discipline. Earlier I mentioned the promotional phrase, “Betcha can’t eat just one.” The commercial assumes that none of us has any ability to say “no” to ourselves. In that assumption, it reflects what is true of many people in our society. Another commercial uses the line, “You deserve a break today” which is a thinly veiled cover for self indulgence and also reinforces once again that discipline is not needed, but that we should just take what we want.

The lie of the world is that unrestricted living has no consequences. The Bible tells us something different. It tells us that restrictions, boundaries or discipline have great value. In Proverbs, there are many verses that instruct us on the value of discipline. Let us take a look at a few of these verses.

            Proverbs 12:1 indicates that discipline is a wise way to go when it says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.”

            Proverbs 13:18 tells us that good awaits those who are willing to apply discipline, “He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honoured.”

            In fact, Proverbs 6:23 tells us that discipline is the way to life, “For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life…”

Even more strongly Proverbs 5:23 reminds us that lack of discipline has the opposite effect when it says, “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.”

The world seems to say that discipline is the opposite of freedom, but the Bible tells us that true freedom comes because of discipline.

II. Biblical Discipline Hebrews 12:1-12

            And so the Bible encourages us to live counter to the culture of the world around us. It encourages us not to be afraid of or avoid discipline. Hebrews 12 has a wonderful passage that tells us of the importance of discipline - both self discipline and the discipline imposed by parents and by God. If we want to find life, then we need to be exposed to discipline.

A. Self Discipline Hebrews 12:1-4

            God invites us to discipline ourselves in Hebrews 12:1-4 which says, “read text”

            In this passage, God is reminding us that we as believers have a legacy of faith in all those who have gone before. Reminded of the legacy of faith and of all that Christ has done for us, we are invited to exercise a discipline within our selves that will allow us to truly experience the life that God has for us. There are several phrases expressing the concept of discipline in this passage.

When we are told in verse 1 to “throw off everything that hinders” that is a phrase that encourages discipline. We are to make the effort to get rid of anything in our life that will prevent us from living totally for the Lord. In this case, it is not sin that is indicated, but anything that prevents us from allowing the Lord first place in our life. These may even be good things, but if they prevent us from serving the Lord, the discipline of throwing them away is required if we truly want to find life.

            The passage goes on to talk about throwing off “the sin that so easily entangles.” Here we are talking about the discipline of removing the sin which will trip us up. If we want to run with life, then disciplined determination not to walk in sin is a part of that walk.

            Other phrases indicating the value of self discipline are found in this passage. It talks about “running with perseverance.” In verse 4 it talks about a “struggle against sin” and “resistance to sin” all of which are also words expressive of self discipline.

            So we see from this passage that as Christians it is not just a “live as you feel kind of life” with the hope that we will feel like living like Christians. Contrary to a world that lifts up self indulgence, the Bible calls Christians to a life of self discipline and gives the promise that life is found in that self discipline.

B. God’s Discipline Hebrews 12:5-12

            The next part of the passage reminds us that it is not only a matter of self imposed discipline. It reminds us that we also have a Father who brings discipline into our life in order to train us. There are some ways in which self discipline is respected in our world today, especially in the field of athletics or other achievement. Imposed discipline, however, is often seen as a very negative thing. We have such a strong sense of individual freedom, which we have even entrenched in the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms, that we do not believe that anyone, including God, should impose discipline on anyone. Once again, however, we have a chance to live in a counter cultural way by being willing to accept the discipline which God brings into our lives. Please notice several important lessons on God’s discipline from Hebrews 12:4-12.

            First of all we notice that God does discipline us. The passage does not say what the nature of that discipline is. The word hardship appears and gives us the best clue available to what this means. What we learn is that God does allow us to go through times of hardship for the purpose of teaching us important lessons of faith.

            Another lesson is that the discipline God allows us to experience is for our good. It is not punishment in the sense that we are judged and punished because we did wrong. Rather, it is corrective. It is for the purpose of helping us to come to a better place. Just as we saw in proverbs that discipline leads to life, that is the purpose and direction of all of God’s discipline.

            Furthermore, we also learn that the discipline which we experience at God’s hand is an expression of His love for us. In fact, it is a sign of sonship when we experience the discipline of God. Those who are not disciplined should be the ones who fear for they are the ones who are not true sons of God. God loves us so much that he cannot allow us to continue to walk paths that lead to destruction, but takes us through difficult paths that will wean us of the love of the world and teach us to love God.

I read the following story, told by Robert Boyd Munger, which may help us understand this concept.

Psalm 23:2 says, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures … ” The verb here is strong: He compels me, he forces me to lie down in green pastures.

“An American traveling in Syria became acquainted with a shepherd. Each morning, he noticed the shepherd carrying something to the sheep. The traveler followed him one morning and found that he was taking food to one sheep that had a broken leg. As he looked at the animal, he said to the shepherd, “How did the sheep break its leg? Did it meet with an accident, fall into a hole or did some animal break the leg?”

“No,” said the shepherd, “I broke this sheep’s leg myself.”

“You broke it yourself?” queried the surprised traveler.

“Yes, you see, this is a wayward sheep; it would not stay with the flock, but would lead the sheep astray. Then it would not let me near it. I could not approach it, and so I had to break the sheep’s leg that it might allow me, day by day to feed it. In doing this it will get to know me as its shepherd, trust me as its guide, and keep with the flock.”

Can we accept such discipline as an expression of God’s love for us?

III. Disciplining Our Children

You may wonder why I have spent so much time talking about discipline in general. The reason is that discipline is no longer assumed to have value in our world and we need to be reminded of the value of discipline before we will see the importance of discipline to train our children. When we learn from God’s word that discipline, whether self imposed or imposed by others is a loving expression of what will lead us to life, we are encouraged to discipline ourselves and we are also encouraged to submit to God’s discipline. If that is true in the general sense, it is also true in regards to the way in which we raise our children.

A. The Goal Of Training Our Children

            We learned earlier that discipline always has a goal of training in mind. The goal we have for our children is to bring them to maturity. In the Network material, we learn that maturity is moving from dependence to independence to interdependence. This pattern is useful to help us understand the goal we have for our children. When children are young, they are completely dependent on parents. Our role as parents is to raise our children to be independent - to be able to make good and wise decisions on their own. Then, we also must bring them to an even greater level of maturity and that is to bring them to interdependence, where they become contributing members of society sharing their lives with others and accepting the help of others, being dependent on God and offering their lives to Him.

B. How Do We Get Them There?

            How will we lead them to this kind of maturity? There are many answers to that question and what I spoke about on Mother’s day regarding our example is critical, but from our study of Scripture today, we must also recognize that discipline forms a part of that process of training.

1. Bible Verses

J.I Packer says, “Discipline, which means directive and corrective training, is necessary to lead children beyond childish folly to self-controlled wisdom.”

            The Bible very clearly teaches that we must use discipline with our children.

            One of the ten commandments teaches children to listen to their parents direction and to submit to their discipline. There we read, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”

            There are many proverbs which demonstrate the importance of discipline.  Proverbs 6:20-23 is one such passage. It says, “My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life…”

            The New Testament reiterates this teaching in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

2. Method of Discipline

My goal this morning has been to counter society which values freedom above discipline and has forgotten much of what God teaches us about the value of discipline. Therefore, I will not say much about how to discipline, but mostly have wanted to remind us that it is right to discipline.

The Scripture, however, is not silent about the method of discipline.

Earlier we learned that the goal of discipline is instruction. If that is our goal, then the kind of discipline which arises out of our own frustration with our children and is intended more as punishment than a learning opportunity is not what the Scripture promotes. In giving discipline, it should never be our intent to think or say, “I can’t let him/ her get away with that.” That is punishment and judgement. Rather, Scripture teaches us that we ought instead to say, “how can I help my child learn the right way?”

Last summer there was a case in Ontario in which children were taken away from parents because they were spanking their children. As I learned about the case, I had two responses. One was that Child and Family Services was wrong to do that and if I was raising my children, I would, when necessary, continue to spank them as we did even if the government says I can’t. The Bible does say in Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”

On the other hand, I wondered if that was the whole issue. Was it simply spanking or was there too much spanking, was there something that could approach abuse? Of course, I didn’t know, but I do know that some people who defend spanking do not use it with prudence. James Dobson has written some good things about this issue and I would recommend his books.

I would also encourage us to keep in mind that spanking is not the only way to discipline and we should find those ways that are most effective since giving them a spanking is not the goal but making sure that they learn righteousness is. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” There are a number of interpretations of this verse and one is that we should train a child according to the way he is. I think that has some positive lessons for us. We need to keep the nature of our child in mind and keep our goal in mind as we train them. For some children at some times that may mean a spanking. In other cases, it will mean limitations or quiet times or some other method.

Conclusion

How do we teach children to recognize the influence of sin in their life and live in the way of God?

Coleridge was once talking with a man who told him that he did not believe in giving little children any religious instruction whatsoever. His theory was that the child’s mind should not be prejudiced in any direction, but when he came to years of discretion he should be permitted to choose his religious opinions for himself.

Coleridge said nothing; but after a while he asked his visitor if he would like to see his garden. The man said he would, and Coleridge took him out into the garden, where only weeds were growing. The man looked at Coleridge in surprise, and said, “Why this is not a garden! There is nothing but weeds here!”

“Well, you see,” answered Coleridge, “I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden in any way, I was just giving the garden a chance to express itself and to choose its own production.”[1]

            What a tremendous responsibility we have as parents to guide our children to righteousness and to life. My prayer for you as parents is that God will help you to make good decisions in that task. The Bible teaches us that discipline is one of the ways in which we will teach our children. In some ways we could say that we discipline our children in order that they will learn to discipline themselves. May God help us in our responsibility.

Prayer for and encouragement of parents to take up the role of example and of discipline.


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[1]P. L. Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : [A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers] (Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979).

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