In Part 1, we were reminded that if we are too focused on the wrong thing, God – out of love – may discipline us, to get our attention and get us back onto the right path. “Discipline” is a word that can come with a lot of baggage, though, so let’s take a closer look.
This may be an oversimplification, but I differentiate discipline from punishment, even if the two can often overlap:
- Punishment is an implementation of justice. When a law is broken, there are consequences. God provides certain organizations with authority in this world (see Romans 13:1-7), whose role includes the meting out of justice, which often includes punishment for crimes. Punishment deters wrongdoing by establishing unpleasant outcomes for those who break the law, and – in some cases – provides compensation for those (whether individuals or society in general) who have been harmed.
- Discipline is a result of love. When a loving parent* sees his or her children taking actions that will cause harm to either the child or to others, we don’t want them to continue in this direction, so we discipline them. When one of my children is disrespectful to his mother, having to take a break from electronic entertainment is much less harmful than letting him grow up to be disrespectful to other authority, which could make it difficult to get a job, stay out of jail, or keep out of fights.
Punishment can be a means of discipline, but not every punishment is discipline, and certain kinds of discipline (especially the self-imposed kind, used for strengthening ourselves) are not punishment. Don’t get me wrong, eating right and exercising (whether physically or spiritually) may be challenging, and can be confused with punishment (like when a parent tells a child to eat fruits or vegetables before having a dessert), but they are a means to a better end.
I’m no perfect father, but I want my children to grow up as both righteous followers of Jesus, and as valuable members of society. Sometimes, this means that I can’t let things go when they stray too far off of the path. God, however, takes this to a whole new level, both knowing us perfectly, and knowing what we need.
See Hebrews 12:9-11, a little farther along in the same chapter cited in Part 1.
Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather 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, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Hebrews 12:9-11 NASB
So, the next time you can’t figure out why things don’t go well for you when you do what you want, or why you feel lousy when you sin, read through the entire section of Hebrews 12:4-11. Take a careful look at your life, and seek out any places where you’ve wandered from the narrow path that God wants you to walk. We live in a fallen world, and sometimes, we will experience challenges, conflict, and chaos, even if we are following God’s direction. However, in some cases, we’ve taken our eye off of our destination, and God is lovingly guiding us back onto the path.
- Let’s be clear, not every earthly father disciplines out of love, and I realize that it is difficult for some to separate abuse – which they are familiar with – from loving discipline. For those who are struggling with this, I encourage you to soak up as much as you can from the Bible about God’s mercy, grace, and love. There are some pretty good examples of loving earthly fathers, too, but seeing that may require setting aside some painful memories for a while, and that’s not easy. Healing can be a long road, but I pray for your comfort – and perseverance – as you work through this.