The Disciplined Life (Proverbs 12)

It’s not often that you get away with calling someone stupid is it? But that’s exactly what Solomon does in Proverbs 12.

” To learn, you must love discipline;

it is stupid to hate correction.”Our theme is the Disciplined Life. When we talk about discipline and correction, it makes sense when we think about training and learning. Athletes need discipline to succeed. We think of that in terms of the willingness to

Get up early every day and go through a training routine

To be self-controlled about what you eat and drink

To forego over hobbies and interests in the single-minded pursuit of success

To willingly endure pain to build up strength and stamina

There’s something of this sense of discipline throughout Proverbs 12. It’s another way of looking at prudence.  The Disciplined life includes

Doing good (v2)

Stability (v3)

Faithful relationships (v4)

Planning (v5)

Common Sense (v8)

Humility and a realistic assessment of life (v 9-10)

But there’s more to discipline than this. Discipline includes correction -being challenged and rebuked when you get things wrong. For the athlete this is vital. They need to know about the mistakes they make that cost them time, scoring opportunities, protection against counter attack etc.  Similarly; musicians, actors, artists benefit from being challenged and corrected. It’s true when we study. If I’m learning a new language and I’m pronouncing a word wrong, it’s better to be told in the classroom than to make a fool of myself in public. Though, if we are honest, most of us struggle with feedback. We too quickly hear the criticism and go on the defensive.

Children need discipline and this is one of the key images in Proverbs (see 3:1  13:1).  Hebrews also picks up this theme and tells us that God disciplines us like a father disciples his child because of, not despite, the fact that he loves him.

A child needs correction because if they grow up failing to learn the lessons of life then

  1. They may put themselves in physical danger if they aren’t aware of boundaries and risks
  2. They put themselves in moral and spiritual danger. danger when they refuse to live by the boundaries of God’s Law.

And so, we as spiritual children need the discipline of a heavenly father.  If we’re honest, we are not so keen on the use of the word discipline in that kind of context. When we talk about church discipline, we fear that it will mean heavy shepherding.  And yet, the Bible is very clear that healthy churches will exercise discipline (Matthew 13, 1 Corinthians 5).

The word sounds harsh because we associate it with punishment.  We then think of God not so much as a loving father but as a harsh school master or policeman.

That’s why I find Psalm 6 helpful.

O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger     or discipline me in your rage.

The Psalmist’s fear is that God’s rebuke will come in the context of his anger and rage – or his wrath.  God has every right to do this (Romans 1:16ff). But if God’s rebuke comes in the context of wrath then it will lead to our spiritual destruction as we face the penalty of sin -death, hell, separation from God for ever.

This reminds me that the Gospel is good news because Christ bore the wrath of God at Calvary. I do not have to fear the punishment of God.  This gives me the liberty to hear God speak to me, to challenge me, to rebuke me. It means I can experience the trials and tests of life knowing that through them, God is disciplining me, not to punish me but to grow me in Christ.[1]

Accepting and even learning to love ~God’s discipline means that

  1. I will be willing to read and pay attention to the whole of Scripture, not just the bits I agree with
  2. I will be willing to pay attention when Scripture challenges me and disagrees with me.
  3. I will seek out the counsel and feedback of believers I can trust to speak truthfully to me, not just those who say what I want to hear.
  4. I will stick at it as a member of my local church even, and especially when I find it challenging, when the sermons make me feel uncomfortable and when people tell me what I don’t want to hear
  5. I will persevere through suffering knowing that God uses the storms of life for my good and his glory.

 

[1] For further reflections, see also Timothy Keller, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness (2012) where Keller talks about humility as self -forgetfulness. We tend to respond to criticism either by being overwhelmed by it (low self-esteem) or by trying to ignore it (pride. Keller says that the believer can avoid both pitfalls by seeing these things as God’s gifts for his growth.

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