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DISCIPLESHIP (13) Discipline As Disciples


The first definition of “discipline” is “Systematic training or subjection to authority; especially, the training of the mental, moral, and physical powers by instruction and exercise.” In Lesson One of this series, I observed:

“In the Greek world of Jesus’ day, a disciple was one learning information or conduct from an “authority” (or personal teacher) on whom the disciple depended.”

In other words, a disciple is one who is being disciplined by his Master. The two words have similar meaning and spelling.

While discipline is often used to refer to punishment, the base meaning is training. When punishment is the meaning, it is punishment for the purpose of training, not mere abuse.

Why Discipline Is Needed

Disciples are to be disciplined people. In fact, an “undisciplined disciple” is an oxymoron. Paul gives the reason for discipline in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. There he compared the disciple’s mission to an athlete competing in a race or a fight. The Olympic champion succeeds because he endures strict training to win a laurel wreath crown that will soon wilt. But Paul says, we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Because this is serious stuff, he added, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.

Being a disciple of Jesus is too important for our training regimen to be haphazard. We not only need discipline, we need purposeful training so our mission of walking as Jesus walked may be fulfilled.

Paul said he disciplined himself. Two chapters later (1 Corinthians 11:31-32) he added if we do not judge ourselves we will be disciplined by the Lord. This context is discussing the Lord’s Supper. He just said a man ought to examine himself before he eats the bread and drinks the cup (v. 28). This has discipline as its purpose. Self-control is certainly implied in this text: wait for each other instead of going ahead without considering others – with the result that one is drunk and another is hungry (cf. v. 33 and v. 21).

How Do We Learn Discipline?

Solomon wrote the Book of Proverbs so we can acquire a disciplined and prudent life (Proverbs 1:3). In it he gives advice on how to live and makes observations on human nature. Some listen to that advice – and are both blessed and a blessing to those around them. Others foolishly reject that advice with disastrous consequences. The disciple of Jesus sits at the feet of “One greater than Solomon” (Luke 11:31). To reject his advice is even more disastrous – and to follow it is even more of a blessing.

Yet, God does not leave us alone without his intervention. While his teaching is all in the Scripture, there is still God’s discipline. He is not a doting Father who spoils his children. Life conducts a school for us – The University of Hard Knocks. The school colors are Black and Blue. God is the headmaster, and in this school we are disciplined for our own good because God loves us (Hebrews 12:4-11; cf. Proverbs 3:11-12). If life were always easy, we would not learn the discipline that makes us more like Jesus.

What Are We Disciplined To Do?

An army is under discipline so it can fight. We learn discipline so we can walk as Jesus walked (cf. 1 John 2:6). This is always at the heart of the Christian message. Paul, the expert builder (1 Corinthians 3:10), instructed his protégée in some things he needed to know about discipline (or training): Stay away from myths and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7-8). The godless myths and old wives’ tales mentioned here are likely based in early Gnosticism, a system that suggested esoteric knowledge was the way to come to God. Paul said, “Just stick to godliness.”

He added that physical training has some value, but godliness has value for all things. Physical training here is probably not the exercise you get in the gym. It is likely rules and regulations that try to guide the Christian into the life of a disciple. Such rules, Paul said in Colossians 2:21-23, appear wise but lack value in restraining sensual indulgence. Human rules cannot develop spiritual qualities. Yet, the appearance of wisdom and humility in them can be deceptive. Many religious systems are based on human rules that try to impose the life of the disciple on the Christian. They are all doomed to failure.

On the other hand, godliness holds promise for both time and eternity (1Timothy 4:8). The next verses add that we put our hope in the living God, not in the rules of men.

If not rules, then what? How about character? This certainly seems to be the focus in Titus 1:8. An elder must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. The disciplined man is a man of Christ-like character and conduct. He does not merely follow rules of conduct; he acts with right conduct because Christ is living in his heart.

An illustration of this can be seen in James 3. This chapter, which deals with controlling the tongue, starts by admitting that if anyone can control his tongue he is perfect and able to control the whole body. He adds that no man can tame the tongue. Does this mean that our tongues cannot be disciplined? No. He just says we cannot do it. But Christ in our heart can tame our tongues, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).

The last part of James 3 illustrates the point again. In verses 13-18 he speaks of two different kinds of wisdom: that which is from heaven and that which is from the devil. One leads to confusion and evil works; the other is pure, peace loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial and sincere. Such wisdom bears good fruit shown by a good life and good deeds. When Christ lives in us, when he is our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30), we have wisdom from above, and our lives have discipline.

Concluding Observations

The disciple of Jesus is not one who whines when life is tough. He knows he has not yet suffered as Jesus suffered. When he falls into sin he does not complain, “The devil made me do it.” He does not have a “victim mentality” that tries to make excuses for sin by saying, “I just couldn’t help it” or “I only did what anyone in my situation would have done.”

He faces up to the fact that his choices have consequences – and that actions bear fruit. But he also appreciates the loving mercy of God while accepting the challenge of holy living in Christ. The mercy of God gives him forgiveness – but it also leads him to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Repentance comes because his love for Christ makes him truly sorry for his sin and weakness. This love makes him seek God’s righteousness in every action and attitude. As Jesus said, if you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).

It is his love for Jesus that ultimately disciplines him. Love for the Lord keeps him from being satisfied with less than his best, but always pressing on the upward way. He does not boast of his achievements – for he knows he has far to go before he is completely like Jesus. To be with Jesus is his goal and his passion. Nothing else will satisfy the deepest yearning of his heart.


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– (14) The Spiritual Disciplines


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– (12) The Disciple And The World

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