“Discipline” can evokes thoughts of punishment. It certainly stirs in me memories of when, as a young boy, I was in need of an emotionally significant event to help reinforce a lesson in obedience. It didn’t happen often, but I can clearly remember moments when the ‘board of education’ was applied to ‘the seat of knowledge’! Indeed, such discipline can leave us smarting if not smarter.
A child or an adolescent may experience discipline as a punishment for wrong actions – a fear-based deterrent aimed at preventing forbidden behavior. Such a perspective, understandable as it is, is limited by immediate experience and fails to grasp the greater purpose discipline serves.
The author of Hebrews reminds us that God disciplines every child he loves, that they might “share in his holiness.” He writes: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” [12:5-11]
In this passage, the Greek term that is translated as ‘discipline’ is paideia; which means to train and instruct, especially children, through commands, admonitions and, when necessary reproof and correction. The aim is not to close down, limit or restrict, but rather to guide and lead. Paideia leads to a fuller engagement with the world and greater openness to reality. Just as a child is led away from actions and attitudes which could have harmful effects and towards experiences which will call forth wonder, understanding, appreciation and skill, so too God’s discipline leads us away from narrow, rebellious, and self-centered attitudes and actions and into a fuller encounter with the abundant life he calls us to.
Thus, discipline leads to the freedom to receive the gift of being who God calls us to be and doing what He calls us to do. Author and teacher Jerry Sittser puts it this way:
“Freedom as our culture defines it allows us to do anything we want. Freedom as the New Testament defines it, however, allows us to become what God, our Creator and Redeemer, wills. In rejecting the “freedom” of license and embracing biblical freedom, we experience the true freedom of being children of God. Both artists and athletes understand the nature of true freedom. They give up their freedom to do what ever they want, subject themselves to strict discipline, and in the end gain the freedom to perform at the highest levels of artistic and athletic achievement. Loss of freedom actually leads to freedom. It is the freedom of obedience, gained by following a strict regimen of practice.” [J. Sittser, The Will of God as a Way of Life. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervans, 2000) p. 62]
This spring we will be looking at some of the traditional disciplines of the Christian life as pathways to greater freedom in Christ; freedom from the sins that entangle us and freedom to live the abundant, meaningful life Jesus offers. It is my hope that as we look at scripture, hear from guest speakers and explore some practices together, we will gain a fuller “harvest of righteousness and peace.”
GW Carmer, Dec 2011