Really, who seeks discipline?
In our pleasure-seeking culture and churches so inundated with the gospel of self-gratification: Not Many! Yet for those who know Christ and are known by him, discipline is not a pain to be avoided, but a necessary and blessed part of the Christian life. As Thabiti Anyabwile shows in his chapter on the subject in What is a Healthy Church Member?, formative and corrective discipline are actually “means of grace” that lead to life, liberty, and eternal happiness (cf. Heb. 12:3-11; 2 Tim 3:16-17; and Matt 18:15-20). For a biblical perspective, consider these wise words:
Proverbs 3:11-12: My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Proverbs 9:9: Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
Proverbs 27:5-6: Better is open rebukethan hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
With that said, seeking discipline is not easy. It requires the work of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a God-given boldness (2 Tim 1:7). Still, while we depend on God’s work in us, there are practical ways that we can grow, as we trust God to work in us as we seek him. Here are five:
1. Personal Discipline. Practice the personal spiritual disciplines on a regular basis. These include Bible intake (reading, meditating, memorizing, studying), prayerr, evangelism, giving, and others. An excellent resource for developing these personal disciplines is Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Discipline for the Christian Life. Don’s website is also a treasure trove for resources on cultivating a life devoted to Christ and his word.
2. Informed Discipline. Learn more on what the Bible teaches about Church Discipline. You could do this by doing inductive Bible studies on some of the key bibliclal passages: Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5; Hebrews 12:3ff; and by reading a good book on the subject. An excellent introduction to the topic is Jay Adam’s book, simply titled, A Handbook on Church Discipline. Other resources can be accessed at the IX Marks website.
3. Formative Discipline. Avail yourself of every form of Bible teaching and discipleship that your church offers. If you are at a church that loves and labors to teach the whole counsel of Scripture, why wouldn’t you? Church discipline is not merely corrective, it is also constructive, and one of the best ways to grow up in Christ is through the regular intake of Bible teaching available at your church.
4. Corrective Discipline. Memorize the steps of Matthew 7:1-5 (as it pertains to the individual in corrective discipline) and Matthew 18:15-20 (as it pertains to the steps of the church in cases of corrective discipline). This action step builds on step 2, which requires an informed understanding of God’s reasoning(s) for church purity and unity. Corrective church discipline is God’s ordained means for handling sin in the church, and though painful, the end result is good for the offending party and the good of Christ’s church.
5. Proactive (“Rescuing”) Discipline. James concludes his epistle with a heart-felt appeal to reach out to church members coming perilously close to destruction. He says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19-20). Ultimately, the aim of church discipline is restoration and rescue, not humiliation and accusation. Consequently, church discipline cannot be something that we evade; it must be something we embrace–individually and collectively. Like James and Jude, we must “save others by snatching them out of the fire” as we have opportunity, all the while “hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). In this way, we grow together as healthy church members.
For more on the subject of church discipline, check out this months’ e-Journal by the guys at IX Marks.