True Love in Action

Mike Cunningham
September 22, 2013
“The older I get, the more I wish my father had disciplined me more often than he did, and the more I grow in Christ, the more I pray for my heavenly Father’s loving discipline. When we’re immature we see discipline as a negative thing, but as we grow we begin to see it as one of the most enduring blessings of life. Discipline assures us that we’re loved and cared for. It shows us to whom we belong. It demonstrates we are worth another’s time and energy. It makes us confront, confess and repent of our sins. It humbles us, brings us to our knees to weep over our sin, and draws us close to the embracing arms of our loving protector.”

“Those without discipline are orphans. Parents who don’t discipline their children are emotionally and spiritually abusing their children, and are setting them on a path of self-destruction. Pastors who don’t discipline their people by preaching the unvarnished Word of God in season and out of season are not good shepherds but masked thieves. Churches that do not consistently practice church discipline are not churches at all. And it we do not receive the discipline of God, it means we are not His children and that He is not our Father. For “the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives…for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline…then you are illegitimate children and not sons,” (Hebrews 12:6-8). The Lord disciplines those he loves-those He adores and has adopted into His family. Discipline is one of the surest signs of our adoption-that we belong to God and are loved by God in a special, saving way. Without it, we are illegitimate-children of the devil, not children of God, (John 8:44).

“Without sin, discipline would not be necessary. And to be made aware that we are sinners-to be awakened to the reality of our deadness in sin-is the first stage of discipline. Our conversion to Christ is God’s first gracious act of discipline in our lives-bringing us to repentance and faith in the One who was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon whom was the Father’s ultimate discipline that brought us peace, and by whose wounds we are healed, (Isaiah 53:5).”

“Although discipline is painful for a moment, it leads to lasting, restorative joy. As members of the church, we are all under church discipline in that we have submitted ourselves to the discipline of the church and attend weekly to the discipline of the preached Word. The first step of discipline is admonition, and we come each week because we know how desperately we need to be admonished, to repent of our sins, to reaffirm our confession of Christ, and to receive our Father’s assurance of pardon and benediction that carries us through the week, reminding us that our loving Father lifts up the light of His countenance upon us and makes His face to shine upon us that we might be blessed and kept to live Coram Deo, before His smiling face.” Burk Parsons, August 2013 TABLETALK, P. 2.

“Parents see the benefits of discipline more easily than their children. When I was a child, I never quite bought the idea that I was being punished because my parents loved me. I didn’t size it up that way. Acting as my own defense attorney, I rehearsed in my mind the severity of my punishment; I considered the hastiness of the verdict, the disproportion between the crime and the punishment. I milked my self-pity and cried into my pillow. Unfair! Only when I was older did I view discipline through a clearer lens. Of course, now I’m glad for my parents’ loving discipline.”

“But what about God’s discipline! Are we grateful for it? Do we see His love in it?”

“As believers, we struggle to apply this childhood lesson in our walk of faith. We often view God’s discipline from a childish perspective. We suffer-prompting us to ask, why? When bad things happen to God’s people, we puzzle in wonder or frustration or doubt. We question God’s wisdom. We question God’s motives. Like the parental discipline we faced as children, we questioned the severity of the suffering, the aptness, the justness of the trial. Why should I go through this pain?”

“This certainly fits the situation being addressed in the book of Hebrews. The writer urges the Hebrew Christians to consider their current trials and suffering with spiritual maturity. He encourages them to remember God’s ways with His children. They needed a reminder.” “Don’t we all?”

“The writer expands on this theme. He points those beleaguered believers to the love of human parenting. Our earthly parents “disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them.” By saying, “as seemed best to them,” the writer indicated that our parents weren’t without fault. They worked on raising us as best they could-and “we respected them for it. Under normal circumstances, as grown-ups, we appreciate our parent’s efforts in raising us, especially when we have children of our own. We respect our parents because they tried to better us and develop our character. Honestly, we must pity persons who were never taught how to guard their hearts, resist their impulses or bridle their tongues.”

“But God doesn’t discipline us “as seems best” rather, He, ”disciplines us for our good” in order that “we may share in His holiness.” There’s no question here as to whether God knows what He’s doing. There is never anything uninformed, misguided, or unfair in His child-rearing efforts. Is it pleasant? The writer to the Hebrews says it isn’t. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (12:12a). There is no getting around that-discipline is distasteful. It is corrective. It steers us in a new direction. It forces us out of the ruts of sinful attitudes, actions, thoughts and words. It makes us look at our habits from a better, more biblical perspective. Thought the path is painful, its rewards are blessed: “Later on … it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (v.11b).”

“The story of Job helps us in this regard. Job suffered the severest of trials of faith. The tragedies that afflicted his life were not because he was a sinner or because of his sins. He was tested because he was faithful (Job 1:1,8; 2:3). Satan had one purpose in Job’s trials, but God had another. Recall that Job lost most of his family, as well as his wealth and his health-all this is so crucially timed. Even his wife abandoned him. Her council: “Curse God and die!” (2:9). Job suffered all these terrors; and then he suffered under the accusation of three so-called friends who informed him that bad things don’t happen to good people, that Job was afflicted because of his sins. Their council: “Repent!” (8:5-6; 15:4-5); and more). Job, however, was a man instructed in the Word of God, and so he argued his case against his would-be comforters. He also argued with God. Staggering in bewilderment, he called God to account. He wanted God to explain. God did finally speak, but it was Job who came under divine interrogation, not the Lord (chapter 38).”

“Job repented in dust and ashes (42:6). He repented for not trusting God in the midst of his suffering. He repented for “losing heart” and for doubting Gods justice and good purpose for him through his suffering. He repented for questioning God’s wisdom and favor and love. He repented for failing to see that God uses the trials that he faced for his good. And that is what the writer to the Hebrews is saying as well. God uses our trials as discipline “for our good.”

“Are you being corrected and “trained” by the hardship you endure? Are you becoming a fit disciple of Christ from God’s fatherly discipline? God’s fatherly discipline is for believers only; it is for disciples. Now doubt, unbelievers can also learn a lot from the hard knocks of life, and as a result they might become a better people because of trials. But life’s hard knocks don’t sanctify them. They aren’t being made into Jesus’ disciples through suffering. God’s discipline toward His children, however, is sanctifying. His discipline is love in action, for He loves us not by spoiling us but by correcting us. He is making us disciples.”

“If God’s voice of discipline is in your ears-perhaps difficult circumstances are making you pause to listen to His voice-you’re wise and obedient only when you bid good-bye to unbelief, break ties with sin, and leave behind without regret your wayward habits, attitudes, grudges questions, or self-pity. Do that, and trust in God along with it, learning to pray, “Lord, your will, not my will, be done.” Dr. J. Mark Beach, ibid: pgs. 7-9).

“From the time of the Reformers, in order to distinguish between a true church and a false church, theologians have described three “marks” of the church: the proper preaching of the Word of God, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the proper administration of church discipline. While it is not controversial to think that a true church would teach God’s Word and obey God’s command to observe the sacraments many Christians would doubt church discipline is necessary to have a true church. In reality, however, the idea of church discipline is an essential parallel to the first two marks. After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us that it is not enough for the Word to be properly taught and preached, but that it must be obeyed and acted on, (Romans 2:13; James 1:22). And how can the church properly administer the sacraments without determining to whom they apply? Church discipline is the mechanism that the Lord has decreed for the designating and building up of His church, the family of God.”

“The church is not just an organization-it is the living embodiment of God’s purpose and plan to redeem sinners and reconcile them to Himself. The same believer in Jesus Christ who is justified by faith is also adopted by faith. Our great triune God is not satisfied with His people being declared not guilty before His judgment seat, (Romans 5:1).” “He also makes each redeemed sinner His child, a part of the family of God, (John 1:1-2). When we view the church as a family, we then begin to see the purpose and blessing of church discipline. Just as fathers and mothers who dearly love their children must take the time to correct and encourage them, pastors and elders who love the Lord and the Lord’s people must take the time to correct and encourage them.”

“In order to better appreciate the place of discipline in the life of the church, we must view discipline through a biblical lens rather than individual instances of which we may have heard (or experienced). The word discipline brings up images of a trial, judgment and punishment that can put us immediately on the defensive. But that is not the primary biblical usage of discipline.”

“Biblical discipline is more closely related to another well-known biblical word, disciple. A disciple is one who is taught (Matthew 10:24), and in the New Testament, disciple has special reference to learning to observe all the commandments of Jesus, (28:19-20).”

“In a similar way, discipline is learning the ways of the Lord. Paul uses it in this sense in Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In fact, the New Testament word for discipline is the same Greek word that is used for education or instruction (especially of children) in a broader sense. To discipline someone is to train them up in the way that they should go (Proverbs 22:6), and to build up one who is dear (Hebrews 12:5-11) out of love (Revelation 3:19).

Hebrews 12:5-11 (MSG)
5 So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either.
6 It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects.
7 God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training,
8 the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God?
9 We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live?
10 While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best.
11 At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.

“This biblical model also helps us to understand that church discipline is necessary for our growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. If discipline is the work of a loving father to instruct his child, how can we refuse to accept discipline from our Heavenly Father? The Lord has given under-shepherds to His church for the purpose of building up and equipping the flock, and He uses these shepherds to discipline His people.”

Ephesians 4:11-16 (NIV)
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

“First and foremost, the discipline starts with instruction from the Word of God. Church discipline should never begin at the stage of some kind of formal action. It begins with the leaders of the church giving guidance, instruction, and admonition from the Bible. In order to be built up by the Lord, we must know the commands of the Lord. In order to be set on the right path, we must know the ways of the Lord. In a very real sense, if we do not desire to be part of a church that practices church discipline, we are giving up the privilege of being instructed and constrained by God’s Word.”

“If church discipline is a mark of a true church, and if it is an extension of God’s loving discipline of His children, why is it not practiced in more churches? Why is it so lightly esteemed? The answer to such questions is often found in the way that church discipline is (miss) practiced. Just like parents should take care to faithfully and biblically apply discipline to their children, leaders in the church must use their authority with consistency and love…but we cannot ever forget that church discipline is an exercise of love. That means that church discipline should not be something that is trotted out only if a situation seems beyond repair. Discipline is not a “final straw” where judgment is pronounced. Biblical church discipline is a culture of accountability, growth, forgiveness, and grace that should permeate our churches. Each member of a church has a responsibility to help others as they struggle with sin-not through judgment and criticism, but rather with gentleness and an eye toward restoration, knowing that he too is subject to temptation (Galatians 6:1). Matthew 18 does nor describe some kind of alternative to litigation; it is a primer on how we lovingly engage one another, patiently exhausting lesser steps (for example, going in person) before moving to greater ones (for example, taking it to the church).”
“Church leaders must always remember that the authority they possess with respect to discipline does not come from themselves, but it is Christ’s shepherding authority. It is Christ’s church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18) and He is the one building her up to be spotless (Ephesians 5:27). Leaders must therefore make every effort to avoid acting in a domineering or tyrannical manner simply to resolve problems quickly (1Peter 5:3), or showing partiality in disciplining some while ignoring others (James 2:1). Members should know that the process of discipline is not a secretive method of punishment but is rather God’s way to restore sinners, heal relationships, and honor His Word. Leaders should not be afraid for church discipline to be seen in the light of day, while at the same time they should employ every effort to protect the reputations of members from unnecessary publicity and potential gossip. The end sought is not simply resolution but the strengthening of individual believers and the whole body of Christ.”
Ibid. Rev. Fred Greco, pgs. 22-25.

Although there is much more I can say about this issue, I’m hoping that I have given you folks enough biblical evidence to convince every one of you that church discipline is a wonderful example of TRUE LOVE IN ACTION.

Lord willing, next week….

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September 22, 2013 Posted by Categories: Uncategorized Tagged with:

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