How Should You View Discipline?
YOU probably have known someone—maybe a fellow student, a neighbor, or even a teacher—who never wanted to admit to making a mistake or being wrong. How do you feel personally about someone like that? Would your opinion of him go up or down if one day he came right out and said, “I’m sorry; I see I was wrong”?
Really, we all make mistakes, do we not? That is because none of us are perfect, or faultless, in the full sense of the word. The Bible tells us that. It shows that, due to our first parent Adam’s disobedience, all men are born with an inheritance of imperfection, sin.—Rom. 5:12.
Not all mistakes come from just ‘not knowing.’ Many mistakes are because of not caring. For example, on an airplane flight over water a passenger might pay no attention when the stewardess explains the proper use of life jackets or the plane’s oxygen supplies. If, during a sudden emergency, the passenger failed to use these provisions and lost his life, it would not be simply because he did not know. It would be because he did not care to know.
So not all wrongs a person commits can be chalked up to simple error. Willful ignorance is often the cause. Worse, a person may do what he knows is wrong—excusing himself for some reason or other that looks good to him at the time.
All this shows our need for discipline, which involves correction. We all need correction, no matter whether we are young or old. In fact, if there were no discipline or correction there could be no progress—in any field of human living. People would keep on making the same mistakes, believing the same wrong ideas, never advancing in knowledge or ability.
Discipline means more than just instruction. It is training that corrects, molds, strengthens, or perfects. So, it often involves reproof; it can include punishment or chastisement, though this does not have to be the case. But it is never punishment just for the sake of punishment—it is always done with a view to correction and improvement for the future.
WHY HARD TO TAKE
But if discipline is so beneficial, why do most persons find it so hard to take? The same cause that makes us need discipline, namely, imperfection, also makes it hard for us to accept it.
Discipline can cause us to feel embarrassed, hurt or discouraged. The Bible recognizes that discipline does bring some unpleasantness. The apostle Paul writes: “True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.”—Heb. 12:11.
Humility takes most of the sting out of discipline. Many persons, however, let pride and stubbornness cause them to resist discipline. But when the correction or reproof is well founded, and others can see that it is, the person who stubbornly rejects it simply makes himself look foolish in the eyes of those observing. Some politicians are like this, trying to “weasel out” of responsibility for false or rash statements made, or wrong deeds committed. But who wants to have a reputation like theirs? God’s Word says: Wisdom and discipline are what mere fools have despised.”—Prov. 1:7.
By contrast, we read: “Give a reproof to a wise person and he will love you.” Why? Because he knows that through correction “he will become still wiser.” Yes, “a wise person will listen and take in more instruction, and a man of understanding is the one who acquires skillful direction.”—Prov. 9:8, 9; 1:5.
HOW WILL YOU REACT?
The real question, then, is: What do you want to do with your life? Do you just want to drift along, doing only what you feel like doing? Or are you willing to work toward a worthwhile future? God’s Word advises: “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, in order that you may become wise in your future.”—Prov. 19:20.
We can find discipline more pleasant if we always remember that it is God’s arrangement. That is why Psalm 50:17 says that anyone who hates discipline is, in effect, ‘throwing God’s words behind him.’ Discipline rightly comes from an authorized source. God has assigned that job to parents, for they are responsible for their children’s lives. (Prov. 1:8, 9; Eph. 6:4) And, within the Christian congregation, God has provided spiritually “older men” who are “able both to exhort by the teaching that is healthful and to reprove those who contradict.”—Titus 1:5-9.
Remember, too, that those disciplining us are not trying to “hobble” us so that we are cramped in walking life’s highway. Rather, they are trying to help us make fast and pleasant progress. Discipline protects against harmful accidents, keeps us free from the things that will tie us up with disagreeable problems, making our way difficult or even sidetracking us on a dead-end road. (Prov. 5:11-13, 22, 23) If we accept correction, the Bible promises: “When you walk, your pace will not be cramped; and if you run, you will not stumble. Take hold on discipline; do not let go. Safeguard it, for it itself is your life.”—Prov. 4:10-13.
Do you sometimes feel inclined to resent your parents’ discipline? Suppose they just let you go your own way, paid no attention, gave no correction. Would that show genuine love? Is that not the way men who father illegitimate children usually do—ignoring their offspring? Do we want to be treated like that? Using that same illustration, the apostle Paul reminds us that discipline is really an evidence of God’s love and interest in us.—Heb. 12:4-10; compare Proverbs 3:11, 12.
If you find yourself getting upset over someone’s offering counsel or reproof, stop and ask yourself this: Why did they take the time and effort to do it? Just because they enjoy it? In most cases you can see that giving reproof is not exactly pleasant and easy for them. But they do it because they care enough about you to make the effort. That alone should be enough to make you think seriously about what they say and make you try to understand their reasons.—Prov. 17:10.
True, it takes strength to face up to our mistakes. But we can go to God in prayer and ask for the strength and courage to shoulder the blame and apply the reproof, seeing its rightness and benefiting from it with a right spirit, as David did. (Ps. 51:1, 2, 10-12; Isa. 26:16) We can be like the apostle Peter. He was publicly reproved by the apostle Paul for a certain wrong course of action. But Peter was man enough, and above all Christian enough, to take the reproof. He harbored no resentment and later referred to Paul as “our beloved brother.”—Gal. 2:11-14; 2 Pet. 3:15, 16.
Of course, you don’t need to wait for others to correct you. You can practice “self-discipline.” By being alert, you can recognize many of your own mistakes and take steps to correct them.—1 Cor. 11:31, 32.
So many benefits come from being receptive to discipline. To admit mistakes or faults in a straightforward way gives one a healthier, cleaner feeling inside. It strengthens one’s heart and mind for what is right. It makes for good relations with others; they recognize you as a person who is honest, humble and balanced, refreshingly different from so many persons today. And, most important, it assures you God’s approval and blessing. Yes, “the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.”—Prov. 6:23.