The Wisdom of Self-Discipline
WHO has not seen a policeman write out a ticket for a car driver who violated some traffic regulation, such as exceeding the speed limit? That might be an instance of a driver’s failing to discipline himself. He may have yielded to the temptation or the impulse to ignore traffic regulations, and so had to be disciplined.
The very laws of cause and effect within our bodies discipline us if we do not discipline ourselves. The inspired writer of Proverbs tells us: “Who has woe? Who has uneasiness? . . . Who has wounds for no reason? Those staying a long time with the wine, those coming in to search out mixed wine.” Without a doubt, one of the main themes of the book of Proverbs is the wisdom of self-discipline.—Prov. 23:29-35.
What is true of individuals can also be applied to whole nations of people. A noted eighteenth-century British statesman once said: “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites.” He made the telling point that “society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.” In other words, the less men discipline themselves, the more they need to be disciplined by their governments, in the interest of peace and safety. There have been striking examples of this when people enjoying a democratic form of government became so lawless that they paved the way for a dictatorship to take over. How much wiser for people to exercise self-restraint than to bring on the loss of cherished liberties!
As a modern-day example: In the spring of 1974 certain government agencies threatened to impose rationing and price controls if the people and industry did not exercise restraint. There is no question about the wisdom of the people’s disciplining themselves in this regard so as to avoid government controls.
WHY WE ALL NEED DISCIPLINE
What do we mean by discipline? The noun “discipline” is defined as “training, especially of the mind or character; . . . punishment; chastisement.” And the verb form of the word means “to train; bring to a condition of order and obedience; bring under control.”
Time and again the Bible enlightens us as to why we all need discipline at times. It all goes back to the willful disobedience of our first parents. That is why “the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” (Gen. 8:21) That is also why King David, when overtaken in serious sins, could plead with Jehovah: “Look! With error I was brought forth with birth pains, and in sin my mother conceived me.”—Ps. 51:5.
Fittingly God’s Word counsels: “Foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy; the rod of discipline is what will remove it far from him.” “Do not hold back discipline from the mere boy. In case you beat him with the rod, he will not die. With the rod you yourself should beat him, that you may deliver his very soul from Sheol itself.”—Prov. 22:15; 23:13, 14.
Because of their inherited imperfections, their lack of knowledge and experience, Christians are counseled to accept readily the discipline administered to them by their heavenly Father: “‘Do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, neither give out when you are corrected by him; for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines; in fact, he scourges every one whom he receives as a son.’ . . . We used to have fathers who . . . used to discipline us according to what seemed good to them, but he [Jehovah] does so for our profit that we may partake of his holiness. 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. 12:5-11.
WHY SELF-DISCIPLINE IS WISDOM
Self-discipline is the course of wisdom for it enables one to have a clear conscience. One who disciplines himself by being conscientious and thorough in his work habits, whether the boss is looking or not—yes, and whether anyone else except himself and God will ever know the difference—will have the satisfaction of having a good conscience.—Col. 3:23.
The same is also true in regard to our relations with others. The one who resists the temptation to tell even little lies will have a better conscience than the one who does not scruple against telling falsehoods as the easy way out.—Eph. 4:25.
Surely, the same must be said where sexual morality is concerned. It takes self-discipline not to let the mind dwell on unclean things, to shun pornographic literature, to resist the temptation to flirt or to toy with sexual immorality. But surely it is the course of wisdom, for then one will be able to say as did the apostle Paul: “I have behaved before God with a perfectly clear conscience down to this day.”—Acts 23:1.
Jesus recommended the course of self-discipline to us when he said: “If ever your hand makes you stumble, cut it off; it is finer for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go off into Gehenna.” “If your foot makes you stumble,” “if your eye makes you stumble,” do likewise with these members of your body.—Mark 9:43-48.
Each one of us knows what his individual weaknesses are. Others may not appreciate our firmness in a certain matter, but we individually know where we must exercise self-discipline to be pleasing to God. The apostle Paul set a fine example for us, for ‘he pummeled his body and led it as a slave so that after having preached to others he might not become disapproved.’—1 Cor. 9:27.