Can You Accept Discipline?
‘NOWADAYS parents only beat the tam tam (dancing drum), not their children.’ This comment was heard from the mouths of some schoolgirls in a college in Africa. What did they mean? That discipline was out of fashion. Parents did not want to administer it, and the children were quite happy not to receive it.
Are these wise attitudes? According to a dictionary, discipline is basically “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” Can anyone really do without that kind of discipline? Why did those African schoolgirls—and their parents—think that they could?
Actually, a negative attitude toward discipline is not limited to African schoolgirls and their parents. It seems that most people today view any counsel or discipline as unwarranted interference with their freedom, a curtailment of their rights. However, such an attitude is not peculiar to the 20th century. Thousands of years ago, God himself noted that “the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” (Genesis 8:21) Pointing to the end result of thousands of years of such a bad inclination, the apostle Paul wrote: “Men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride.” (2 Timothy 3:2-4) No wonder discipline is unpopular!
Is Discipline Really So Bad?
Does a Christian really need discipline? Well, Jesus said that the road to life is “cramped.” (Matthew 7:13, 14) It is easy to wander off of it. So would it not be wise to accept discipline, training, as the dictionary calls it? Consider the case of a traveler who accidentally wanders out of his way and ends up uncomfortably close to a dangerous area. If a stranger offered to show him how to get back on his route, how would he react? Would he angrily reject the help, insisting that he has the right to go where he desires? Would he charge the friendly stranger with infringing on his rights? Hardly. He would be grateful for the help offered.
So the wise Christian is grateful when help is offered in the way of kindly discipline. The words of the prophet are true no matter what our age or experience in life: “I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) Hence, all of us need discipline.
They Rejected Discipline
One who rejected discipline was Cain, who was jealous of his brother Abel. Seeing that Cain was beginning to wander from the right path, Jehovah himself admonished him, asking: “Why are you hot with anger and why has your countenance fallen? If you turn to doing good, will there not be an exaltation? But if you do not turn to doing good, there is sin crouching at the entrance, and for you is its craving; and will you, for your part, get the mastery over it?” (Genesis 4:6, 7) Cain did not listen. He killed his brother Abel and thus introduced murder into human history.—Genesis 4:8-16.
In the days of Samuel, the sons of Eli also did not accept discipline. Their father was the high priest at Jehovah’s sanctuary, but his sons used their position to steal from the offerings and induce women to commit immorality with them. Their father reprimanded them—rather weakly—but they did not listen. The result? Their rejection of discipline led to their being killed in battle, and the shock of the news caused the death of Eli himself.—1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22-25; 3:11-18; 4:1-4, 10-18.
Others, however, did accept discipline. David, a king and a man of war, committed a horrible crime when he caused the death of Uriah, the man with whose wife David had committed adultery. But David accepted the reprimand God sent through the prophet Nathan, and thus Jehovah did not reject him completely. (2 Samuel 12:1-14) Yes, discipline can help us to recover even from very serious sins.
Job was counseled by the young man Elihu and could have angrily rejected the counsel. Although Job had suffered terribly at the hands of Satan, he had refused to “curse God and die.” With such a record, he might have seen no reason to listen to the counsel of this young man. Job did listen, though, and learned that, despite his integrity, his attitude needed some adjusting. Then he was privileged to receive counsel from Jehovah himself and finally he was rewarded with many blessings. (Job 2:9, 10; 32:6; 42:12-16) Thus, discipline can help even those with outstanding records of endurance and faithfulness.
The apostle Peter, too, received discipline. Remember, Peter was an apostle of Jesus Christ, a witness of Jesus’ transfiguration, and the one to whom Christ entrusted “the keys of the kingdom.” (Matthew 16:18, 19) Yet, on one occasion the apostle Paul, a relatively new follower of Jesus, publicly disciplined Peter for his conduct in the Antioch congregation. Peter evidently accepted the discipline, for later he spoke of “our beloved brother Paul.” (2 Peter 3:15; Galatians 2:11-14) Hence, a Christian with many privileges may also expect to receive discipline.
Modern Christians and Discipline
In the congregation, we should not be surprised to receive counsel from any mature person. But the ones who are particularly charged with the responsibility of watching over our interests are the appointed elders. It is to these spiritual shepherds that the Bible says: “You ought to know positively the appearance of your flock. Set your heart to your droves.”—Proverbs 27:23.
It may help us to accept discipline if we realize that it takes real love, as well as courage, for elders to give counsel. Elders are often rebuffed when they try to help. For example, one African elder spoke to a longtime Christian, warning her that she was getting involved in something unchristian. It was difficult to give that counsel, and this was not made any easier when she took offense. Eventually, the counsel was rejected, and the one to whom it was offered refused to have anything further to do with the elder who had tried to help her. How much wiser if she had remembered that ‘wounds inflicted by a loving friend are faithful’!—Proverbs 27:6.
Discipline can help us to apply another Bible proverb: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty.” (Proverbs 22:3) Those words would have helped a Christian man in the same country. He got into the habit of going to public restaurants without his wife and child. This disturbed some because in that area the waitresses in many of the restaurants were really prostitutes looking for customers. So several times the local elders spoke to this man about the matter. But he rejected the counsel, often quite vehemently. Finally, he fell into the trap of immorality. How much wiser to have heeded the well-intentioned counsel!
If we forget our own viewpoint for a moment and try to see things as Jehovah sees them, we will more readily accept discipline. True, discipline may be an unwelcome reminder of our own imperfections. It may make us lose face a little. But think of how pleased Jehovah is when his servants act wisely and avoid falling into sin. “Be wise, my son,” his Word says, “and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.” (Proverbs 27:11) If we can swallow our pride and accept the discipline offered, we will be among those who give Jehovah an answer to the challenges of Satan.
Discipline Yields Good Fruitage
As we have seen, discipline is for all of us. It is needed by men and women, young and old, those who have been in the truth a long time and the newer ones. Hence, we should expect discipline, even look for it. Study God’s Word and notice what it says that serves as counsel for you. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) Attend meetings and listen carefully to see what applies to you. (Hebrews 10:24, 25) If loving Scriptural discipline is offered on a personal basis, by all means accept it in the spirit in which it is offered. Take advantage of any corrective training that comes from Jehovah.
Paul told the Hebrews: “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.” (Hebrews 12:11) Thus, although discipline may hurt at times, it results in good. Accepting discipline can help us to be among those who please Jehovah. Discipline will help us to ‘walk faultlessly, practice righteousness, and speak the truth in our heart.’ (Psalm 15:1, 2) Therefore, may all of us accept discipline.