“Those whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.”—HEB. 12:6.
1. How is discipline often presented in the Bible?
WHEN you hear the word “discipline,” what comes to mind? Perhaps you immediately think of punishment, but much more is involved. In the Bible, discipline is often presented in an appealing light, at times alongside knowledge, wisdom, love, and life. (Prov. 1:2-7; 4:11-13) That is because God’s discipline is an expression of his love for us and of his desire that we gain everlasting life. (Heb. 12:6) While his discipline may include chastisement, it is never abusive or cruel. Indeed, the meaning behind “discipline” primarily relates to education, such as that involved in raising a beloved child.
2, 3. How may discipline include both teaching and punishment? (See opening picture.)
2 Consider this example: A little boy named Johnny is throwing a ball in the house. His mother says: “Johnny, you know that you should not play with your ball in the house! You might break something.” But disregarding his mother’s direction, he continues to play with the ball and accidentally breaks a vase. How will his mother discipline him? Her discipline may involve both teaching and some punishment. In teaching him, she may remind Johnny why his conduct was wrong. She wants to convey to him the wisdom of obeying his parents, explaining that their rules are necessary and reasonable. Then reinforcing her words, she may administer some form of appropriate punishment. For example, she might take the ball away from Johnny for a period of time. That may impress on him that disobedience has consequences.
3 As members of the Christian congregation, we are part of God’s household. (1 Tim. 3:15) We therefore respect Jehovah’s right both to set standards and to give loving discipline when we violate them. Moreover, if our actions caused unpleasant consequences, his discipline would remind us of just how important it is to listen to our heavenly Father. (Gal. 6:7) God cares deeply for us and wants to spare us heartache.—1 Pet. 5:6, 7.
4. (a) Jehovah blesses what kind of training? (b) What will we consider in this article?
4 By giving Scriptural discipline, we can help our child or a Bible student to reach the goal of becoming a follower of Christ. God’s Word, our primary tool for training, enables us to ‘discipline in righteousness.’ Thus our child or Bible student can be helped to understand and ‘observe all the things Jesus commanded us.’ (2 Tim. 3:16; Matt. 28:19, 20) Jehovah blesses this kind of training, which equips students to make yet more disciples of Christ. (Read Titus 2:11-14.) Let us now consider the answers to three important questions: (1) How does God’s discipline reflect his love for us? (2) What can we learn from those whom God disciplined in the past? (3) When we give discipline, how can we imitate Jehovah and his Son?
GOD DISCIPLINES IN LOVE
5. In what ways does discipline from Jehovah reflect his love for us?
5 Motivated by love, Jehovah corrects, educates, and trains us so that we can remain in his love and on the path to life. (1 John 4:16) He never demeans or insults us, causing us to question our personal value. (Prov. 12:18) Rather, Jehovah dignifies us, appealing to the goodness in our heart and respecting our free will. Is that how you view God’s discipline, whether it comes through his Word, Bible-based publications, Christian parents, or congregation elders? Indeed, elders who try to readjust us in a mild and loving manner when we take “a false step,” perhaps unknowingly, reflect Jehovah’s love for us.—Gal. 6:1.
6. When discipline involves restrictions, how does this reflect God’s love?
6 At times, though, discipline may involve more than counsel or oral correction. If more serious sins are involved, it may include a loss of privileges in the congregation. Even when that is the case, such discipline reflects God’s love for us. A loss of privileges, for example, can help a person realize how important it is for him to focus more on personal Bible study, meditation, and prayer. He can thus be strengthened spiritually. (Ps. 19:7) In time, privileges may be restored. Even disfellowshipping reflects Jehovah’s love, for it protects the congregation from bad influences. (1 Cor. 5:6, 7, 11) And because God disciplines to the proper degree, disfellowshipping can impress on the wrongdoer the seriousness of his sin and move him to repentance.—Acts 3:19.
HE BENEFITED FROM JEHOVAH’S DISCIPLINE
7. Who was Shebna, and what bad trait did he begin to develop?
7 To underscore the value of discipline, let us consider two individuals whom Jehovah disciplined: Shebna, who lived in the time of King Hezekiah, and Graham, a brother in our day. As the steward “in charge of the house”—presumably that of Hezekiah—Shebna had considerable authority. (Isa. 22:15) Sadly, though, he became proud, seeking his own glory. He even had an opulent tomb made for himself, and he rode in “glorious chariots”!—Isa. 22:16-18.
8. How did Jehovah discipline Shebna, and with what result?
8 Because Shebna pursued glory for himself, God ‘threw him out of his office’ and replaced him with Eliakim. (Isa. 22:19-21) This change occurred when Assyrian King Sennacherib was intending to attack Jerusalem. Sometime later, that king sent high officials to Jerusalem, along with a large army, to demoralize the Jews and intimidate Hezekiah into surrendering. (2 Ki. 18:17-25) Eliakim was sent to speak to the officials, but he was not alone. He was accompanied by two others, one of whom was Shebna, now serving as secretary. Might this not suggest that Shebna did not give way to bitterness and resentment but instead humbly accepted his lesser responsibilities? If so, what lessons can we learn from the account? Let us consider three.
9-11. (a) What important lessons can we learn from Shebna’s experience? (b) How are you encouraged by Jehovah’s treatment of Shebna?
9 First, Shebna lost his position. His experience bears out the warning that “pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Prov. 16:18) If you have privileges in the congregation, perhaps with a measure of prominence, will you strive to maintain a humble view of yourself? Will you give credit to Jehovah for any gifts you have or for what you have accomplished? (1 Cor. 4:7) The apostle Paul wrote: “I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think, but to think so as to have a sound mind.”—Rom. 12:3.
10 Second, in strongly reproving Shebna, Jehovah may have been showing that he did not consider Shebna beyond recovery. (Prov. 3:11, 12) What a fine lesson for those who lose privileges of service in God’s congregation today! Instead of being angry and resentful, may they continue to serve God to the best of their ability in their new situation, viewing the discipline as evidence of Jehovah’s love. Remember, our Father will not consider us beyond hope if we humble ourselves before him. (Read 1 Peter 5:6, 7.) Loving discipline can be God’s way of molding us, so let us remain malleable in his hands.
11 Third, Jehovah’s treatment of Shebna provides a valuable lesson for those who are authorized to administer discipline, such as parents and Christian overseers. The lesson? While Jehovah’s discipline can reflect his hatred of sin, it can also show his concern for the person who sinned. If as a parent or an overseer you must administer discipline, will you imitate Jehovah, hating the wrong while looking for the good in your child or fellow believer?—Jude 22, 23.
12-14. (a) In what ways do some react to divine discipline? (b) How did God’s Word help one brother to adjust his attitude, and with what results?
12 Sadly, after receiving discipline, some fail to see past the pain and even draw away from God and his people. (Heb. 3:12, 13) But does that mean that such ones are beyond help? Consider Graham, who was disfellowshipped, in time was reinstated, and then became spiritually inactive. Some years later, he asked an elder who had befriended him to study the Bible with him.
13 The elder recalled: “Graham had a problem with pride. He was critical of the elders who had been involved in his disfellowshipping. So for the next few studies, we discussed scriptures on pride and its effects. Graham began to see himself clearly in the mirror of God’s Word, and he did not like what he saw! The effect was amazing! After acknowledging that he had been blinded by a ‘rafter’ of pride and that his critical attitude was his problem, he began to change quickly for the better. He started to attend Christian meetings regularly, to study God’s Word earnestly, and to make daily prayer a habit. He also accepted his spiritual responsibilities as family head, much to the delight of his wife and children.”—Luke 6:41, 42; Jas. 1:23-25.
14 The elder continues: “One day, Graham told me something that touched my heart. ‘I’ve known the truth for years,’ he said, ‘and I’ve even served as a pioneer. But only now can I honestly say that I love Jehovah.’ Before long, he was asked to serve as a microphone handler at the Kingdom Hall—a privilege he deeply appreciated. His example taught me that when a person humbles himself before God by accepting discipline, blessings just pour out!”
WHEN GIVING DISCIPLINE, IMITATE GOD AND CHRIST
15. If we want our discipline to reach hearts, what must we do?
15 To be good teachers, we first have to be good students. (1 Tim. 4:15, 16) Likewise, those divinely authorized to give discipline must themselves continue to submit willingly to Jehovah’s guidance. Such humble submission earns them respect and gives them freeness of speech when training or correcting others. Consider Jesus’ example.
16. What are some lessons about appropriate discipline and effective teaching that we can learn from Jesus?
16 Jesus always listened obediently to his Father, even when doing so was very difficult. (Matt. 26:39) And he gave his Father the credit for his teachings and wisdom. (John 5:19, 30) Jesus’ humility and obedience drew people of honest heart to him and helped to make him a compassionate and gracious teacher. (Read Luke 4:22.) His kind words heartened those who were figuratively like a bruised reed or the wick of an oil lamp about to go out. (Matt. 12:20) Even when his patience was tested, Jesus was kind and loving. This was evident when he corrected his apostles for showing a selfish, ambitious spirit.—Mark 9:33-37; Luke 22:24-27.
17. What fine qualities will help elders to be effective shepherds of God’s flock?
17 All who are authorized to give Scriptural discipline are wise when they imitate Christ’s example. Indeed, their doing so reflects their desire to be molded by God and his Son. The apostle Peter wrote: “Shepherd the flock of God under your care, serving as overseers, not under compulsion, but willingly before God; not for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; not lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.” (1 Pet. 5:2-4) To be sure, overseers who joyfully submit to God and to Christ, the head of the congregation, benefit both themselves and those under their care.—Isa. 32:1, 2, 17, 18.
18. (a) What does Jehovah require of parents? (b) How does God help parents fulfill their responsibilities?
18 The same basic principles apply in the family. Family heads are told: “Do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and admonition of Jehovah.” (Eph. 6:4) How serious is this matter? Proverbs 19:18 states: “Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not become responsible for his death.” Yes, Jehovah holds Christian parents accountable if they fail to provide needed discipline to a child! (1 Sam. 3:12-14) However, Jehovah gives parents the wisdom and the strength they need when they humbly entreat him in prayer and look to his Word and holy spirit for guidance.—Read James 1:5.
LEARNING HOW TO LIVE FOREVER IN PEACE
19, 20. (a) What blessings result from accepting God’s discipline? (b) What will we consider in the next article?
19 It would be difficult to enumerate all the blessings that result from accepting divine discipline and from imitating Jehovah and Jesus when disciplining others. At the very least, families and congregations become havens of peace. Individuals also feel truly loved, valued, and secure—a foretaste of the blessings to come. (Ps. 72:7) Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Jehovah’s discipline teaches us how to live together forever in peace and harmony as a family under his fatherly care. (Read Isaiah 11:9.) When we view divine discipline in that light, we will be more likely to appreciate it for what it truly is: beautiful evidence of God’s unmatched love for us.
20 In the following article, we will expand on aspects of discipline within the family and the congregation. We will also consider self-discipline as well as something that can be even worse than any temporary pain that discipline may cause.