When we read Proverbs like, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15), we tend to think—and for good reason—of the benefit consistent discipline provides young children. But if God is our Father, and we his adopted and beloved children, then I think it is safe to apply this verse to ourselves as well. In other words, we can be confident God will bring the rod of reproof into our lives in order to drive folly far from us and we can understand the Lord’s discipline as the loving strokes of a Parent who desires our good and who will do whatever it takes to make us more like Jesus.
As I read through my journals, I find some entries that record specific times when I believed the Lord was dealing with me—through pain, discouragement, rebuke, confrontation and failure—in a disciplinary way. I cannot perfectly know the mind of the Lord nor infallibly interpret his ways, but during these times, and upon later reflection, I can see that God’s hand of discipline was effective in revealing sin and folly in my heart and life.
For example, upon several occasions, I have found my heart heavy with the weight of a burdened conscience and pierced by the pain I have caused after speaking too quickly and too harshly with others. There have been times when physical pain and sickness have been used by the Lord to wake me up to consider my ways and reorient my life toward eternity. There have been times of failure where the Lord has revealed impure motives and sinful attitudes. He has brought damage to personal property and financial crisis to rebuke my love of money and longing for ease. He has prompted rebuke to come by way of others in order to reveal pride, foolishness, and self-sufficiency. He has used preachers and teachers to bring the sting of conviction through his Word to reveal indifference and self-righteousness. And there have been times when the Lord has removed his face from intimate fellowship and dampened my affections because of unchecked sin.
No, none of these things are pleasant, and it would be naive to suggest they are. But the result of discipline, if we receive it, is sanctification and peace. The author of Hebrews writes,
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).
Notice that discipline brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. That refers to those who are willing to hear and to learn from the correction that comes from persecution, pain, rebuke, confrontation, failure, and disappointment. Those who stiffen their necks at the Lord’s discipline will eventually come to ruin: “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing” (Proverbs 29:1).
In fact, learning how to recieve and profit from the Lord’s discipline appears to be the key to flourishing in the Christian life. On the other hand, despising and resisting reproof is the sign of great folly.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man and he will increase in learning (Proverbs 9:9).
Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge (Proverbs 19:25).
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path of life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray (Proverbs 10:17).
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid (Proverbs 12:1).
Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored (Proverbs 13:18).
A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent (Proverbs 15:5).
There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die (Proverbs 15:10).
The discipline of the Lord is for our good. God loves his children, and he will reprove us and rebuke us, not because he is mean, but because he desires our holiness and (not separately) our happiness. He is a good Father. His strokes are, though sometimes unpleasant, kind and full of grace. The author of Hebrews assures us of this, and reminds us that discipline reveals our status as sons,
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons (Hebrews 12:7-8).
Proverbs 29:15 gives similar encouragement and reminder:
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
We can be thankful that we have not been left to ourselves, but that our gracious and loving Father corrects us and reproves us for our good. It is my prayer that we continually grow in our ability to receive, profit from, and appreciate the discipline of the Lord. We are his children, and he desires our joy. Our joy will only come as we are weaned off of this world and find greater delight in Him. And this can only happen by way of of discipline.