The word “discipline” doesn’t create a great deal of joy when it is offered. Kynette and I have close friends in Kentucky who have a son named Jacob. A couple of years ago, Jacob was on a “I hate discipline” kick. “‘Discipline’ is a dirty word,” he would moan. His moaning would evoke my truthful teasing: “‘Discipline’ is a lovely word; it is a beautiful word. We need discipline.”
Fallen nature is generally not in love with the idea of discipline, especially self-discipline. We may not mind, indeed, we may even applaud, the disciplining of others. We can probably wax eloquent on the need for others to exercise self-discipline in areas of their lives. After all, we all know somebody who needs to back away from the table a little sooner, who needs to stay out of the mall or viewing the Home Shopping Network channel on TV, who needs to work more (or perhaps work less), or who needs to do more or less in some area in which they’re not measuring up to our standards.
Really, aren’t we really being quite spiritual in desiring others to be more self-disciplined?
Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for others.
Yes, “discipline” is a beautiful word for others, but we’re really like our young friend Jacob when it comes to discipline in our own lives. We desire comfort, pleasure, and taking it easy. “‘Discipline’ is a dirty word,” we moan.
Political candidates appeal to this “discipline is a dirty word” mindset when they run for legislative office. Americans have become a self-satisfied and soft people who disdain the practice of self-discipline and responsibility. Did people take out a mortgage that they’re unable to pay? Not to worry—the government will take care of you. Did a woman have sexual intimacy outside of marriage and now finds herself having conceived a child? No problem—our nation has legislated unborn baby killing on demand (if my words sound too harsh to delicate ears, consider how harsh the saline solution is to the unborn child).
Unfortunately, professing Christians fare little better when it comes to the concept of discipline. We want a Christianity which really requires little of us that contradicts our inclinations. We’re all for reading our Bibles, praying, evangelism, corporate Bible study and worship—when we’re inclined to do it. We wonder why our progress in the faith is so slow and why our thinking is so worldly.
The problem is that our inclinations are controlled by our flesh, and we know that our flesh does not yearn for the things of God. Our inclination is to turn on the television or pick up a novel. Our inclination is to sleep in on Sunday morning, or at least sleep during the sermon.
The Bible, though, puts a heavy emphasis upon discipline, especially the discipline of ourselves. Paul understood this well and recognized the necessity of self-discipline in his own life: Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27, ESV). Our Lord insisted that self-discipline is the necessary mindset for his disciples: “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23, ESV).
Far from being a “dirty” word, discipline is a necessity. It is a necessity to be Christ’s disciple; it is a necessity if we are to grow in godliness.