Today is our final day of Summer School! That’s right, for many of our kids, the school year starts back up this week and we can finally put some routine into our schedules. And it also means today’s message wraps up all that we have taught you over eight weeks of Summer School.
To recap, we began by saying Proverbs isn’t a how-to book, it’s a how to BE book. Its not just a book of pithy, fortune cookie sayings, but teaching about the character we should put on.
- Wisdom — Wisdom isn’t about knowing the right facts and figures, but about knowing and experiencing God.
- Pride — Pride is a secret yet deadly sin which is only defeated by intentional surrender to humility.
- Laziness — Don’t be a Spiritual Sloth. Just like we work hard to build the physical life we want, we need to work hard to build our spiritual life.
- Gossip — Words should be used to build up, not tear down.
- Greed — What’s in your wallet isn’t as important as what are you doing with what’s in your wallet.
- Honesty — We must be people of truth because we serve a God of truth.
- Anger — Explosive anger is destructive. But being slow to anger shows we love.
- Self-Control — Self-control isn’t “just say no” but replacing an unhealthy desire with a passion for God.
So, if you missed any class this summer, now you know what you missed. And looking at that list, it’s easy to see areas where you probably struggle. As Brent and I taught these messages, we joked about how preparing to teach on these subjects exposed us even more to our own sin and struggles.
And when we see how much we have to work on, it’s easy to sometimes feel like giving up. If you’ve ever been failing a class, I’m sure you felt tempted to just throw in the towel rather than push through and pass the class. In the same way, regardless of where we are on this journey of becoming the men and women God created us to be, we need to keep responding to the teaching and correction in this book of Proverbs.
A Survey of Proverbs Teaching on Discipline
The authors of Proverbs knew that was a very real problem — the temptation to give up and ignore the teaching. We all know it SEEMS easier to do things our own way rather than the right way. And that’s why Proverbs includes so many verses about actually putting into practice the discipline and correction found in the book.
Let’s take a brief survey of some of the verses in Proverbs and what they tell us about people who listen to the advice or ignore it:
Prudent / Foolish
A fool spurns a parent’s discipline,
but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.
First, we see how to categorize people who listen compared to people who ignore discipline and correction. Those who spurn discipline are foolish and those who heed correction are prudent. You can think you’re the smartest person in the world, but if you aren’t willing to listen to the wisdom and correction of another who is older and wiser (I’m talking to you, teenagers,) you are but a fool.
Shows Life / Leads Astray
Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life,
but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.
Here we see how our response to discipline and correction affects others as well. When we live as a fool and ignore God’s teaching, we not only go astray ourselves, but we lead others away from God as well. We influence our friends and we raise our kids to be foolish just like us. On the other hand, when we live a life of listening and responding to correction, we show the way to eternal life to all who are watching us. We are teaching our kids how to live as God designed us and lead them on the path to Jesus.
Honor / Shame
Whoever disregards discipline comes to poverty and shame,
but whoever heeds correction is honored.
Here we see how our response also affects other people’s perceptions of us. If we disregard the discipline, others will view us with shame whereas those who heed correction will be viewed with honor. The irony here, is that typically, those who are too prideful to listen to discipline are seeking honor and glory for themselves, but by failing to correct their errors, they actually will live with shame because of their character flaws.
Life / Death
Now our final point comes from two verses.
For this command is a lamp,
this teaching is a light,
and correction and instruction
are the way to life
Stern discipline awaits anyone who leaves the path;
the one who hates correction will die.
Quite simply put, those who listen to correction will live while those who hate it and ignore it will die. Yes, I know life isn’t that clean cut, but on the whole, people who live according to the wisdom of God will experience fuller lives and greater joys than those who keep creating messes for themselves through their pride, greed, anger, or their lack of self-control.
Now that’s a very brief survey of what Proverbs teaches about those who listen or ignore correction and discipline in their lives.
Understanding the Lord’s Discipline
For the remainder of today’s message, I want to focus on one particular passage about the Lord’s Discipline.
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke. —Proverbs 3:11
I think this verse creates a lot of tension for many of us as we try to understand what the Lord’s discipline is in our lives. As we already read many verses about correction and discipline, perhaps you noticed none of them actually defined what that discipline might be.
And as a result, many people have different definitions for what the Lord’s discipline is.
We might look at this verse and see the first line and the second line as being parallel to each other so the discipline is similar to a rebuke. And so we think of the Lord’s discipline as punishment for doing something wrong.
This is a really common understanding of the Lord’s discipline. Some of you, when you have become ill or had a terrible struggle pop up in your life have perhaps wondered, “God, what did I do to deserve this? Why are you punishing me?” And you see difficulty in your life as potentially discipline from God for your sin.
Others take this understanding of God’s discipline to a macro, national level. Many preachers in recent years have assigned natural disasters to God’s wrath on those cities. Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast was caused because of the Supreme Court decision to strike down the legitimacy of state’s bans on Same Sex marriages. Or Hurricane Katrina was punishment for the sinfulness of the entire city of New Orleans.
To be fair, in the Old Testament, we do see God punish entire nations for their sinfulness. The problem is that we never see God operate that way against a nation after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And in only one case do we see God supernaturally discipline a person for their sin — in the book of Acts when Ananias and Sopphira lie to Peter to make themselves look exceptionally holy.
In trying to understand the Lord’s discipline, I think it’s best if we look to the words of Jesus when his disciples were discussing with him some tragic recent events:
Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. —Luke 13:4-5
You see, Jesus didn’t tie the suffering to God’s judgment or discipline because that’s not how God’s discipline works. In fact, if we think our suffering is punishment for our sin, then we are completely misunderstanding the death of Jesus on the cross for us. It was HIS suffering on the cross that paid the punishment for our sin IN FULL. He was already punished. God paid the price for us. He took the penalty. So why would he punish us again for something that was already paid for through the blood of his own son?
When we think of the Lord’s discipline, we need a much fuller and more complete view of what discipline means. Spoiler Alert: It does NOT mean God is sitting up in the clouds waiting to zap us for our mistakes.
Two Sides of Discipline
There are actually two sides to discipline:
- The first side is this idea of punishment we have already discussed. It’s the paddle your mother chased you around the house with. Your family’s “No No Stick.” It’s correction when you’ve made a mistake.
- The second side of discipline is the positive side. It’s training and teaching. Like an Olympic athlete, it’s putting in the effort and growing in the self-control to become the person you want to become.
And the truth is, we need to be disciplined from both sides. We need correction when we make mistakes and sin against God, and we also need instruction in how to live righteous lives that honor God. And while neither the correction nor the instruction are fun or easy, they are necessary and so we cannot despise it or reject it.
Now here’s the big idea from today’s message — this is what we all need to understand: God disciplines us through WORDS of instruction and correction far more than through suffering.
When Proverbs 3:11 tells us not to despise the Lord’s discipline or resent his rebuke, it is referring to the very words in Proverbs that are written for our benefit. That word “discipline,” in the Hebrew is pronounced Musar, and it is used much more often to speak of instruction, correction, warning, or rebuke — discipline through words than actual punishment.
So when we think of the instruction and correction God uses to discipline us, we are really talking about things like this sermon series, our Bible reading, and our time spent with other believers. Those are the words the Holy Spirit uses to correct and convict us of our sin, the words that teach us the character we are to have. Those words are the Lord’s Discipline in our life.
The problem is that often we miss the instruction or correction right in front of our noses.
- I’m sure some of you have sat through a message or two this summer and thought the entire message was PERFECT for somebody else when it really should have applied to you. If you don’t believe me, ask your spouse.
- Or perhaps you spend time reading the Bible, only to walk away wondering how any of it applies to you. You see the stories, but you miss the correlation and correction for your own life.
- And often, we have people in our lives who try to help us see when our lives are going the wrong way, but our pride keeps us from listening
- Lastly, sometimes we hear a message or read a scripture and we feel like maybe it does apply to us. But we don’t like what it asks of us. It’s hard to swallow that God would make our lives so difficult, or so limited, so we search for some more Bible verses and we ask some people who don’t follow the teaching we are asking about and find a work-around, some justification for why God’s correction isn’t actually for US, but for somebody else — somebody worse.
And in all these cases we reject the instruction and correction God offers us and end up with a mess. And if you don’t learn anything from this message today, you’ll think that the mess you find yourself in is God’s active hand of punishment against you for some sin you still don’t recognize. It’s Not. It’s the natural consequence, the discipline, to help you turn from your sin and repent and start heeding God’s words of correction all around you.
Why God Disciplines
Moving on, Proverbs 3:11 isn’t a stand alone verse. It’s paired with another verse that completes our instruction about God’s discipline:
. . . because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. —Proverbs 3:12
The motivation behind God’s discipline for us, behind all these words of instruction and correction, behind his use of people to speak the hard truth to us, is his incredible love for us.
I know that when we are in the midst of being corrected or called out for our sin, when we are facing the natural consequences for our poor choices, or when our family is a disaster because of our years of not following God’s plan in our home, it’s hard to imagine God loves us.
In fact, I think it’s hard to fully understand how these difficult circumstances could ever be allowed or even put into our lives by somebody who loves us until we are a parent ourselves. This verse is the only verse in Proverbs where God is described as a father, but the analogy is critical for understanding discipline. This entire message makes more sense to me now that I’m a parent than it ever could have before I had kids.
As a parent, I have tried to teach and instruct, even when they didn’t want to hear from me. I had to correct when my kids screwed up. Often I let the natural consequences of their poor choices cause them pain so they would learn. Sometimes I purposely caused pain to get their attention (But to be fair, I warned him I would drive over his bike the next time he laid it down in the middle of the garage floor!)
But I have done everything I have done because I LOVE my kids. If I didn’t care about them, I wouldn’t bother with the difficult conversations, I wouldn’t give them consequences that caused me more work, and I certainly wouldn’t keep putting myself in conflict with them. It would be so much easier to ignore them and let them live how they want to live. But that’s not parenting. That’s not discipline, and that’s not Love.
God’s Parental love for us means that he cannot write us off. He delights in us too much. He is too concerned with our character. He cares too much about who we are becoming and so he speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, through the Bible, through other people, and he uses those words to instruct and correct us — to discipline us. So we become the men and women he designed us to become.
The question now before each one of us is: Will we listen? Will we heed the correction before us? Will we think back on the lessons we have learned in summer school and identify areas we really need to work on? Or will we think it was a good message, but fail to put any of it into practice? That’s the difference between a fool and the wise. That’s the difference between honor and shame. That’s the difference between life and death.
The Lord’s discipline is all the words that help you become the man or woman God created you to become. He has given it to you because he loves you too much to let you stay the way you are. He wants more for you. He wants you to become like Jesus, his Son.