Sunday, June 1, 2008

Discipline and the Search for Wisdom

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.” - Hebrews 12:7

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” - Proverbs 1:7

“And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” - Matthew 28:18-20

Discipline is at the very heart of our relationship with God the Father. The word “discipline” is derived from the word, “disciple.” If you are a disciple, a learner in the faith you are undergoing discipline. To undergo discipline is to undergo training, for discipline is training in righteousness, and by its very nature finds it source in Holy Scripture. “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16). In the Great Commission Jesus commands us to make disciples, to create a body of people who are learners; and we are to teach them to observe all that he has commanded us. To that end Jesus promises us that he will be with us as we fulfill his command. Discipline is the process of working out the Lordship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in our own experience. The cutting edge of Lordship is found in our authority relationships within the Church and society. The rebellious person who seeks to set themselves up as the authority has not yet made a beginning in discipleship. In the traditional Church structure of bishops, priests, and deacons we have one context for working out authority relationships and in society we have another context. Jesus says, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Matthew 22:21). Even if you don’t like your government you still have to pay for postage if you want to use the post office.

For the Christian disciple there is no discipline apart from the context of the teaching of Holy Scripture by which we understand the nature of our relationship with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” There is no real discipline without the presence of Christ Jesus mediated through the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). While training in righteousness is of great help in living life in the present, discipline is actually training for the life to come. There will come a time when our training is complete, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

Discipline, or training in righteousness, has its present context in our lives as we live them now. The Holy Spirit stands ready to teach us how to meet the challenges of life through the teaching of Holy Scripture. “The Scriptures are Gods Voyse; The Church is his Eccho” (John Donne, 1624). That training takes place in the context of the will of God the Father and the witness of the faithful Church which is the Body of Christ unbroken throughout the centuries. The Proverbs of Solomon exhort us, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8). Often in Holy Scriptures there is more than one level of interpretation. Here the underlying interpretation is that God is our Father, and the Church is our Mother. It has been fashionable during recent times to ridicule the concept of “Mother Church” as though that concept somehow turned us into mere spiritual infants. We must remember that if you are an adult you are an adult child of God the Father, and you are also an adult child of Holy Church. With your maturity comes the responsibilities of adult sons and daughters of the Living God, and of the Church which is the Bride of Christ which bridges time and extends into eternity.

The basic teaching of the Book of Proverbs is training in righteousness. When Proverbs says “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction” the Hebrew word moosawr for instruction is an equivalent for the word discipline or training which is paideia in Greek. Solomon bids us to “know wisdom and instruction to understand words of insight” (Proverbs 1:2). The word for wisdom khokmaw refers to “skill in warfare, wisdom in administration, shrewdness, wisdom, and prudence” (Strong’s). The word for instruction is moosawr which means discipline or teaching. The word insight beenaw refers to understanding and insight. Solomon also places the process of learning wisdom in a careful context, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7). Human intellect and intelligence must be submitted to God. It cannot stand alone. St. Anselm put intellectual understanding in its proper order when he said, “I seek not, O Lord, to search out Thy depth, but I desire in some measure to understand Thy truth, which my heart believeth and loveth. Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand” (Proslogion, ch. 1). What Anselm said in Latin was, credo ut intelligam, I believe in order to understand. St. Paul tells us why, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Those who believe understand because in the Spirit they have the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16).

But there is another very important point that we must not miss. Humility is a requisite for seeking wisdom and understanding. Humility is knowing who you are in the universe and understanding your “self” as a created being; a being who is created by God, for God, and created for his pleasure. Solomon tells us that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). True wisdom is found only by those who fear the Lord, that is those who in humility hold him in awe and reverence. That theme also is the context for the discussion of discipline, or training in the Letter to the Hebrews.

In Hebrews Chapter 12, the word for discipline is paideia. Paideia is the word from which we get pedagogy from. Pedagogy is simply teaching, or in a Christian context, training in righteousness. The root of paideia is paidon which is the Greek word for child. Underlying the teaching on discipline in Hebrews is the understanding that we are God’s children. “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Discipline, or training in righteousness, has its present context in our lives as we live them now, and it is here that discipline takes on a very personal and sometimes painful challenge. From a psychological perspective M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled says, “Discipline has been defined as a system of techniques of dealing constructively with the pain of problem-solving—instead of avoiding that pain” (p.77).

There is often pain involved in acquiring wisdom, in being trained, disciplined, in being discipled. Some of that pain comes through working out our relationship to authority in the face of our deep desire to be independent, yet such independence is ultimately separation from Him in Whom there is life. The message of Hebrews is that we are children of God and as such we are under His authority. This also implies that we are under the authority of those He has placed over us.

The first thing that Hebrews Chapter 12 says about discipline is that we should run with endurance (v. 1) with our eyes on Jesus, who Himself suffered and endured. Suffering is part of life whether or not we like it, and despite the preference of the children of the world in this present age to flee from suffering, everyone suffers. Learning discipline or training, takes place in the context of life as we find it with all of its joys and with all of its inherent suffering. A fundamental learning is that when you acknowledge that you have suffering it is easier to have joy. If you spend all your energy fleeing from suffering, joy will escape from your grasp.

The author of Hebrews quotes from the Book of Proverbs, “Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Proverbs 3:11-12 in Hebrews 12:5-6). The genuineness of our sonship as children of God is understood in the terms of discipline, paideia, or training. If we are not being disciplined, if we are not undergoing discipline we are, “illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:8b). Discipline can be both difficult and painful, but embracing discipline is part of the process of growth both as maturing human beings and as God’s sons and daughters. Scot Peck reminds us that “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters” (Peck, p. 15). This acceptance of the difficulty of life, this acknowledgment of our personal suffering is a an essential step in our Christian discipleship and in acquiring “mature manhood, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13b). In eliciting our response the author of Hebrews says, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:12-13).

This call to discipleship, this call to be trained in righteousness as children of God is given in the context of the age to come and in the very identity of the God whom we worship and serve. The author of Hebrews tells us that we have not come to a God revealed in the terrors of the theophany of God on Mount Sinai in the Old Testament, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24). But it is not only that. “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7), and even for God’s faithful and beloved children, humility, reverence and awe are an essential part of the search for wisdom, “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). As a Christian, above all seek “to know wisdom and instruction, to understand the words of insight (Proverbs 1:2), and do not be afraid of discipline; discipline is the very means of our transformation into the image of God who has created us for His pleasure. In His pleasure we will discover our everlasting joy.