Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart. –Proverbs 29:17
Is it possible to delight in disciplining those you love most?
The hardest thing for any leader to do is to point out or expose the moral deficiencies of those under him or her. However, this is also one of the most important things for leaders to do. Even harder, and seemingly impossible, is the prospect of delighting in this biblical duty to rebuke and subsequently discipline. Whether it is in the classroom, the office, the home, or the church, exposing and punishing moral failure can be one of the hardest parts of leadership. It is much easier to create an atmosphere that allows for all types of moral failures or sins to exist. This kind of environment is much more comfortable for us. There are no awkward situations when messages from parent to child or from pastor to congregation are always chipper and easy. This kind of atmosphere is filled with fluffy pillows with “Everything is OK!” stitched on them.
This is especially true for leaders who love those who are under their care. Parents often say, “This hurts me more than it hurts you” or “I am doing this for your good” when they punish their children. And often they punish their children for disobedience despite the emotional pain that presses down upon their souls to punish the ones they love most.
This dual experience of heart-ripping exposure of sin and subsequent discipline is viewed and even often felt as a begrudging duty rather than a delight. This is especially true for parents and pastors. The Bible speaks very clearly on the importance of checking our children’s sin, disciplining them accordingly, and bringing them up in the instruction of the Lord, all of which is commanded of the Lord and is for their good (see Deut. 6:7; Ps. 78:4; Prov. 19:18; 22:6, 15; 29:17; Eph. 6:4). Similarly, the Bible speaks on numerous occasions and in numerous contexts to the importance of the pastor’s role in leading the local church in the things of God, guarding them from sin, exercising oversight, and calling them to repentance (1 Pt. 5:1-4). The image that is used to describe the pastor in this sense is the “shepherd.” The pastor is to shepherd (ποιμάνατε) the flock that God has entrusted to him. The biblical imagery of shepherding carries with it a sense of providing, guiding, protecting, and constant companionship. This means that when a pastor sees members of the local church he is shepherding indulging in sin, he should stop them with loving rebuke as he calls them to repentance.
Leaders of God’s people throughout Scripture are seen as bearing a special responsibility for the spiritual condition of the covenant community.
“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold. All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, ‘We are not guilty, for they have sinned against the Lord, their habitation of righteousness, the Lord, the hope of their fathers.’” (Jer. 50:6-7).
Similarly, James warns potential pastors that they will be judged more strictly than other believers (Jam. 3:1). The position of leadership in the family or in the church is one of influence either for ill or good on those under the leader’s care.
So, one crucial duty of a parent and pastor is to expose the sin of children and flock and call both to repentance. There is no denying this. However, the question becomes, can this biblical duty be a delight? And if so, how? I think this can be answered by quickly looking at three reasons why we are called to lead in this kind of exposing, rebuking, and correcting way.
The Father’s Example
Firstly, we are called to expose sin, call to repentance, and if necessary discipline because this is the position our Father who is in heaven takes with regard to sin. God hates sin. He convicts us of our sin through his Word and Spirit (John 16:8). And as our Father, God disciplines the one he loves because he hates to see his children meddle with sin (Heb. 12:6). Christ is the Chief Shepherd and he will not allow one of his sheep to be lost. God as Shepherd is seen very vividly in Ezekiel 34.
“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost…bring back the strayed…bind up the injured, and…strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice” (Ezek. 34:15-16).
God is jealous both for his glory and for his people. Jesus said, “My Father, who has given them [the sheep] to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:29-30).
Likewise, parents and pastors should be jealous for God’s glory and their children’s/congregation’s eternal state. Let God as Father and Shepherd who disciplines his children and cares for his flock be your example in truly caring for your children and congregation when they sin by exposing sin and calling for repentance. Knowing that this is how God interacts with his children or people when they sin should cause us to find joy in a biblical duty that can be difficult and even sorrowful as you labor in the grace of Christ to help your children and congregation fight sin.
Secondly, we are to expose sin, call to repentance, and if necessary discipline because we love our children and congregation. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:6). This is remarkable. Because God loves us as sons and daughters, he disciplines us. His great and unparalleled love for us—the same love that sent Christ to die for us (Rom. 5:8)—leads God to discipline us. So, parents and pastors, let your love for your children or your congregation lead you to see them in their sin, expose it, and call them to repentance. Joyful discipline is possible, despite the pain, when love is the motivating force.
To put it more strongly, neglecting to call your children or your congregation out in their sin is to not love them. And it would be contrary to the very way that God interacts with his children and flock. I do not mean to casually call parents and pastors to discipline those they love, as if discipline in the home and church are exactly the same or as if church discipline can or should be wildly implemented at the drop of a hat. There must be tremendous discernment and wisdom to accompany a desire to discipline those walking in sin. However, the point is that leadership in the home and church is faulty if it does not care about the hearts of those being led. Letting children and congregants freely sin with no buffer of discipline may mask as love, but it is really neglect for their hearts.
Inherent with love is delight. So, when we discipline or call our people to repentance, we can delight in this, as it is an action motivated by our love for them. As an example, if someone refuses to be baptized, but wishes to continue serving in the local church and taking the elements of the Lord’s Supper, pastors should expose this disobedience and call this individual to repentance. And if necessary, elements of church discipline may need to be executed (Matt. 18:15-20). The point is that if parental and pastoral discipline is done in love, then it can be a delightful duty as an expression of a deep love for those the parent and pastor is leading. There is great delight to be found in loving discipline.
Thirdly, we can find delight in discipline because when we call children and church members to repentance, we are doing so for their eternal good. What good is it for a parent or pastor to gain the approval of children or congregants who are living in sin if they lose their souls in the process? Our Father in heaven disciplines us for our eternal good (Rom. 8:28). We should do the same. Discipline in the home and in the church serves as a roadblock to keep those in our care from doing further damage to their souls. Not only will discipline be for temporal good as many consequences for sin will be avoided, but it is for eternal good as only those who persevere to the end will be saved (Matt. 24:13; Heb. 10:36).
Discipline is difficult. And though disciplining those we love “hurts us more than it hurts them,” there is a strange delight to be found in discipline. Discipline is the fruit of love. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24). Discipline is a demonstration of grace. It is incredibly gracious to stop someone in his or her sin through loving rebuke. “When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him” (Ps. 39:11). Parents, love your children by calling them to repentance through discipline when they fall into sin. Pastors and churches, love the church by calling those to repentance through discipline when they fall into sin.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.