Unfortunately, discipline has come to mean “punishment” in most Christians’ and secularists’ understanding. You find seventy-percent of the usages in Scripture (musar, yasar, and paediea) in the book of Proverbs, so Proverbs provides one of the best understandings of the biblical concept.
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In this regard, the dominant metaphor used in Proverbs is a path, and the foundational concept of biblical discipline is to take a child from point A to point B. This reality is also why we call learning “academic disciplines”; we are striving to bring students from point A to point B.
In Proverbs, the point A is natural foolishness, and point B is supernatural/divine wisdom. The Holy Spirit and grace, then, become the necessary enablers of children becoming wise, and true biblical discipline has as its core a purposeful direction toward Christ; it is Christo-centric.
Grace being central to discipline is why in the New Testament “the grace of God that brings salvation” is presented as “disciplining us to deny ungodliness and worldly lust” (Titus 2:11-12). In Hebrews 12:5-13, we see that God disciplines all of those whom he loves for holiness and bearing fruit.
Notice that these usages are not negative. In fact, discipline is only used of an intimate, caring father to a son/child relationship. God never disciplines his enemies, animals, or objects. God not only does not offer discipline to those outside his spiritual family, but he has also taken the punishment/condemnation upon himself for those who he is disciplining.
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In other words, God does not punish His children; He disciplines us. The discipline is not pleasant for the season, but it does yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness (it arrives us at point B). In theological terms, we often refer to this process as sanctification, but the biblical term is discipline.
When someone under our care has received our discipline, they become our disciple. God disciplines us because we have chosen to be his disciple. The emphasis of discipline must be teaching toward the goal rather than punishment.
Even the “rod” is offered with clarity. It is not a tool of anger or punishment in contexts of discipline in Scripture; it is always offered in love and is referred to as the “rod of correction” and not punishment. Punishment seeks retribution, whereas correction sets the trespasser back on the path toward point B. The rod allows the child to refocus toward the highest value in their life.
The unsaved have different goals than making foolish children wise, of course. Most are after merely changing behavior, preparing for life, or “educating.” Still, they are disciplining toward a goal as we all are.
Proverbs 22:6 presents this truth: train (discipline) up a child in the direction that he needs to go (according to the bent of his foolishness), and when he is old he will not depart from it. The verse is not a promise that if parents direct the child toward point B that there is a guarantee to arrive at point B. Instead, the verse is both exposing a parental responsibility as well as a parental privilege. We get to decide the goal toward which we direct our children.
Setting aside the reality that children can reject wise discipline as observed both in Proverbs and in life, the reason public schools and many Christian schools fail to discipline children in a life-changing and meaningful way is that they do not have the highest value of Christ or His grace central to arriving children at point B.
They can establish an ethical and moral character as their goal (point B), but they cannot transform the heart from foolish to wise. In fact, what we often see are educated fools in the news. They have been disciplined unto temporal and failing goals.
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