What Does the Bible Say About Discipline?

God uses discipline to guide and effect change in the lives of his children. God disciplines out of his love, always for the purpose of growth in holiness and, ultimately, the salvation of our souls.

What Does the Bible Say About Discipline

The Bible has much to say about the topic of discipline. Discipline is not a one-size-fits-all; it must be contextualized from person to person in order to stimulate God-honoring spiritual growth. Scripture speaks about the need to be disciplined mentally, spiritually, and physically. Sometimes the Bible gives specific areas where discipline is essential (e.g., children, unrepentant sinners, etc.).

What Does the Bible Say About Discipline (KJV)?

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” Revelation 3:19

God disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6). His goal in disciplining His children is always to encourage their growth in holiness.

“For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Hebrews 12:10-11

God’s discipline of His children is always for their good. It is meant to bring about abundant peace and righteousness within their lives.

“He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth.” Proverbs 10:17

Those who are quick to receive and learn from discipline often represent God with their lives and point others to Him. Such wisdom is to be a defining mark of those who belong to the covenant community: the Church.

Definition of Discipline in the Bible

In Hebrew, there are at least three primary words used for discipline: yāḵaḥ, yāsar, musār . Though translated in various ways (discipline, instruction, correction), together these words occur some 151 times in the Old Testament.

“Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.” Job 5:17-18

In the Bible, discipline often looks like God’s exposing of our sin, which then leads to our correction and restoration by his hand.

“Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law; That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked. For the LORD will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance.”Psalm 94:12-14

When disciplining, God teaches using his law to correct sinful behaviors. He does this out of his great love for his people.

In the Greek of the New Testament, there are 10 or more words that are used to speak to the idea of discipline. Often the word translated as “discipline” is synonymous with words like guidance, instruction, training (2 Timothy 3:16), and other times it is closer in meaning to words like correction, rebuke, or even chastise (Hebrews 12:5). Sometimes discipline is linked with bodily training (1 Timothy 4:7-8; Hebrews 5:14). At times, discipline can mean something closer to “knock into submission,” but this is only used to speak of self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:27).

“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10

The New Testament carries on the idea that God corrects us and reveals our sin in such a way that sorrow over our sin is produced, which ultimately leads to repentance and salvation with no condemnation.

Examples of Discipline in the Bible

In addition to speaking directly to the issue of discipline, the Bible narrates stories that reveal the Lord’s discipline in the lives of his people. In fact, the people of Israel’s exile from their land is to be viewed from the perspective of God’s discipline (2 Kings 17).

“And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. 14 Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.”2 Samuel 12:13-14

God used the prophet Nathan to correct and discipline David’s sin against Uriah. David’s response to God’s discipline is one of full acceptance of responsibility, which asuages the wrath of God against him personally. Nevertheless, the consequences of his sin still remained.

In the first chapter of Luke, Zachariah’s questioning of God’s ability to do accomplish His purposes leads to Zacheriah’s being struck dumb: he was unable to speak until his son, John, was born (1:18-25). Upon the release from such discipline, Zacheriah declares the goodness of God (1:57-79).

Moses’s disobedience to God’s instruction by striking a rock for water rather than speaking to it led to his being prohibited from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20:9-12). From the perspective of discipline, reprimanding Moses for his sin (which was carried out in front of the entire congregation of Israel) was a necessary means of preserving the holiness of God’s word in the midst of Israel. Moses’ own disobedience carried consequences, and both he and Israel learned that God reveals His commitment to His glory through His discipline.

What Does the Bible Say About Spiritual Discipline?

Spiritual discipline should bring about spiritual growth, shaping us more into the likeness of Christ. This requires the painful process of pruning: removing sinful habits and tendencies that hinder our conformity to Christ’s character (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

The Bible speaks of the importance of various spiritual disciplines:

  • Meditating on Scripture (Joshua 1:8)
  • Prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
  • Silence (Psalms 131:2)
  • Solitude (Matthew 14:13)
  • Fasting (Acts 13:3)
  • Memorizing Scripture (Psalms 119:11)
  • Submission to Church Leaders (Hebrews 13:17)
What Does the Bible Say About Discipline

What Does the Bible Say About Discipline and Self-Control?

The Bible speaks to great extents about self-control, especially regarding the resistance of sinful desires. Having self-discipline and self-control are essentially one and the same. The discipline of self-control is part of the work of sanctification and flows out of God’s grace (Titus 2:11-14).

A few examples from the Bible about having self-control:

  • Resisting sin at all costs (2 Corinthians 7:1; Matthew 5:30)
  • Characteristic of the wise as opposed to the foolish (Proverbs 25:28)
  • Related to sexual purity (1Corinthians 7:5, 9)
  • Part of gospel ministry empowered by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • Characteristic of Biblical elders (1 Timothy 3:2-3)
  • Helping us live productive lives in our knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8)
  • Characteristic of Christian living (Acts 24:25)

What Does the Bible Say About Discipline of a Child?

In the Bible, parents are given the primary responsibility to train, instruct, guide, discipline their children.

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” Proverbs 13:24

Discipline is meant to be out of love and for the good of the child. Parents—Christian or otherwise—who fail to guide their children’s moral compass and do not provide consequences for behavior are ultimately failing to show love to their children. The biblical picture of discipline moves beyond morals and into the categories of belief in the gospel and the Spirit’s work of transformation. Although this verse is sometimes used as a biblical prooftext for spanking, the emphasis of the verse is not a standardization of a particular method, but that disciplining a child is in fact loving and wise.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

The things young children experience often impact the trajectory of their lives. Wisdom would prove that it is very important to guide them in the ways of the Lord, even from infancy.

“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture [or discipline] and admonition of the Lord.”Ephesians 6:4

Parent’s end-goal should be for their children to love and serve the Lord, to walk in his ways and live on mission with him.

What Does the Bible Say About Discipline in the Church?

Church discipline is meant to lead unrepentant members of the covenant community to repentance, as well as to guard the church against sin and to restore Christian fellowship within the body. It should never be meant to shame but always to show love in a way that encourages spiritual growth (1 Timothy 2:24-26). In the Bible, church discipline is only to be directed toward professing Christians. Unbelievers or “outsiders” are never the target of church discipline but of gospel love to win them to Christ.

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus outlines a process for church discipline. Jesus instructs his followers to first go to the person who has sinned one-on-one, and then with another one or two others. If the one who has sinned does not listen to the small group, the church is to intervene. If the one who has sinned is still unrepentant, they are to be considered as one who is godless. It is important to remember that Jesus’ entire ministry was focused on bringing the godless into the kingdom of God, so the godless here are not to be hated but loved and sought after with gospel truth.

As in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, sometimes church discipline leads to the removal of a member from active Christian fellowship (especially partaking of the covenant meal, the Lord’s Supper) for the purpose of their ultimate salvation.

Benefits of Discipline in the Bible

God always instructs his children out of love in order to build them up. Discipline in the Bible is beneficial in this life, but its goal extends into eternity as well.

The benefits of discipline to the believer are numerous:

  • Eternal value (1 Timothy 4:7-11)
  • Participation in holiness (Hebrews 12:10)
  • A heavenly reward (Revelation 2:10)
  • Gain wisdom (Proverbs 1:7)

Stephen D

Stephen Dillard serves as a Bible Scholar with Wycliffe Associates and is a contributing writer on Revelations.org. He is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He and his wife, Madison, have four children and make their home in Indiana.

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