The word discipline is used 16 x’s in the book of Proverbs. That’s more than in any other book of the Bible and accounts for about 25% of its total occurrences in the Scripture. Obviously then, Proverbs has some important things to say about discipline.
Discipline is an important part of human development—no one can move to maturity without it. What is discipline? In short, it is the ability to give up the lesser (and in some cases the detrimental) in order to achieve something greater. Someone goes into training for a 5K race. They wake up earlier than usual to get in a training run. They cut back on certain foods. They spend more than they wanted to for a nice pair of running shoes that will give their feet the support they need. Why do they do these things? Because they view competing in the race as more important than a few extra dollars, some extra food, or extra sleep.
Discipline can be learned and practiced at almost any age. Children learn to pick up their toys, eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, and help around the house—despite the fact that they would rather be playing. As they make their way through school, they learn to put homework and studying ahead of other activities. These kinds of practices continue and become one of the signs of maturity—they have the ability to give up the lesser to achieve the greater.
In Proverbs 5, the writer is warning about being seduced by the smooth speech of an adulterous woman. “For the lips of an adulterous woman drip honey and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword” (v. 3-4). In other words, all that glitters isn’t gold.
The writer goes on to consider someone who gives in to her ways not once or twice—but as a way of life.
“At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, ‘How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction!’ I would not obey my teachers or turn my ear to my instructors.’” (v. 11-13)
Where there is no discipline life becomes disheveled and unravels. It is not a pretty sight. This why we’re told, “The Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in” (3:12). When it’s practiced correctly, discipline is always an action that springs from love.
When our three children were growing up there were times when they wanted to participate in some activity we didn’t think they were ready for or was just not a good thing for them to be involved in. As parents, it was our job to step in and try to explain to them why that wasn’t a good idea. As any parent can tell you, we were more successful on some occasions than others. Sometimes in response they would say something to the effect that if we really loved them, we would allow them to do what they wanted. We would adjust that misapprehension by reminding them that if we didn’t love them, we wouldn’t care what they did! It was because their mother and I loved them deeply that we exercised preventive discipline.
Discipline (which like anything else can be abused), tends to get a bad rap. True discipline springs from love and leads to life. I would say that makes it something we should value, wouldn’t you?