The positive role of discipline

“Discipline.”  It’s a major concern of parents, who sometimes tear their hair out trying to figure out how to handle some troublesome childish behavior.

Unfortunately, for many parents, the word has become almost synonymous with “punishment.”   It’s important to remember that the word comes to us from the Latin root meaning “instruction” — the same root that gives us the word “discipleship.”  That might help us keep in mind that punishment should never be an end in itself.  Parental discipline has a positive goal — building up the character of the child — and what parents do should be modified moment to moment to serve that goal.

The same is true of church discipline, though this is a far less popular subject.  Today, one can easily imagine a situation of church discipline gone awry, and all the attention it would bring through social media.  But that’s not to say that there’s no longer any place for such discipline, provided it’s done properly, with the loving intent of discipleship.

As mentioned in the previous post, Paul’s “severe letter” had succeeded in bringing most of the Corinthians to repentance; they in turn disciplined the individual who had been at the center of the storm.  But enough is enough, Paul writes:

But if someone has made anyone sad, that person hasn’t hurt me but all of you to some degree (not to exaggerate).  The punishment handed out by the majority is enough for this person.  This is why you should try your best to forgive and to comfort this person now instead, so that this person isn’t overwhelmed by too much sorrow.  So I encourage you to show your love for this person.  (2 Cor 2:5-8, CEB)

This is not a personal issue, Paul suggests, but a congregational one.  True, Paul was personally injured by how the conflict was handled; too many pastors, I fear, know exactly how that feels.  Paul’s primary concern, however, is for the injury done to the community.  We don’t know exactly what the Corinthians did; presumably, they kicked the man out of fellowship.  But whatever they did, it worked: the individual has learned his lesson and is full of sorrow.  It’s time, therefore, for forgiveness, comfort, and love — in other words, for the things that promote healing and restoration.

The Corinthians had finally obeyed Paul in disciplining an egregiously errant believer; would they now follow him in extending forgiveness?  More on that in Tuesday’s post.