Instruction, Discipline, and the Rebuke that Leads to Life
On February 5, 2016 a group of eight churched teens in Calgary AB met up after a church youth group event to create a memory together. The plan was to go "sledding" or more specifically, sneak over a 6 ft high fence, and take plastic toboggans down the bobsled track at Canada Olympic Park. 3 of the young men had already been successful in sneak trial run there just one week prior. So this second run with a few more friends seemed like a simple, natural next step.
Unfortunately, what transpired was a night that would change their lives forever. As they boarded their sleds, the teens were unaware that a portion of the track they’d gone down before had been blocked with a cement barrier and chain over the past week by track officials preparing for an upcoming luge race. As the eight teen boys, on three sleds, hurtled down the track, there was no turning back. It was a high-spirited stunt after a church youth group meeting that only moments later ended in tragedy. 2 boys lost their lives, and the rest must deal with medical or mental issues that they may wrestle with for a lifetime. In a follow up inquiry, a judge noted “the young men involved in this incident were thrill-seeking youth whose ill-conceived risk-taking resulted in unspeakable tragedy.”
8 boys made a decision that seemed wise at the time. Breaking a rule, yes. But they’d already broken a rule the week before without consequence. Now, thankfully, this isn’t a sermon about breaking rules. Perhaps I could compete with Paul for being the greatest sinner. But you might think of a time when you did something foolish that didn’t break any rules at all. With due respect to rules, every choice we make every day has results - each thing we do has cause and effect. You tip over a glass on the table, and the contents spill everywhere.
You and I will tip over glasses til Jesus returns, and the ones we don’t our children will. But beyond accidents, we make decisions daily that have impact on not only our lives, but the lives of all those around us. Is there collective wisdom we can find that helps us to make better decisions, and to not do that alone?
Proverbs 14:12; 16:25 say “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Commentator Bruce K Waltke in his Proverbs commentary notes ‘the safety and destiny of a road are not always as they appear.’ as he references Matthew 7:13, 14 which says “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it”.
Throughout the New Testament Paul shares many times about roads travelled, races run. You may have sung along with Canadian songwriter Tom Cochrane whose anthem proclaims “Life is a Highway”. Proverbs is a book that is meant to instil wisdom in God’s people, a wisdom that is founded in the “fear of the Lord” and that works out covenant life in the practical details of everyday situations and relationships. How do we do life best on this journey?
Last week Tim talked about justice. And in recent weeks prior to that Brad and Jordan have talked about faithful friendship, and being a righteous son or daughter.
This week we look at the topic of the blessing of Discipline and Rebuke. In going through all the verses that Tim generously pulled together on this area, I noticed 3 key ways that Proverbs seems to approach discipline and rebuke. The first is related to those words, but is perhaps like the friendly relative to discipline and rebuke, and that is instruction. We can handle instruction, right? A little good advice from time to time? From our favourite podcast, or Sunday morning preacher, or favourite Bible College instructor, or if we’re having a good day, maybe from our mom or dad. So the first is instruction. The second way we’ll look at is maybe the most intimidating of these words to consider, and that’s rebuke. And then we’ll finish with talking about discipline, which in some ways could seem like instruction and rebuke mixed together in one nice ball of correction.
Can it be true there’s blessing in instruction? Can it be true there’s a blessing in discipline? And can it actually be true that there’s blessing in rebuke? Yes. The blessing of instruction, of discipline and of rebuke, is that they spring from, and lead to, life found in Christ.
Point 1 - Instruction
We dive into the Proverbs with a warning. Chapter 18:1 tells us “whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” God did not create us to do life alone.
Christ came to dwell among us, He sent the Holy Spirit, and in 2022 we’re also left with the full canon of His written word. As a congregation, we’ve recently gone through 2 Timothy. In chapter 3, verses 16 and 17 we read that His Word, Scripture, is profitable for instruction that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works. Psalm 119 reminds me to instruct my heart with God’s word so that I keep from sin. It says I can live purely by living according to His word.
Proverbs 18:1 also concludes that we are seeking the desires of our own hearts and not God’s when we isolate ourselves from His word.
Along with the instruction of God’s Word, there is a pattern in the Proverbs that speaks to learning the wisdom of God alongside the company of others. And maybe more specifically, under the instruction of others, or considering the advice of others.
Consider these proverbs that hit on the reality of instruction from others. (10:17) “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life”. (11:14) “There is safety with lots of counsellors”. (12:15) “A wise man listens to advice from others, instead of only doing what is right in his own eyes”. (13:10) “With those who take advice is wisdom”. (15:22) “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed”. 18:15 tells us (and I paraphrase) that we are intelligent, if “we acquire knowledge by listening to others”.
How tragically quick are we to rebuff the instruction of others because we’ve come to believe our personal relationship with Jesus is our business only, between us and Him. Oppositely, we should be setting aside our cultural individualism for the truth of God’s Word.
These verses all give clear direction. Instruction from other believers leads us to life. It brings safety, and we are wise to listen to advice. Our plans succeed the most, when we’ve had the most advice. We are to listen to others. Look around the congregation and let’s say that together.
We have some children here under 18 who live with parents. Proverbs 15:5 says “a fool despises his father’s instruction”. How tragic that so many of us in our young adult years, myself included, wrestle with seeing our parents as foolish, instead of ourselves.
But parents, even as we prayerfully continue to aim for our best in raising our children well - let us also seek out and embrace the influence of other godly men and women in our children’s lives. I’m so thankful to have Julie Fehr doing mentoring with our daughter LaeAnna. It’s such a blessing to have my children in Sunday School, and going to young adults. To know that if my children have moments of wrestling with me as a father, that the most important thing I’m entrusted with - to train them in the way they should go, is also being done by other men and women who care for them as the Body of Christ should. It doesn’t absolve me of my parental responsibility, but it sure is an important part of how God means for us to impact each other.
In my teen years, when I didn’t like my parents, and particularly my dad - it really was the reality of having others in my church investing into me and directing me also to Christ that helped ensure I would not foolishly leave the faith because of a sinful heart toward my father or mother. Let’s be intentional with each other’s children.
And yet, we are not called to stop instruction, discipline, and rebuke just because someone has turned 18.
Proverbs 23:12 says “apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge”.
Point 2 - Rebuke
How often do words of knowledge come across as rebuke? If you look at Strong’s Lexicon, the most typical Hebrew word used for rebuke is ep - ee - tee - mah’ - o (spelt “epitimao”). That word means, to tax upon, to censure or admonish, or to make a charge. Strong words. Have you ever felt taxed upon by the correcting words of a Christian brother or sister? Or a parent? Another word similar to rebuke used in Proverbs is reproof. And the Hebrew word used most often for that means correction, rebuke, punishment, chastisement.
I know we often ask for more encouragement in our lives - from friends, in small group, from the pulpit. But do we ask for rebuke? And I suggest we don’t, mostly because it’s uncomfortable.
And please note - by definition rebuke is different than anger, or just tearing a strip off someone in frustration. There is an end goal in mind of change, correction.
I tore my ACL a few years ago. And I just had surgery to repair it a week and a half ago. I have a small list of exercises and stretches that were given me last week by the surgeon. He encouraged me to be taxed upon by the exercises. I don’t like them. They’re uncomfortable. They cause some pain. My preferred choice would be to lie in my bed and wake up in 10 months and be all back to normal. But my surgeon’s strong direction is that to remain comfortable over the coming weeks and beyond will result in a great stunting of my recovery. The ACL and muscles in my knee will be underdeveloped and fall far short of the potential there is for me.
Proverbs 12:1 says he who hates reproof is stupid. We’re usually not comfortable with that word “stupid”. But we are more foolish than we realize if we are going to push back against rebuke and reproof in our lives. The strongest rebukes I received from my parents, and particularly my father, have led to some of my greatest strengths in character and life perspective. He was a faithful reprover.
Some of you haven’t had a lot of reproof and rebuke in your lives. I think I’ve had a fair amount and it’s still not something I crave. But if we don’t like to be reproved, if we don’t accept it when given, we’re compared to a scoffer in chapter 15:12. And just like the 2 similar verses that began and finished our Scripture reading together this morning that note death being the likely result of doing what seems right in our own strength, Proverbs 15:10 says “whoever hates reproof will die”.
Let’s take a moment to think beyond just ourselves, and how we accept rebuke or grow from it, and let’s consider how this fits into the area of leadership. One definition for leadership is simply “influencing others.” Every one here this morning can put on your leadership hat because you all have the ability to influence others. Matthew 5 tells us we as His followers are to be salt of the earth - bringing flavour, and to let our light shine before others - influence! How much should we consider the value and blessing of reproof on our ability to lead and influence when Proverbs 10:17 says “he who rejects reproof leads others astray.”
Maybe you’ve seen Christian leaders as being just your pastor, or your Board of elders, or some other person you see as a spiritual leader. Yet, we are all called to be growing as leaders.
We can move from verses talking of stupidity or foolishness, and find that there is honour and wisdom in receiving rebuke.
Proverbs 13:18 uses that language. And 15 verse 5 says “whoever heeds reproof is perfect.” Rebuke shapes and molds us toward perfection. The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise says Proverbs 15:31. And verse 32 goes on to say “he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”
You might hear that verse 31 and respond - well, it certainly would be nice to receive life-giving reproof and not the chaffing, uncomfortable and unpleasant reproof that I always seem to get!
But maybe it’s time to re-consider what we see as life-giving.
First, sometimes we confuse life-giving with feeling good. I’ll use a physical illustration. You’re sitting in your car, in the front passenger seat, enjoying your deep friend mozza sticks from A&W while you and your best friend enjoy a Saturday afternoon drive to Prince Albert. Mmm, life-giving mozza sticks. Then at the same time your seat-belt keeps on locking and digging into your chest, and it’s in-the-way, and annoying, and you’ve almost reached the point of taking it off. Suddenly your friend jerks the steering wheel, narrowly avoiding the deer who just darted across the road, but in the flash of an eye, the front right tire catches the shoulder and in a millisecond the gravel and grass grabs the tire, the car twists, and instantly is flipped into violently rolling multiple times from 100km/hr down to a standstill.
In the hazy moments right after you come to your senses, and realize you and your friend are alive - all around you broken glass and dust, and your mozza sticks…are no more.
Your annoying seatbelt just gave you life, another day to live, and another opportunity to shorten the life of your heart with more mozza sticks. So first point again. Seat-belts are life giving but often annoying. Mozza sticks are incredibly enjoyable, but not really life-giving.
Second point, invite rebuke into your life. It is impossible to avoid unwelcome and perhaps even unhelpful rebuke in your life. And so we need to work at graciously thanking people for their words, and in prayer, going to God and a group of trusted friends as you consider those words - not to slander the person to your friends, but to honestly ask, is there something in this reproof I should consider. Why just wait around for the rebuke that we all know will come, but may not be helpful Instead, regularly seek out rebuke from people you do trust and love. Loving people should be able to speak hard truths into others lives.
And as we shake at the prospect of going to someone with rebuke - three verses near the end of Proverbs coach us toward the value of doing so. 27:5 says “Better is an open rebuke than hidden love”. We show care and love in honest rebuke. I’m not loving my kids if I never rebuke them. In fact referring specifically to children Proverbs 29:15 says “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother." We can watch kids who show a pattern of disobedience, throwing tantrums, and showing willful disrespect to their parents, and often correctly assume that child has been under rebuked and disciplined. Well, in the same way, I’m suggesting many of those in the church displaying a regular pattern of unbiblical behaviour have been under-rebuked. It’s time for us to stop being politely Canadian, and to start being politely biblical.
Chapter 28:23 says “Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favour than he who flatters with his tongue”. The point of corporate church discipline is to bring restoration and to show the seriousness of an issue with stern measures, with the hope that the attention to sin will be noticed, and there will be repentance.
I have been thanked a couple times for speaking something difficult into someone’s life have. It’s humbled me that God could use me that way, and stirred my heart in my own walk with God. Similarly, the few people at key times who have graciously but directly spoken or rebuked me with an issue they saw have contributed to important refining. And sometimes I’ve reacted better than other times, but all those moments have been crucial in my growth.
And really, how you and I receive rebuke can be a measuring stick for us in our journey of spiritual maturity. Proverbs 17:10 says “a rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool”. Proverbs 19:25 tells us reproof is knowledge giving! Can we read chapter 25 verse 12 and agree that the value of rebuke to us is equal to that of a gold ring or ornament?
Let’s go back again to 2 Timothy and be reminded of Scriptures greatest strengths - “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”.
I want us to note what is not in that verse. There is a place for encouragement, and for positive words in our lives, but those aren’t noted in that verse. Encouragement is clearly a part of the Bible, and how we walk with each other - and I could list you verses that make that clear to us, but, let’s not look only for the positive while forgetting the value of what we unfairly refer to as negative, and let’s not cast negative light onto rebuke and discipline.
Point 3 - Discipline
Discipline is the last word we will touch on before closing. We often equate discipline with raising children. There may not be a more clear way for us to understand the foolishness that is in the heart of man than to look at a child. There are so many times my children would have ended sick to their stomachs, wounded, lost, or dead had Lindsay or I not stepped in with instruction, rebuke, or discipline. Isn’t it so much harder once we become adults to not feel like we’ve arrived. That somehow the day we turned 18 all wisdom of humanity fell out of the sky into our minds.
I have found myself in awe over the past few years that the gap of wisdom between my 8 year old and a 44 year old is as big as it is. Or even the gap between my 13 year old and I. But how much greater is the gap of foolishness between the wisest woman or man alive, and the creator, almighty, eternal God. 1 Corinthians 3:19 reminds us that the wisdom of this world is folly to God. Proverbs 1 begins telling us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of any knowledge that leads to wisdom.
And so, as foolish children before an eternal God, we are to recognize and accept the discipline that the Lord gives us as a part of living life on earth. That every challenging part of the years we are given are a beautiful refining process where God is working out all things for the good of those who love Him — the Lord disciplines those He loves. And without discipline, we are not loved.
Proverbs 15:10 issues a warning “there is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way.” I’ve told my children before, you can choose to disobey, or to continue to behave in that way, but I will make your life miserable all the while you do. Because I want them to taste the reality of consequences in our lives when we choose disobedience. And I assure them, that though discipline can feel hard at home in this stage of being kids, that the hard discipline of a spanking, the loss of riding a bike, reading books, or losing some other privilege, is small peanuts compared the consequences of sin that only get deeper, more destructive, and devastating the older we get, and the more rooted the sin.
Indeed, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him”, says Proverbs 22:15. And 29:15 says “the rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”
Bible College students sign a student life covenant when they arrive at NBC. They read a handbook before they even get to campus. They know all the guidelines and expectations. And then, some of them break them. And then, there’s discipline. Do we get angry when we feel we're being disciplined? Something I’ve never figured out is why some people get angry when they get a speeding ticket. You’re breaking the law. In my 20’s, I was a chronic speeder, and that started to become a problem for me - getting tickets. But I was always super polite. I thought, for all the times I didn’t get caught, I could at the least be gracious and kind the times that I did. Thankfully an excess of tickets brought me to a place where I had to change my behaviour or lose my license. By God’s grace, I was able to change considerably.
Proverbs 12:1 tells us that whoever loves discipline loves knowledge. I believe I’ve tasted truth of this verse multiple times when we’ve disciplined one of our children. Often it happens after spanking, but it’s happened after other forms of discipline as well, especially as my children have gotten older. They do something wrong, and you catch them in their sin, and you have a conversation involving rebuke and instruction. You then issue them whatever form of discipline you feel fits the crime. They receive an immediate consequence, but see your care and love both during and after the consequence, and often immediately after, I have seen tears of remorse and repentance — a child saying a heartfelt “I’m sorry.” Then hugs. And an “I love you”. That is a picture of the knowledge that comes with discipline. It’s not that they necessarily love the sting in a moment, but they’re showing they love the discipline by their response to the sting. A response of repentance to discipline showing a genuine understanding of the process by which you’ve been led to restoration and a knowledge for why and how you’ve been restored.
We really make discipline in our home an opportunity to talk about the gospel - A perfect God, our sin, and the consequence of sin in our lives, and the forgiveness that is offered to us through the actions of Jesus Christ, who himself paid a consequence for sin, the ultimate sacrifice with his life. And for our kids, sharing that as we continue to grow in remembering He is Lord and King in our lives by the truth in His Word - we more and more are transformed and shaped to love Him which leads to more consistency in living like Him and for Him, which also leads in their case, to less painful discipline :)
Proverbs 20:30 says “Blows that wound cleanse away evil, strokes make clean the innermost parts”. On first glance we might assume this speaks toward spanking children. And it’s easy to infer that. But I think it can be thought of more broadly than that. The point of physical discipline, is to apply discomfort to someone. In that sense, there are other forms of discipline that could have the same effect. They could be “blows that wound”. Discipline needs to hurt. It needs to show us the pain and consequence of sin and foolishness.
Chapter 29 verse 19 affirms this as well. “By mere words a servant is not disciplined, for though he understands, he will not respond.” The notes in my study Bible say this verse advises maintaining discipline with all those under authority, not through mere words, but also through negative and positive incentive of various kinds.
And who is under authority? I’d like to remind us that we’ve spent many Sunday’s together over this past year being reminded of the authority of the King of Kings over our lives. We’ve also spent time in books like Timothy and Titus being reminded of the authority of our church leaders in our lives. And in this message we’ve been faced with the reality that God gives us all authority to instruct, rebuke, and discipline each other with the truth of His Word.
It takes humility and a soft heart to change from being quick to tell people to stop judging you, and instead, yearning for God to bless you through the instruction, discipline, and rebuke of His word and inviting that from other believers as they also speak the truth of His Word into your life.
We think of Solomon as the wisest man ever. Indeed the writings of Proverbs and other OT books by him show us he was at another level with the wisdom God had granted him. And yet, we know that while he started strong, he did not finish well. What hope do we have to finish well?
Perhaps Proverbs chapter 3 can lead us in a the right direction. Verses 5 and 6 are two of my favorite. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and HE will make straight your paths”. If we back up to verse 4 we read “so you will find favour and good success in the sight of God and man.
The gospel writer, Luke, ties Proverbs 3:4 into his writing about Jesus. In Luke 2:52 we are told that Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man. How could Jesus, Son of God, God himself, need to grow in wisdom?
Well, may we never understate Jesus’ divinity, but may we also not understate His humanity. Jesus experienced intellectual and physical growth in the same ways as any child would. Even though he was the Word or God in the flesh, as one being fully human, he grew up memorizing and immersing himself in the written word, the Scripture that would have been available at that time, the Septuagint - which is very similar to our modern Old Testament. He grew up memorizing large portions of it. Throughout Jesus’ life he quotes regularly from Psalms, Deuteronomy and the rest of the Pentateuch, from Isaiah and all over the rest of the Old Testament.
The proverbs are given to us that we may grow in the wisdom of God’s Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, the one who perfectly embodied the all and showed us the wisdom of God. The priests were awed by his wisdom at the age of 12. As an adult, the Pharisees had no way to stump him. Solomon was King David’s son, and to that point in history, far and away the wisest man who’d ever lived. God blessed him with wisdom, and it’s evident by God’s choosing of Solomon to build the temple, and by the sheer mass of Solomon’s physical kingdom, and the peace in His lifetime in Israel, that God blessed Israel because of Solomon’s wisdom. And yet the wisest man in the world fell prey to apostacy - he eventually fell away from his faith because of a love for women that fell outside of God’s wisdom and instruction for His people. And his disobedience led to his fall, and started the downhill fall of kingdom of Israel into two, and to the eventual decimation of the northern kingdom and the exile of the south.
If our hope was in something we could accomplish by following perfectly all the wise proverbs of Solomon, we’d be toast. If our hope was in Solomon, we’d be hopeless. But our hope lies in Jesus, David’s greater Son. He’s the one who fulfills what Solomon couldn’t. Solomon’s kingdom passed away. Each of our earthly kingdoms will pass away. But Jesus’ kingdom will never pass away. Through the instruction, rebuke, and discipline of Proverbs - God’s Word, and of other brothers and sisters in Christ, we find richer life in God’s Kingdom.
Phil 2:3-8 say 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Being sinless Jesus did not need the instruction, discipline, and rebuke of his disciples. Yet he set the structure for the local church, the Body of Christ that is taught throughout the New Testament.
Proverbs 3:12 says the Lord disciplines the one he loves. Hebrews 12:6 repeats. Part of God’s disciplining us, that I trust you’re catching in these Proverbs, is that we are also to receive as a blessing the instruction, rebuke, and discipline of the Lord through His people who are walking this journey with us.
Some closing proverbial warnings from Jesus.
From Proverbs 13:13, “Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself.” From 13:18, “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction”. Chapter 29:1 says “when we resist discipline and rebuke, we will end up being broken beyond healing.” And verse 20 later in that chapter says “we have little hope outside of discipline and rebuke.”
If you remember my first tragic illustration, I remind us again - the safety and destiny of a road are not always as they appear.” There is so much at stake to lose if we miss out on the blessing of instruction, discipline, and rebuke, and so much to gain as we seek it.
If we waited to discipline our children until we were perfect, our children would never be disciplined. While there is a place to consider the logs in our eyes before we speak discipline, rebuke, or instruction into someone’s life, may we bite our tongues when someone is taking time to show us the love of Christ by their speaking into ours. Let’s welcome discipline and rebuke. Let’s seek it out like buried treasure. And let’s have compassion when people attempt it and might even miss the mark.
Proverbs 16:25 says ““There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” May God implant in us a desire to live - by the knowledge and wisdom found in Proverbs and the entire Scriptures.
Let’s sing this last song together, as one congregation, mindful of our own propensities to fall away like Solomon on a daily basis. May we together desire for God to reign in us, individually, and corporately. And may we remember the hope of a Saviour who embodies all the wisdom of Proverbs , and may we embrace the blessing of instruction, discipline and rebuke by His Word, and by the love of Christian brothers and sisters.