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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Discipline (2)

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DISCIPLINE.—The Gospels reveal a twofold discipline—that which Christ Himself experienced, and that to which He subjects His servants. It will be convenient to treat these separately.

1. The discipline to which Christ submitted.—The NT teaches clearly that even our Lord required to be ‘perfected’ (τελειωθῆναι) in order to ensure the consummation of the work for which He had become incarnate. Such a τελείωσις consisted in His being brought ‘to the full moral perfection of His humanity, which carries with it the complete ness of power and dignity’ (Westcott); and its necessity is recognized, not by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews alone (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 7:28 etc.), but also by Christ Himself (Luke 13:32).

It is taught with equal clearness that our Lord attained His ‘perfection’ through the discipline which He voluntarily endured. This included several elements. (1) Among the most important was the discipline of temptation (Mark 1:12-13 ||, Hebrews 2:15); and in this connexion it is important to remember that His testing was not only searching in its strength, but repeated in its assaults (note plur. Luke 22:28, and cf. Mark 14:32 ff. || Hebrews 4:15). (2) A second element in His discipline was that of delay. The incarnate Son, with His love eager for the completion of His saving work, must have exercised no ordinary self-restraint, as, amid the opposition of foes and the misconception of friends, the stages of its progress passed slowly by (Luke 12:50; cf. the probable force of the temptation in Matthew 4:8-9 and of ἐνεβριμήσατο τῷ πνεύματι in John 11:33; ef. also 2 Thessalonians 3:5). (3) The discipline of sorrow was also included in this ‘perfecting’ of Christ. His experience of sorrow was limited to no single kind. He felt the force of all the ills that vex our human life. In a most suggestive citation one sacred writer shows in how real and literal a sense He took our human sicknesses upon Him (Matthew 8:16-17, cf. Mark 5:30). He knew no less the pang of regret with which a pure man views opportunities wasted by those for whom he has cherished high ideals (Luke 19:41-44,—note ἔκλαυσεν). His, too, were the tears shed over a family bereaved and a ‘loved one lost’ (John 11:35). (4) The last aspect of Christ’s discipline of which mention must be made was that of pain and suffering. Of this there is no occasion for offering detailed illustration. The story of His sufferings is the story of His life (for a few examples see Mark 8:31 || Mark 14:32 ff. || Mark 15:16-39 ||, Hebrews 5:8; note the use of παιδεύω in Luke 23:16; Luke 23:22).

The experience of this discipline, revealing itself under different aspects and affecting His human nature at different points, was necessary to the fulfilment of our Lord’s mission. It was in virtue of His ‘perfection’ through suffering that He reached His absolute sympathy with humanity, and in consequence His complete qualification to be its Saviour (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15-16; Hebrews 5:2). See Perfection.

2. The discipline which Christ imposes upon His followers.—Discipline is an essential part of the Christian life, and the NT points out several forms under which it is to be experienced. In some of these it is restricted to a certain number of those who call themselves by the name of Christ. (1) There is, for example, a discipline to which Christians are rendered liable by falling into error (1 Corinthians 11:29 ff., esp. note παιδευόμεθα in 1 Corinthians 11:32; see also παιδεύω in Revelation 3:19). (2) The discipline of persecution also does not of necessity come to all Christians. At the same time, as both record and exhortation prove, it is no uncommon experience. It certainly befell our Lord’s early followers (Mark 13:9, Matthew 10:22-23, John 15:21; John 16:33; cf. the Epp. passim, and see esp. Hebrews 12:4-13, where παιδεία is cited in this reference), and He Himself attributed a special blessedness to those who found a place in its honoured succession (Matthew 5:10-12). (3) In a third aspect, however, discipline falls to the lot of every Christian. No man can be a true follower of Christ who is not willing from the first to practise the discipline of self-renunciation. Such self-renunciation, indeed, is one of the conditions of entering His service (Mark 8:34 ff., Matthew 10:38). And there is to be no limit to the sacrifice required. It must be endured even to the severance of earth’s closest ties (Matthew 10:37) and the loss of life itself (Matthew 24:9, John 16:2). Few things are more impressive than the manner in which, from the very beginning of His ministry (cf. Mark 1:17-18), our Lord assumed His right to claim from His followers that utter self-repudiation, and confidently expected on their part a willing response to His demand (Matthew 9:9; Matthew 19:21).

One particular aspect of this Christian self-denial calls for separate consideration. The Gospel teaching affords little support to those who have sought to express self-renunciation in the form of morbid asceticism. Christ’s own example, in suggestive contrast with that of His forerunner, leads us to the very opposite conception of religious discipline (Matthew 11:18 f.). Along the pathway of poverty (Matthew 8:20) and persecution (John 7:19; John 8:37) to which He called His disciples, He Himself walked; yet alike in His own life and in His thought for them (Matthew 9:14, cf. 1 Timothy 5:23) ascetic discipline received no prominence. There appears to be just a hint of it in one of His sayings (Matthew 19:12, cf. 1 Corinthians 7:32 ff.), but even there it is distinctly stated less as a rule for the many than as an ideal for some few to whom a special call might come. In Christ’s view the ‘fasting’ consequent upon real sorrow was so inevitable, that any merely formal anticipation of it was to be deprecated rather than approved (Matthew 9:15). See, further, art. Asceticism.

For ecclesiastical ‘discipline’ see art. Church.

H. Bisseker.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Discipline (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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