The love of God is quite rightly a major focus for Christians. We can never speak enough of how much God loves us in Christ. His love is matchless, overwhelming, sincere and pure. Because we are in Christ, it is a love that comes from a Father’s heart fully committed to our salvation. His love means He acts with grace and mercy towards us, but it also means that He disciplines us at times in order to redirect us into the centre of His will. This discipline can be painful, but He always disciplines us with higher motives in mind – i. our long-term good, ii. so we can share in His holiness, iii. and live right before Him.
In other words, God doesn’t just discipline us because we are bad – He disciplines us to:
- lead us to a place of repentance to receive His forgiveness (Romans 2:4)
- cause us to grow spiritually
- enable us to become better more godly and holy human beings
- learn more about Him, His love, His will and the journey of faith He asks us to walk following Christ
- be more faith-filled and honouring to Christ in how we live each day
- enable us to become more useful in His service
- allow more of Christ to be formed in us
- because it is a good thing (Proverbs 3:11-12)
- enable us to be more productive
- teach us about the importance of suffering and sacrifice in the Christian’s victory.
The Means of Discipline
There are seasons in His discipline. Sometimes it is for a few hours or days; other times it can last for an extended season. His Discipline takes a number of forms:
- God prunes (John 15:1-17)
- Sometimes He allows us to suffer to grow in our understanding of obedience (Hebrews 5:8)
- Sometimes He allows the enemy to attack and tempt us (Job 1-2)
- Sometimes He leads us through the fire (1 Peter 1:6-7)
- Sometimes He allows us to get the unsanctified thing we yearned for which usually is really bad for us
- And sometimes He removes His presence, peace and joy from our lives.
Hebrews 12:5-11 is a great passage exploring God’s Discipline. There the writer states this great truth: ‘And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as His children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when He corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes each one He accepts as His child.”’ The writer says that God’s discipline is an encouraging truth – he counsels us not to treat it lightly, His discipline is a seriously important spiritual truth – he also says don’t give up when He disciplines. These three things are important to hear:
- be encouraged when He disciplines you
- His discipline is really important for your soul
- you need to keep on following Christ as it happens.
Don’t get discouraged, don’t think that God has left you, and don’t give up pursuing Christ.
The writer continues: ‘As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as His own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as He does all of His children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really His children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in His holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.’
Three great themes are presented in this passage: i. God’s discipline, ii. His Fatherly care, iii. and His love for us. It is worth exploring the idea of love a bit further, before wrapping up considering what our love would look like when disciplined by God. The word that is used here for ‘love,’ in Hebrews 12, is agapaw which is from the same family as agape, the word often used to describe the love of God.
The ancient Greeks had at least four words to express the concept of ‘love,’ unlike our one English word. Storge is the Greek word that expresses family love. It included the love of parents for a child, between members of the family, even between husband and wife in a good marriage. Storge love creates a deep family bond, an abiding affection within the family, and helps the family to truly connect with each other. This is not the only quality of love that is needed in families, but it is an important one which transforms lives for the better.
Another Greek word is eros: passionate, physical, emotional and sexual love. This is the love of the body and material world. Eros love produces the need for physical contact and relationships. It is also a good love, a love that is supposed to be at the heart of marriage producing joy, children and adventure; it also expresses itself in a love for nature and creation. However, because it is also linked closely to the physical, it has the greatest potential for becoming soiled, dirty and infected with the world’s lusts and anti-Christ philosophies for relationships. If eros love is not disciplined and brought under the lordship of Christ, and thus not sanctified or set apart as holy, then it quickly degenerates into a carnal, fleshy and lustful feelings led, base, sinful type of love.
The root of phila… is philos, a friend who has affection for, an associate; it is also the root for phileo, the fourth Greek word for love. Phileo is a love that is a deep affection for another, that produces deep meaningful friendships, affection, comradeship, or a family-like interest in another person. Therefore, it is often translated as brother, sister or brethren. In Romans 12:10, Paul joins phileo and storge to create the compound word philostorgoi to show that, in Christ, we are brothers and sisters, and together part of God’s family.
Without love, life becomes hollow and threadbare, with love and God’s discipline, it becomes fulfilling and exciting. 1 John 4:7-21, brings love to the fore and explores it in one of its most significant forms, agape – ‘God is love.’ Agape is most often used to describe the divine, completely selfless and overwhelming love of God. In 1 John 4, this is the love that the church is also to demonstrate, v.11, ‘beloved [agape loved ones], if God so loved [agape] us, we also ought to love [agape] one another.’
We need to engage with God desiring this selfless agape love to grow and flourish in us – He is so willing to share His love with us. Agape love then materialises in our lives through: i. Loving, selfless actions; ii. Good, life-giving words; iii. Pure, open and strengthening non-verbal communications with each other; iv. The kindness, generosity and grace with which we treat each other; and v. Reacting to each other with self-control, good-hearts and selfless commitment.
When love goes wrong
Interestingly, 1 Timothy 6:10 contains another love word, philarguria, ‘love or affection for money.’ There Paul says that the love for, or affection for, money is a root of all kinds of evil. The Greek literally means ‘a friend of silver.’ This is not a normal love for making money, in itself no sin; it is avarice, an extreme greed or longing need for wealth or material gain linked to idolatry – false worship. This is a greed that drives a person to do anything for wealth or great material prosperity, including neglecting one’s spouse or driving him or her to help fulfil one’s own insatiable appetite for more money. In that sense it is not a love for money, but a deep seated idolatrous greed for money. Money and possessions are also areas God disciplines us in.
People very quickly sense if we are real or false. It is also the case that if we are holding a part of ourselves back, not allowing it to be seen or revealed – that area often sits in darkness, does not change and ultimately prevents us truly connecting with each other, with God’s love, and of course with God Himself.
With what I have written above, as we consider God’s discipline, we can view His discipline affecting every single aspect of our lives. A Christian who has learned to respect and submit to god’s Discipline – become one whose entire life is filled with love, and he or she acts in mature, sanctified love towards others:
- Eros, disciplined and properly sanctified by Christ, adds a physical passion which enhances life
- Phileo properly disciplined describes a much warmer, more emotional, community type of love that binds us together in God’s family
- Agape, as it is perfected in our lives as God disciplines and trains us – is selfless, grace-filled, a river of the love of God flowing into us driving out fear, worry and faithlessness. It enables us to suffer for Christ without bitterness nor petulance, and becomes the basis for our witness to the world for Christ
- Storge, disciplined connects us to each other enabling us to live with others truly immersed in the family of God.
Each of these four unique and wonderful descriptions reveal so much about the depth of true love, and our capacity to love as human beings when we have been disciplined by God. His discipline enables other character qualities to be developed in order for us to become rounded, secure, loving and gracious human beings, filled with God’s perfect, unblemished love. May God enable us to walk in victory as we live in His love and under His discipline.