Thursday, November 04, 2004

Divine Discipline

Discipline has always had a very negative connotation in my experience. To me discipline was harsh and sometimes violent. Discipline wasn't always handed out logically or rationally. I remember it being extreme punishment and often without reason.

A favorite passage of mine is found in John 15. Now, if you know that I was raised in a legalistic church, you can imagine how John 15:2 was interpreted: "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away." God was portrayed to me as a God of wrath and judgment who had no tolerance for mistake-making Christians.

For some reason, when recalling the verse I remembered it saying: Every branch in Me that doesn't bear fruit He will cut away. Obviously my impression was that God did not want unproductive Christians in the body of Christ and anyone that did not work to keep the salvation that they had found, would be cast away by God.

Yet for the first time something caught my eye. Did you catch the note attached to 'takes away' in the footnote? It said lifts up. Apparently the Greek work used here is airo - which means to take up or lift up, and suddenly I see this verse in a whole new light and God in a whole new way.

You see, I'm from the Midwest, so grapevines aren't too common around here. It wasn't difficult for me to accept the interpretation that a vinedresser would cut away a vine that isn't producing fruit. A vine that doesn't yield well, what use could it have, I reasoned. It could be dying or diseased. Like a rotten apple in a barrel, it could contaminate the rest of the branches, so it would be better to cut it off, right?

But in the bible studyI'm currently working through, the author says: "...the branch is too valuable to cut off. So a vinedresser"takes up" the branch, cleans it off, and re-fastens it to the trellis. Soon it's thriving again." And my heart fills with joy, and relief.

You see, first of all, I thought that God's grace, the lifting of a sinner out of the filth and the subsequent restoration, was a grace given only to those that have not yet become a part of the body of Christ. However, the verse is quite clear in that it is referring to one that is part of the body, a branch, and that God will restore a member in the same way. This grace is for me!

Secondly, I am struck by the author's words: the branch is too valuable to cut off. I had never considered this. I had never thought that God looked at me as something of value to his Church or in his existence. And yet, I have read hundreds of times of his unfailing and unconditional love.

Now when I imagine God as the vinedresser, I don't envision someone walking through a vineyard with a machete, chopping away the weak and fallen branches. Instead I can see Him gently lifting up a dry, brittle and dying branch, carefully cleaning it off and painstakingly tying it up again. He loves it. He's given so much of himself for it. It's worth too much. Now I see His discipline as gentle and loving and I believe that He will gently lift me up when I am too weak or discouraged to hold myself up. His discipline isn't to make me suffer, it's to restore me. It isn't to cast me away, it is to draw me closer to Him.

Verses 5-6 of John 15 tells us that God's discipline comes in stages or levels, each one more intense according to the sin involved and our lack of response to his prodding. I had always thought of discipline as being severe and painful, an extreme consequence to an action regardless of the degree of the offense. And yet, the scriptures show me something so different from the irrational and painful punishments I experienced in my youth. It is completely opposite to the severe and harsh God that I was taught about.

To some it may seem unreasonable to associate the God of grace and love with such brute and harsh characteristics. How can anyone believe that, you might ask. But that's the problem. I didn't learn about the extent of God's love until I was adult. As a youth, I was basically taught that God was severe. Unfortunately, I know I was not alone in this skewed, incorrect perception of my God. It's because of these skewed thoughts that I have feared disciplining in child-rearing. I feared causing my daughter the same grief and experiences of injustice that I did growing up.

But God has given us in his scriptures a blueprint for a fair, loving, reasonable form of discipline. A discipline that isn't meant to create fear or resentment, but one that is meant to help us attain a fruitful existence, a divine discipline.

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