The Disciplined Life

Who are our heroes? Who are the people we look up to and try to be like? In our world today we see some young people trying to be like their favorite sports icon or maybe it’s someone they think is cool. The mentor may be a parent who they respect and are trying to please.

It is “true wisdom to [realize] that the more experienced [person] may save us much [heartache and failure] by instructing us as a result of what has been learned on a road already traveled, and which to us is all new ground. The self-confident scorner will pass on, indifferent to the words of the wise, to learn for themselves by bitter experience of the snares and pitfalls they might have been saved from, had they been humble enough to accept counsel from those competent to teach them.[i]

When we think of discipline there is the discipline that comes from outside a person, like a parent disciplining a child. However, the ultimate form of discipline comes from God and hopefully there is a willingness on our part to embrace it and learn from it. Without learning to receive discipline and ultimately to become self-disciplined our lives will be far less successful. When I speak of self-discipline, I’m talking about being willing to surrender to and be under the control of the Holy Spirit. A Spirit empowered and controlled life.

Many people are disciplined in some area of their lives and may have a measure of earthly success, but the Scriptures talk about having a life that is lived well and considered from a biblical vantage point a true success. What drives or fuels a life of discipline is desire. Desire is the fuel that embraces discipline in our lives, from God, others and ultimately becomes internalized. The effects of living a life under the discipline of godly instruction facilitates a disciplined life, which in turn brings great blessings both in this life and into eternity. We could call this the results of a godly life.

Many of the opening chapters of Proverbs have an appeal to hear the words of wisdom and challenge us to respond to them in a positive way, rather than dismissing their value. “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes (Proverbs 13:1).”

Here we see the contrast between those who listen to instruction and correction, for the Hebrew word translated here as ‘instruction,’ includes the ideas of being corrected, with the mocker who won’t respond positively to that instruction and correction. What Proverbs 13 illustrates is a number of areas in our lives where embracing God’s instruction in our decision-making impacts not only our own lives, but also the lives of others. What we are going to see are four realms where blessings flow from a disciplined life or a wise life.

The first realm where discipline impacts us is upon our speech.

The area that is the most difficult to tame is the words we speak. This is the one area of our lives that gets us into the most trouble. James, who was deeply impacted by the wisdom literature, certainly understood that when he said, “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check (James 3:2). A little later he points out; “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell (James 3:6).”

Can we control what we say? Are we quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry as James admonishes us (cf. James 1:19)? The words we speak are powerful. What we say or don’t say, and how we say it is indicative of what is happening within our hearts. Words are one means of determining the kind of person we are. Not only does it reveal our character but also will impact the state and future of our lives. Our words can bring blessings or curses into our lives and the lives of others. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit (Proverbs 18:21).” Our words can shape the outcomes in our lives, because they reflect ultimately who we are and what we desire from life. They also make those things possible or they can be the means in which ruin comes our way.

From the fruit of their lips people enjoy good things, but the unfaithful have an appetite for violence. Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.[ii]

Bruce Waltke points out: “The wise have open ears (v. 1a) and closed mouths (v. 3a); the foolish have closed ears (v. 1b) and open mouths (v. 3b).”[iii] When we live a spirit disciplined life it impacts our speech. We learn to think before speaking. “The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction. Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:23-24).” The words that flow should be words that bring help, hope and healing. So, what kind of words flow from our lips? Are the words of our lips filled with anger and accusations or are the words of our mouths filled with encouragement and hope, that desires to build up those around us? Words are powerful.         

Back in 1675, some nine years after the terrible fire in London, Sir Christopher Wren himself laid the first foundation stone in what was to be his greatest architectural enterprise-the building of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It took him thirty-five long years to complete this task, and when it was done, he waited breathlessly for the reaction of her majesty, Queen Anne. After being carefully shown through the structure, she summed up her feelings for the architecture in three words: ‘It is awful; it is amusing; it is artificial.’

Imagine how you would feel if words like these were used to describe the work of your life! However, Sir Christopher Wren’s biographer said that on hearing these words, he heaved a sigh of relief and bowed gratefully before his sovereign. How could this be? The explanation is simple: In 1710, the word awful meant ‘awe-inspiring,’ the word amusing mean ‘amazing,’ and the word artificial meant ‘artistic.’ What to our ears might sound like a devastating criticism were in that time words of measured praise?”[iv]

The Second realm where discipline impacts us is the means of acquiring and utilizing money.

What is our attitude toward money? Is money something we use to enrich our lives, but not seen as a tool to be used to bring glory to God and help to others as well? Do we acquire money at the expense of others? Our attitude toward money speaks volumes of where our trust really is. Is money the ultimate source of our security? What should our attitude be toward it?  

The proper means of acquiring money is an important ingredient in living a wise or disciplined life. “Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow (Proverbs 13:11).”

The wisdom literature sees money as a tool to be used. How we acquire it is also an important element in a wise or disciplined life.

The proverb argues for the accumulation of wealth through virtue, not through get-rich schemes and vice, by weighting the scales at the end of the day. [Gotten] by unsound means (mehebel) basically means ‘puff of air/vapor’; it is often used metaphorically for what lacks permanence. This metaphor of getting money from a vapor suggests what English speakers call ‘easy money,’ including tyranny, injustice, extortion, lies, and windfalls at the expense of others. …Instead of these ‘windy’ methods, the book prescribes the substantial methods of patience, diligence, prudence, generosity, and faith, virtues that have stood the test of time.”[v]

The idea of working diligently, gathering monies patiently and showing generosity are all traits of the godly whose wealth slowly accumulates. Other proverbs support Proverbs 13:11. One example is Proverbs 12:11, “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.” What is meant by no sense is found in a later proverb as the idea is restated. “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty. A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished (Proverbs 28:19-20).”

Meaning in life is not secure by possessing things, but by finding purpose that is significant and meaningful to ourselves, as well as to others. Larry Crabb in his book, Inside Out; shares the power of this longing or desire that fuels our lives. “To say I long for respect does not put the matter too strongly. I long to know that someone sees something in me that’s valuable, that my existence is important because I’m capable of making a difference. Many people refer to this longing as a desire for significance or, more specifically, personal meaningfulness.”[vi]

True security is found in righteousness. In Proverbs 13, we see the limitations of wealth.  

“A person’s riches may ransom their life, but the poor cannot respond to threatening rebukes. The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out (Proverbs 13:8-9).” While the rich may be able to pay for the ransoms if they are kidnaped, the poor are rarely threatened in order to secure wealth.

While this seems an argument in favor of the power of riches, the second column undermines it. If the person were poor there would be no chance of kidnaping in the first place. What would be the use? In the final analysis, wealth is not really the protection that it purports to be.”[vii]

Old Testanent scholar, Ernest Lucas ties verses eight and nine together to drive the point that it is actually righteousness that is the most important element in a wise life.

“‘Light’ in v. 9 is a metaphor for life-force. [He points out this thought from Proverbs 20:20 where we read: “If someone curses their father or mother, their lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness.” Or in Proverbs 24:20 where it states: for the evildoer has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.” Lucas goes on to state: “Taken in its context this general statement is a comment on the previous verse: true security is not in either wealth or poverty but in righteousness.”[viii]     

The third realm where the disciplined life impacts us is that it facilitates contentment.

This is the idea where our hopes and dreams become reality. This speaks to our longings and desires. Are these desires healthy? Are they godly desires? Can they ultimately be fulfilled in this life? Or will there always be some aspects that only in eternity will our souls be fully satisfied? The wisdom writers point out the power of longing or desire fulfilled. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12).” This picture takes us back to the original design from the garden of Eden where life before sin was lived. Later in the chapter is the explanation of what a longing fulfilled brings to our innermost being. “A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but fools detest turning from evil (Proverbs 13:19). What is tragic is that when we live life as prescribed by God, there are moments of great joy and delight. In contrast what the wisdom writers point out is that a life of evil brings much sorrow and heartache. “They [the righteous] experience the pleasant joy of having their desire fulfilled, but fools never find their appetites gratified, for they will not forsake their evil to attain this joy.”[ix]

We all have had those moments when we just had to tell somebody the good news that something wonderful just happened to us. God answered our prayer. Our circumstances just got dramatically better. Just this past week, my youngest daughter called with great joy as she had just received her permanent teacher’s certificate.  

But there are also other seasons of life, when our hope is deferred, or circumstances and difficulties come into our lives. There are times when faithful people discover that great difficulties come into their lives. To hear terrible news, such as a diagnosis of cancer, or their spouse of 30 plus years has left them for someone else. There are times when our job comes to an end. Or like this moment in time when we are all experiencing the restrictions because of Covid 19, where all our lives have been changed and diminished in some way. We are all experiencing some measure of grief over the loss of life as we had known it. Many freedoms that we took for granted, disappeared. It is part of our humanity to feel the emotion of grief over such loss. We may feel times of sadness that we cannot explain to ourselves. Or we may feel angry and irritated that life is not what it once was. Circumstances can affect our emotions, but it does not have to define our lives. We can still find joy in life’s most distressful situations.

So when Jesus said that he had come to give us life more abundantly (cf. John 10:10), what did he mean? Jesus is promising that he would walk with us through this life and his presence would bring reassurance and comfort into every challenge we would ever face. We also can be assured that what lies before us, ultimately will be better than what we are currently experiencing. We can have contentment in life’s most difficult moments. The apostle Paul reminds us in Phil. 4:11-13), that we can find contentment in any and every situation, because we can do all things through Christ which gives us strength.

I think Larry Crabb states it so well when he says:

Disappointment is a chronic reality for the self-aware Christian for at least three reasons:

1. The complete joy of God will not be ours until heaven [right now we have only a deposit, in the person of the Holy Spirit].

2. No relationship on earth is perfect, [though we may have great relationships here, there will always be moments of misunderstanding and need for forgiveness, because we still battle sin in our lives.]

3. Fallen people naturally (but wrongly) depend on sources other than God (money, well behaved children, warm churches, loving mates, successful careers) for satisfaction of their crucial longings. In so doing, they [we] add to their [our] necessary groaning the acute pain of frustrated demands.”[x]

Unrealistic expectations become unrealized ones. What we all long for is yet ahead. We want heaven on earth, and that’s a legitimate longing, but won’t be realized until Jesus returns. May our hearts yearn for His coming! Even so Lord Jesus, come.

Yet, having pointed all this out, the wise, godly, disciplined life as the sages realized brought greater blessings, joy, and often material prosperity than living an ungodly life. However, there are certainly exceptions to this and that is why Proverbs are principles and not promises.

How do we respond when we are doing the right thing and struggling and the ungodly person is flourishing? That’s when other texts of wisdom literature helps us gain perspective.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.

For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply

till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.[xi]

The final realm where the disciplined life from Proverbs 13 impacts our lives is in regard to our eternal destiny.

How life turns out is both a combination of God’s Sovereignty and our decisions or God’s gift of freedom of choice. Often, we are asked why God allows evil, and the simplest answer is that he created us like himself with volition or the ability to make choices. What we discover is that God allows us freedom to make mistakes or to commit sins and then reap the consequences as a result.

How we end up in life is determined by a number of factors, but one of them is certainly the people we choose to spend time with. We may not be able to choose our family, but we have the freedom to choose our friends and may we do so wisely because they often influence us and those decisions ultimately affect our future. “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm (Proverbs 13:20).” The apostle Paul was certainly echoing this thought as he also warned us of the power of association. Who we spend time with will shape how we think, behave and ultimately put us in places that will affect our lives. There are consequences to each choice we make. “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33).”

So who are the wise that Proverbs are talking about? They are those who ‘fear God.’ In brief we can say that the wise are the godly. One of the characteristics of godly people is that they hate evil. It should begin within our own hearts, but if we are a loving person, we’ll be concerned about those we love and the decisions they are making. There are a number of proverbs that teach that words of correction often come from the mouth of the wise. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses (Proverbs 27:6).” When we are about to do what is wrong in God’s eyes, a true friend will risk the relationship in order to correct that course of action. Wisdom then is listening to wise counsel and responding in an appropriate manner, by changing course. “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding (Proverbs 15:31-32).”     

So, what are the consequences of one’s relational attachments. Proverbs 13:20 states both a positive and a negative outcome. Those who associate with the wise become wise. Those who are a companion of fools, (and the fools are those who say ‘no’ to God) suffer harm. Now the next two proverbs spell out the harm that will befall someone who refuses to listen to this wise or disciplined counsel. “Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things.             A good person leaves an inheritance for the children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous (Proverbs 13:21-22).”

Verse 21 states the retribution principle in the unusual form that what people pursue pursues them, so that they get what they deserve. …In a society where there was no clear idea of life beyond death it was particularly important to leave a good inheritance to future generations. The good person is assured that this will be so, whereas the sinner is warned that, in some unspecified way, the wealth they accumulate will not benefit their descendants but pass to the righteous. This provided one answer to the apparent injustice of sinners sometimes gaining wealth. Matters will be sorted out in future generations.[xii]

So, the question arises, ‘how can I live a discipline life?’ Desire shapes and fuels discipline. How we respond to instruction and correction will impact what we become. We all act on desires. If we desire God, we’ll pursue Him and end up with Him. We’ll find meaning, hope and ultimately our faith will be strengthened and rewarded. If we desire the things that are simply of this life, we will ultimately be disappointed because they are all temporary and will eventually wear out and disappear.

What does the discipline life produce? It shapes our character, our actions, our words. It helps us use the things in this life, like money as a tool, rather than allow it to become a false substitute for God. The wise or disciplined life ends up producing contentment and ultimately a satisfied life because of a hope that extends beyond this world.  

It was Jim Carey, the comedian, who said that he wished everyone could experience fame and riches so that they could discover that those things do not produce happiness. In contrast we have the life of the apostle Paul, who endured so much hardship and difficulty in this life. Yet, we have these amazing final words to his protégé, Timothy; who was like a son to him. He passed on his example, as an amazing legacy to Timothy; the legacy of a godly life. Listen to Paul’s final words of a man who lived the wise and disciplined life.

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.[xiii]

May we also, embrace the disciplined life that fulfills the greatest longing of the human heart.

[i] H. A. Ironside, Proverbs ad Song of Solomon, An Ironside Expository Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1933, reprinted in 2006), 95- adapted.

[ii] Proverbs 13:2-3, New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[iii] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1-15, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 552.

[iv] Michael Green, Editor, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 403-404.

[v] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1-15, 561.

[vi] Larry Crabb, Inside Out, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988), 68.

[vii] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 286.

[viii] Ernest C. Lucas, Proverbs, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 106.

[ix] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1-15, 568-69.

[x] [x] Larry Crabb, Inside Out, 88 adapted.

[xi] Psalm 73:2-3, 16-17.

[xii] Ernest C. Lucas, Proverbs, 108.

[xiii] 2 Timothy 4:6-8.

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