Talking about education won’t be complete without talking about discipline. As we have known that discipline is one of the most important ingredients in education. Often we won’t be able to do good education without discipline. The importance of discipline in education is probably like the importance of salt in every cooking. As a dish without salt tastes horrible, education without discipline also tastes horrible. But as too much salt makes the dish inedible, too much discipline also destroys education. The key is to know how much is enough. In education, however, discipline is not just about quantity, but more importantly about the quality. When we talk about the quality of discipline, one of the items to look for is the methodology.
Educators can be creative in exercising discipline. And for sure educators are required to be creative in devising discipline methods that would fulfill the objective and ethically sound in the process. To do so educators must understand a lot of things in the domain of education. It cannot be just a conjuring up of one’s imagination that is forced to be implemented just because he has the power to do it, or just because there is no other alternative in his mind, or just because it is beautiful in one’s imagination, or just because it looks like it might work. The decision to employ a certain discipline method must be with a strong conviction that the method will bring good that is desired from discipline. The enforcer of discipline must believe that when it is implemented the people undergoing discipline will not need to go through the unnecessary suffering. Its implementation too must continue to preserve the dignity of the person under discipline.
What must be understood is that the word discipline contains within it the word disciple. This means that the idea of discipline must generically aim toward the formation of disciple. The formation of disciple necessarily requires teacher. Because one cannot just become a disciple of nothing. There should be a teacher. The disciple is formed into becoming like the teacher. Without a teacher existing, a disciple cannot exist. The teacher is the model to whom the disciple is formed into. Jesus says in Matthew 10:24&25:
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.
Discipline process is meant to bring the disciple into the standard of the teacher. To discipline someone is to process him into becoming a disciple. But then here who the teacher is must be clear. The teacher can’t be anybody. The teacher must be a highly respected person, a dignified individual that lives a life of propriety, following and exercising the highest ethical standard, mature in character, wise in his mind, and walking in the path of righteousness. Then and only then the disciple would have the motivation to undergo difficulties of discipline and bear the pain and suffering of the process of discipline. It is important to understand that to ask someone to suffer, meaning of the suffering must be provided. It is cruel to burden anyone with suffering without meaning or suffering that is not worth it. It would be irrational to have a teacher imposing discipline to his disciples but he never even lifts a finger to shoulder the burden and suffering of the standard he is burdening his disciples with. It is the utmost cruelty and the most unfair treatment a teacher can do to his disciple. And there existed in the time of Jesus this kind of teacher that Jesus had to condemn them for all the sins they committed:
46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. (Luke 11:46)
For discipline to be effective, the teacher must be the first to be willing to suffer the gruesome pain necessary for the formation of the character. Then and only then he might have the right to disciple his disciples through the discipline process.
I need to remind you that there are two kinds of discipline. The first and most common is the external discipline. The second and the hardest to achieve is the internal discipline. One of the most important goals of education is to achieve internal discipline. Internal discipline or self-discipline is the kind of discipline that no longer requires external forces or enforcers to keep the appropriation toward the desired standard. The self guards himself. This can only happen when the self has already become or has achieved all the basics of the characters, skills, and knowledge of the teacher. The pattern is sure, the model is clear, and the disciple has walked the path of his teacher. But before this happens, the disciple needs external enforcement.
External discipline is needed to get the disciple started. This process is quite difficult to do and is often hard to experience. The difficulty is due to the sinful nature we all inherit from Adam and Eve. Our sinful nature protests the discipline process. It rejects the appropriation toward order. The natural instinct of the sinful nature is to rebel against order, against structure, against anything commanded and governed by God. External discipline meets its most challenging situation because the disciples are predisposed toward rejecting it. Therefore, the discipline enforcer then must be endowed with authority. Authority carries with it power. This arrangement is necessary for external discipline to work at all. Without authority external discipline would not work. However, we also need to remember that everybody has sinned, so authority and power can surely be abused by the enforcer to serve his own twisted goal. The result of the abuse is slavery or tyranny. That’s what is condemned by Jesus. The lawyers were given power that came with their position among the high ranking leaders in Israel, but they did not use their power to impose discipline in an appropriate manner. Instead, they used power to elevate themselves and to enslave those under them through the framework of discipline that was prepared by God in His Holy Scripture. This abuse is real and rampant in the world of education. It is not to be ignored. So the disciples need to be protected from the potential abuse by crooked teachers. Ironically, the protector of the disciples is actually the teacher. The integrity of the teacher is to be immaculate if complete protection is to be executed. Very early at the process we have dealt with an almost impossible situation. James warns his readers:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)
In an ideal world, to become a teacher, one must have embraced self-discipline. He must have passed beyond the external discipline stage. But we live in the sinful world. To find a person like that would be impossible. There was only one person like that, Jesus. For even Moses made a grief mistake. Abraham too. David, you know it. Even Peter did too. Only Jesus was perfect. But at the same time the world needs teachers and Jesus is physically in heaven now. Teachers are needed to educate the next generation. They are needed to enforce discipline so that the young people may grow following the proper path. At least the teachers that are to be given the authority to enforce discipline on the young must themselves have become the disciples of the master teacher. These teachers are the extension of the master teacher. Therefore they are accountable to the master teacher in carrying and executing discipline. They must understand that when they disciple others, they are to make them the disciple of the master teacher. That is the ultimate goal.
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
This Great Commission is the eternal command of God to be obeyed by His faithful disciples. In obeying this command the teachers become the extension of Jesus who is God Himself and the Master Teacher of all humans. The meaning of becoming Jesus’ extension must be internalized within the spirit of the person. Paul understands this when he says: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1). The implication of Paul’s statement is then Jesus’ extension must imitate Him in order for others to be able to imitate. In other words, we can’t become teachers and thus the extension of Christ unless we have become like Jesus Christ.
Educators around the world know that the most effective teaching method is modeling. Modeling is the most powerful tool in education if we are to achieve the educational objectives of any subjects. Modeling is only natural. It is within the construct of our humanness. This imitating the master teacher is in itself carrying the natural authority to impose external discipline on others. The power of Paul’s words that urge the Corinthians to imitate him is weighty and its impact is huge simply because he has imitated Christ. Paul does not just give order for people to do this or that without he himself first did it. Just like Jesus commands obedience, he himself proved his obedience to the Father. Therefore His command carries a terrifying weight that no one can reject and not bear the consequences. As the extension of the master teacher, teachers cannot then forget their self-discipline and start behaving badly. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Paul is committed to Christ. As a teacher that carries with him the name of the master teacher, he must behave in such a way so as to continue in the path of discipline. For he is a disciple of Christ forever. Paul realizes that he is not the master teacher. He cannot set his own standard. He cannot be the standard. He cannot then follow his own will and break away from the will of God. Paul disciplines himself. This is self-discipline. And with this he is qualified to teach others. We too must follow his example obviously.
Now, after we have become His disciples, we are then tasked with realizing His commission to make disciples of all nations. The curriculum is set for the disciples to take. That is Jesus’ commands. Everything! Because they are to become like Jesus. They are to be made Jesus’ disciples. The course of discipline is prepared for the road to live the life of Jesus’ disciples. Before we go into much more detail about becoming Jesus’ disciples, there are a couple practical things we need to discuss regarding discipline.
One of the keys of discipline is what most educators in the world know, which is repetition. Repetition is a helpful tool to get a person to remember. Remembering is very important because it is the capital of our thinking. We need things that we remember if we are to exercise our thinking capacity. If there is nothing to remember, we can’t think of anything. Even a 20-30 seconds remembrance is enough to get us going in our thinking process. It would be much better if we can retain memories long term. Because our thinking process takes time and so we need more than 30 seconds to process. Repetition helps big time in getting our short term memory to jump into the long term memory. However, we do not then exercise repetition for every single short term memory. Remember that it takes time to repeat. And we vary in our ability to remember. Some people can remember just by one glance. Most people have to spend more time to do so, for example one must repeat a certain thing 10x or 100x in order to remember them long term. So our constraint within space and time prompts us to be selective. We cannot “waste” time and attempt the impossible that is trying to remember everything. This will not happen. We are no God. We are mere humans. So we prioritize. In any kind of organizing activity under the sun, we always have to prioritize. Teachers’ role in this case is to help with the disciples’ priority. Since most disciples lack wisdom, teachers must be the lighthouse for them. Teachers are expected to have wisdom to know which must be prioritized. This is a very difficult challenge to tackle.
Another challenge to deal with is the understanding of the level of the disciples. As humans are diverse and complex being, teachers find it quite difficult to fit a certain program or strategy or method to everybody. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy in this matter. However, when it comes down to schooling, often one program is “forced” to all kids. This organizing strategy is meant for efficiency, not effectiveness. This is known among educators as one of the biggest weaknesses of schooling. We know that the most use discipline method for little kids is rewards and punishment or in the modern redaction stream R&P has become R&R – Reinforcement positive and Reinforcement negative. The difference between R&P and R&R is on the punishment part. In the R&P punishment is the imposing of a negative action toward the disciple in order to discourage him of repeating the undesired thought, emotion, or conduct. P is then covering the taking away of the enjoyable thing and also the application of painful thing on the disciple. But in R&R there is no more punishment. The naming has changed into Reinforcement negative. And Reinforcement negative only covers the taking away of the enjoyable thing. It purposefully eliminates the application of painful thing on the disciple. The intention might be noble, that is to eliminate possibility of power abuse that teachers may do to their disciples. So their power is limited. But in practice, the redaction takes away the thrust of punishment force that often is effective in discouraging negative thought, emotion, and behavior. Not to mention that this redaction then started a whole new paradigm, that punishment is bad, evil, and unnecessary. So any “teacher” imposing punishment to his disciple is seen as cruel and unethical. They might have solved the problem of power abuse within the education domain, but they have also created a big problem by doing so. It is not a coincidence that this paradigm shift blossomed amid the blossoming of the idea that humans are born sinless, guiltless, and as clean as white linen. Ever since then the landmark of education changed dramatically.
“Time-Out” is the most used discipline method anywhere, be it in school, or at home, this method of Reinforcement negative or probably it’s better to say Negative Reinforcement (NR) is often used repeatedly to discourage a negative thought, emotion, or behavior. However, for a child in the sensorimotor stage (the first stage of Jean Piaget’s most famous cognitive development theory) this NR thing is very difficult to grasp. For a child in the sensorimotor stage, everything is about him. Things that do not relate to him don’t exist. So if he can’t experience it with his five senses, that thing is non-existence. How can he then grasp the idea of NR where fun is taken away? Little kids under 2 is drawn toward moving things, so if things aren’t moving, they won’t even bother to touch it. This poses a challenge. How much more if we know that up to age 7, children are having a hard time grasping the idea of cause and effect. That their negative behavior for example is the cause of them being given time out. They are still struggling to understand what it means with the fun being taken away. They would think that this is a new game, a game of hide and seek. So whenever they are given time out, taken away from their toys and then put at the corner for a few minutes, they wouldn’t stay at the corner. They would venture out of the corner and attempt to find their toys. The more they are inhibited from approaching their toys, the more eager they would wiggle and try to get to their toys. NR often fails here. Yes power abuse is somehow prevented, but the goal of discouraging negative behavior is not achieved. So why are we doing it over and over again to a two year old? It’s more of a discipline for the teachers or parents rather than for the toddler.
To our amazement, admitted or not, little kids that age respond better toward punishment. P proves to be more effective for discouraging negative behavior. Especially the kind of P that inflicts direct painful experience. However, I must caution you here with a heavy emphasis on “proceed with love.” Whenever power is used to enforce discipline in the form of punishment, extra love must be taken to balance out the force. Love puts brake on punishment so we won’t inflict the unnecessary blow to our disciples. Only the necessary blow that is aimed at discouraging the negative behavior is to be performed. Proverbs 13:24 records:
24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
Love is the motivation to use the rod meant for discipline. In this passage, God even warns people that if we spare the rod and purposefully avoid inflicting direct painful experience on our children we are said to hate our children. This is shocking for modern educators. But this maxim can’t be wrong, for it comes from the perfect Being, our Creator, the great God of heaven and earth. So that kind of punishment has its place in the context of education. If we analyze more carefully, we will come to realize that our sinful nature is the main factor of why it is necessary to use that painful punishment. But again, as mentioned in the passage above, love must be the drive for using the rod. Motivation is important. When we hold power and we are about to use the power that can really damage, we must be careful so we won’t destroy. Consequently, when we are to use our power to enforce discipline through painful punishment, we must be extremely careful so as not to destroy our disciples. Their destruction should never be our motif, as is written in Proverbs 19:18:
18 Discipline your son, for there is hope;
do not set your heart on putting him to death.
Modern educators would set themselves up against these proverbs. They would readily disagree on punishing someone with a rod. For they fear that the child would die if we do so. Ironically, it is quite the contrary. Proverbs 23:13-14 reveals:
13 Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
14 If you strike him with the rod,
you will save his soul from Sheol.
God reveals a mystery that actually we won’t kill our disciples when we punish them with a rod. But instead, we are saving them from hell. God knows everything and so His knowledge is perfect. He cannot be wrong, thus setting up against Him won’t succeed. If we withhold discipline in the form of painful punishment from our children, it might mean that we actually hate them (cf. Proverbs 13:24). I cannot warn you enough that we must restrain ourselves with love. So even though we strike our children with a rod, we won’t desire their death. So this gives us an understanding that we ought not to fear the use of painful punishment for discipline method. But we ought to use it wisely.
Deciding what discipline strategy is most effective for our disciples is not a walk in the park. With all the knowledge we have surveyed above, it would be a struggle to implement what discipline method to use. So far we have discussed about NR and P. But we haven’t touched reward. Our modern world fancies reward way more than punishment. Reward becomes the number one choice of discipline method. It is most effective when used to encourage positive thought, emotion, or behavior. But it is very ineffective to do the opposite. Children’s limitation in their cognitive process must be taken into serious consideration. Kids cannot easily make the connection that because certain behaviors are rewarded they ought not to repeat the undesired behaviors. If the desired behavior is rewarded then they would just think that doing such behavior brings them the sweet reward. So they will repeat that behavior for the purpose of getting the reward. From the outset it seems like the use reward has caused the internalization of a certain behavior. Goal is achieved. For the use of reward is meant to be the catalyst for the disciple to acquire the desired behavior. However, in this sinful world, within our sinful nature, often we do twist things around. If the common structure is for the desired behavior to be achieved as the goal, and reward is the means to achieve it, then through the use reward it is expected that the child would produce the desired behavior and own it and continue to perform it even though there is no reward. However, this common structure is obliterated when the direction is turned upside down. Instead of the desired behavior becomes the goal, sinful humans makes reward as the goal, and the means to achieve the sweet reward is by performing the desired behavior. When this happens, education has failed. Discipline has been manipulated to produce a different kind of disciple. He won’t become a disciple of good behavior anymore, but he will become a disciple of sweet reward.
This proves that even with reward, discipline is not as easy as it looks. Sinful nature hampers the discipline process. And the most used discipline method is proven to be exploitable and twistable. Therefore, it is widely understood that reward cannot stand alone. Or in the modern term, Positive Reinforcement (PR) can’t be employed independent of NR or even P. The art of discipline must employ both. This is where things get interesting. Creativity must be sought. Let us consider one practical discipline strategy widely used in school, the point system.
Say a school applies a point system for the discipline strategy. Point system employs the R&R method and not the R&P one. There are two ways to start this. One is to start from zero point. The other is to start with a certain point already, 100 or 1000 pts., all is up to the school. Points can be subtracted or added depending on whether the desired behavior or the undesired behavior is performed. So, when a desired behavior is performed points are added. When an undesired behavior is performed points are subtracted. How many points to be added or subtracted will be arranged by the school. Usually the school has to have a scale that contains the value of the said behavior and the points (whether added or subtracted). Say for example, cleaning up after eating would be given PR by adding 1 pt. Whereas not cleaning up after eating would be given NR by subtracting 3 pts. Now, the point accumulation total would have a PR and NR in the end. Say by the end of the semester, if one successfully accumulates 1000 pts. he could be awarded with best student award trophy plus a $100 voucher to be spent in the school’s bookstore. On the other hand, if one fails to maintain a minimum of 100 pts. at the end of the semester, then he would have to do an assignment according to the discretion of the teacher. When normally students would be able to relax right away at the end of the semester, he would have to work his assignment a few more days before he can relax from all the school work. A portion of his free time is then taken away from him as the consequence of the NR. Hopefully by implementing PR or NR in the end, it would get the students to think of performing the desired behavior and avoiding the undesired ones. The point system is a way to express the R&R discipline strategy. Students would then be occupied with at least maintaining the minimum points at the end of the semester. Some would aim at getting the award.
On paper this strategy looks like it is good and creative and would stimulate the performance of the desired behavior and the shunning of the undesired behavior. However, in reality, this system meets many challenges. Particularly when applied to little kids. There are a couple of weaknesses that we need to be aware of in this model, especially when applied collectively in school. Little kids, for one, are still struggling to understand the meaning of numbers. Kids under the age of 7 are struggling mightily to conserve the imagination of numbers in their cognitive functioning. It is extremely difficult to demand them to understand the significance of numbers in the point system as representing meaning that goes beyond the mere symbolic representative of how many items there are. Even trying to grasp the meaning of the number “1” which possibly could represent either one apple or one orange or one elephant or one lego is still quite difficult for kids below the concrete operational stage. How much more trying to assign the meaning that if the points accumulated fall below 100 would result in their fun being taken away for a certain time period. Or even trying to assign the meaning that if the points accumulated go beyond 1000 would result in them being awarded a trophy and a $100 voucher. Thus this point system could potentially spell disaster to little kids. As their awareness level of this system is low, naturally, they would often act independently of the point system. This renders the point system meaningless for them. The question then is: “Why bother implementing something that is meaningless for the people who would suffer through it?” If we are to ask anyone to suffer, he/she needs to understand its meaning. Otherwise it would be cruel to burden him/her with suffering that he/she does not understand the meaning.
Secondly, the PR system could create imbalance for kids. Out of many kids that suffer the system, only a few that would come out as those who excel and thus be awarded. These select few quickly become the elite. As they receive honor, all the rest that do not are seen either as mediocre or failure. Particularly those who fall below the 100 points, they would then develop negative self-esteem that they are among those who fail. The elite would learn the feeling of pride while those who fail learn the feeling of embarrassment. The middle learn that they are the average group, not as good and yet not as bad. Class distinctions begin to develop. So the learning objective is not achieved, and instead the other kind of learning not planned is learned incidentally. And this incidental learning is quite damaging in the long run. Why would we implement something that potentially very likely be damaging for all who suffer through it? It would be absurd to persist on implementing it.
Thirdly, little kids are still very dependent on their caretakers. Once this system is communicated, the parents in particular quickly learn the logic of the system. And so it soon becomes the burden of the parents to make sure that at least their kids would not fall below 100. And it also soon becomes the ambition of the parents to achieve beyond 1000 so the kids could be honored and so they could gain the award. This then leads to the responsibility shift. Instead of the kids going through the learning process, the parents actually are the ones that undergo the learning process. Once the pressure is shouldered by the parents, the learning intended for the kids quickly fades away. Why implement something for a certain intended group of people yet a different group of people are the ones actually being impacted instead of the intended group? It is undeniably a failure of the lesson plan when the intended audience is not the one learning.
Fourthly, with their cognitive ability is still at the preoperational stage, it is quite dreadful for the kids to fall below 100 for consequently a certain kind of NR is being implemented so that their joy is taken away for a time. They don’t quite understand and are struggling to make the connection that they have been performing the undesired behavior that has led to them losing points, and that later they would suffer the meaningless assignment without they could ever learn from it because their total points fall below 100. All the strings of deduction and then the eventual consequence do not help the kids to understand that they must learn to behave properly. Why implement things that would not make sense to those who would experience the meaningless dread?
Now, while point system might be a good idea for some older kids, the younger kids suffer greatly. This is where teachers must carefully select which method is most appropriate for the disciples’ age. I implemented point system for a period of time to my third grade daughter. She was well into the concrete operational stage and understood cause and effect quite well. Her logic had developed in such a way that she could connect the dots of PR and NR in the end. Not without a struggle I must admit. But it was not a struggle she could not understand. She understood perfectly well that her actions bear consequences. The point system was created to assist her in her learning of the proper behavior and her learning of staying away from the bad ones. And thus she gladly joined in the choir. As the system was very much clear, she herself could do the addition and subtraction in her limited cognitive ability, with guidance. A great advantage of this custom made point system was that it was particularly tailored for her. It was not designed as a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. A lot of special things could be matched for her needs that only fits her and not for anyone else. Therefore she does not compete with other kids. No feeling of pride, or embarrassment, or mediocre. She faced herself. She realized her own failures and successes. Her understanding was top priority because it was important for her to go through suffering with awareness. The meaning is found in her being aware of the system, the cause and effect, the consequences of actions, and so on. Once she could relate to meaning, her learning was guaranteed. With understanding, the point system becomes enjoyable. With joy the suffering is not as painful as if it is with confusion. Now, important to be understood is that all good time has its end. It lasts as long as it is meaningful. It lasted for a year for my daughter. But within that one year she learned things important for her character formation, proper behavior, and responsibility. Once the point system lost its appeal, I did not persist on using it anymore. It would be futile to force her with the point system that has lost meaning for her. Once her learning objectives had been attained, I did not keep the system just because it was working, beautiful, or convenient. A different strategy needed to be devised.
But this custom made system is not easily designed and implemented for an organized institution like school. Dealing with collective individuals is much more difficult than dealing with one individual. There are much more constraint when we deal with a big scale organization. So school will have to think more creatively and responsibly in designing and implementing a system of discipline. School’s hands are tied in the back when it comes down to the need to tailor made program for each individual. Diversity is quite on the opposite direction of organized education such as school. School operates in the assumption of uniformity. Uniformity is ingrained within the school structure and operation. With this limitation, wanted or not, school is not as flexible when dealing with the need to custom made a program for an individual. It would take forever and a lot of energy and many people to do so. Efficiency is then being compromised in the name of effectiveness. But on the other hand, if efficiency is to be achieved, uniformity is prioritized, consequently effectiveness is compromised. Such is the difficulty school has to face.
Since discipline is essential for the success of education, we then cannot eliminate discipline. At the same time we also cannot reduce the meaning and the force of discipline to either just R&R or just P. The art of discipline involves both reward and punishment. The dance of harmony between reward and punishment must be balanced. But there is no formula that fits all individual. Education is not a factory. (The thinking and practice that education is a factory started back about 300 years ago when industrial revolution began). A factory creates the mold, sets up the machine, provides the material, and then it produces the product in mass quantity. One mold, one process, the same material, produces unlimited amount of products, with the same quality and standard. School has one goal, but abstract – meaning it actually covers a lot of possible outcomes, one uniform process, but with many possible varieties, the same kind of disciples – yeah right, this is wishful thinking – the fact is no two disciples are exactly alike, and naively hoping for the same quality of graduates. Every teacher is expected to be wise enough to conduct the dance in harmonious balance for each disciple. However, the dance process for each individual requires serious and careful attention from a very skillful teacher. There are times when the teacher finds it difficult to maintain the level of excellence expected of him. So many teachers resort to the easiest way and still operate within the corridor of schooling, in other words they choose the minimum work. Yes the minimum work works too, it is easy on the teacher, but it gives much pressure on the disciples. The easiest way is through the uniformity route – minimal work for the teacher. Because the disciples are forced to go through the same mold while the teacher only needs to plan for one process with the assumption that they all are expected to achieve the same standard. It won’t do. Disciples are human beings. They are not inanimate objects. They are not even animals.
Now, the course of becoming Jesus’ disciples is spelled out in the Scripture. There are several passages we are to look to find the proper instructions. First let us look at Matthew 16:24-26.
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
This passage shows that becoming Jesus’ disciples is not as easy as it looks. The path is filled with challenges and suffering. This is because Jesus Himself walks His life on earth not with ease, but with many challenges and difficulties. But Jesus never complains. He never argues back with His Father in heaven. Instead, he obeys. He obeys completely. As revealed in Philippians 2:5b-9:
Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, 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.
This is the final character every disciple of Jesus must have. Because that’s who Jesus is. He is an obedient Son. As we have covered earlier, disciples are on the course to imitate their master. Jesus is our master teacher, so we are to imitate Him. If Jesus is an obedient Son, even being obedient to the point of death, then as His disciples we are to become obedient children as well, even being obedient to the point of death. So it is not out of proportion when Jesus says that whoever desires to follow Him must first deny himself and then take up his cross. Without these two prerequisites completed, he can’t follow Jesus. Jesus reveals the path of His disciples in John 15:18-25:
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’
The master teacher is not forcing anyone to become His disciples. We who follow Him know consciously what we are getting into. The master teacher has revealed it. His extension teachers too must teach the same He does. If there is someone claiming to be an extension teacher of Christ but not teaching what Jesus teaches, then he is not Jesus’ extension teacher. If Jesus is teaching that the path of His disciples is being hated by the world, but someone who claims to be a Christian teacher is teaching that a disciple of Jesus is going to be embraced by the world, then he is contradicting the teaching of the master teacher; and so it proves that he is a fake. We all know that Jesus is persecuted by the world. We all know that Jesus is hated by the world, rejected ever since He arrived on earth until the day he died. And so His disciples will definitely be persecuted, hated, and rejected by the world. With this full knowledge is in front of them, the wannabe disciples are given the choice to either take it or walk away. If they take it, then they take it fully knowing the challenges. Then they enter into the discipline of the Lord. The goal is total obedience.
The master teacher orchestrates the dance between R and P in a wonderful harmonious balance. The reward is spoken by Jesus clearly in Matthew 19:27-30.
27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
This is a delayed reward. The reward is not given right away. This delayed reward has a purpose. The purpose is to test the disciples’ commitment, whether they truly are doing this for God or just for the reward. Pair this delayed reward with the challenges mentioned earlier, the process of discipline is done masterfully. We have learned that sinful humans easily twist learning as objective and the reward as means into learning as means and reward as objective. So God overcomes that by giving them the reward at the very end, the end of time. So His disciples died like their master, but they did not complain. They obeyed completely. Their eyes were not on the reward, but on their master. They have become like their master. But God is just, He is not exploiting His disciples to do His bidding and then tosses them away after using them up. No, God truly rewards each person with the crown of righteousness.
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
The discipline of the Lord is not only about reward, but it is also about punishment. Jesus rebukes His apostles when they walk astray. For example Peter. A stern rebuke Jesus addresses to Peter at one time.
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23)
What Jesus does is applying to Peter a painful experience (P) as a direct blow to his humanistic egotistic comment. Jesus does not merely take away Peter’s fun by giving him a time out or something, but He faces Peter head on and rebukes him on his face. In today’s modern education, perhaps Jesus would be sued and brought to court with an allegation of verbal abuse to a disciple. Calling someone “Satan” is a huge offense in the time of Jesus. It is like calling someone a terrorist in this 21st century. But Jesus has to name it as it is. For what Peter comments is exactly what Satan desires – self centrism.
So the master teacher uses all the tools of discipline to make a disciple out of His disciples. The harmony between P and R and the reality of suffering which He himself goes through and that which the disciples will go through are in full display and orchestrated in such a way that all the followers of Jesus would learn to be obedient. And God is not cruel. He is not demanding from the disciples things they could not do. God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within them to enable them, to encourage them, to live the life as disciples of Christ.
10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:10-15)
The struggle we all experience, between the flesh and the spirit, is a real struggle. And God sends His Holy Spirit to give us true life in Christ. And so we are able to obey even though difficult. Therefore all of these combined in the hands of the Master Teacher and be applied to us for our goodness, we can then rest secure. Praise the Lord!
With all the above understanding, if we are then given the responsibility to disciple, be it as a teacher at home, or in school, or even as the school curriculum designer, administrator, education policy maker, we need to carefully craft and harmonize all the tools of discipline in order to create a conducive learning environment for our disciples. Do not reduce the tools of discipline, but use it wisely through the responsible usage of authority and power bestowed upon us. Understand the development of our disciples because it will help us devise the discipline strategy we are going to utilize for them. Remember the nature of human beings as revealed by God so that we won’t make the wrong philosophical supposition and thus deviate our educational practice. Understand that there is no one-size-fits-all in education, so teachers are to work wiser and harder to figure out what’s best for our disciples. Important to heed is that the disciples are actually God’s disciples, so we are not to set our own standard based on our own achievements and all. But God has set the standard for them. And one of the most important key goals is obedience. But not obedience to us, instead obedience to God. If one asks how, the answer is through the Holy Scripture. Paul’s instruction to Timothy is important to listen:
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
It is important also to consider carefully that when we design a discipline strategy, the actual disciples are to gain from it, not other people outside of our target. By implication, we are not to burden other people with unnecessary burden. We are, even, not supposed to burden our disciples with unnecessary burden. If they are to go through a difficult and painful process, then we better make sure that it is worth it, full of meaning that establishes their character in the Lord. Do not devise a discipline path that you yourself are not willing to go through. But instead, following our master teacher, we ought to be a model for our disciples. If we ask them to suffer for the sake of obeying the Lord, then we better ask ourselves first whether we have suffered for the sake of obeying the Lord. Do not be like the lawyers that Jesus condemns for not lifting a finger on the burden they are laying on other people. Be a model is the most difficult challenge in devising a discipline strategy. You must be certain and firm on the goal of discipline, its process, and all before you yourselves dare to apply it on your disciples. This requires faith. And your walking in the faith is proven when you yourselves have done it. And that’s what Jesus Himself does. And that’s why He is our penultimate model of discipline. Amen.