Two words are translated as discipline in the New Testament. The verb paideuō means to educate, teach, or train up. “Moses was educated (paideuō) in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds” (Act 7:22). When God disciplines us, he is teaching us. The word discipline is related to the word disciple. It is translated as discipline or disciplined (1 Cor. 11:32, Heb. 12:7, Rev. 3:19), instructing (Tit. 2:12), and taught (1 Tim. 1:20).

The noun paideia means education or training. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for … training (paideia) in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). It is usually translated as discipline (Eph. 6:4, Heb. 12:5, 7, 8, 11).

These two words, paideuō and paideia, are neutral. God trains us through scripture and the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 2 Tim. 3:16), and his training never involves punishment. The idea that discipline, or chastisement, to use an older translation, involves punishment has no place in the new covenant.

Old- vs new covenant discipline

The traditional or old covenant view of discipline involves carrots and sticks and portrays believers as slow-witted or willful children who are beaten into shape with the rod of correction. But in the new covenant, our identity comes from Christ and our Father’s discipline is always based on his love.

True discipline takes the form of the Holy Spirit guiding and correcting us. A key word in this regard is elegchō which means bringing things into the light (e.g., John 3:20–21). Think of a lighthouse illuminating dangerous rocks or Saul seeing a bright light from heaven.

Some scriptures link trials with training (e.g., Rom. 5:3–4, Heb. 12:7). The wrong way to interpret these is to think a sovereign God manufactures trials and tribulations to teach us things. God does not make you sick or get you fired to build your character, but he uses the trials of life to reveal his goodness to us (Rom. 8:28).

Church discipline

Some scriptures that deal with corporate discipline:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15–17)

This scripture has been used to name and shame Christians who sin. What sometimes happens is a leader confronts someone, they repent, then the sinning brother or sister gets hauled up to the front of a meeting to confess publicly so their example might serve as a warning to others. It’s the modern equivalent of the scarlet letter. Jesus is encouraging no such thing here.

Church discipline ought to be gentle and restorative, rather than confrontational and punitive. When a brother sins, we are supposed to speak to him privately. If he doesn’t listen, we get his friends involved – those who love him and know what he has done. (Paul says something similar in 1 Tim. 5:19.) If he refuses to listen to his friends, he will probably leave the church. But if he doesn’t, something will need to be said to the wider church community. Only as a last resort is the issue made public. If he doesn’t listen to the church, his heart is obviously not with you. Don’t hate the guy. Just treat him as you would a tax collector or sinner.

An extreme example of church discipline was seen in the church in Corinth. A man was sleeping with his father’s wife and instead of speaking against it, some of the Corinthians were applauding themselves for their tolerance (1 Cor. 5:1–2, 6). Paul was horrified. This situation had gone far beyond a private rebuke. The whole church was talking about it. Paul had to come down strong:

I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Corinthians 5:5)

To deliver him to Satan means remove him from the church (see 1 Cor. 5:2). Since the man refuses to listen to the Spirit, let sin be his teacher. Let him reap what he has sown. Let him learn the hard way that sin has consequences, and maybe then he will see his need for a Savior.

Paul’s hard words have nothing to do with divine punishment and everything to do with the destructiveness of sin (Rom. 6:23). Sow to the flesh and you will reap destruction (Gal. 6:8). The implication is not that the man will die, but that he will experience the destructive consequences of his sin in some way. “So that his spirit may be saved.” This man was not a believer but Paul hoped that he would become one. Not everyone who goes to church is saved. This man was “among them,” but he was not one of them.

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