The psalmist David – King David – loved the Word of God. In Psalm 19 he sang: “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover BY THEM IS THY SERVANT WARNED: and in keeping of them there is great reward.”
There may be many reasons to love the Word of God. But as David tells us, one excellent reason is that it reveals what God expects of us. Even though, as Isaiah 55 tells us, God’s ways and thoughts are higher and better than ours, we are not left confused, or in the dark, about what is best for us, both for eternity and for tomorrow. In fact the Lord has left very few major topics for us to figure out ourselves.
Listen to David in Psalm 119: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. “I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me. “Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it. “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word. “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever. “Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word. “I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil. “Let my cry come near before thee, O LORD: give me understanding according to thy word.”
The Word of God is the source, the only source, for the most important information in the world. Could any of us have guessed how to be delivered from sin, if it wasn’t for the revelation of God? The Lord has told us about the mission of our church, about our service, about our families. He has explained enough about the future to give us hope and encouragement. He has even outlined for us how to live a victorious Christian life.
And that is what we have here in our scripture here in Matthew 16. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” I would like us to examine the first part of verse 24 under the theme of “Discipline.” or “Christian denial.”
“Discipline” has about a dozen different definitions in the average dictionary. It refers to “educational punishment,” as in the discipline of a child – but that is not my message. It can mean a branch of learning – “The discipline of history or economics.” It is a branch of religion dealing with practice as opposed to doctrine. But what I’m interested in this evening is “self-discipline” – self training. It is not one of the great, fun doctrines of the Word of God. No one likes being hurt, and intrinsic to discipline is a bit of pain. But in this case the pain is self-inflicted – and not in a negative way, but rather positively..
Self-discipline is a very important subject. By the time a child leaves home, outside discipline has pretty-well come to an end. Only if he breaks the law or if he joins the military does anyone have the opportunity to really discipline the adult or young adult. So if he is to have any discipline at all later in his life, it must come from within – it must be SELF-discipline.
Now, I believe that according to I Thessalonians 5:23 man is a three part creature. “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So lets look at discipline in each area of our being: body, soul and spirit.
The Christian must discipline his BODY if he hopes to be a good disciple of Christ.
Let me remind you that the flesh and the spirit are not the best of friends. The cat and dog may live in same neighborhood, but unless their mutual master has disciplined them, they will hardly ever be bosom buddies. The same is true between the spirit and the flesh; they fight light cats and dogs. ” For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.” In other words, the person who does what he does only because it feels good to the flesh to do it – will almost immediately find that he has ended up contrary to Christ and His will. We don’t need MORE physical strength to get by in this world, but strength of an higher nature. We don’t need more education, but Holy Spirit wisdom which comes from the fear of the Lord. We need discipline, particularly self-discipline – guided by the Spirit of God.
We need to learn to keep our bodies under – under control. For example, we need to discipline our desires. But of course, not everything that our bodies crave is absolutely wrong. How many times have we thirsted for a drink of water, and nothing would satisfy us but that drink? Water is one of the necessities of life. And then there is the need of food and rest, etc. So food is a necessity of life, but too much food is called “gluttony” – which is a sin. We need discipline when it comes to food. Sleep is another necessity, but too much rest has another name – “laziness” – which again is sin. Sleep is an area that needs discipline. And sometimes that means we need to discipline ourselves to get MORE sleep than we do. There are times when sleep is appropriate, and there are times when it displeases God. If you have a hard time staying awake in church, then you need to discipline yourself to get more sleep on Saturday night. “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”
Several times in God’s word, we have a description of peoples’ descent into sin. For example, after Achan stole some of the Lord’s property and brought judgment on Israel at Jericho – after he was caught, he confessed. “And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them.” That man’s descent was really pretty simple: “I saw, I coveted and I took.” But his sin wasn’t in seeing; and his greatest sin was not in his coveting; his biggest sin was in the stealing. If he had disciplined himself properly, as everyone else in Israel had done, the sin could have been avoided before the seeing, after the seeing or even after the coveting.
Most of the world’s evil is rooted in undisciplined desires. What is the number one cause of divorce? Statistics tell us that the first cause of divorce is money problems “The love of money is the root of all evil.” What is the number two cause divorce? Wandering eyes and the lust of the flesh. What is the primary reason that nations attack other nations? Lust, covetousness, and greed. Why did Lucifer fall from Heaven? He lusted after the throne and glory of God. Why did Eve sin? Because of her desire to be like God. The bud comes before the flower, and before the fruit comes the concept or the conception. Discipline is the act of cutting off the bud before the weed blossoms.
We need to recognize that discipline is not just negative, but positive, too. We need to learn to discipline our body’s energies. Denying ourselves in some things does not necessarily mean denying other things. Take the average family as an illustration: Dad is a busy man – often so busy that he has little time for the kids. He is exhausted when he gets home from work and about all that he can do is eat and rest. Maybe Dad needs to sacrifice some of his work and his income to be a blessing to his family. Maybe he needs to sacrifice his personal relaxation to be a blessing to the kids. Maybe it is his wife who needs the attention more than the other things. There is only so much energy, so much time, so much focus available to any us. Not only do we have to choose what to avoid, but we must also choose where to apply what is left. Self-discipline has to be positive as well as negative.
This is just one area of discipline – what about our SOULS?
According to the Bible, the soul is the person himself – you. The soul involves self-consciousness and so in a sense – the mind – intelligence. So let’s confine it to that, at least for sake this message.
Our thoughts must be disciplined as much as our calories or our kids. And the Bible has much to say about the subject. “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries.”
What is the pinnacle of your thought life? Family, job, hobby, friends, money, problems, worries? Perhaps a better question is: “How well do you control your mind.” How much wisdom and strength do you have to tell yourself, “I should stop thinking about this.” And then how much ability do you have to actually stop – self-denial? How much sin occupies your thinking? One of the problems with sin, as is seen in lying, is that one sin often leads to another and another. Rarely does the thought of sin make the quantum leap to a thought of something righteous. That is why we need to be disciplined enough to shut it off. The Bible tells us to discipline our minds to rest on godly things. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Another compartment of the soul is that which we call “memory.” It is possible to let our memories so control us that we become warped. It is like the little twig of a tree to which a rope is tied, and as a result it grow all bent out of shape. It is important that we control our memories and not to let our memories control us. Do recall Israel in the desert constantly saying, “We remember Egypt, we remember Egypt”? Those thoughts got them into nothing but trouble. The ability to remember is a gift of God, but it fell when Adam sinned, just like all rest of our various parts. So it must be trained and disciplined too. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Don’t just pray about these things, work on them; bring them into submission. I’m not saying that the grace and power of the Lord isn’t necessary, but the Lord isn’t going to miraculously create them within you. Discipline is a necessity.
The third area of our being is the SPIRIT, and it too must be disciplined.
The first step, of course, is to activate it through the new birth. We can’t discipline a child that we don’t have, or one that Lord has taken from us. We can’t discipline a child who has moved away. And we can’t discipline our spirits if that spirit is still dead in trespasses and sins.
Once the Spirit is made to live, even then it needs to be properly controlled. Our human spirit needs to be trained to agree with the Holy Spirit. And just how do we propose to do that? Horses have bridles, ships have rudders, and rivers have dams.
“Be ye filled with the Spirit of God” and His inspired Word. Have you ever asked Christ to fill you with His Spirit? That is a scarey thought, and perhaps an even more scarey reality, but it is a blessed one. The first thing that we need to do is sweep the cobwebs out of our souls and lives. “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” We need to allow God to fill us with humility and faith.
Then discipline yourself to meditation on Word of the Lord. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
Joshua 1 – “Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
I’m not sure if it is possible to have discipline of the spirit without first having discipline of the body and soul. All of them go together under rule of Romans 12:1-3 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” Discipline yourself by the sacrifice yourself to the Christ. I believe that it was William Penn who wrote –“No pain, no palm, no thorn, no throne, no gall. no glory.” Joy isn’t lost in discipline – every Olympic athlete knows that. Heaven may be the most disciplined place under God, and yet it will still be heaven.
And if we hope to find a little of Heaven here on earth, then we need to practice more self-discipline.