“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:3-11)
God, in saving us, has done a great work. He has not only brought about our regeneration, justification, sanctification, and ultimate glorification, but the Lord has also brought us into a special relationship with Himself through adoption (see Galatians 4:1-7 & Romans 8:15). We are now not only the redeemed, but also sons of God—a part of His family with God as our Heavenly Father and Christ our brother. And by the way, ladies, this is not a sexist statement. In First Century A.D. culture, you would not have any rights or opportunity to inherit anything. So, in calling you “sons,” the Lord is elevating you to the same position as men.
I see the Lord’s adoption of us as the ultimate display of the His loving kindness. God was under no obligation to save any of us in the first place and He certainly did not have to bring the likes of us into His family and bless us with such an intimate relationship. This is all the more reason to praise Him for His glorious grace.
There are many benefits to being a son of God. We gain our identity and place of belonging through adoption—we are now members of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19). We also are blessed with the Spirit taking up residence within us and this is because of or in the context of our adoption—“…so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father” (Galatians 4:5-6)!
There is, however, another benefit to having God as our Father - one that we may not view as very “beneficial” - We receive the Lord’s discipline. That’s a benefit? "Wow," we might think, "I need this like I need a hole in my head!" We don’t like discipline, correction or punishment from anyone, and that includes the Lord. Instead, being human, we would rather have constant applause and pats on the back.
What is worse than our dislike of discipline is our lack of understanding when it comes to how the Lord disciplines and the purposes for these trials. And if this continues to be the case, we will flounder in our walk and never run the race well or benefit fully from the training and admonition of the Lord. So let’s get a better grip on what is involved with this heavenly correction.
In the Hebrews 12 passage provided above, there are two forms of discipline mentioned:
- Discipline (paideia) meaning child rearing through education, training, and correction. Richard Phillips explains that: “This is the primary way we should think about God’s treatment of us in our trials. Just as a parent trains up a child, subjecting him or her to a process of education and arranging demanding experiences designed to spur development, so God also leads us through this life. As with a son or daughter in childhood, our whole lives are preparation for the age of maturity that waits for us in the life to come. This explains so many of our trials. God sends us challenges and hardships, not out of spite, but out of parental love. Trials are designed to make us stronger, to apply force against the muscle of our faith to push us forward toward our spiritual potential.”
- Chastise (mastigoi) which literally means “to scourge.” This is a divine spanking—God’s extreme intervention (such as the loss of a job, severe illness, etc.) that is sent to arrest the conscience of the believer and purge him of some deep-seated stubbornness and sin.
While none of us enjoys the pain of the Lord’s discipline, Hebrews 12 reassures and comforts us that there are at least two blessings through it all. First, the trials, sent to train and purify us, identify us as children of God. EVERY child of God receives discipline from the Lord. Verse 8 states “…in which all have participated.” In the natural course of things, fathers discipline their sons and it is no different with the Heavenly Father and his child. If there is no discipline, then there is no true “sonship.”
Second, the Lord disciplines us for our good so that we may share in His holiness. Currently the child of God has an opponent with which he is locked in a constant battle. That enemy is sin. Verse 4 reads “…in your struggle against sin…” While the power of sin has been broken in the life of the believer, the presence of sin will continue with him until the day he is present with the Lord; so too will the Lord's discipline continue with the child of God. J. C. Ryle helps us to understand this better: “By affliction He teaches us many precious lessons, which, without it we should never learn. By affliction He shows us our emptiness and weakness, draws us to the throne of grace, purifies our affections, weans us from the world, makes us long for heaven. In the resurrection morning we shall all say, ‘It is good for me that I was afflicted.’ We shall thank God for every storm.”
So what should our response be to the Lord’s discipline?
- Detached, unemotional fatalism? This is not a correct response. We read in verse 5 “…do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord.” Some, in an effort to shelter themselves from the pain, detach themselves from the whole experience and fail to benefit from the pain of discipline and learn none of its lessons. They don’t really care about the reason for the storm; they just want to ride it out and hope for better days.
- Bitterness and anger? This also is not the correct response. The person responding in this manner forgets that the Lord is loving and has the believer’s best at heart as He intentionally allows trouble into the life of His child. He also forgets his own deep need for God’s refining fire to burn away the stuff of his life that is worthless.
- Be subject to the Lord and endure! This is obviously the correct way to respond. “It is for discipline that you have to endure….Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (12:7, 12-13). As the child of God subjects himself to the will of God and seeks divine strength to endure the trial, he then receives His Father’s best.
All this talk of hardship and discipline may lead us to believe that God is limited in His ability to protect His child or even harsh and cruel. This is not the case at all. Every act of discipline is sovereignly controlled by our gracious, all-powerful, all-loving Heavenly Father and is strategically placed and timed to maximize the benefits for His child. God IS ABLE to take the believer through the darkest valley of the shadow of death. In the words of the apostle Paul: “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:36-39).
In all of this, discernment is necessary. Sometimes it is obvious to the believer what is happening in the middle of difficult times. He comprehends the exact nature and reason for the discipline. While it is a nuisance or downright painful, he’s aware of what is happening and he perseveres because he can see that it is beneficial and only for a season.
At other times, the child of God doesn’t have a clue why these things are happening. In this case, what should he do? James tells us: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:2-5). If we don’t understand the trial, we are to ask for wisdom. Maybe the Lord will not give the specific reasons for the weight of trouble His child is under (remember Job?), but God will reassure the believer of His presence, power, and love—and that will be what is needed to carry him through.