In the Book of Hebrews, trials are compared to running a race where there is sacrifice and discipline required in the training and running of it.
PURPOSE OF DISCIPLINE
Quoting Proverbs 3:11-12 the author of Hebrews shows that, contrary to what some believe, God’s single desire isn’t just for us to be happy.
God also wants us to be holy and will use discipline to achieve that goal!
Heb 12:4-6, 10 (NIV) In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
… but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.
Remember how the prodigal son
returns to his father when his
situation gets worse? Discipline is used by God to draw us back to himself:
God is not at a loss when he moves to bring us back to himself. He can woo or whip. He can draw or drive. He can work rapidly or slowly, as he pleases. In other words, he is free to be God! And in his own way, at his own pace, he brings us back. (Tom Wells - Christian: Take Heart!)
WHO GETS DISCIPLINE?
Ps 94:10 (NIV) Does he who disciplines nations not punish? …
Ps 39:11 (NIV) You rebuke and discipline men for their sin; you consume their wealth like a moth— each man is but a breath.
So at times the suffering and hardship we face are because God is disciplining us.
But not every hardship we face is as a result of God’s discipline.
TRIALS VS DISCIPLINE
Some hardships are:
Seeking to destroy you (1 Pet 5:8)
A test of our integrity – like Job (Job 1:9-11)
To sift us - like Simon (Luke 22:31)
To develop our character (1 Pet 1:6-7)
To chastise us (Heb 12:7)
The godly have some good in them, therefore the devil afflicts them; and some evil in them, therefore God afflicts them. (Thomas Watson)
We must differentiate between Satan’s trials and God’s discipline.
Job’s friends wrongly attributed his trials to God’s discipline, when in fact they were a test of his integrity and perpetrated by Satan. And so Eliphaz chides Job:
Consider now: who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plough evil and those who sow trouble reap it. At the breath of God they perish; at the blast of his anger they are no more. (Job 4:7-9)
But in the end God rebukes Eliphaz (Job 42:7)
I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.
Fathers give their children:
We cherish the fact that God is our Father when thinking of his provision, love and protection. But we forget that fathers also discipline their children!
God has no pleasure in afflicting us, but he will not keep back even the most painful chastisement if he can but thereby guide his beloved child to come home and abide in the beloved Son. (Andrew Murray)
So even when hardship is as a result of discipline, remember that this is a sign of sonship:
Heb 12:7-8 (NIV) Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (cf. Deut 8:5)
Just as we respected our earthly fathers when they disciplined us, we should submit to God’s discipline without questioning him.
Heb 12:9 (NIV) Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
Heb 12:10a (NIV) Our fathers disciplined
us for a little while as they thought best…
God’s discipline is better than that of our
earthly fathers, who even with the best
intentions could only discipline us:
for a little while
But God disciplines throughout
our entire life.
as they thought best
Unlike an earthly father who does
not have full knowledge, God is all-
knowing and his judgement is always
just. God is not subject to human limitations of lacking all the facts and not knowing the motives behind actions.
As a child we may have questioned a parent’s love when they disciplined us and sometimes we do the same with our heavenly Father.
This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.
Well could we swap places then?
A SIGN OF LOVE
A SIGN OF LOVE
But God assures us that his discipline too is a sign of his love for us:
Prov 3:11-12 (NIV) My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
And Jesus tells the church:
Rev 3:19 (NIV) “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline”
We all have encountered undisciplined children that no one likes - except maybe the parents. God will not let
his children go undisciplined.
God’s stated intent is not to destroy us, but he will not let us go undisciplined:
Jer 30:11b (NIV) “Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.”
Note in the above passage how God differentiates between:
his punitive judgement of the pagan nations
the discipline of his children.
With his children God’s discipline is not punitive, the intention is restoration and rehabilitation.
Many people fail to make a clear distinction between punishment and discipline, and there is a very significant difference between these two concepts.
Punishment is designed to execute retribution for a wrong done. Discipline, on the other
hand, is to encourage the
restoration of the one
involved in the wrongdoing.
Punishment is designed
primarily to avenge a
wrong and assert justice.
Discipline is designed
primarily as a corrective
for the one who has failed
to live according to the
standards of the church and/or society.
(Carl Laney - A Guide to Church Discipline, Bethany, 1985, p. 79)
The godly do suffer and complain about it at times. But the Bible teaches plainly that their suffering, even after their conversion and reconciliation to God, is not punishment any longer, but chastening. It is not the punishment of a God who is angry with them, but the chastening of a God who is reconciled to them. (John Gerstner - The Problem of Pleasure, Soli Deo Gloria, 2002, p. 11-12)
Q: When does God discipline?
When we are disobedient. Remember what happened to Jonah when he disobeyed God’s command to preach in Nineveh?
God disciplines us when we sin.
Psalm 38:1-3 (NIV) O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. For your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me. Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin.
Speaking of God’s discipline of the children of Israel, Paul writes:
1 Cor 10:5-10 (NIV) Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
God disciplines us when we do not examine and judge ourselves. Paul gives an example of this:
1 Cor 11:29-32 (NIV) For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.
God disciplines us when he needs to refine our character:
James 1:2-4 (NIV) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Not all God’s discipline is related to some specific sin:
The issue God is dealing with in our lives is not so much what we do, but what we are. All of us tend to under-estimate the remaining sinfulness in our hearts. We fail to see the extent of pride, fleshly self-confidence, selfish ambitions, stubbornness, self-justification, lack of love, and distrust of God that he does see. (Jerry Bridges - Trusting God, 1988, p. 150)
FITS THE CRIME
Q: How do I know when hardship is God’s discipline rather than a trial from Satan?
A: Often God will use a punishment
that fits the crime.
Galatians 6:7 (TLB) Don’t be misled; remember that you can’t ignore God and get away with it: a man will always reap just the kind of crop he sows!
Rev 16:7 (NIV) ... “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”
Let’s look first at the account of Jacob as
an example of God’s punishment
fitting the crime.
Jacob tricks his blind father Isaac by pretending
to be his older brother Esau (Gen 27).
I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me.
Years later Laban tricks Jacob by substituting Rachel, his younger daughter with his elder daughter Leah (Gen 29).
Jacob disregards the right of the firstborn (Gen 25:29-31)
First sell me your birthright.
Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!
It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.
I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?
He learns a lesson in the right of the firstborn when Laban
tricks him into marrying Leah instead of Rachel (Gen 29).
This is one of
in the Bible –
the one who
father using a
coat and a
Gen 27:15-16 (NIV) Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son… and put them on her younger son Jacob. She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins.
Jacob is deceived by his sons with a coat and a dead goat:
Gen 37:31-32 (NIV) Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.
It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him.
Jacob cheats (Gen 27:35-36).
Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.
This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!
He is then cheated repeatedly by Laban (Gen 31:38-42).
… you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night… I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times.
Jacob conspires with his mother, Rebekah (Gen 27:15-16).
Despite being his mother’s favourite child, Jacob never sees her again after going away. Only the father Isaac that he deceived, is alive on his return (Gen 35:27).
Then we have the case of Jacob’s sons.
Jacob was deceived by his sons into believing that Joseph had been killed.
Much later these same brothers are deceived by Joseph in Egypt, when as Pharaoh’s deputy, they don’t recognize him.
Joseph’s coat was dipped in goat’s blood in
order to deceive Jacob (Gen 37:31-32).
We found this. Examine it (hakker na) to see whether it is your son’s robe.
Later Tamar deceives Judah also using a goat. “Judah sent the young goat” (Gen 38:20) to the prostitute, who was in fact his daughter-in-law Tamar in disguise.
The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 85:9) points out that the same wording is used in both of these stories: “hakker na” (do you recognize?)
While Jacob was asked by Judah and his brothers whether he “recognized” (Gen 38:25) Joseph’s bloody coat, Judah in turn was asked by Tamar whether he recognized his seal, cord and staff.
Recognize these? (hakker na)
Remember the Israelites who complained that they were tired of eating manna and craved the meat they had in Egypt (Num 11), forgetting of course that they were slaves there?
If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt … But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!
God’s punishment was to give them meat in the
form of quail “for a whole month—until it comes out
of your nostrils and you loathe it” (Gen 11:20).
FITS THE CRIME
So next time you experience some hardship, before you complain - examine
your life. Maybe God
is allowing you to be treated the way you
have treated others.
Luke 6:37-38(NIV) “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven … For with
the measure you
use, it will be
Miriam criticised her brother Moses because of the Cushite (Ethiopian) woman he had married. The Ethiopians were of course dark-skinned.
Miriam’s punishment from God was that her skin became
“leprous, like snow” (Num 12:10). So Miriam became
deathly white after complaining about a dark-skinned person.
Let’s consider Samson as another example. He continually pursues pagan Philistine women (Judg 14:1) despite the advice of his parents (14:3) and God’s command against this. He even goes to a Philistine prostitute (16:1).
But it is a Philistine woman, Delilah, who ultimately betrays him to his enemies (Jud 16).
Let’s look at David as our last example. He committed
adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. (2 Kings 11:4)
When Bathsheba falls pregnant, David gets Joab to
have Uriah killed in order to cover his sin. (2 Sam 11:14-17)
The prophet Nathan confronts David. (2 Sam 12:9-10)
Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own.
The child born from the act of adultery dies,
despite David fasting and praying. Note also that despite God’s forgiveness, David is still disciplined.
The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die. (2 Sam 12:13-14)
This is fulfilled by Absalom – “So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he lay with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.” (2 Sam 16:22)
Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel. (2 Sam 12:11-12)
David’s son Ammon is killed by Absalom. (2 Sam 13)
You killed (Uriah) with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house…
Joab, who was instructed by David to have Uriah killed, ends up killing Absalom, David’s beloved son (2 Sam 18).
David’s son Adonijah is executed by his
other son Solomon. (1 Kings 2:25)
FITS THE CRIME
Have you been cheated? Maybe you have cheated others.
Is your boss treating you unfairly? Maybe you have treated others unfairly too (like those who work for you).
Are you being slandered by someone? Did you perhaps slander another person?
Do you not forgive those who have wronged you? God will not forgive you then.
Matt 6:15 (NIV) But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins
Remember the lame man that Jesus healed
at the Pool of Bethesda? Listen to what Jesus told him.
See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you. (John 5:14)
So Jesus implies that his previous sickness
was a result of sin (i.e. a punishment by God).
But before you go telling every sick Christian they are being punished, remember the blind man Jesus encounters later (John 9). The disciples now assume that his blindness too is as a result of sin.
Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
Neither this man nor his parents sinned,
but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
TRIALS VS DISCIPLINE
So in the case of the lame man,
his sickness was a punishment by
God for sin. But the man born blind
experienced a trial from Satan. But
God would even use that to his glory
later when Jesus healed the man.
So be careful when passing judgement
on whether others are experiencing
discipline or trials. Rather judge yourself:
Rom 14:12-13 (NIV) So then, each of us will
give an account of himself to God. Therefore
let us stop passing judgement on one another.
Heb 12:11a (NIV) No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.
We may think that…severity (as God leads his children) is inconsistent with what we know of God’s gentleness and compassion. But that is because we do not appreciate how seriously God loves us, and how determined he is that we should have his best, even if it means pain. (Sinclair Ferguson - A Heart for God, 1987, p. 100)
God does not afflict his children willingly. He takes no delight in seeing our tears – or hearing our groans. But he does take delight in doing us good, making us holy, conforming us to his own image, and fitting us to dwell in his own presence. (John Angell James - The Widow Directed to the Widow’s God, 1841)
Both a surgeon and a criminal may use a knife. In both cases the cuts may hurt, but the difference is the intent.
The criminal (like Satan) intends to hurt and maim us, while the surgeon (like God) uses the cuts as a means of healing a damaged area of the body or of removing
a cancerous growth.
When we suffer under
God’s discipline we
know the intent is to
heal, make us holier
and develop our
God’s wounds cure, sin’s kisses kill. - William Gurnall
So despite the pain, it is for our good.
Prov 20:30 (NIV) Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the innermost being.
In his “Shepherd’s Psalm” David says of the Lord his shepherd, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4).
The rod was for correction while the staff was to guide.
We often learn more of God under the rod that strikes us than under the staff that comforts us. (Stephen Charnock)
FOR OUR GOOD
Whom God loves, the Scriptures says, he chastens. He makes all things, including pain, “work together for good for them that love God, and are called according to his purpose.” That should be the consolation and strength of the saints… That affliction is actually a blessing in disguise. At other times, the pain hurts so much that they cannot, through the tears, see the disguise. Momentarily they lament the heavy hand of God upon them, but when they are thinking in their most saintly character, they praise God.
His rod and staff comfort them.
(John Gerstner - The Problem of Pleasure,
Soli Deo Gloria, 2002, p. 11-12)
Heb 12:11 (NIV) No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
The harvest it produces comes only “later on”.
Many believers are deeply grieved, because they do not at once feel that they have been profited by their afflictions. Well, you do not expect to see apples or plums on a tree which you have planted but a week. Only little children put their seeds into their flower-garden, and then expect to see them grow into plants in an hour. (C.H. Spurgeon)
FOR OUR GOOD
1 Cor 11:32 (NIV) When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.
When hardships come it’s hard to endure them cheerfully, but like all discipline the benefit is realised later. Hardships serve to ‘train’ us for righteousness.
Heb 12:10b (NIV) … but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.
God’s discipline will result in character development and is for our good. While human discipline by our earthly fathers had temporary benefits, divine discipline by our heavenly Father has eternal benefits. As such, we should be all the
more willing to endure it.
FOR OUR GOOD
Chastisement is designed for our good, to promote our highest interests. Look beyond the rod to the All-wise hand that wields it! (A.W. Pink)
Many Christians have to be lovingly roughed up before they will grow up. Although the heavenly Father never allows his children to suffer needlessly, sometimes he lets them experience hard knocks so they’ll become mature believers. The need for “bad weather” to stimulate growth can be seen in nature. Scientists say that the seeds of some desert bushes must be damaged by a storm before they will germinate. They are covered with hard shells that keep out water. This allows them to lie dormant on the sand for several seasons until conditions are right for growth.
FOR OUR GOOD
When heavy rains finally come, the little seeds are carried away in a flash flood. They are banged against sand, gravel, and rocks as they rush down the slopes. Eventually they settle in a depression where the soil has become damp to a depth of several feet. Only
then do they begin to grow, for moisture is
absorbed through the nicks and scratches they
picked up on their downhill plunge.
Similarly, difficulties may be needed to wake up a sleeping saint. This may hurt for a while, but if we
yield to the Lord we will find that life’s bruises
can mark the beginning of spiritual advances.
We may prefer to remain ‘seeds,’ but he wants
us to become ‘fruitful trees.’ (Mart De Haan)
LEARN FROM PAIN
We need to learn from the Lord’s discipline:
Prov 15:5 (NIV) A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.
Prov 10:17 (NIV) He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.
Prov 12:1 (NIV) Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.
Prov 15:10 (NIV) Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path; he who hates correction will die.
LEARN FROM PAIN
In difficult times rather than complaining, ask the Lord, “What are you trying to teach me?”
Prov 15:32 (NIV)
He who ignores discipline despises himself, but
LEARN FROM PAIN
God’s corrections are instructions, his lashes our lessons, his scourges our schoolmasters, his
admonitions! And to note this, the Hebrews and Greeks both do express chastening and teaching by one and the same word, because the latter is the true end of the former. (Thomas Brooks – A Puritan Golden Treasury)
It is in discipline that we hear God speak:
Deut 4:36 (NIV) From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you.
C.S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our
conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his
megaphone to rouse a
LEARN FROM PAIN
LEARN FROM PAIN
If we only knew how bad we are, we would welcome chastening because this is God’s way of getting rid of sin and its habits. But chastening is resented because we cannot believe that we have done anything worthy of it. (John Sanderson - The Fruit of the Spirit, Zondervan, 1972, p. 71)
When pain is present it is difficult to bear; but when a Christian, even in anguish, realizes that this is the heavy hand of a loving God upon him, he blesses God in his sufferings and for his suffering, which he knows is for his own good and for his everlasting blessedness. (John Gerstner - The Problem of Pleasure, Soli Deo Gloria, 2002, p. 12)
Some people ignore or don’t respond to God’s discipline:
Jer 32:33 (NIV) They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline.
Despising discipline is the sign of a fool:
Prov 1:7 (NIV) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
What will God do if we repeatedly ignore his discipline?
Prov 29:1 (NIV) A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed--without remedy.
Prov 1:24-27 (NIV) “But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you--when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.”
Prov 1:28-31 (NIV) “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their
ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.”
Heb 12:12-13 (NIV) Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
The author of Hebrews quotes Isaiah 35:3,6 and Proverbs 4:26 to encourage these Christians to be strong in the face of persecution and trouble.
And so - God disciplines, but he also restores those who repent:
Jer 31:18 (NIV) “I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning: ‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined. Restore me, and I will return, because you are the LORD my God.’”
Ps 94:12-13 (NIV) Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law; you grant him relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked.
Job 5:17-18 (NIV) “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.”
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