“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” (Heb. 12:5-6).
This thinking is so dramatically divergent from 21st century western thought that it seems untenable. In our post-modern context, we want to think of love only in terms of leniency, acquiescence, and affirmation. That ‘love’ doesn’t discipline; it says ‘yes’. Even when we correctly understand the word discipline that is used here as training rather than punishment, it seems like a foreign concept to us. However, when our thoughts conflict with God’s, it’s not Him who is wrong!
Renewing Our Minds
The context of these words in Hebrews 12 helps us understand how they not only make sense, but communicate profound wisdom. They are preceded by an admonition to look to Jesus, who founded our faith and is, even yet, perfecting it (Heb. 12:2). As our example, He endured devastating suffering as God taught Him what it is to be obedient (Heb. 5:7-8) so that we might have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). But He was more than an example; He was our replacement. The suffering He humbly accepted was our suffering to bear and accomplished the greatest exchange of all time. He became poor for our sakes so that through His poverty, we might be made rich (2 Cor. 8:9). The good news of the cross is that we can now look to Him for the indwelling power to also choose humble submission to God’s sovereign purposes.
The succeeding verses give insight into what those purposes are. Our Holy God is offering us the opportunity to share in His holiness (Heb. 12:10). Let those words sink in. Read them again. Meditate on them. He offers us the gift of His holiness but tells us that the means to that end is through the hardships that He has decreed for this very purpose. He knows us well. Comfort breeds all things human; discomfort forces us to look beyond ourselves for meaning and resources – to look to Him. And when we do, we find Him and He works His beautiful holiness in our broken lives. It is a miracle of unparalleled proportions!
When Our Minds Are Renewed
Understanding this matters because when we learn to see God’s discipline with new eyes, we will respond differently. No longer will we be susceptible to the lies Satan would want us to believe, such as “God doesn’t see your suffering,” or “He doesn’t care,” or “you’re getting what you deserve.” When we think with our enemy in this way, we will descend into hopelessness, self-pity, and despair. But when we embrace the truth that all of our suffering is meaningful, we can begin to look to God in humble faith with hope that it is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17). When Paul talks about the “unseen and eternal things” that we are to look to, this is what he’s talking about.
How Do We Get From Here to There?
The underlying heart difference between our responses to God’s discipline is faith, which brings us back to the context. The chapter preceding this instruction is commonly referred to as the Hall of Faith. Here we meet real people who faced trials of various kinds that God used to discipline them. Noah was instructed to build a boat in a world without rain, Sarah endured decades of barrenness to her deep disgrace, Abraham was asked to sacrifice his promised son on an altar, and many more stories like these. As we study the lives of these Old Testament characters we can be encouraged by the raw truth that none of them had perfect faith – that each of them needed these difficulties and others throughout their lifetimes to grow the faith that they are ultimately commended for. Though their trials are dramatically dissimilar, the common thread is a fatherly God working to help them know Him with ever-increasing intimacy and thereby share in His holiness.
When we consider the truths of Hebrews 11 and 12 together, we can be assured that:
- If we are truly God’s child, we will face unpleasant and even painful discipline which will come to us in the form of various trials.
- Like the faith-filled of old, we will at times fail to trust God.
- Those failures will not be a surprise or disappointment to God. He will continue to discipline us in order to grow faith in Him.
- If we are willing to be trained by His discipline, it will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness in our lives and we will share in the holiness of God.
Questions for Reflection
Do you tend to think of hardships as blessings or curses? When trials come are you inclined to doubt God’s love for you? How can you move toward God rather than away from Him in a difficulty you are facing right now?
Betty-Anne Van Rees (MABC) is fuelled by her passion to see the Canadian church convinced and equipped to care for souls through the living Word (both Incarnate and inspired). Betty-Anne serves on the board of the BCC and has worked together with a team of like-minded men and women to launch the Canadian BCC.