There is a vast gulf between our American consumerism and the Christian faith. If we try to blend them, the result is a casual, convenient discipleship that has little relish for quiet holiness and self-denial but craves good feelings and requires artificial stimulation. Our greatest threat is not persecution for being crucified to the world but absorption into worldly patterns of thinking and living. It is unlikely we shall have to endure the fiery furnace but we must cope with desensitizing abundance and a worldly church that has not heeded Christ’s warning (Luke 21:34). Our times are dangerous because of an emasculated, chameleon faith that will tolerate anything, including sin, as long as in so doing it can claim to be accepting and loving. Looking unto Jesus is our first great incentive to resist these evil tendencies and to hear the witness and follow the example of those who have finished faith’s race. We must consider carefully the opposition our Lord faced from sinners, his refusal to seek agreement between the world and his gospel, and his present help to us from God’s right hand. The second incentive is different. There is something very inspiring about the example of Christ, but shall we feel inspired when God says to us, “Receive my discipline in your life. You need chastening, to be instructed through hard training.”
Scripture’s Living Witness to God’s Discipline (vv. 5-8)
His Kindly Feelings toward Us (v. 5)
Following Jesus Christ is not about upward mobility or worldly abundance. It is not even about personal improvement or emotional peace. We follow Jesus Christ because he is the only way, truth, and life. Whatever happens to us, there is no one else to follow, for he alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). If following him means trouble, then his true disciples will accept this discipline of the cross, but we also require strong encouragement to keep us on the narrow path. Before unfolding something of God’s surprising dealings with his children, the Spirit first reminds us that we are God’s children. He loves us, and this is the reason he brings hardship and challenge into our lives. This is part of his chastening, which is the word paideia, and means the Lord’s training and education of his children, usually through some form of affliction or scourging that confronts, corrects, and causes pain, but also subdues our wills so that we meekly follow wherever our Lord leads.
He quotes Proverbs 3:11-12. The way he quotes this wisdom saying is significant. First, he says you have forgotten it. Most of our fainting and discouragement under trial is due to our forgetfulness of God’s word. He has provided us with a storehouse of encouragements and helps in his promises. One purpose of the Scriptures is to give us comfort and hope (Rom. 15:4), but it is shocking how many of us forget or neglect our Savior’s word altogether (John 8:31-32). Is it any wonder that we lose heart in our trials? Instead, our trials must lead us to God’s word, for it is therein that he teaches and talks with us. This is what had happened to these Hebrews – they forgot God’s word – and so soon, even in the days of the apostles. If this was a danger for them, who lived within living memory of our Savior, it is a much greater temptation for us to doubt our Lord’s word (2 Pet. 3:4).
Second, what God had already given to his church through Solomon one thousand years before is described as “the exhortation that speaks to you.” This is profound. Because the Scriptures, including the Old Testament, belong to the Holy Spirit of Christ who spoke through the prophets, they are as living as he is. They are his living voice in the church. Scripture is never old because its Author is ageless (Heb. 4:12). Its wisdom never loses relevance or freshness because the counsels of the Lord’s heart are eternal in the heavens (Ps. 119:89). That men would speak of the Old Testament as needing to be separated from the New or as sub-Christian betrays either tremendous ignorance or satanic deceit. The Spirit teaches this lesson very practically. They should have known and remembered these Proverbs. God’s word was dialoging with them at that moment, and had they listened, it would have greatly encouraged and helped them. God chastens his children. God loves them. The very troubles they consider to be evidence that he has forsaken them are actually clear and glorious proof of his love and desire to do them good.
Chastening does not mean punishment. God does not punish our sins – he purges and corrects them in love, with various afflictions, so that we might be more like him. It would be good if the idea of punishment as “paying back” or “receiving blows commensurate with the crime” were expunged from our views of God, as well as from our thinking and vocabulary as parents. Our Lord Jesus has born all our punishment, the judicial penalty for our sins, and there is none left to pay (Rom. 8:1). We have nothing left to pay to God; our children have nothing to pay to us. Too many young souls have been ruined by this notion and related emotional and sometimes physical violence – as if parental discipline were a payback for offending and sinning against parents. It is nothing of the kind. This is sub-gospel and can be sub-human. Any parents who has thought of his discipline as “punishment for violating the household rules” or a payback should consider seriously whether or not they truly understand the gospel. In some instances, you should go back to your children and ask their forgiveness for laying a heavy burden upon their souls. For if parental discipline is punishment, how do your blows help them pay it back? No parent is judge, jury, and executioner. This office belongs to God alone, and he has closed his court with “NOT GUILTY” when he raised his Son from the dead. His chastening or discipline is very different. He is training us to walk quietly and obediently before him, to be like him, and to enjoy him. His training may be painful, as most afflictions are, but it is never punishment.
Two Sinful Responses to His Correction (v. 5)
When the Lord trains us in his school of discipline, the first temptation is to despise his chastening. “Despise” is a word that means to care little, to pay little attention to, or to look down upon. In other words, we disrespect or ignore God’s dealings with us are for the purpose of discipline. This discipline may be to correct our faults, humble our pride, or lead us to depend more resolutely upon God’s strength. We must think seriously of these purposes whenever God’s hand seems to be afflicting us. We should not try to escape his hand, dull our wits through drink or drug, or allow ourselves to grow hard or angry under God’s discipline. The opposite of despising is to highly esteem, to make much of, to appreciate. It would be the equivalent of a child turning to his father or mother after discipline, thanking him for correcting him, kissing his hand that struck him or the lips that taught him, and then drawing closer for protection and guidance. How few of us do this with our heavenly Father – we bite and curse the hand that corrects our many faults and kindly leads us in the peaceful paths of righteousness.
The other sinful response to our Father’s correction is to faint or wither or lose heart under his corrections. It is difficult to bear his rebuke. I am not sure that Peter knew how to receive our Lord’s rebuke of his pride in the upper room other than to keep being prideful! He certainly could not admit that the Lord was right, for this would be to admit that he would run away from Jesus in the hour of trouble. A rebuke from the Lord, as the word signifies, is a convincing proof of our sinfulness by which we are discovered to ourselves. When the Lord corrects us, he shows us our sins. This is uncomfortable, not only because of sinful pride clinging to us but also because we truly love the Lord and are embarrassed that there is such filth remaining in us. And when his strokes fall for a longer period of time than we anticipated, or strike us deeply as they did Job, at our family or health, or when God seems to be silent to us and takes away the usual comfort we have in his fellowship, it is no wonder that we are tempted to faint dead away. This word “faint” means to be unloosed or to grow despondent. We might in modern terms say “depressed.”
This is not the place for a lengthy discussion of depression, but we should observe that one very common reason for depressed spirits among believers is that a wrong response has been made to God’s training. Consider an athletic coach training his players for a competitive season. If a player felt personally insulted by the coach’s running regimen or correction of their mistakes during practice, he needs an attitude adjustment. In fact, it is a well-known truth about sports that coaches are often hardest upon players for whom they feel the most attachment or have highest expectation of success. The training is intended to push the player to excellence. But we forget this about our Father’s training through affliction, persecution, or simply a rebuke in the weekly sermon. We become offended. We are so soft that we almost need constant affirmation that all is well. But our Father is too wise to limit his methods to our comfort level. He will push us. He will reprove us, and we should not become depressed or faint-hearted when he does this, but expect that he will correct our faults.
He Corrects Because He Loves (v. 6)
I suppose we can imagine the Lord dealing more gently with us, but this is only because our understanding of his love does not take into adequate account our sin. Our sins really do offend him and make us miserable. Our idols do not simply generate bad consequences; they are a break of the fellowship he invites us to have with him (John 14:21-23; Rev. 3:19-20). This is all of his great love, which never varies in its perfection and tendency and constancy (Zeph. 3:17). He will have us for himself. This is what is meant by God’s jealousy with respect to his people. His jealousy is his perfect love refusing to let go of the ones whom he loves and doing all that is necessary to remove from them the things that prevent them from returning and enjoying his love. This is what we have to remember about our Father’s correction – when the Lord loves us, he will rebuke us. He will chasten our faults. In fact, it is an oddity, but only from our fallen and self-oriented perspective, that God treats his children far more firmly than he does the children of this world. If we wonder that the wicked often get away with their crimes, that the worst blasphemies and intrigues against the church are not punished with lightning from heaven, it is this one simple and profound truth. If God does not love you, he will not usually correct your faults. He will let you go – until the day of judgment. If he loves you, he will correct you. He will “hurt” you a little now so that you will enjoy his healing, loving, consoling hand forever.
Every Son Trained and Scourged (vv. 6-7)
This should make James’ call to rejoice in trials a little more believable and practicable (1:2). Ah, if I am a child of God, he will at times rebuke me, or allow me to suffer a little to tame my flesh and pride, or even give me a taste of my Savior’s sufferings so that I may love him more – and thus obey him better (John 14:12). Our response to his training is often to draw back – “Wait a minute, Lord, this hurts; I do not deserve this.” But through the trials that make us peevish toward him, he is actually drawing us closer to himself. He will not receive us without scourging or in effect whipping us into shape and into obedience. This is the way God deals with all his children, but we must be careful. Just because a person is afflicted is no indication of God’s love or acceptance of them as his child. We are fallen and have rebelled against God, and thus we are subject with unbelievers to many vexations and chastening that are not distinctively because we are God’s children but sinners who revolted from him.
The same affliction may come to an unbeliever as to a believer, say, a hurricane. Both are caught up in the general judgment that shows God’s righteous government of the world, his displeasure against our sins, and his warning that a full day of reckoning fast approaches. The child of God may take an additional lesson from this, provided he turns to God in repentance – my Father loves me and is allowing me to suffer to correct my faults and to bring forth good fruit in my life as I walk in obedience. In this way, the child of God can respond to tremendous loss, suffering, and pain with confidence of God’s love and thankfulness that God has afflicted him. His confession is like David’s: “It is good for me to be afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Ps. 119:71). The unbeliever has no sense of God’s love and thus cannot rejoice in diseases and hurricanes but only seeks to escape their consequences and get on with life as quickly as possible – or to die because he cannot continue to live on his terms.
Reverence and Submission to Our Father (vv. 9-10)
We Yield to the Discipline of Our Earthly Fathers
What a rebuke to our rebellious age! The Spirit makes the point that at an earthly level, children respect their fathers’ discipline. More pointedly, he says that we reverence or lovingly fear our fathers because they take pains to correct our faults. It is astounding how evil our age has become. Much is explained by the lack of fatherly discipline. Fathers are absent, or ruled by their wives, or otherwise negligent or harsh in their discipline. Fathers who say “No” to wayward children are vilified, not respected for trying to tame their children. Sons and daughters equally need padeia, instruction through discipline, rebuke, and correction. It is true that their discipline is not always perfect, as verse 10 implies. Fathers discipline as they think best, and we respect them for it. Let children learn from this what God our Father and Savior and Judge thinks of young people who complain against their parents, rebel against their instruction, and refuse to submit to their discipline. Our Savior said it clearly when he quoted Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9: “He that curses father or mother, let him die the death” (Matt. 15:4). On the other side, let parents be careful with the authority the Lord has given to them to discipline their children, for they will answer for it if they do not reflect his fatherly discipline, which is not harsh but tempered with great love, not so exacting as to crush the spirit but aimed at winning us to walk joyfully in righteousness. If parents will be honored, let them speak and discipline in an honorable way, having God’s glory as your chief aim, and always communicating, as God does to us, such fervent love so that even the hardest heart may be challenged if not broken down entirely by parental affection!
How Much More Reverence for Our Spiritual Father?
It is astounding to see such an argument being used, and I pray that the Lord may legitimately use it among our young people! The fifth commandment of course assumes that children are rebellious against parental authority and thus need the bridle and warning of God’s law, but parental honor and child obedience are not today viewed as virtues. Rebels who deny even basic truths have overrun our land, for whenever parents are despised and their authority rejected, you can be sure that there will be no reverence for God. Even if there is, it will not be submission to his authority and discipline, for if this is not learned at home as a youth, it will scarcely be learned at all. But if we rightly reverence our earthly fathers because they discipline us, how much more should we reverence the Father of spirits? If we reverence him, we shall live! What a needed thought today – we must submit to God to live. We must adore him when he takes our lives in his hand to chasten our faults and purify our faith through trials. Why would he think upon us? He has to humble himself to look at what happens in heaven and on earth (Ps. 113:6) – and he thinks upon us so lovingly, with so much good in mind? Truly, his favor is life (Ps. 30:5).
“Father of spirits” is a unique name for God and is an obvious contrast to the “fathers of our flesh” in verse 9. Perhaps the contrast is as our Savior drew it. The flesh profits nothing, the flesh being our earthliness, our fallenness. My words, he added, are spirit and life – they are of the Spirit, regenerate and refresh the human soul or spirit, and thus give life. Thus, all that is fallen and earthly is thus attributed to human fathers, but we still honor them. All that is eternal and life-giving is attributed to our heavenly Father. Should we not greatly honor him for thinking upon us with such love as to correct our faults and raise us up in his school of discipline? He might leave us in our sins or let us run as wild ponies without bridling us, and we might crave such liberties, but they would destroy us. We need for the Lord to break us, so that we are not as the horse or mule that require a bit in their mouths and bridle around their necks to keep them in place (Ps. 32:9). God will keep us in place by subduing our wills through correction and affliction. Let us honor him for his love and wisdom.
God’s Correction Hard but Fruitful (v. 11)
Discipline Painful at the Moment
The design of God’s training or discipline is to make us a partaker of his holiness (v. 10). Holiness is central to his electing grace (Eph. 1:3-4), the sanctifying work of the Spirit (2 Thess. 2:13), and the prayers of our Savior (John 17:17,19). If you join these passages, it is understandable that “without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 13:14). This is not because our holiness earns heaven but because holiness adorns heaven’s heirs. Holiness is at the heart of salvation – total deliverance from all evil. Believers are given different measures of faith and bear different amount of fruit (Rom. 12:3; 2 Cor. 10:15; Matt. 13:23). Even with these differences, all God’s children will bear in some measure the image of our holy Father in heaven. Even the thief on the cross learned to fear God and rebuked his former partner in crime for blasphemy, all the while suffering patiently for his faults.
But let us be honest. The flesh fights back. The good desires implanted by the Spirit are often not watered as they should be, or we give up the fight for righteousness, become passive, and make excuses. Or we grow weary and faint. Not all believers make progress all the time, and some rarely make much progress at all. God uses the pain and sorrow of discipline to awaken us. O, let us pray that our tears in such times are more than crocodile tears or a child begging to be released from discipline without at the same time turning from his sins. The chastening God brings is not joyful. We need to be rebuked for our sins, challenged in our assumptions about life, and made to feel how important righteousness and holiness are to God. We are so drowsy in our sins and allured to the world that nothing but very strong discipline – a sudden death, or a long-standing disease, true deprivation, even persecution – will quicken us so that we really come to know ourselves, turn from our sins, and seek God. The examples and testimonies are too many to this fact. Multitudes have said after their afflictions, sometimes in diaries written while waiting for the gallows, that they never knew themselves or God, never had such joy in Christ and felt his gospel to be the sweetest thing on earth, before they suffered affliction and felt God’s hand instructing them through the discipline of the cross.
Endured Discipline Yields Fruit
And we have to endure it, otherwise no “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” This is the way of the cross. Obedience brings peace into our lives; righteousness is the fruit we seek, the food for which we must learn to hunger. Obedience was our Savior’s pleasure (John 8:29), and if we are in him, we must walk as he did (1 John 2:6) – not to the same degree or to contribute to our redemption but to be conformed to our Head (Rom. 8:29). Our Father will break us of our love for this world and rebuke us, even scourge us sometimes with sharp goads, but his purpose is always to make us fruitful and holy. Let this sink deeply into your soul, especially today. God’s goal is not for you to learn to control your circumstances, feel good all the time, be accepted by all others, and have all you would wish. His goal is your holiness (1 Thess. 4:3).
God is holy; he will have you holy (1 Pet. 1:15). Our Savior prayed for this on that last night (John 17:17). The way to holiness is along the narrow path of enduring the tests God brings into our life, running our race looking unto Jesus, and remembering that when our sides ache, so to speak, when we want to give up, we must look up, see our Father’s smiling face, and trust that he loves us. He has promised. He would never bring painful discipline into our lives unless we absolutely needed it to be holy, and therefore to be happy in his fellowship. For none will ever be in heaven who do not love holiness, for holiness shall be all there is in heaven. If a man does not love holiness on earth, God will do no miracle at heaven’s gates to change his nature. All the change to love and pursue holiness comes on earth for those who are God’s children destined for heaven. Millions are deceived. They have no appetite for holy things, for prayer, the speaking Scriptures, the company of godly men, and they would therefore have no enjoyment of heaven, so they will not be there, unless God grants them the new birth below.
Submit Yourself to God’s Training
To have the fruits of righteousness – and think how joyful it is to have the very footsteps of Jesus’ presence and witness of his Spirit in your life (Phil. 1:11; Gal. 5:22-23) – you have to join God’s gym. Only after submitting to the exercise of godly discipline will there be good fruit in us. This is the reason that many of us bear little fruit, or the fruit does not last long, or the fruit does not make us happy. There are too many weeds of sin and worldliness remaining, and they were not adequately plucked up through God’s chastening. We need his rebuke, for it his love. Do not fear but learn to ask for it, to count it a joy when he says, “School’s open; time to learn more of my power and the beauty of holiness and the happiness of obedience.” Given that we are not yet perfected, his loving pressure is the usual way he teaches us these things. We must submit to his training. He is bringing us closer to heaven through trials great or small, if while in them, we will remember his love, ask him for help, and endure them patiently as God’s wise dealings with us as his sons and daughters, the heirs of heaven who will soon be with our Savior and seeing his glory.