To Form Righteousness in Us (v. 11)
Must God’s Discipline Hurt?
We need every encouragement to stand still and meekly receive our Father’s discipline. He intends good through correcting our many faults, and he tells us some of those blessings in the present verses. It may be a bit surprising, however, to see a comparison being made between our earthly father’s painful discipline and our heavenly Father’s discipline. Surely he would never hurt or make us feel uncomfortable? This is the way men think today. Children no longer fear and respect their parents; parents fear crossing their children. Even believing parents are afraid to say “No” and often spare the rod for fear of driving their children away. They rarely think of offending God and driving him away by their disobedience. In this role reversal, Satan’s war against God’s authority has been most effective. His lie prevails in the present manifestation of the city of man in this nation – you are gods – so that each man demands the right to be treated as he prefers, to have his gender claims or accusations or beliefs about life accepted without proof or justice. I am god; hear me roar. As a nation, we are dancing to the devil’s tune.
In such a climate, this passage will come as a great shock. We are not creators of our personal realities. We do not have the right to be insulated from pain or discipline, for our opinions and preferences to be accepted without question, or for dissenting opinion that offends us to be silenced. We must surely treat others how we would like to be treated, but this treatment is regulated by the second table of God’s law, which is the constitution of the universe in terms of how we are to fulfill the duties of love and righteousness. Because we are so unwieldy in second table duties, much more in the first, our wise Father corrects our faults and trains us through afflictions to be faithful children in his house, the church of his beloved Son. We must learn to obey him, to think his thoughts, and to do his will – and find our chief pleasure in him. Self must be dethroned and the glorious God crowned as the rightful King in every heart. The old throne of sin must be shattered so that we gladly obey our Father and bear his holy image. Because our first thought is resistance and because sin is so entrenched in us, his training will hurt. We therefore need many encouragements to receive our Father’s chastening meekly.
Peace through the Fruits of Righteousness
Remember that God is speaking here to his children. This argument will not be effective upon the heart of an unbeliever, for he cannot see the beauty of holiness. He hates the light and does not want for his deeds to be exposed (John 3:20). As Christ’s disciples, however, it is very persuasive unto submission to be told that God’s discipline produces fruits of righteousness in us. We love our Father and know that he has chosen us to be holy in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Our destiny to stand holy and without blemish before our Husband and Savior inspires us to be confirmed to his image. And when we read in John’s first letter that “everyone that does righteousness is born of him” (1 John 2:29; 3:7), and in the very next lines that “without holiness, no one shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14), we feel the urgency to receive our Father’s discipline meekly, even to desire him to correct our faults. If this means the pain of persecution, or having the world hate us, or having to face Goliath alone, or being utterly mocked for one’s faith, if receiving our Father’s discipline means a little short-term pain, then we say, “Search me and know me.” We would not miss out on heaven to be spared a little trouble now. We would not miss the Lamb’s great wedding because we would not let go of our sins, or insist on having everything go our way, or refuse to yield to our Father’s wise hand in our life. Please, Father, do not rebuke me in anger or chasten me in your hot displeasure, but have mercy upon me so that when you chasten and correct, I learn obedience and the happiness of being holy, hating sin, and being like you in my thoughts and ways.
The relationship between righteousness and peace is profound, especially in the context of persecution. This would seem to be the least peaceful time imaginable, and it is always a soul-searching, weeping, and refining time. It can also be a time of great peace, provided we are learning righteousness. Righteousness is not what men think of today by social justice, which is really just their demand to take money out of other men’s pockets or pursue destructive personal behavior while having other people pay for it. Righteousness is justice in terms of God’s law; it is keeping his commandments (1 John 5:4). It is the opposite of lawlessness, for which the false teachers will be exposed and cast out of God’s presence (Matt. 7:22). Through God’s refining pressures and afflictions, he confronts our sins and teaches us the joy of obeying him – just like our Savior (Ps. 40:8; John 8:29)! He makes us like our Savior (Rom. 8:29), and none is as happy as he (Ps. 16:11). And righteousness is peaceful, as Isaiah said (Isa. 32:17). Obedience enables us to enjoy a close friendship with God. It enables us to practice love to others, even toward our worst enemies, so that instead of becoming outraged by their mistreatment, we are able to do them good and to pray for them – just as our heavenly Father does. And his throne is a place of great peace because he is righteous! David wrote, “Great peace have they that love your law” (Ps. 119:165). Because we live in God’s world, the only ones who will have peace are those who live in harmony with God’s revealed will. There is no peace, however, for the wicked (Isa. 57:21).
Vigorous Exercise Required
If we would produce the peaceable fruits of righteousness, we must enlist in God’s training. Exercise is the Greek word from which we obtain the English word gymnasium. Originally it meant to exercise naked so as to remove every encumbrance to competing well, then to exercise vigorously – preferably clothed appropriately! The sane person who sets out to get into shape does not plan on being a world class athlete after thirty minutes of training – or after thirty days. It is a long process that required persistence and consistency. The same is true of yielding to God’s hand in our lives. In one sense, he is always training us. Daily he tells us to abide in the word, hide it in our hearts, and seek him in prayer. If these were easy, everyone would be constant and joyful in them. The discipline required to walk in fellowship with Christ is certainly training, and without him we shall not bear fruit. Add difficulties for the sake of Christ, a painful bodily injury or disease, or hardship in one’s family because of the faith, or even loss of position or advancement because to accept it would require disloyalty to Christ, and you will soon feel the pinch of God’s training. And this is encouraging? Yes, for God tells us the end goal – peace through righteousness; walking in peace with him through self-denying obedience – to be made like our Savior. And then, when we have his word and keep it, he will show himself to us more fully, his goodness, beauty, and power (Zech. 9:17; John 14:21), and his training will prove to have been well worth it!
So That We Can Encourage Others (v. 12)
Look Around for the Discouraged and Weak
Well then, each one of us says, our Father has said we need discipline, training in righteousness. His will is our holiness, so there is no escaping his training program. We shall need to be committed to the long haul, however, for exercise takes time to strengthen the muscles and increase endurance, and the same is true in living for Christ in the world. Anyone who thinks a twenty minute weekly sermonette and a few pithy songs will equip them to fight the devil that week has never seriously tried to follow Christ. Even the strongest believers go through seasons of weakness – our hands start drooping and our knees ache. We want to stop or retire from racing altogether. We are told here to look around for struggling believers. It is not enough for the strong to finish the course. The weak must not be left behind to languish in their discouraged state, for this will make easy prey for Satan’s attacks. Unbelief may tempt them to let go of Christ and perish. No, we are quite responsible for one another, as this command makes clear. We must lift up the drooping hands and feeble knees. If necessary, we must carry one another through certain sections of the race. It is the requirement of God’s discipline that we are one body and therefore mutually bound to assist, confront, and challenge one another in our pursuit of his kingdom. No one is exempt from giving or receiving help. All must run together toward the finish line.
Lift Them Up through Truth
The Holy Spirit’s direct dealings and statements are remarkable in our age of deception and backstabbing. He says that some among us are particularly weak and ready to stumble. This is true of all of us at particular times in our lives. We are responsible to identify and to allow ourselves to be identified as weak and needy. This is not for group victimization but for body encouragement. We are in God’s training program. Sadly, the last thing we want to be told when we are weak and fainting is that God is trying us. I have heard believers say, “Yes, I know all that. Give me something that will help me.” Wait – does it not help you to know that this is God’s hand afflicting you? Should you not pause for a minute before you look for a spiritual opioid and instead let him deal with you as he knows best? Lord, you are sifting me. Show me my sins, so that I may repent of them. Give me help so that I can learn obedience through these difficulties. It will not make God’s discipline less painful if we know that they come from him, but if knowing this leads us to turn to him for help and fills us with patient anticipation of his working in us, then we have greatly profited from our afflictions and can expect his blessing.
This may be the most important truth at all – not to allow difficulties and sufferings for Christ’s sake to make us doubt God’s love but to assure our hearts that he loves and is refining us so that we love righteousness more and eventually enjoy more peace. This is the truth that lifts up a winded faith in an hour of trial. And if we can learn to say these things to one another with patience and tenderness, rather than with snappy quips like spiritual know-it-alls, we shall benefit from interaction with one another in our adversities. Sadly, many tend to stay away from the body in hard times, either because they would hide their weakness or do not want real gospel encouragement. Many of us are like old dogs that simply want to lick our wounds in private, but this is pride. We shall bear our own burdens, but we must also bear one another’s. We cannot fulfill God’s law in this way unless we are willing for our struggles to be known and to receive help. Did not our Lord ask his disciples to pray for him? Was there ever a cry of more astounding pathos, a more astounding declaration of weakness? If our Lord humbled himself to be known as weak and to ask for the prayers of the saints, it is an ugly and divisive pride that prevents any one of us from doing the same in our hour of trial.
To Heal Our Lameness (v. 13)
Keep in the Well-Worn Path
A third encouragement is that by keeping us in the race through discipline, he actually heals our lameness. This is counterintuitive. Usually an injured athlete is told to rest until he heals, for if he returns to active training or competition too quickly, he is prone to additional injuries. Sometimes our Lord told his disciples to come aside and rest (Mark 6:31), and we also need seasons of rest and refreshment (Acts 3:19). It is difficult to know when and how to take these, especially in our child raising years, but at least we should make much better use of the Sabbath than most do today. But in the race of faith, stoppage is not an option. God heals us as we compete and especially as we yield to his correction and instruction in righteousness. This is a compelling truth and great encouragement to faithful disciples. When troubles arise for our faith, the temptation is to try to change everything, to find a new place, and even to sever legitimate ties – but this is the flesh speaking and possibly trying to escape the Lord’s pressure through running off the race track.
Many do this, for example, when their preacher becomes too pointed, or they come under a season of uncomfortable conviction. Our first thought in such blessed times should be to yield to the Lord and to allow him to confront and convict us. Sadly, sometimes we try to shield our favorite sins and sit upon them, as Rachel did her father’s idol. She was in Jacob’s tent, but there was that corner of her heart that she reserved for herself. When our toes are stepped on – hey, that preacher did not say that right! Did you hear that mistake he made? How dare you say that to me! On and on we go, trying to shift the blame and avoid God’s discipline. In telling us to “make straight paths for our feet,” the Spirit uses an interesting track word – stay in the runner’s rut. It is another way of encouraging us to continue running without giving up, without leaving the well-worn race lane of obedience and submission to God. Whether we speak of it as Jeremiah’s old paths (6:6) or our Lord’s narrow way (Matt. 7:13), we are told to keep running in the path of submission and obedience. Take God’s correction. He chastens all his children. Do not try a different running lane, one with less difficulty. Run where all the saints have run – before the Lord’s face and willing to be challenge and corrected by him.
Healing through Correct Training in Discipline
For if we are weak and in danger of collapsing – lame – then trying to leave the well-worn track will only further injure us. O, but we need something new! The old teaching and doctrine no longer works. I am sick of the old hymns and old ways and need something more inspiring. Our craving after sweeter meat is proverbial – and dangerous. The great encouragement of God’s discipline is that he heals us as we keep running in the lane of obedience. Most times an ankle or knee injury demands that we stop running in order to be healed. When it comes to following our Savior and bearing our cross, the pain of suffering and affliction is a trumpet blast to KEEP RUNNING! DO NOT STOP NOW! YOU ARE HURTING, BUT IT IS THE LORD’S AFFLICTION. KEEP LOOKING TO JESUUS. KEEP SUBMITTING TO GOD’S DISCIPLINE. FAITHFUL RUNNING WILL STAIGHTEN YOUR OUT OF JOINT LIMBS. Too few heed the ringing blast, and therefore most of us stay wounded and weak. We beg to be allowed off the track, to have an easier load, but God will not let us go, if we are his children. He is calling us to learn to run through the pain, by the strength of Christ our Lord, unto our healing and maturity in holiness and obedience. This is the way of the cross, and it is the way to the crown, to heaven, to Jesus. We must keep running and trusting that our Father knows what he is doing in the trials he brings into our lives. He will heal us as we yield to him and cast ourselves upon his promises and strength.