Discipline in Love
Passage: Hebrews 12:3–12:11
Discipline in Love
December 14th, 2008
Way of Grace Church
Turn with me this morning to Hebrews chapter 12. Once again, we have the chance to hear from God this morning, through His word. This morning, we will focus on verses 3 through 11.
II. The Passage: "Do Not Regard Lightly the Discipline of the Lord" (12:3-11)
A. "Consider Him Who Endured" (12:3, 4)
Let's actually begin by looking just at verses 3 and 4. Listen to how the writer encourages his readers here:
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Now, let's stop there. What we read here should cause us to stop and ask, "What exactly is going on here? What is the writer talking about? What issues or circumstances is he addressing?"
Well, if we had time to go back and work through the entire book up to this point, through the first 11 chapters, we would be able to piece together a picture of how these followers of Christ were struggling.
As we see in 12:3, the temptation of growing weary or fainthearted is linked directly to "enduring hostility from sinners". Listen to the details the writer reveals two chapters earlier in chapter 10:
32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
So why were the readers going through such trials? Well, what's clear from even a quick reading of the book is the fact that these Christians were Jewish Christians. Within the tight-knit Jewish communities of the first-century, a person's commitment to Jesus as the Messiah often had an unraveling influence. Loyalties were questioned. Lines were drawn.
And based on the way in which the writer tries to persuade and encourage his readers throughout the book, it appears at least some of these Christians had in fact ‘grown weary' and drifted back to the old covenant of Judaism.
After a long period of suffering, it's understandable that many would have persecution-fatigue and begin to ask questions like, "Why is this happening to me? Why is God allowing this to happen? Maybe I'm not on the right path. Maybe it was a mistake to trust Jesus. Is this how it's supposed to be?"
And this is exactly why the writer points them back to Jesus in the opening verses of this chapter. He tells in verse 3, "Consider Jesus; think about what He went through and how he endured such hostility." He reminds them in verse 4, "Unlike Jesus, you of course, have not struggled to the point of shedding your blood, that is, none of you has had to lay down his life. But Jesus did. He endured in his obedience, in spite of opposition.
B. "It is for Discipline that You Have to Endure" (12:5-8)
But in verse 5, the writer comes back to the question of "why". Why were these readers having to endure such trials? Look at what he writes in verses 5-8.
5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." 7 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? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
In order to help them understand what was happening to them, the author of Hebrews takes his readers back to Proverbs chapter 3, where Solomon talks to his son about the "discipline of the Lord".
What is the discipline of the Lord? Well from the verses that the writer quotes in 12:5 and 6 we see that discipline is paralleled with two other words: reproof and chastise. We actually find this same connection between discipline and correction and chastisement or punishment throughout the book of Proverbs.
But we also know the word discipline is bigger than the idea of correction. In both Greek and Hebrew, the word discipline is also routinely translated as "instruction".
In fact, we find the same word used here for discipline in a verse we looked at last week, Ephesians 6:4. In that verse the Apostle Paul writes:
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
In that verse the word is translated as "training". So in light of all this we could say that The "discipline of the Lord" is God's method of correcting us in love in order to show us the danger of our sinful condition and direct us to the joy of trusting Him.
The whole point of these verses in Hebrews is to give them a new perspective on their suffering. Actually, it was an old perspective they should have remembered from the Old Testament. For the follower of Christ, suffering is not evidence of God's abandonment. It is proof of God's adoption.
The suffering they were experiencing was evidence that they were God's children. Verse 7: 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 they were not suffering in some way, that would be reason for concern. Verse 8: If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Does this mean that their sufferings represented God's punishment for their sin? No, not if by the word "punishment" we mean something that is merely "punitive", like an "eye for an eye". But if we mean by "punishment" something that was ultimately corrective in nature, then yes.
We shouldn't imagine this in simplistic terms, as if one of these Christians committed a sin and God immediately responded by having him thrown in jail or verbally abused by his neighbor. No, God was using the persecution to show them the danger of that "sin which clings so closely" (12:1) and direct them to the joy of trusting Him.
God was using these ugly trials to form something beautiful in them. In talking about these Jewish Christians, one commentator put it this way
Men persecute them because they are religious; God chastises them because they are not more so: men persecute them because they will not give up their profession; God chastises them because they have not lived up to their profession.
You see, the point here is not to persuade the readers that God is angry with them. That's a wrong-headed view of discipline. The point is to persuade that God loves them, and is treating them as his own dear children. Verse 6:
"For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."
C. "Be Subject to the Father" (12:9-11)
Now look with me at the explicit connection that he goes on to make in verses 9-11:
9 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? 10 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. 11 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.
So what we see here is the writer taking these Christians one step further by encouraging them, not simply to recognize God's discipline, but to submit to God's discipline. Subjection or submission to God's discipline means that we endure in faith, trusting that God is in fact training us through our difficult circumstances.
To drive home his point, he tells them to think about their own earthly fathers and how they also disciplined their children. If the readers, when they were children, respected their mothers and fathers by submitting to their instruction and correction, how much more should they entrust themselves to what God is doing through His divine discipline?
Look at again at verse 10. Look at what he tells us about the goal of God's perfect, Fatherly, loving discipline: For they [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
But of course some might say, "God has nothing to do with my pain! He wouldn't let me suffer like this." Look at how the writer tackles this in verse 11: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later [where's your perspective...how far can you see...can you see with they eyes of faith what God is doing...but later] it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
No training in this life comes without some pain. Whether that be athletic or musical or parental. But the end result of God's fatherly training is peace and righteousness. As one writer put it: "Affliction produces peace, by producing more righteousness; for the fruit of righteousness is peace."
III. Disciplined to Discipline
Now, if you are follower of Jesus Christ this morning, you may be thinking to yourself, "This is exactly what I needed to hear. I needed to understand that my trials are not confirming that I'm lost. They're confirming that I'm loved. God wants me to learn, not to lament. He wants me to accept his correction and be trained by it."
If this is has helped you to get God's perspective on your trials, then praise God! But you may remember, and you may have been wondering about the lessons we were doing on God-centered parenting. You may be wondering if we've taken a break from that series.
Actually, God-centered parenting is precisely what we've been talking about this entire time. Yes, this should give all of us God's perspective on our trials. But it should also give every parent God's perspective on their parenting.
Last week we talked about teaching our children. We talked about the fact that God wants us to impress His truths upon them. And He wants us to not only fill their lives with His word. He wants us to fill their lives with our lives that have been filled with His word. The biblical instruction of children is always teaching as a lifestyle.
But what I believe God is reminding us of this morning is that our teaching is only part of the equation. It is not enough to tell our children what God expects of them. We must do that. It is not enough for us to live according to God's desires in our children's presence. We must do that as well. But the fact that our children are sinners, like every single one of us, means that we must discipline them according to God's expectations when they fail to do what is right.
In light of Ephesians 4, we can tell them to let no unwholesome word come from their mouth. But they won't always listen to that instruction, will they?
In light of Philippians 2, we can tell them to all things without grumbling or complaining. But they won't always listen to that instruction, will they?
In light of Ephesians 6, we can tell them to obey mommy and daddy for this is right. But they won't always listen will they?
So when they do not listen, when they prove themselves to be part of the fallen human race, when they are spitting and throwing and yelling and whining and ignoring you, what would God have you do?
Ground them? Bribe them? Ignore them? Coddle them? Spank them? Yell at them? Somehow, at some point, somewhere your answer to that question was formed by someone's example. Maybe it was by your dad's belt. Maybe it was by your mom's offer to give you ice cream if you stopped misbehaving. Maybe it was by your dad yelling at the top of his lungs. Maybe it was your mom sticking a bar of soap in your mouth, or by you dad walking away from you as you threw a temper tantrum in the middle of Sears.
Well, whatever your example, in the end, there is only one perfect example of what we should do as parents. We must look to the Father of spirits. And how would God respond?
The "discipline of the Lord" is God's method of correcting us in love in order to show us the danger of our sinful condition and direct us to the joy of trusting Him.
The discipline we receive as children of God is the very same discipline we give to our children before God.
And when we talk about following God's example in discipline and reproof and correction, there are three things we have to keep in mind.
First, biblical discipline will always be loving. (Verse 6) For the Lord disciplines the one he loves... Discipline is not about making your kids miserable. Discipline is not about your kids conforming to your desires or your agenda or your schedule. It is about what is best for them. It is always an act of love that puts their needs before your own. When we correct, we do so in love, not anger. When we discipline, we do so in love, not frustration. When we chastise, we do so in love, not pride. We do so with their most important needs in mind, not our own desire to prove a point.
Our children should never think, "Oh, daddy loves me when I'm good, but not when I do something wrong." They need to understand that our correction is an act of love.
Second, biblical discipline will always be painful. There's no getting around this, even though many parents think they must get around it in order to be loving. But remember verse 11: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant...
Remember what Proverbs goes on to tell us about parental discipline: He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (13:24)
Corporal punishment does not feel good. It's not supposed to. The loss of privileges does not feel good. It's not supposed to. Exposing a child's sin and a stern rebuke do not feel good. They are not supposed to. All of these methods, methods that God uses with his people, use pain to sober us up to the dangerous reality of our choices. As verse 11 of chapter 12 confirms, this is pain that trains; we are trained by it.
And if you are not willing to inflict this kind of pain on your children, God says, you do not really love your children. Again Proverbs tells us this: Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death. (Proverbs 19:18)
It may be easier to ignore your child's behavior or rationalize it, or worse, reward it with bribes, but in the end, your child is the one who will suffer. And you will suffer from seeing your child suffer.
But third, and this is critical, the third thing we learn from our heavenly Father's example is that biblical discipline will always be purposeful.
Listen again to verse 11 in its entirety: 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.
Look as well at verse 10 again: For they [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
Please listen, this is important. When we consider these verses, taken along with verses 1 through3 of chapter 12, we see that the purpose of discipline is not to produce good little boys and girls. In fact, the purpose of biblical discipline is first to show us that we are not good. In his book Shepherding a Child's Heart, author Tedd Tripp makes this point:
"The central focus of child-rearing is to bring children to a sober assessment of themselves as sinners." (Tedd Tripp)
But God's purposes are always two-fold. After showing us we are not good, the other side of the coin of biblical discipline is to point us to God's hope for our condition. Again, this brings us full circle to our first message two weeks ago where we learned that God calls every parent to first be a minister of the gospel, of the Good News about Jesus, to their child.
Again, listen to how Tripp puts it: "You need to shepherd your children in the ways of God at all times. There is, however, no more powerful time to press the claims of the Gospel than when your children are being confronted with their need of Christ's grace and power during discipline. When the wax is soft during discipline the time is right to impress the glories of Christ's redemption." (Tedd Tripp)
Correction should always be more than just an action of reaction. It should always include God-centered communication and counsel as well. Do not simply tell your children that they did something wrong. Use that opportunity to remind them that they did something wrong because something is wrong inside them. And the only hope for what is wrong inside them is what Jesus did for them.
Correcting our children is always an opportunity to point them to their need for the forgiveness and the new heart that Jesus purchased for us on the cross. They must see that changing their behavior is not the ultimate goal of discipline, even when we describe the right in terms of doing what is pleasing to the Lord.
No, the ultimate goal of our discipline should be to point our children to their deepest need and how Jesus meets that deepest need. And on that foundation we do help them to see how God wants to use discipline to make our hearts more like His because of what Jesus makes possible.
In a world of unbiblical extremes where parents either bully and beat, or coddle and cower, the follower of Jesus Christ must look to God when it comes to training their children.
Even though every parent here has failed in light of God's example, even though every single one of us has been, at times, too permissive or too heavy-handed, too indifferent or too impatient, I want to call you to God's grace this morning.
If the gospel, if Jesus is not central in our own heart, then when the pressure of a disobedient child begins to squeeze your heart, it is not the gospel that will come out. Only when we, in our brokenness, are resting in the grace of Christ can we bring grace to our children's brokenness.
I don't know about you, but the challenges of parenting only confirm for me that I am the chief of sinners, that I am self-grasping wretch apart from the grace of God. But the challenges of parenting also give me a chance to give what I've been given. To discipline in love, as I've been disciplined. And to see, as a child of God, the power of grace at work in my children's lives.
So the next time your child responds unbiblically to your biblical instruction, look to your Father's example and correct your child in love in order to show him or her the danger of their sinful condition and direction them to the joy of trusting Christ.