The Lord's Discipline
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, April 9, 2000
Copyright © 2000, P. G. Mathew
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."
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. 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! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 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.
In this study we want to learn about the loving discipline God our Father shows to his children. In 1 John 3:1 we read, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" If we are children of God, then God is our Father. This means he loves us as his true children and it also means that he disciplines us as a father disciplines the children he loves.
The Greek word for discipline is paideu˘, from which we have paideia, discipline, and paideutŕs, one who disciplines. Paideu˘ comes from the root word pais, which means a child, and deu˘, which means to be together with a child. Thus, discipline involves not only correcting through punishment but also teaching and training by parents as they spend time with their children. Children are taught not only by the words of their parents but also by the examples of their lives, which they are then to imitate. As children of God, we are to imitate our heavenly Father, as the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 5:1, "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love."
What is the goal of the discipline God administers to his children? It is the formation of holy character through the knowledge of God received from the Holy Scriptures, which alone are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
The Author of Discipline
The first point I want to make is that Hebrews 12:5-11 is the classic passage about discipline in the New Testament. The Greek word paideu˘ appears many times in its various forms in that passage. As we begin this study, let us then summarize what we learn about discipline from this passage.
- The author of discipline is the Lord. All authority comes from God; thus, whenever parents or the church or the state discipline, they are disciplining in behalf of the Lord.
- Discipline involves both teaching and punishment for the sake of correcting.
- The punishment of discipline is a visible demonstration of our Father's love for us.
- The designated recipient of the full-orbed discipline of God -- the teaching, training and punishment described in this passage--is every child of God.
- Every son of God ought to endure, not avoid, the discipline of God. When God disciplines us, we must accept it, feel it, and learn from it.
- No discipline in the short term is pleasant to the one who receives it. In fact, discipline in the short term is often painful.
- All discipline from the Lord, in the long term, is very profitable. Hebrews 12:11 says the Lord's discipline, in the long term, produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.
- Because all discipline from the Lord is profitable to us, the heavenly Father pays no attention to the short-term unpleasantness of the pain we experience. What happens when our chlidren resist discipline by crying, weeping, moaning, and jumping up and down? Often we human parents melt and discontinue administering the discipline. But God the Father is not like us. He will never be influenced by a temper tantrum, and he will discipline us as he sees fit.
- The Father administers discipline to every son of his. It is the job of our heavenly Father to discipline his children, and he is faithful to perform his job.
- The ultimate good of the discipline administered by our heavenly Father is that we may share in his holiness and be made like him -- holy and blameless -- and that we may produce a harvest of righteousness. I interpret the phrase "a harvest of righteousness" to mean good works or acts of obedience to God. Ephesians 2:10 tells us we are created unto good works which God has foreordained that we should walk in them.
The highest blessing a creature can experience is to be at peace with God and have fellowship with him. Only through the loving discipline of our heavenly Father are we made fit to be in his presence. This is why we must study this subject of God's discipline.
God's Manual of Discipline
The second point we must understand is that we have a manual of discipline given to us by God. Just as the Qumran community had a manual of discipline by which the whole community was governed, we also have a book, the Holy Scriptures, in which divine teaching about discipline is embodied.
We find reference to God's book of discipline in the account of the temptation of Jesus. Jesus Christ lived under God's discipline, and when he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, he referred to the Scriptures to counter the devil's temptations. For example, when the devil told him to make bread out of stone, Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, "Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."
The Bible is the manual of discipline for us as it was for the Lord Jesus Christ. In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul says, "All Scripture, is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. . . ." Here we find the same word, paideian or "training," that we found in the book of Hebrews. In the Greek we read the phrase, pros paideian tŕn en dikaiosunŕ, meaning "for discipline, or training, in the area of righteousness." In Titus 2:11-12 Paul writes, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us. . . ." The word form here is paideuousa, again taken from the word paideu˘. This passage teaches that the grace of God is continually training, disciplining, and teaching us. What is it teaching us? ". . . to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ."
Thus, God has given us a book in which we discover his discipline, and it is very important that we look into it and do what it says.
God's Discipline Includes Punishment
The third point I want to emphasize is that God's discipline includes punishment. In Luke 23:16, 22 we find this word paideu˘ used to mean "to punish" or "to whip." When Pilate said he would discipline Jesus and let him go, what he was really saying was, "I will have my soldiers whip him."
In Hebrews 12:6 we read, "because the Lord disciplines [paideuei] those he loves, and he punishes [mastigoi] everyone he accepts as a son." Here we find the Greek word mastigoi˘, which means "to whip," or "to scourge" being used as a parallel for discipline. In 1 Corinthians 11:32 Paul says, "When we are judged, we are being disciplined by the Lord. . . ." Here we find the word paideuometha, taken from the verb paideu˘, meaning "we are being punished or disciplined."
I hope that we will understand something about the way our Father loves us. When his people disobey him and reject his teachings, the Lord of the covenant deals with them. We read something about this loving discipline of our God in Leviticus 26, beginning with verse 14: "But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws, and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life." God will deal with us in our bodies, in other words, if necessary, to discipline us.
Not only does God deal with us in our bodies, but he will also touch our economics and security. "You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you."
What happens if God's people do not respond to his discipline after he touches their bodies and economics? In verse 18 God continues, "If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit."
What if there is still no response? In verse 21 God says, "If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve." In verse 24 he says, "I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sin seven times over."
God knows how much pressure he must put on us when we need to change. He will start with a little but he will increase the pressure if we do not respond to his discipline. In verse 27 God says again, "In spite of this, if you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over."
David also spoke of the pressure of God's discipline. In Psalm 32:3 David said, "When I kept silent," meaning after he had sinned, he told God, "I will not repent! I will not confess! I will not own my sin!" How did God respond to David's arrogance and hardheartedness? He applied more pressure. David continues in verse 4, "My bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer." The physical disease and psychological trauma David was experiencing was punishment from God himself. It was evidence of God's love toward his son David, telling him that he would not tolerate such foolishness and hostility toward him.
God Is Not Nice
When we read passages such as Leviticus 26 and Psalm 32, I think we may begin to see God a little differently than we have before. My fourth point, then, is that the author of this discipline, God himself, is not nice.
I am sure most of us think that God is always nice, but he is not nice, as we understand niceness. He is a mighty Savior whose arms are strong, both to judge his enemies and save his people. That is why we read in 1 Corinthians 11:32, "If we are judged, we are being disciplined [punished] by the Lord," meaning the Lord of the church, Jesus Christ.
When we became Christians, we confessed Jesus is Lord and surrendered ourselves to him, saying, "You are Lord of my entire life." Whether we did or not, Jesus took our confession very seriously, and so when he deals with us, he does so as our Lord. As we said before, Hebrews 12:6 very clearly tells us that the Lord disciplines and punishes--whips--those he loves.
Our God is all-holy as well as all-gracious. As we realize this, may we tremble in our spirits and demonstrate some respect for this holy God--the only true God--whom we serve!
Satan: God's Agent for Discipline
The fifth point is that sometimes God uses Satan to punish his church. In 1 Corinthians 5 we read about a man who was a believer, but who was living incestuously with his father's wife. Perhaps this man was very rich and powerful and thought he could do whatever he wanted. If the church had warned him, he probably was not listening to its warnings, and it is questionable whether the church was even doing anything about this situation.
When the matter was reported to Paul, he became extremely angry and counseled the church to exercise its God-given authority in the name and power of the Lord and deal with this man. In 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 Paul writes, "When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan."
You see, Satan is against God, but he is only a creature who must do God's bidding. Jesus Christ is Lord, and he uses Satan to deal with the church. John Calvin once said, "Christ rules in the church. Outside, in God's will, the god of this age, Satan, rules." When the church expels a person, he is handed over to the authority of Satan, whose job it is to steal, kill, and destroy. Satan cannot save anyone, but he is able to destroy, and he does so as an agent of God's discipline.
God uses Satan to discipline his people, not only when the church expels them but also when the church fails to expel them. God will discipline his people, whether the church does it or not.
In any church there are people that are put out and others who just go away. It doesn't matter. God hands such people over to Satan because Satan is the agent that God uses to discipline and punish his wayward sons and daughters.
What is the purpose of handing someone over to Satan? Paul continues, "so that the sinful nature may be destroyed." I interpret this idea of the destruction of the flesh to mean that when Satan deals with you, you first begin to feel weak, then you get sick, and then you experience what I call third-degree punishment, which is temporal death. In other words, physical death may be effected by God in a Christian through God's agent of discipline, Satan.
In 1 Timothy 1:19-20 Paul speaks about two heretics, Hymenaeus and Alexander. In verse 20 Paul says he handed them over to Satan that they would be taught not to blaspheme. Satan is a teacher under God's sovereign ordination, and when he works on someone, that person will learn a few things.
The first chapters of the book of Job speak of God's use of Satan as an agent in his people's lives. In Job 2:5 Satan said to God, "But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face." This was not a situation in which Job did something wrong; rather, it was a test of Job's integrity. But here we see Satan asking God if he could act against Job. God is sovereign; no one can do anything without his permission.
In verse 6 we read, "The Lord said to Satan, 'Very well, then, he is in your hands." God was handing Job over to Satan's authority and domain. Then God adds, "But you must spare his life." In other words, Satan always works within the limited authority granted to him by God.
God even used Satan to take care of the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul says that a messenger of Satan was sent to deal with him so that he would not become conceited.
The Extent of God's Discipline
The sixth point we want to discuss is the extent to which our God will go to exercise his loving discipline in our lives. God loves us with such eternal, everlasting, and unfathomable love that he will do whatever is necessary to discipline us, even if it means killing our physical bodies.
We read about this aspect of God's discipline in 1 Corinthians 11:30. The Corinthian church had all kinds of problems, including quarrels and divisions. These were reported to the apostle Paul by members of Chloe's household, as we read in 1 Corinthians 1:11. Then Paul received a report that many people in this church were weak and sick, and that many had died. When Paul heard about these problems of the Corinthian church, he received the revelation that there was sin in the church. In 1 Corinthians 11:30 Paul writes, "That is why many of you are weak"--the Greek word is astheneis, meaning without strength--"and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep," meaning they died.
Paul was alluding to various degrees of God's discipline being exercised in the church of Corinth. What is the first degree? Weakness, having no strength. If you are experiencing this degree of discipline, you may say, "I don't know what it is, but I have this syndrome. I just don't feel good or have any energy." What is the second degree? Physical sickness. When we are sick, especially for a prolonged time, we must examine ourselves and see if God is disciplining us in this way. What is the third degree? Death. That is the final extent to which our great God who loves us will go to deal with our sin.
Thus, when God disciplines us, we may experience temporary discipline, which includes weakness and sickness, or terminal discipline, which is death. Paul speaks of this not only in 1 Corinthians 11:30 but also 1 Corinthians 5:5, where he instructs the church to "hand this man over to Satan" for two purposes: first, for destruction of his flesh; and, second, for God's gracious purpose of saving his spirit.
When a person dies because of terminal discipline, do we find that reason mentioned in the coroner's report? No. The report will merely state that the person died of a heart attack or some other physical cause. But God also writes a report, especially when a Christian dies. What does he say in some reports? "I killed this person, and the cause was his own disobedience and stubbornness. This person refused to listen to me, even though I spoke to him many times through his father and mother and the ministers of his church. I tried many means of temporary discipline, but he did not respond to them; therefore, I applied terminal discipline, and he died."
The Example of Ananias and Sapphira
We find several examples of this type of loving, terminal discipline of God in the Bible. In Acts 5 we read about Ananias and Sapphira, who were members of the early church. I believe they were children of God, and, in fact, the name Ananias means, "God is gracious." But Ananias lied to the apostle Peter about the price of some land he had sold, and in so doing he lied to the Holy Spirit, as we are told in Acts 5:3. God will not permit a child of his to get away with such sin, so in Acts 5:5 we read that Ananias fell down and died in the presence of the church. This was terminal discipline, the destruction of his flesh.
Three hours after Ananias died, Sapphira came to the church and Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?" She had agreed with Ananias ahead of time to lie, so she answered, "Yes, that is the price." What happened? Like her husband, Sapphira fell down and died. She also experienced terminal discipline.
The Example of Nadab and Abihu
In Leviticus 10 we read about two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, who, together with Moses and Aaron and the elders of Israel, had ascended Mount Sinai and seen God--that is, the goodness and glory of God, in some measure--and worshiped him. Yet in Leviticus 10:1 we read that they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord and they died. The Bible does not tell us what offering unauthorized fire means, but maybe these priests were drunk when they came into God's presence, or maybe they offered the wrong type of fire, or maybe they did what only the high priest was authorized to do. Whatever they did, in verse 2 we read that fire came from the presence of God and consumed Nadab and Abihu along with their sacrifices. Nadab and Abihu experienced terminal discipline.
The Example of the People of Israel
In the book of Numbers we read about God disciplining an entire nation with third-degree, terminal discipline. In Numbers 1 we read that a census was taken of all the males of Israel, twenty years old or more, and the total was 603,550. But in Numbers 14 God made the shocking declaration that he was going to kill all of these men except two because the entire nation had grumbled against God.
Let me remind you: God is not very emotional and he is not very nice. God is not like us-thank God for that! God will do everything he promises to do, including saving us, and he will save us by whatever means necessary.
In Numbers 14:29-30 we read, "In this desert your bodies will fall-every one of you, twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun." That is a lot of killing--603,548 men dying in the desert! Remember, these were God's own people whom he had redeemed from Egypt.
May God give us a holy fear of him! You may be sinning right now. God has been dealing with you all the time, but you are saying, "No, it's all right. God is nice He won't punish me." That is wrong thinking. Over half a million people-God's people-were destroyed because of their sin of grumbling.
Not only did God kill almost all of the people of Israel in that generation, but he also killed their leaders--Miriam, Aaron, and Moses. Why? Because of their sin. Don't tell me that God was unable to bring all these people into the Promised Land. He could have brought them in, but he said, "No." The discipline of the Lord is serious business.
The Example of Achan
In Joshua 7 we read about a man named Achan, who had come out of the wilderness, crossed the river Jordan, and helped conquer the city of Jericho with the armies of Israel. But Achan had a problem. He was told before he went into Jericho that everything in Jericho was devoted to the Lord and that no one should take any of it for plunder. But when Achan saw two hundred shekels of silver, a fifty-shekel wedge of gold, and a beautiful Babylonian garment, he coveted these items, he took them, and hid them. Achan did not confess his sin until he was identified as the one who had taken the things devoted to the Lord. By then it was too late, and Achan was disciplined by the Lord.
What was the discipline God administered to Achan? He was killed. Not only that, his wife, children, cattle, and everyone associated with him was also destroyed because they were all engaged in this sin with Achan. In Joshua 7:24-26 we read: "Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, 'Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.' Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them."
Let me make one point: The severity of this punishment doesn't mean Achan and his family went to hell. God metes out such severe discipline so that the spirits of his children may be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus. He may kill us so that we can be saved. May the discipline meted out to Achan inspire us to have a healthy, reverential attitude toward our thrice-holy God!
The Example of Uzzah
In 2 Samuel 6 we find David bringing the ark back to Jerusalem. The Bible speaks of a certain way in which the ark should be transported. The Kohathites were to carry it and no one was supposed to look into it. But neither David nor anyone else had studied the Bible to find this out, so instead of having the Kohathites carry the ark, David and the priests put it on a cart. All of a sudden the oxen stumbled and Uzzah, who was walking behind the ark, grabbed the ark to steady it.
What happened to Uzzah? He was killed instantly. In 2 Samuel 6:7 we read, "The Lord's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore, God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God." This was the severe discipline of Uzzah by God. Some may think Uzzah went to hell, but we can conclude that he went to heaven "so that his spirit may be saved." Our God is a great God and his love is so great that he will save us, even if he has to kill us.
The Man of God from Judah
In 1 Kings 13 we read about a man of God from Judah who was sent by the word of the Lord to Samaria to pronounce judgment upon Jeroboam and his altar. God told this man to let Jeroboam know that three hundred years in the future a king named Josiah would come and destroy the altar. God also told this man of God, "When you go there, just do the job. Don't eat bread, don't drink water, and don't come the same way you went."
The man of God went to Bethel, spoke to Jeroboam, and was returning home as directed by God when a false prophet approached him and told him an angel had given him a different word about eating and drinking. The man of God believed the false prophet, went to his house and ate with him. But after the man of God left the false prophet's house, God sent a lion to kill him for his disobedience. First Kings 13:24 tells us, "As he went on his way, a lion met him on the road and killed him, and his body was thrown down on the road, with both the donkey and the lion standing beside it." The idea is that the lion did not attack the prophet in the natural way. God was behind the death of this prophet.
Do you think this man of God went to hell? No. I am sure he went to heaven, but he was punished with terminal punishment in this temporal world.
I hope we will tremble when we begin to understand the nature of our holy triune God. We must realize that sin is a serious issue. It is the reason God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, delivering him over to the death of the cross. In the same way, if we are sinning, God will deal with us in his grace and save us from our sins.
Purposes of God's Discipline
The seventh point is that God's discipline, severe as it can be, is purposeful. What are the purposes for God's discipline?
- Our redemption in the world to come. First Corinthians 11:32 tells us, "When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world." Our redemption is the first purpose of God's severe discipline. In 1 Corinthians 5:5 Paul instructs, "Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved"--the Greek word is soz˘--"on the day of the Lord," that is, when Jesus Christ comes again.
- Our reformation in this temporal world. In 1 Timothy 1:20 Paul says he handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to the devil that they could be taught not to blaspheme, meaning that they would get rid of their heresy and come to believe in the gospel truly.
- The protection of the church. God disciplines the members of his church so that others in the church will not be polluted and corrupted by the evil of that person. This is a serious issue. God wants his church to be holy and pure, and if there is someone in the church who is evil, then God deals with that person severely so that the rest of the church will be kept safe and pure.
- A safeguard against pride. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul says he was given a messenger of Satan, a thorn in his side, to prevent him from becoming conceited because of the great revelation that God had given him.
- A warning for others. The final purpose of God's discipline is to warn others in such a severe way that their ears will tingle. When we hear of the extent to which God will go to discipline his people, including to kill them, we may be shocked and unwilling to believe that God would do things like that. But it serves as a warning to us to obey God.
As we read in Acts 5, both Ananias and his wife Sapphira were killed in the midst of the church, and twice we are told great fear came on the church. The church becomes serious in her attitude toward God when he exercises his severe discipline.
We know that God is loving, gracious, and kind, but there is another side to him. He is truly a heavenly Father who will discipline his children. Peter understood that the family of God was not exempt from divine dealings, and in 1 Peter 4:17 he writes, "For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?"
In conclusion, let me remind you that our God, the God of the Bible, is not "nice" as people today think of niceness. Today we are living at a time of pluralism in which every ideology is considered equally valid and nothing is condemned. But God alone is true, and he has rules and regulations to which we must submit. As our King, he will deal severely with all our sins, transgressions, and iniquities.
But not only is our God not "nice," he is also a mighty Savior who is committed to saving his people from their sins. He will discipline his children as severely as necessary so that they may share in his holiness and experience a harvest of righteousness and peace. God has a long-term view, and he will do everything necessary to bring us to himself. In Jude 24-25 we read, "To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy-to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen."
If God determines we need discipline, he may use Satan to touch our livelihood and touch our bodies. We may become weak, we may become sick, and we may even physically die, as we read in 1 Corinthians 11:30. But even in that verse we can find great comfort, as the word Paul uses for "fall asleep," or die, is a word used only with reference to the death of a believer. That is why we can say God may kill you to save you. And as we said before, God exercises this discipline "so that we will not be condemned with the world." The word for "condemned" is katakrin˘, which is also used in Romans 8:1, where Paul writes, "Therefore now there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Finally, we must remember that God's discipline demonstrates his great love for us. He purposed to save us, he has saved us, and he will save us. We are secure in the hand of our Savior, of our Father, and of the Holy Spirit, and no one is able to snatch us out of the hand of our triune God. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God.
What About You?
Maybe you are playing games with God, hoping that you can get away with your sin. Galatians 6:7 tells us, "Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." I hope you will put away all foolishness and silliness, and approach God with fear and trembling, as well as with great thanksgiving and praise. I pray that you will ask God to do a work in your heart, that you will forsake evil and follow Jesus Christ with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
But if you refuse, I give you this fair warning: If you are one of God's children, you will not move out of his grip. He will use all means that he has at his disposal to bring you to heaven.
May God have mercy upon us, forgive us all our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. May the Spirit of the living God work in us such a mighty work that we may be holy and blameless, that we may dwell in God's presence forever. Amen.
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Copyright © 2000, P. G. Mathew
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