Benefits of Divine Discipline
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, October 24, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
The Necessity of Discipline
Many people mistakenly believe the Christian life should be free from trouble. But Scripture does not bear this out. The psalmist David said, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous" (Psalm 34:19, KJV). The apostle Paul said, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). And Jesus himself said to his disciples, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Mark 13:13), and to the Jews, "Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town" (Matthew 23:34). The truth is, as Christians we will experience many troubles as long as we live. We are certainly saved from God's wrath and judgment, but not from God's discipline.
Hebrews 12 is the locus classicus on divine discipline. The word "discipline" appears eight times in verses 5-11. Not only did the Old Testament saints experience God's discipline, but Jesus himself endured discipline, though he was a son, and learned obedience by the things he suffered. Now in this passage we are exhorted to endure divine discipline and profit from it. So divine discipline is not optional; it is essential to the Christian life.
What is discipline? According to Scripture, it is instruction in the will of God as revealed in his word, which is then enforced by divine chastisement. So instruction plus correction equals discipline.
Divine discipline is necessary for forming Christian character, which, in turn, is necessary for seeing God. Without discipline, we do not become holy, and without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Seeing God is the greatest blessing one can have, yet we must be holy to do it. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8).
Resist Sin and Endure Hardship
Hebrews 12:4 says, "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." In the Greek it is, "In your antagonism against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of death." In other words, we should rather die than sin! Yet how easily so many of us sin. Some do not even put up any resistance.
Jesus told his disciples to deny themselves, take up the cross daily, and follow him, even to death. Yet these Hebrew Christians were growing weary of trouble and persecution. As a result, they began to backslide and were in danger of giving up their faith altogether. Thus we read this exhortation in Hebrews 10:32-38:
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 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 do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
"He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him."
Have you ever felt like giving up? I have, many times. Who wants troubles and trials and mocking and persecution? But the Scriptures tell us we must endure hardship till the end. So we must look to the saints of the Old Testament. Hebrews 11 speaks of many who died for their faith. We must look to Jesus Christ himself, who endured the death of the cross in our behalf. We must look to the thousands in the history of the church who died for their faith. As Luther wrote, "Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God's truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever."
Notice in verse 4 that our antagonist is personified. It is sin-the sin within us and the sin without. We are to oppose sin throughout our life with all God's energy, and we must be willing to die rather than surrender to our enemy.
The Hebrew Christians were getting weary and fed up with the troubles they were experiencing. But instead of telling them, "Your hardship is all over now. From this point on, it will be smooth sailing," God was saying, "From this point on, it is going to get harder. In fact, the time may soon come when you will be martyred for your faith." As the glorified Christ later said to the church of Smyrna: "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).
Paul spoke of his own resolve in Acts 20:23-24: "I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." We know that he suffered martyrdom. So we read in his last epistle, "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure" (2 Timothy 4:6).
Sin as our enemy is always facing us, trying to pull us down and turn us away from God. So we must resolve in our minds to defeat sin, not surrender to it. The Scriptures give us many assurances that we can do this: if we resist in God's power, Satan shall flee from us; we can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens us; faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Paul says, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37), for Jesus always leads us in triumph (2 Corinthians 2:14).
So let us flex our spiritual muscles and resist sin to the point of death! Let us truthfully declare, "I would rather die than sin against God."
Verse 5 says, "And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons." Then the writer quotes Proverbs 3:11-12:
My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Proverbs 3 is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other part of the wisdom literature, showing that this particular chapter was well-known to the people of God.
In the Greek, verse 5 reads, "You have forgotten the exhortation of the Scripture." Christians become weary of divine discipline because they either fail to understand or have completely forgotten what the Scriptures say.
This sinful forgetfulness of God's word has always been a problem of God's people. In Deuteronomy 6:12 Moses warned, "Be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." Psalm 106:13 tells us, "But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel," and verse 21 says, "They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt."
Those who forget God's word are like the second soil in the parable of the sower (Luke 8:13). They hear the word and receive it with joy, but fail to understand it, especially what it says about the cost of discipleship. When trouble comes because of the word, such people quickly fall away.
I have seen such people in my long pastoral experience. Those who grow weak and weary and finally backslide and quit altogether are those who do not take time to understand God's word. They have a false view of Christianity and salvation. They receive Jesus Christ to get away from troubles, or to become rich or famous or powerful or successful in the world. Such people are emotional Christians who do not intelligently understand God's propositional revelation.
So do not forget Scripture. The Bible says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Colossians 3:16). Abide in the word, and you shall endure to the very end.
God Only Disciplines His Children
All of Scripture is applicable to us, though it was written thousands of years ago. So in Hebrews 12:5 the writer cites the book of Proverbs, which was written long before his time, and applies directly to the Hebrew Christians, telling them, "The Scripture calls you as sons!"
Paul says in Romans 15:4, "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." When we do not spend time in the word of God, we have no hope, encouragement, and strength. Instead, we faint, collapse, and quit.
What is the encouragement found in Proverbs 3:11-12? God calls us sons. We have a new relationship with God. He is our heavenly Father and we are his sons and daughters; thus, we experience his discipline.
A Roman father enjoyed what is called patria potestas-absolute power over his children and grandchildren. He could sell them as slaves or even kill them. He might also have illegitimate children, for whom he provided, but he never disciplined them. He only disciplined his legal children.
Hebrew parents did not exercise such absolute power over their children, but they were instructed by the Sovereign Lord to train them up in the way of the Lord. They were to give them moral training. So Proverbs 13:24 says, "He who spares the rod hates his son." In other words, a parent who loves his child will be careful to discipline him.
Proverbs 22:6 tells us, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Notice, there is a way we should go; there is a right way and a wrong way to live. The wrong way is the way of sin, which is the way a child naturally goes. So a father or mother has to turn him around and say, "No, this is the right way." This right way is God's way, to which godly parents submit and which they ensure their children walk in.
A child raised in God's way will not turn from it when he is old. I myself am proof of this truth. I have traveled all over the world, and yet I have walked in the path of God that my parents taught me. I have not accepted the philosophies of the world, which deny the Scriptures and the biblical order.
Proverbs 22:15 says, "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him." Folly can also be described as foolishness or godlessness. In Proverbs 23:13-14 we are told, "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death." And in Proverbs 29:15 we read, "The rod of correction imparts wisdom." Notice, then, discipline does two things: it drives out foolishness and imparts wisdom. So a Hebrew father was responsible under God's authority to discipline his children and impart wisdom. Children, if you experience discipline from your parents, you should rejoice, because someone loves you enough to drive foolishness from your heart and impart wisdom to you.
God also disciplines his children, for he desires us to be like him. That is what salvation is all about. Our heavenly Father wants us to grow up as responsible citizens of the kingdom of God. So in Leviticus 11:44 we are commanded, "Be holy, because I am holy," and this command is repeated in 1 Peter 1:15-16. God will achieve this purpose; he will have a holy people for himself.
Let me tell you one more thing: God never disciplines unbelievers. They are left to their own devices. He is only their Judge, and they will suffer his wrath in the end. But because we are sons of the heavenly Father, he disciplines us. Only God's children experience discipline.
Do Not Despise Discipline
So verse 5 tells us, "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline." To think lightly of something is to despise it. That was the problem of these people-they treated God's discipline as something general and common rather than specific and personal; they did not discern God's hand in the discipline they were experiencing. But we must never do this. When God disciplines us, we are to humble ourselves under his mighty hand.
How do we treat God's discipline lightly? If we complain, we are treating it lightly. The Israelites continually murmured during their wilderness journey. Instead of considering what God was trying to teach them through various trials-and we are told very clearly in Deuteronomy 8:2-5 that this was his objective-they complained. But nothing happens to God's children by chance. Everything that happens to us is by God's sovereign plan, purpose, and design. And all things work together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
We also treat God's discipline when we question the usefulness of a specific trial. When we question God's wisdom, we are rebelling against him. We treat it lightly through carelessness. When we experience sickness, financial reversals, bereavements, persecutions, and the like, we must not waste the lessons these trials are teaching us. We must be careful to see the divine design in them.
When we experience discipline, we must recognize that is not ultimately the discipline of the pastor or the father or the government representative, but it is the discipline of the Lord, coming through these agents to us. For example, if we get a traffic ticket, we should thank God for it, because it came from God through that officer. But how many people say, "Thank you, Officer. I really appreciate you giving me this ticket"?
Here is an important verse we should all keep in mind: "Listen! The Lord is calling to the city-and to fear your name is wisdom-'Heed the rod and the One who appointed it'" (Micah 6:9).
Do Not Despair in Discipline
Verse 5 continues, "Do not lose heart when he rebukes you." In other words, do not faint and collapse when God disciplines you. Some people treat God's discipline lightly, as if it were nothing. But others react in the opposite way, saying, "God's dealing with me is too heavy!" Such people lose heart, saying, "The Lord has forsaken me," or "What's the use? Where is God when I need him?" They give up and refuse to walk in the way of the Lord. They experience a spiritual breakdown and give up all exertion, forsaking prayer, reading the word, and gathering together for worship.
The writer warns against such an attitude in Hebrews 10:25: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching." You see, these people were fainting and collapsing in their Christian walk, questioning their salvation and sonship. I have heard such people say when they are undergoing discipline: "Maybe I am not a Christian." Why do they want to come to that conclusion? Because now they can go and sin all the more. "Maybe I am not a Christian, so let me go back to the world and sin with gusto." And that is what happens. A person who walks away from the church will go back down into the depths of the mire God brought him out of. He will be like a dog that returns to its own vomit.
Such people give way to unbelief and despair. They say, "I will never get out from under this trial and affliction." They do not realize it is their heavenly Father who is disciplining them, and that he is doing so because they are sons. They do not understand that the painful discipline itself is the proof that God loves them. They do not think of the truth of Psalm 30:5: "Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." There is a glorious morning for the people of God, when they shall break forth into joy, if they endure hardship now.
But we have been exhorted to not forget Scripture, to not despise divine chastising, and to not faint in the face of discipline. What, then, should we do when God disciplines us? "Endure hardship as discipline" (v. 7). Don't quit! Don't withdraw! Don't faint! We are to embrace and endure discipline, in other words, that we may benefit from it.
We should focus on the aim of discipline, which is to impart wisdom to us. Proverbs 1:7 tells us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." And in Proverbs 8:33 we read, "Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it."
Wisdom is the ability to make decisions in life for the glory of God and for our everlasting happiness. It is the ability to discern and walk in the way of God. Wisdom sees God's will in his word and embraces it.
We have all made decisions that were not wise, and we regret them. What pain and misery we experience because of foolish decisions we have made! So we must not despise discipline; only fools do that. We should not faint or collapse because of discipline; we must endure it. We must kiss the rod to receive the wisdom that comes through God's disciplinary dealings.
Discipline, then, is not a contradiction of love; it is proof of it. In Revelation 3:19 the Lord Jesus Christ himself says to the church at Laodicea, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline." Woe to that person who despises or faints at discipline!
Three Types of Discipline
We find three types of discipline described in the Scriptures.
Corrective discipline. God uses discipline to correct us when we wander away into sin. David is a classic example of one who received corrective discipline. As king, he had a copy of the law, which he was supposed to read every day so that he could govern as a deputy for the Sovereign Lord of Israel. And there is no question that David was a man of the Scripture. But one day he saw a woman bathing and asked, "Who is that woman?" The answer came: "She is the wife of Uriah." David knew adultery was prohibited by Scripture, but he became arrogant and rejected God's word. He not only despised the commandment, "You shall not commit adultery," but also "You shall not murder," and had Uriah killed after committing adultery with Bathsheba.
Did God say to David, "Oh, that's all right. We believe in modernity now. I've changed my mind, so if you want to do these things, that is all right with me"? No! He told David, "This child born to you is going to die," and the child died. Additionally, several of David's grown sons died-Amnon, Absalom, Adonijah, and others. Then God prophesied through Nathan, "The sword shall not depart from your house for generations."
In his book The Problem of Pain C. S. Lewis writes, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, and speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains." Look at Jacob. He thought he was a pretty shrewd businessman. He cheated his brother. But God dealt with Jacob, causing Laban to cheat him. Jacob did not get any money for his years of service. But he thought that was all right, as long as he would receive Rachel as his wife. But on the morning after his wedding, he looked and realized that Laban had given him Leah, not Rachel. You see, God has a way of dealing with us. Then Rachel, whom he later married and really loved, died in childbirth. Then Joseph, his favorite son, was lost to him through the treachery of his other sons. What pain and agony Jacob experienced! But God was dealing with him. And finally, at the end of his life, he came forth as gold as he confessed the Messiah (Genesis 49). This is corrective discipline. When we wander away from God's straight and narrow way, he brings us back. "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4).
We find another example of corrective discipline in 1 Corinthians 5. There was a man who I believe was the richest man in Corinth. Because he was so wealthy, this man thought he could do anything he wanted and did not have to listen to anyone, especially the pastor. After all, the pastor wasn't the richest or the most influential person-he was. He thought, "I am rich and powerful and can do whatever I want. Why should I submit to the Scriptures?" So we read in verse 1: "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife." Maybe this man was the first to embrace modernity, saying, "I am not going to be straight-jacketed by some moral teachings of the Scriptures."
But what was Paul's counsel about this man? "Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed" (v. 5). Actually, the word translated "sinful nature" literally means "flesh." God cannot deal with our sinful nature unless he touches our bodies. So he permits Satan to deal with our bodies.
Notice that this corrective discipline is given with redemption in mind: "so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord." You see, God has a way of dealing with arrogant people who want to stand over the word of God rather than under it, and who despise all authorities, arguing instead for antinomianism.
"Hand him over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord." That is corrective discipline. No one can run away from God. When we run, we are always running toward him. As Psalm 139:7 asks, "Where can I flee from your presence?"
We find another example of corrective discipline in 1 Corinthians 11. Verse 20 says, "When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk." These people had no regard for the poor. They were sinning in the church and, at the same time, receiving the Lord's Supper. So verse 30 tells us, "That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep."
God's corrective discipline may even include death, but it is still redemptive. So we read in 1 Corinthians 11:32, "When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world." God's discipline has nothing to do with judgment. God's children will never experience divine wrath; he reserves that for unbelievers. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
Preventive discipline. This type of discipline prevents us from doing something sinful. For example, in 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul writes, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh." Notice the importance of the flesh. Paul was given a thorn-disease, trouble, pain in his body. It was so intense that he did not like it and prayed three times for it to be removed.
What was the purpose of this thorn? To prevent Paul from becoming arrogant, hard, and defiant of God and his word. So in verse 9 Paul writes, "But [the Lord] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" Preventive discipline is a wonderful thing. We should praise God for all the times he has prevented us from committing a terrible sin.
Educational discipline. God uses this form of discipline to increase our knowledge of him. The classic example of educational discipline is Job. We are told in the opening verses that Job was blameless and upright, a man who feared God and shunned evil. (PGM) But then all Job's children died and he lost all his property. His own wife turned against him and he was afflicted with painful boils all over his body. He was left sitting naked on an ash heap, wanting to die.
Job had no idea that God was permitting Satan to deal with him; thus, Job did not always respond to this discipline wisely. Then God spoke to him, and Job answered, "I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer-twice, but I will say no more" (Job 40:3). Through his trials, Job grew in his understanding of this great, glorious, wise, almighty God.
Job continued to speak: "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?'" You see, Job did not know all he needed to know. But through God's educational discipline he had increased his knowledge. "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (42:2-6).
If we are believers, we should know that God loves us as sons and daughters; therefore he will discipline us. The purpose of this discipline is to make us partakers of his holiness. So if anyone hates holiness, he is an illegitimate, plastic Christian. Such a person rejects any authority in his life.
How, then, do you know if you are God's true child? Do you accept the discipline of the Lord as administered by your parents, by the pastor and elders of the church, by the police and so on? It is an important question.
A majority of people in today's churches, even those who claim to believe in the Bible, are spiritual hobos, plastic Christians. They pretend to be born of God, but reject any kind of discipline in their lives. Understand, then, that if you are born of God, you will embrace the discipline, order, and government of God; if you are not born of God, you will not.
How to Endure Discipline
How, then, should we endure discipline?
Endure hardship inquiringly. When we experience discipline, we must inquire of the Lord. Remember, instruction in the word plus chastisement equals discipline, or, to put it differently, word plus rod equals discipline.
Discipline accomplishes two things in us. First, it drives out folly, which is foolishness, sin, and godlessness. Even as Christians, we all have sin within us. That is why we need discipline. In heaven there will not be any need for discipline, for we will all be perfect, without sin. Second, discipline instills wisdom in us, which is the fear of the Lord and an embracing of God's will, so that we can live our lives for the glory of God.
So when we experience hardship, it is good to ask, "Lord, what is going on?" The classic text we must consider is 2 Chronicles 16. There we find the story of King Asa, who served God while he was young, but became very arrogant later in life. This is a problem we must be on guard against. If we are not careful when God blesses us, we can become arrogant.
Verse 12 begins, "In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet." Who afflicted him? God. You see, everything that happens to us happens through the Lord. He may ask Satan to do it, but it comes from the Lord. "Though his disease was severe. . ." Who made it severe? God. He did so that the pain would register in Asa's brain. God desired that Asa would pray, "O God, what is going on? Why did you do this to me?" Then God would tell him, "You were arrogant and proud. It was I who gave you power and success and made you who you are today. But you have forgotten me."
Did Asa inquire of the Lord? Verse 12 says, "[E]ven in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians." Asa was a rebel. He would not pray to find out the reason for his suffering.
God was gracious in afflicting Asa. He did it so that Asa would inquire of God, and God would help him humble himself. But Asa refused to humble. He preferred to look to physicians rather than to God. What did God do? He closed all other doors. The physicians were not able to help Asa, and he died a rebel.
It is sad that we can be so arrogant that we will not humble ourselves. Even in the midst of severe pain, some refuse to call upon the Lord.
Endure hardship prayerfully. Psalm 36:9 says, "In your light we see light." When we are going through hardship we should pray, "O God, give me light. I am going through a tunnel. Give me light." David was a godly man who examined his life. In Psalm 139:23-24 he says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." As we go through problems and discipline, we must pray for God's leading.
Endure hardship humbly. Humility should come to us automatically when problems come. As I was growing up, whenever there was any problem, the first thing we did was to humble ourselves and pray, "O God, what is going on?" It was almost automatic.
First Peter 5:6 tells us, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand." The idea is that the mighty hand of God is resting on us so that we feel it. Yes, we experience pressure, problems, and pain. But these are God's gracious dealings in our lives so that we can humble ourselves before God. And when we do, God will lift us up.
Psalm 119:75 says, "I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me." That is humility. It is saying, "I agree, O God. You are right. I was arrogant, but you touched me and humbled me with your mighty hand." Sometimes God's touch is very comforting and gentle; at other times, it is heavy. But it always has a redemptive purpose, which is to humble us. God afflicts us to bring us back to him.
Endure hardship patiently. When we are going through discipline, we want instant relief. We do not want to inquire about the reason for it; we simply want the discipline to end. But we must be patient and let the discipline do its work.
James, the Lord's brother, counsels us, "Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:4). We must go through the discipline. Don't despise it, don't faint, don't ask for quick relief. Know that there is a purpose for the trial and let it do its work. Be exercised by it. Benefit through the discipline, knowing that it will bring maturity. Galatians 6:9 tells us, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
Endure hardship believingly. I don't think any of us have experienced anything like what Job did. In Job 13 he was still in the midst of his troubles, with no end in sight. There was darkness, pressure, and pain. His own wife turned against him and counseled him to curse God and die. Yet here in Job 13 he makes a profound statement of trust in God: "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him" (v. 15).
In Psalm 91:15 God makes a promise to those who trust in him: "He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him." As you are going through hardship, believe in God and his promises.
Endure hardship hopefully. Again, we can look at Job to illustrate this point. In Job 23:10 Job says, "But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold." In other words, Job had hope in the midst of his great suffering. God was putting Job through the furnace like metal, increasing the heat until all the dross was removed. So Job says, "When he has tested me, I will come forth as gold."
Jacob is another example of enduring hardship hopefully. He was a crook, but God took him and purified him in the furnace of affliction. And at the end of his life Jacob was pure gold, expressing his complete faith in the Messiah and prophesying about his coming.
Paul also expressed such hopefulness in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."
Endure hardship thankfully. In Matthew 26:30 we read, "When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." What was going to happen on the Mount of Olives? Jesus would pray so earnestly that he sweated blood. Then he would be arrested and tried. The soldiers would put a crown of thorns upon his head, pull his beard out and beat him. They would strip him and put a robe on him and mock him. Then they would disrobe him and crucify him. Yet what was Jesus doing? Singing a hymn, thanking and praising God for calling him to do this redemptive task. No one has ever suffered like Christ, yet he did so thankfully.
James tells us, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds" (James 1:2). I cannot easily identify with this verse. I am beginning to do so, but it is difficult. God has to help us.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:11-12, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
The Blessings of Discipline
As we have noted, the spiritual hobos, the plastic, illegitimate Christians, do not receive discipline, for God does not care for them as sons. But he cares for us; therefore he will discipline us. Every one of us will experience discipline, if we are God's children. As this discipline comes to us, there are several things we can conclude:
We are not illegitimate. As we said, the illegitimate receive no discipline, but only judgment on the last day.
We are sons of God.
God is not our Judge; rather, he is our heavenly Father.
God loves us, cares for us, and has a wonderful plan for our lives.
Pruning is painful but gainful. John 15:2 tells us that God prunes only the branches that bear fruit, so that they may be even more fruitful.
This discipline will impart wisdom, drive out folly from our lives, and teach us how to live. (Proverbs 13:24; 19:18; 22:6, 15; 23:13; 29:15-17)
This discipline will make us humble.
This discipline will produce maturity and completeness in us.
This discipline will make us able to sympathize with others who are having problems. Second Corinthians 1:3-4 says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."
This discipline will result in a happy life. Hebrews 12:9 says, "How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!" That word "live" does not mean existence, but joyful spiritual life.
This discipline will wean us from the world and teach us to trust God only. "The things of this world shall grow strangely dim." As we experience discipline, we begin to look forward to a city whose builder and maker is God, a better city and a better country. Our eyes are opened toward heavenly realities rather than earthly things.
This discipline will make Scripture more precious to us. Somebody once said, "Some scriptures are written in secret ink. Only in the fire of adversity do they become visible to us." As we are disciplined, the Scriptures will not be boring to us; they will nourish us and give us great hope. For instance, if you are going through trouble and problems, Isaiah 43:2-3 is a good passage to study: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
We will discover the sufficiency of God's grace in our affliction. As God said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
This discipline will make us partakers of holiness and righteousness. This is most important. Hebrews 12:10 tells us, "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness." When God called us, he called us to make us holy. He commanded us in Leviticus 11:44, "I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy." Why is it imperative that we be made holy? Because God is holy, and there cannot be any fellowship between a holy God and unholy people. "Without holiness no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).
God's purpose is to have a church that is holy and that will be with him forever. This is his commitment to us, and he will accomplish it. Ephesians 1:4 says, "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." Ephesians 5:25-27 tells us, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."
A Brief Summary for Application:
If we neglect Scripture, we shall not endure discipline.
We must look to Jesus to endure (Hebrews 12:2-3).
Discipline proves two things: we are sons of God and we are loved by God.
Discipline provides two things: holiness and godliness.
No discipline will be administered beyond our God-given ability to endure (1 Corinthians 10:13).
We must see Christ with us in our suffering (Daniel 3:25; Isaiah 43:2; Psalm 23).
With holiness, we shall see God! (Hebrews 12:14)
Guido de Bres, author of the Belgic Confession, was executed in Belgium on May 31, 1567. Before his execution, he wrote a letter in which he said, "O my God, now the time has come that I must leave this life and be with you. Your will be done. I cannot escape from your hands. Even if I could, I would not do it, for it is my joy to conform to your will." He endured to the end and received a crown of life. May we all do the same!
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Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
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