Last week, we talked about how to endure opposition. Today, the author of Hebrews tells us how to endure discipline in the form of hardships that come our way, sent by a loving heavenly Father to produce a harvest of goodness in our lives.
Discipline. Yuck! While I know that God wants to perfect me and to make me more like Himself, I don’t always enjoy the process. Do you? I’m sure not. Discipline isn’t pleasant.
“…Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…” (Heb. 12:1)
God wants the sin out of my life. The Bible lists several ways to get the sin out:
- God could take us home through death. I guess that would get rid of the sin that entangles! Here in Hebrews we read, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb. 12:4). The apostle Paul tells us, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:28-32).
- We could take drastic action against sin ourselves. This is certainly the wisest course of action, but we often love our sin more than we desire to repent. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18:8-9)? Oh, if only we would realize how serious sin is!
- Our loving heavenly Father could discipline us, to train us in righteousness. This is exactly what the rest of our verses today in Hebrews 12 talk about. As God’s children, He disciplines us because He loves us.
Yes, God disciplines us. The author of Hebrews quotes from Proverbs 3:11-12 to make his case:
My son, do not despise YHWH’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,
because YHWH disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.
The Old Testament quote is slightly different from the Hebrews passage, but even this is very instructive.
- Proverbs 3:11 tells us not to “resent his rebuke,” where Hebrews says, “Do not lose heart when he rebukes you.” Obviously, God’s rebuking isn’t fun. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.”
- Proverbs 3:12 tells us that God punishes us out of His love for us as His children. Proverbs says He disciplines the sons He loves and delights in. Hebrews calls it “punishment” but says it shows He accepts us as “sons.”
Why does God send difficult things into our lives to discipline and punish us?
“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” (Hebrews 12:7-11).
- God’s discipline of me shows I’m His child. He disciplines all His sons. It proves I’m not an “illegitimate” child. Sometimes I feel farthest from God during hard times, yet His discipline of me should actually make me feel loved. It proves I really belong to Him!
- Discipline is an opportunity for me to learn how to respect and listen to my heavenly Father. Just as I learned to respect my earthly father by his consistent discipline, so I learn to submit to my heavenly Father’s will by the discipline He brings into my life. Proverbs 30:5-6 says, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” When God rebukes me, I learn that His word is to be respected, which ultimately protects and shields me from harm.
- Discipline teaches me that God is wise. I sure don’t understand all the circumstances God allows into my life. I sure protest when hard times come! Yet His discipline isn’t on a whim or arbitrary, as earthly fathers’ discipline can be. He only does what is for our good. As I submit to His will for my life, whether it’s easy or hard, pleasant or painful, I learn to trust His plan at all times.
- Discipline produces a wonderful harvest in my life. This passage uses words such as holiness, righteousness, and peace. Aren’t these character traits that we all want in our lives? Yet it also says that these come at harvest time. Before the harvest come months of planting, pruning, and weeding (ouch!). To use another metaphor from this passage, we have to be “trained.” Training isn’t always pleasant (“no pain, no gain”), but the results are worth it.
What should my response be to God’s discipline?
“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,‘ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed” (Hebrews 12:12-13).
- I need to strengthen up my feeble arms and weak knees. Don’t you love this word picture? When I’m enduring hard times, I often feel feeble and weak. In fact, I want to just collapse. But as my husband has been known to say to our children, I need to “just buck up.” Honestly, knowing that God has a purpose for the hard times IS exactly what I need to get back up and keep going, even when it’s tough.
- I need to consider my path. The author of Hebrews quotes again from the Old Testament (Proverbs 4:26). The word for “make level paths” means “to roll around,” like you would roll a piece of dough on your countertop, then check it for the right consistency, then roll it again and flatten it. When hard times come into our lives, we need to stop, roll around our circumstances in our minds, and consider what God is trying to teach us. God is trying to heal us, not disable us!
For what specific sins might God discipline me?
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears” (Hebrews 12:14-17).
- God wants me to have peace with all men.
- God wants me to be “holy” (set apart unto God, separate from sin and uncleanness).
- God wants me to understand that He has been gracious to me and that I must extend that grace and forgiveness to others. If a root of bitterness springs up in me, it’s because I don’t understand God’s grace to me in my own sin.
- God wants me to stay far away from sexual immorality.
- God wants to be first place in my life. If He’s not, then I’m acting “godless.”
The fact is, any sin that keeps me from not loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul and strength or from not loving my neighbor as myself is a sin that He will discipline. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and the first god I need to root out of my life is the worship of myself.
Unlike Esau, we need to have a “change of mind,” which God calls repentance. This is why God disciplines me. He wants to bless me. He loves me very much.