Meditations in Hebrews 12: 48. God who disciplines
Heb 12:5,6 “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.
The writer to the Hebrews earlier faced the fact that the Church had suffered under persecution and was constantly at war against heresies. He was aware that life was often tough for the Christian and in his encouraging his readers, he now acknowledges a further way that life sometimes seems difficult – when we are being disciplined by God.
Press on despite opposition: The context of this is a further encouragement to press on: “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.” (v.4,5) Yes, they may have suffered persecution but that had not resulted in deaths. But perhaps this is more than just persecution (as bad as that might be) for he speaks of it in the context of “you struggle against sin.” Resisting temptation to sin is one of the struggles of the Christian life but so also is the struggle to counter lies, deceptions and false teaching. Behaviour and beliefs are both areas where the enemy attacks.
Now here is the strange thing: the enemy comes against us seeking to lead us astray in both our behaviour and our thinking and yes, the Lord does encourage us, as we have seen time and again in the book, but that is not all He does. When He sees we are slipping in behaviour or belief, this really means that we are drifting away from Him, and so He takes action to draw us back close to Him again.
Discipline from God: Now in verses 5 and 6 that we have above, he reminds us that a) the Lord does discipline and b) He does rebuke and c) He does these things to those He loves. Verses 5 and 6 are quotations from Prov 3:11,12. The word discipline means ‘to train’ or ‘to bring about a change in behaviour’. We usually hear about discipline in the armed forces and discipline is the first and foremost thing instilled in new recruits, to change their behaviour from self-centred, self-willed individuals into an authority-centred fighting force. Discipline changes their minds and their bodies. It is perhaps the biggest difference between a member of the armed services and a civilian.
The writer lays down some basic principles of discipline: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.” (v.7a) Discipline is hard and requires you to persevere. For the Christian it means pressure of the Holy Spirit and of God inspired or God-allowed circumstances to knock out of you the ways of the world and to conform you to the image of Christ. Discipline comes because you are a son or daughter of God and it is intended to drive you closer to Him. Now some of these seem hard words that I have used – knock out and drive – but they are necessary when we have allowed ungodly attitude or behaviour in, and it is only tough words or circumstances that will get us to deal with them, and because God loves us so much He will do what He sees will bring about that change.
Human Discipline: The writer appeals to human behaviour: “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.” (v.7-10) In a day when fathers are abandoning their first families and children are being left without discipline, these may seem strange words. They are also strange because there is much confusion today over parenting. As a trained parenting trainer, may I suggest a summary: for us as a parent, all discipline must come in an environment of love. When our children know they are truly loved and their parents have proved it by laying down their lives for them, THEN discipline, which is correction with an aim, can be safely brought.
Failure to say no, accompanied by an explanation but backed by a strong action – in a context of loving care – may prevent your child a) from going wrong and b) from finding the law or an employer acting against them in later years in ways they find thoroughly uncomfortable. I will always remember a murder case, I think it was, where a judge said of a seventeen year old, “This young man has no consideration for others or for the Law because no one has ever said no to him before.”
The object of discipline, whether it be us with our children, or God with us, is to restrain wrong in us and develop self-control that can work to bring out good in us: “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.” (v.11)
Balance Needed: I have been preaching for over twenty five years that “God loves you exactly as you are, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you that he doesn’t want you to stay like you are.” Now I have heard, and seen in books, the first part of that and it is right, but without the second part, we fall short of understanding God’s love for us. If sometimes it seems a bit tough, the verses we’ve read say, see it as a means of changing you for the better. That is the encouragement being brought here.
Some of us get caught up in ‘church life’ whether that is services and ritual or Bible Studies or Prayer Meetings. It may also mean a variety of other meetings or gatherings as we lay on activities that either build and strengthen the church or reach out to others. However God’s goal for us is first and foremost to change us to be more like Jesus in character – righteous and full of peace – and righteous in this context will mean full of love and goodness and grace and wisdom. Those are His goals for you and me and if He cannot get them into us by simple teaching, then he will take other measures that will result in us drawing closer to Him and become more like Him. That is what this is all about.