Reframing Our Understanding of Discipline

“Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? but if you are without discipline – which all receive – then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. .Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11).

“Don’t make me say it again.”

“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”

“One… two… two and a half…”

Pick your own phrase if you’re a mom or dad. You’ve probably got one that comes out when you start to launch into discipline mode. In fact, if you’re a parent, you know that discipline is a part of life. A BIG part of life, in fact. The writer of Hebrews reminds us in this passage that just as we discipline our own children, so God disciplines His. But reflecting on this passage dramatically changes the way we view the discipline of the Lord. It reframes our understanding of discipline in at least 4 ways.

1. Discipline is a mark of love.

When things don’t go the way we think they should in life, there is often a creeping, prosperity-esque thought that comes to our minds: “Doesn’t God love me? Because surely if He did, then this wouldn’t have happened.” This passage torpedoes that line of thinking out of the water.

The discipline of the Lord isn’t evidence of His lack of love; it’s proof of it. In fact, if we never received discipline from God, that’s when we should be wondering about the Lord’s love. He disciplines us because He is not only our Father; He disciplines us because He is the best Father imaginable. The evidence of that bestness is His discipline for our good.

2. Discipline’s goal is corrective not punitive.

Once you get past the “doesn’t God love me” kind of thinking, the close thought cousin often comes next: “Why is God punishing me?” It might seem like mere semantics, but it’s important for us to remember that the discipline of the Lord is corrective rather than punitive. His goal isn’t ultimately for us to feel the pain of a cosmic spanking; it’s for us to share in His holiness. It’s for us to learn. It’s for us to be conformed to His image.

Of course it hurts. No discipline feels good whether it’s from the Lord or whether it’s the self-imposed discipline of eating healthy. You want to eat the extra piece of chocolate cake just like you want to sleep in rather than spend time in God’s Word. But just because it hurts doesn’t mean it’s not good. And if we are convinced of the love of God, which He has fully displayed in the sacrifice of Jesus, then we can rest that it is indeed for our good. Furthermore, we can also know that the punishment for our sin has been fully laid on Jesus. God’s not holding back a little wrath for us now and then. He has poured it out. What we now feel is the kind and loving hand of Fatherly correction.

3. Discipline, because it is not punitive, might be proactive rather than responsive.

This is where it gets really tough I think because our immediate reaction is to look into our life and see if there is latent sin or attitude that the Lord is removing. There might not be. It might instead be the discipline of the Lord in a proactive sense.

This God knows the end before the beginning. He knows the challenge before it is presented. He knows the strength needed while the knees are still feeble. Because He does, we can accept His discipline in faith knowing that though it might seem pointless in the moment it is certainly not being wasted.

4. Discipline should be expected…and welcomed.

By God’s grace, someday I’ll be there and you will, too. This is the day when we are so committed to sharing in the holiness of the Lord that we welcome the pain and difficulty. We are convinced of His love. We are sure of His purposes. Because we are our arms are open. But let’s be careful lest we think those arms are open and there is a grinning face behind them.

There is not.

The attitude is not one of glee but of resolve; it’s of joy but maybe not necessarily happiness. And perhaps, in this moment, this moment that we trust is making us like Jesus, is one in which we actually are beginning to feel like Jesus, who endured the cross not with a flippant smile but with resolute faith, for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).

Knowing these things are true, we are well armed for the exhortation the writer puts before us next:

“Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame nay not be dislocated but healed instead” (Hebrews 12:12-13).

Amen.

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