STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“Consider [Jesus] who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’”
(Hebrews 12:3-6 – ESV)
“God’s disciplining you.”
I don’t know how well I’d take those words during a time I was suffering. I suppose those words could come from a kind-hearted person with good intentions. But depending on who said them and how they were said, I could take those words as the person saying, “You’re only getting what you deserve. You must have done something wrong, and now God is punishing you.”
That is not the message of Hebrews 12. Rather, the Holy Spirit is using these words to give us comfort, courage, and the strength to patiently endure the trials and tribulations we face. He wants us to understand that God uses discipline to demonstrate His love for us.
Let’s be clear, first of all, that the discipline of the Lord is not punishment for our sins. The trials that come into our lives are not God’s way of demanding that we make atonement for our sins. The beginning of our text above encourages us to “consider [Jesus] who endured from sinners such hostility against himself.” Those words point us to the cross, where Jesus made atonement for the sins of the world once and for all. No further payment is necessary.
While punishment focuses on the past and penalizes for past offenses, discipline focuses on the future and instructs and corrects for future growth. God disciplines us out of His great love for us. And His discipline reminds us of who we are: sons and daughters of God. We are not disciplined by some far-away deity who punishes us at a whim, but we are disciplined by our heavenly Father. He treats us as His dear children, and what child is not disciplined by his parents?
The gracious purpose of God’s discipline is to cause us to focus less on ourselves and more on our God. We all know when things are sailing along smoothly in our lives, we tend to forget about God and believe that things are going well because we are so good. So God allows or even sends affliction into our lives to drive us back to Him. He does this so we are more aware of our need for Him.
As He disciplines us, He reminds us, as He reminded the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) We are directed back to the cross where Jesus died for us—where He gave His life for our sin and weakness. The Lord’s discipline drives us back to the empty tomb from which Jesus rose to life, conquering sin and death for us.
God’s discipline should cause us to be confident in God’s love, “for the Lord disciplines the one he loves.” We never outgrow our need for the Lord’s discipline this side of heaven, and so He continues to correct us. Why? It’s because He wants to keep us close to Him. It’s because He doesn’t want anything to get in the way of our salvation. God’s discipline demonstrates His love for us!
Robert Sauers is pastor of Bethel Evangelical
Lutheran Church in Morris, Minnesota, and a
member of the CLC Board of Missions.