For the past two weeks we have been studying the twelfth chapter of Hebrews and learning how we can run the race of faith. The writer of Hebrews has used the illustration of a runner to teach us that we should cast aside everything that would slow us down and the sin that immobilizes us so that we might run to our full potential. He has told us that we must fix our eyes on the finish line where our Savior, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, awaits our arrival. He has also sought to encourage us by telling us to keep in mind the incredible endurance of Jesus so that we might run with perseverance — because the race is long and difficult.
As we move into the next section of Scripture we see the writer of Hebrews move us from the arena of athletic competition into the living room of the family where the training of children takes place. Where there is no family room for training or discipline and no parent to train their children how to live life in a way that is pleasing to God, what to avoid, and the consequences of unacceptable behavior then you have chaos and children who are unmanageable – children who are much more likely to destroy their lives.
Children will tell you that they do not enjoy discipline. Children would rather play video games or watch television instead of work on their multiplication tables, study history, spend time in a science lab, or go to practice and go through the same old agility drills that their coaches have put them through since they were in elementary school. Discipline is not meant to be a trip to Disney World or a day at the beach. Discipline is exacting. Discipline is costly. Discipline will wring you out and make you feel like you can’t give another ounce of energy to the cause, but discipline shows you that you can. Discipline is a priceless, precious gift that is often looked upon with disdain, derision, and disgust.
Even though the benefits of discipline have been greatly downplayed in our day, everyone loves watching the end product of discipline in the lives of those who have submitted to its tutelage. Stop and think about what I am saying for a moment. Who does not enjoy the excellence of an artist like Leonardo DiVinci or Vincent van Gogh? Who can resist the refined elegance of a Mikael Barishnikov? People pay big bucks each week to watch the finely honed skills of Randy Johnson as he consistently places a baseball in the strike zone at 95 plus miles an hour. People flock to basketball arenas to gaze at the ballerina moves of Vince Carter or Kobe Bryant. Throughout history, hearts have been touched by the melodic tones of Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin. How did these people acquire such skill? How do modern-day artists and athletes rise above the rest of the crowd so that they have the ability to move us at a deep level and inspire us to answer the call? The answer is quite simple: They keep practicing, they have accepted the correction of their teachers, and they never try and convince themselves that they have arrived.
The Hall of Fame, ex-coach of the Dallas Cowboys, the late Tom Landry once said, “The job of a coach is to make men do what they do not want to do, in order that they can be what they’ve always wanted to be.” What is true for football is true for every arena of life where people pursue excellence. People who are respected and appreciated by society are men and women from all walks of life who welcome discipline’s exacting correction and counsel. Discipline is not only beneficial for artists and athletes; discipline is much needed in all of our lives if we are to live this life in a way that will bring glory to God and peace to our own hearts.
In our Scripture for today we are going to take a long look at the discipline of the Lord in the lives of His children. Won’t you take out your Bible and read along with me from Hebrews 12:4-11.
4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 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! 10 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. 11 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 12:4-11 NIV)
I have given so much thought and prayer to this section of God’s Word this past week. Our experiences have a great impact on us and it is no wonder that Hebrews 12:4-11 has jumped off the page at me. I have seen God’s hand of discipline at work throughout my life. Sometimes the hand of discipline has not been recognized or understood, sometimes it has been resisted and I have become angry because of what I was going through, and at other times the Lord has allowed me to see His hand at work and He has allowed me to patiently endure His discipline in my life.
I want to clarify something for you as we begin this study because I know that many today see the Lord’s discipline as punishment they are receiving for what they have done. Many folks go through a season of discipline and they draw back and conclude that the Lord is paying them back for what they have done. They believe that what they are going through serves no purpose other than the fact that God wants to get them back for what they have done. Nothing, absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. God is not getting you back my friend; He has lain upon His Son, our Savior Jesus, the punishment that was rightly due you and me. The prophet Isaiah wrote,
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5 NIV)
The Lord’s wrath against sin was unfurled and placed on the shoulders of Jesus as He endured the scourging, mockery, and finally being crucified upon a cross as punishment for the sins of the world. When God disciplines you and me He is not getting us back, but He is drawing us back – drawing us back into His will, drawing us back from that which will destroy us, and drawing us back towards His holiness. The great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote in his sermon on Hebrews 12:4,
God’s people can never by any possibility be punished for their sins. God has punished them already in the person of Christ. Christ, their substitute, has endured the full penalty for all their guilt, and neither the justice nor the love of God can ever exact again that which Christ has paid. Punishment can never happen to a child of God in the judicial sense, he can never be brought before God as his Judge, as charged with guilt, because that guilt was long ago transferred to the shoulders of Christ, and the punishment was exacted at the hands of his surety. But yet, while the sin cannot be punished, while the Christian cannot be condemned, he can be chastised, while he shall never be arraigned before God’s bar as a criminal, and punished for his guilt, yet he now stands in a new relationship-that of a child to his parent: and as a son he may be chastised on account of sin. (Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, October 28, 1855.)
Now you may think that the difference between discipline and punishment is splitting hairs, or that I am playing semantic games with you, but I want to encourage you to begin to see discipline as a blessing sent from the hand of God. I understand our resistance to the Lord’s discipline in our life because I have been resistant at so many times in the past. Discipline, for the most part, is not fun. I have rarely ever spoken to a man who was going through the Refiner’s fire and enjoyed the heat. I have never visited a friend of mine who was in jail and heard him say that he felt “warm fuzzies” when the Jailer slammed the cell door behind him. I have never met a young athlete who enjoyed sitting out of playing his sport because his grades were suffering. I have never known a woman who celebrated the Lord’s hand of discipline bearing down on her heart. We are resistant to the Lord’s discipline, but we need to begin to see discipline from God’s perspective and not ours.
I have known many people from all walks of life who submitted their lives to the Lord, went through the fires of discipline, and later recognized that God had blessed them by causing them to suffer the hardships they had encountered. I have known many people who recognized that their hardships came about in order to cause them so much discomfort and turmoil that they would stop their destructive behavior, grow in their yearning to live life as God desires, and purify their character. This is the purpose of discipline my friend.
Let’s take a look at verses 4-6 as we begin our study for this morning. The writer of Hebrews says,
4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
The key to understanding these verses is for us to understand one little word. The word, “discipline” occurs nine times in Hebrews 12:4-11. The Greek word used here for “discipline” means, “the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment). It also includes the training and care of the body. In regards to adults it is whatever cultivates the soul, especially by correcting mistakes and curbing passions.”
Discipline is an instructor, a mentor, and a teacher. Discipline exerted upon the life of God’s people is meant to draw us away from what will cause us harm and lead us into the fullness of God’s presence each and every day, and in every way.
In verse 4, the writer of Hebrews tells his readers that they have not yet suffered like Jesus suffered. They have not yet resisted to the point of shedding their blood. He doesn’t want them to understand their suffering as merely the product of mean and nasty people being unfair. He doesn’t want them to view their suffering as an unfortunate situation. The writer of Hebrews wants the people of God to see what is happening as the product of the divine hand of discipline in their life correcting them, purifying their hearts, and making them more and more dependent upon the Lord.
He goes on to remind them that they have forgotten. What have they forgotten? They have forgotten the counsel of their Bible, the Word of God, that has instructed them in Proverbs 3:11-12 to “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.” They knew this truth. It was shared with them in their homes as they read the Hebrew Scriptures and as they went to worship together, but they had forgotten. Because they had forgotten they were running the risk of not recognizing God’s hand at work in their lives.
Perspective is everything. When we are going through tough times, but we have no understanding of the sovereignty of Almighty God, then our struggles seem meaningless, pointless, and without purpose. We wonder, “Why am I going through this?” We focus on our struggle, our discomfort, and we give no thought to the fact that God is at work. This mindset is far different than the mindset that the Apostle Paul possessed. Paul went through horrible situations, suffering beyond anything that anyone of us has ever endured, but he knew that in each and every situation God was at work. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I am talking about.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul writes about our suffering and its purpose in the lives of God’s people. Paul writes,
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-4 NIV)
While Paul was in prison he wrote to the brothers and sisters in Philippi who were disturbed by Paul’s imprisonment. Paul wanted them to be able to see the Lord’s hand at work so he wrote to them and said,
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. (Philippians 1:12-14 NIV)
Paul was not an anomaly, he was just one among many of God’s people who knew that the Lord’s discipline was always at work – sometimes for the purpose of correcting, sometimes for the purpose of protecting, and at all times to train us in godliness and holiness.
James, the brother of Jesus, knew Paul’s perspective. He himself had seen many hard times and was able to recognize the Lord’s hand at work in each of them. James wrote in James 1 and said,
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV)
Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, faced hardships and ended his life by being crucified upside down, but he had such a firm understanding of God’s sovereignty that he was able to write in his first letter and say,
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV)
Moses went through forty years of the Lord’s disciplinary training school. Why? So that one day he would possess the character and understand his absolute dependence upon the Lord when he was called to lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt. Jeremiah spoke the Word of the Lord to the people of his day but he was the object of ridicule and scorn at every turn. The people dug a cistern, a deep hole in the ground, and put him in it hoping that he would die. Through it all Jeremiah learned that he could depend only on the Lord his God. Samson was taken captive and made to work like a slave, but in his slavery he learned that his strength had never really resided in his hair at all, but in the Lord his God. The list goes on and on with the names and stories of those who have gone before us who have felt the Lord’s hand of discipline at work in their life.
The Lord’s hand of discipline is used to train us in godliness and keep up from straying from God’s will for our lives. The Psalmist wrote, 67 “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” (Psalm 119:67 NIV)
You and I may not understand the “why” of what we are going through, but when those times come we must lean upon the knowledge that we do possess – the knowledge that God has demonstrated His love for us by placing all of the punishment that was due us on the shoulders of His one and only Son, our Savior. God is good, and His ways, though sometimes not understandable, are good in all of their expressions in our lives.
The absolute worst thing we could do when the disciplining hand of God bears down upon our heart and soul is to shrink back and recoil from His Almighty grace. The Psalmist understood that this would always be the temptation for God’s people and that is why he has written, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you…”
If we make light of the Lord’s discipline in any way then we will most assuredly lose heart and grow weary as we come to the conclusion that life is meaningless – a wrong conclusion. If we make light of the Lord’s discipline, His training and molding of our character and the correction of our destructive ways, then we are in effect saying that we know better than God what is best for us. Is that really what we believe? Pastor Spurgeon wrote,
Does your finite knowledge stand up before your Maker and tell him he is unwise in what he does? Would you dare to say that one of his purposes shall be unfulfilled, that he does an unwise act? O then, you are impudently arrogant. You are impudently ignorant if you would speak like this. Say not so, but bend meekly down before his superior wisdom, and say. “O God I believe that in the darkness you are brewing light, that in the storm-clouds you are gathering sunshine, that in the deep mines you are fashioning diamonds, and in the beds of the sea you are making pearls. I believe that however unfathomable may be your designs, yet they have a bottom. Though it is in the whirlwind and in the storm, you have a way, and that way is good and righteous altogether. I would not have you alter one atom of your dispensations, it shall be just as you will. I bow before you, and I give my ignorance the word to hold its tongue, and to be silenced while your wisdom speaks words that are right. “My son despise not the chastening of the Lord” by thinking that it can be of no possible service to you. (Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, October 28, 1855.)
There are so many ways to “make light” of the Lord’s discipline in our lives. Some dismiss our struggles as just the circumstances of life that really have nothing to do with God. Others believe that the difficult times we go through are because of others. Some simply believe that life is meaningless and this difficulty is just another example of how pointless it all is. I will assure you that any conclusion we reach other than seeing the hand of God guiding, correcting, teaching, and molding us into the image of His holiness will only lead to our becoming weary in life.
This is what is meant when the writer of Hebrews says, “Do not lose heart when he rebukes you.” The Greek word for “lose heart” means, “to dissolve, to weaken, to be enfeebled through exhaustion, to grow weak, grow weary, be tired out.” Discipline without purpose will most assuredly wear you out. Every year there are more athletes on the first day of practice than there are on the last day of the season. Everyone is an artist in the first grade, but few are still painting, sculpting, or studying music theory when they become adults. Why is this? The reason why is because many are not willing to endure because they do not see the point of it all.
I went to Tae Kwon Do class the other night to see if I could see a young friend of mine. When I got there I saw lots of “white” belts and only a few “black” belts. I saw even fewer people in class who had stripes on their black belts. Why are there fewer black belts than white belts? I know because I have a white belt rolled up in my closet at home. I don’t go to class any more – I dropped out. I didn’t have the commitment. I wasn’t willing to say “No” to other things so that I could set aside time each week to undergo the discipline of learning Tae Kwon Do. I wasn’t willing to undergo the discipline that it takes to step from one belt to another. If you go to Tae Kwon Do then you will see them practicing the same moves each and every night, over and over again. Step punch. Step punch. Work on your form. Chamber. Toes up. Arms straight. Over and over again. Why doesn’t Alonzo bring in some excitement? Why doesn’t he have a musical group as a special guest? Why doesn’t he install fog machines and strobe lights to jazz things up a bit? Why? Because “hype” has no attraction for discipline.
As important as discipline is for athletes, discipline is even more important for the people of God. Paul wrote to Timothy and addressed this very issue. Paul writes,
7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV)
I hope and pray that this very morning the Lord has opened your eyes to the grace that He has showered upon your life and mine as He has chosen to discipline us, teach us, and correct us so that we might grow in our dependence upon Him. I hope and pray that those times in your life when you wondered where God was are now clearer to you than they ever have been. I pray that this morning you might submit your life to His Lordship and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life. Won’t you invite Him in?