The other night in youth group we were spending quiet time simply reading and studying the Word. I was flipping through Hebrews when chapter 12 caught my eye — particularly the passage called “God’s discipline.”
The author begins by quoting Proverbs 3, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
And then he follows that by saying that the suffering we experience can indeed be part of our discipline: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? …God disciplines us for our good, in order 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.”
I’ve got to say that this passage is one of what I internally dub a “profoundly uncomfortable teaching” that we come up against here and there in the Bible. It’s one that you kind of wish God didn’t convey to us, because it’s challenging, tough, and doesn’t coddle us with happy feelings. I mean, I don’t want to be punished, I don’t want to be rebuked, and I don’t want to have to endure suffering! Who does? And here God is not only saying that his children will be disciplined, but that it’s for a specific purpose.
I’ll admit that my mind immediately took the word “discipline” and paired it with “punishment,” although upon successive readings I don’t think that’s the case. Some discipline can involve punishment for bad behavior, but not all discipline is punishment. In fact, the act of discipline is to shape and mold a person to obey and conform to a certain standard.
In other words, discipline makes us disciples.
This passage flies against prosperity gospel teachings and other feel-good notions of the gospel to grasp a fundamental truth of being a Christian: We will suffer, and through that suffering we will understand more what Jesus went through and become better people. It is part of our training, just how a runner will have to push through the burn and dominate his or her body to perform even better.
And once I got past my immediate reaction of a fear of suffering and pain, I read the encouragement that exists here. First, it makes a strong and repeated case that discipline means that we belong to God as God’s sons and daughters. We are not abstract strangers that he is smiting for evil pleasure; we are his children that he is training to be the best that they can possibly be.
As a father, I can understand that. My children outright resent my discipline, because that correction doesn’t let them continue doing the bad or selfish act they wanted to do. I see that anger and frustration in their faces when I sit them down to talk, and I hear it when I listen to what they have to say in defense of why one kid pushed another kid into a wall for taking his toy. But the discipline I perform on them is not out of anger or dislike, but out of love. I want them to grow up to be wonderful people, full of faith, compassion, love, and selfless giving. And that attitude is not going to come naturally, but must be trained for constantly. They may resent me for it now, but one day I pray that they will thank me that I cared enough to do it.
Second, the discipline mentioned in this passage has a very specific purpose for our lives. We will share in God’s holiness and will produce a harvest of peace and righteousness. When I think of the type of person that I wish I could be for all of my faults, it would be to be like the men and women of faith that I’ve admired — the ones who do desire holiness, who do project peace, and who do prize doing what is right.
It may be the hardest prayer to pray in saying, “Dear Lord, please discipline me. Please help me to thank you for the hardships and rebukes that I will encounter. Please help me not to resent you, but to hold fast to these verses and the hope that lies within.”