The Chastening of the Lord

Hebrews 12:5—11

In case you missed it, suffering is a part of life; it visits everybody regardless of sex, social standing, financial worth or religion. None is exempt from suffering. Suffering takes many forms, but whatever form it takes it is not easy to bear. But most of us can bear up under difficult times if we know they are serving a useful purpose. In Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning, he wrote about life in a German concentration camp and how, despite horrid living conditions, he and his friends survived because they had hope. However, what Frankl observed when a prisoner lost hope was the exact opposite, they  would simply shrivel up and die. Though none of us, hopefully, will ever experience suffering like Frankl and his friends did, we do experience trials and suffering, but as long as our attitude is like that of Christ, we will be victorious. Farnkl wrote:

Everything can be taken from a man but …the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

The author of this letter had previously discussed how Christ had endured His suffering on the Cross on account of the joy set before Him. In other words, Christ’s suffering had meaning. For Christians, we need to understand that we serve a Savior who endured unrelenting suffering and He will not lead us into meaningless suffering.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (12:2—3)

1. The Biblical premise, verses 5—8

And 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,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. 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!

When we are going through a difficult time, it is easy to forget things we ought to remember, like the Word of God, which is supposed to give us not only comfort but also wisdom that will steady us in times of need. Consider Psalm 119:49—52 in this regard—

Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope.

My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.

The arrogant mock me without restraint,
but I do not turn from your law.

I remember your ancient laws, O LORD,
and I find comfort in them.

Furthermore, the author reminds the readers of an important point; Scripture links sonship and suffering together. In other words, suffering is part of being a Christian. We see in these verses that suffering should be viewed as discipline from the Lord. The use of the word “son” is important because it shows that God disciplines His people as His children. In fact, it is not a stretch to view discipline as a privilege that God extends only to those He loves. This, of course, sounds ridiculous until we see that discipline is not extended to the unsaved. They receive judgment, not discipline. Discipline, then, is an evidence or proof that God has accepted us as His children.

An oft-asked question is this: Does God punish His children? It is true that God does send us trials and hardships to strengthen our faith and to bring us closer to Him, but God does not punish us. Why? Because He punished His Son in our place when He was on the Cross; He was our great sin-bearer, bearing God’s wrath for us so that we who have faith in Jesus Christ will never, ever be forsaken by God. In other words, God does not punish us because Jesus bore all our punishment; there is none left.

We are told to “endure hardship.” Much is made of the word endure, but the significant phrase is “as discipline” because in the Greek it is in the emphatic position. This means that the hardship, whatever it may be, is not an accident; it is a tool God uses to teach us important lessons. Of course, it is up to us to discern what those lessons may be. Again, Frankl:

The meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected.

Verse 8 is frightening in its implications because it suggests that too much peace and too much “smoothness in life” (Taylor) may be a very bad sign. We need to keep this foremost in our minds as we consider what the Christian life is all about. There are far too many shysters and charlatans who preach Christianity as a religion of good health, long life, and abundant resources. The Bible teaches something quite different. God is far more interested in saving souls and maturing Christian character than He is in ensuring that everybody is having a good time.

2. The parental example, verse 9—10

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.

This verse is priceless for a couple of reasons. First, we have a glimpse into what is to be expected from earthly fathers. It is their parental duty to enforce careful, loving, but strict discipline on their children. Second, we see the kind of attitude a child should have for that discipline; it should be appreciated.

Fathers are seen as the paideutai, the “correctors,” or “discipliners.” They are supposed to discipline or chastise their children when their children go wrong. And if human fathers do this out of love, how much more the Heavenly Father, asks the author.

But in verse 10, a difference is pointed out between human and divine discipline. Our human fathers are not perfect; they may make mistakes, they may discipline us wrongly. God, however, is perfect and His judgment—the way He sees things—is never flawed or colored by emotion, so His discipline is always perfect and if it is accepted in the right spirit, it will yield His intended result. In other words, there is no “hit or miss” aspect to God’s discipline. As we endure whatever hardship may befall us, we may be assured that God is working something out in our lives and that we will definitely emerge as God ants us to.

The end goal of God’s discipline is “that we may share in his holiness.” The word used for “holiness” is hagiotes, and is not a very common word in the New Testament. It points to God’s holy character. So the goal of God’s discipline is to produce in His children a character like His own (Leon Morris).

3. The harvest of righteousness, verse 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.

If holiness, then, is the aim, then discipline is one of God’s ways to achieve it. But the aim of the method may not always be apparent to us. Sometimes, in fact, we may view God’s right and proper discipline as a bad thing, or even as an evil thing. In the midst of suffering most Christians have a hard time seeing any good coming out of it. They see no rhyme or reason for it. In fact, the full meaning of our suffering may never be known to us in this life!

Not many of  us look forward to discipline. Nobody enjoys hardship. Discipline that comes from the hand of God may be difficult and painful and we find it nonsensical to do what James wrote—

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

But note what the writer to the Hebrews says—

Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

This verse always reminds me of Psalm 30:5—

For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning

Isn’t this the message of Hebrews? Any suffering we experience is painful, but in time we see the results: “a harvest of righteousness and peace.” Our ultimate reward for enduring hardship as Jesus endured hardship will be a right relationship with both God and man. We, believers, are to be peacemakers. Nothing humbles us and purifies our character like hardship. Again, quoting James—

“Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:18)

And Job saw something of this purification process firsthand—

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)

Before gold is purified in the fire, it is full of impurities and not worth much. Before we can be of any use to God, we must be purified, as well. The impatience and anger and pride of our character needs to be burned out so we may be the peacemakers we are called to be.


We often cry out, “Why me?” when hard times come. We search our hearts to see what we did that made God angry. Instead of doing those things, let’s remember what the writer to the Hebrews says: “God disciplines those he loves.”

Guido de Bres, author of the Begic Confession, just before his execution in May 1567, wrote these words:

O my God, now the time has come that I must leave this life and be with you. Your will be done. I cannot escape your hands. Even if I could, I would not do it, for it is my joy to conform to your will.

May we all learn to endure hardship as this martyr did by learning to joyfully submit to God’s will.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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