My behavior was less than desirable at times while growing up. My father seared into my conscience one such time that I will never forget. I was a preteen, and for some reason, which I don’t remember, I got mad at my mom. An argument happened while we were just outside our home and I angrily stepped inside alone, slammed the door, and with all the preteen gusto I could muster I shot my mom a bird. Yep, I extended her the middle finger. I turned away from the door just in time to see the blur of a King Kong sized hand come swooping in to make contact on the side of my head. I can’t help but imagine those pilots shooting at King Kong must have felt the same shock when swatted down around the Empire States building in the movie. As I picked myself up and headed to my room, I realized that my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the dark room when I first came in and dad had been sitting on the couch. I didn’t see him, but he saw the whole thing. More punishment followed on my posterior. But you know what, I showed my mom more respect from then on, and we have a great relationship now.
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 12:11).
The author of Hebrews wrote to a group of Jewish Christians who were undergoing hard times. They were facing persecution, trials, and hardship of various kinds. Many were tempted to leave the faith. Sometimes adversity came through no fault of their own, just because they were Christian and the culture hated them. Other times the suffering came because of their sin. We see this type of discipline many times in the Old Testament. The Israelites would follow false gods, and the Lord would bring judgment on them to turn their hearts back to himself. Hebrews 12:4-11 deals with this second type of trial, what we would call discipline.
Discipline is never pleasant, just like when my father punished me, but if done properly it gives moral instruction and corrects behavior. Earthly fathers do their best, but our Heavenly Father does what’s best for us. As verse 11 says, discipline is a training process. A process to work sin out of us, that we might be holy as our Heavenly Father is holy. God brings about the whole process for correction and training, never punitive. Christ already paid the punishment for sin. His blood covers us so that we do not have to pay the penalty. That doesn’t mean there are no consequences for sin.
It is easy sometimes for us to be discouraged when we suffer. We might be tempted to think that God is punishing us. I struggled with this years ago when I felt like every bad thing that happened was my fault and God was judging me for my sin. But this is a legalistic way of relating to God, that says, “God set up rules that I must follow, and when I don’t He punishes me. To make Him happy, I have to do this and that, or else.” This thought pattern is from faulty religious thinking, not relational thinking. “Have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son?” (Hebrews 12:5). Our “Father of Spirits,” another way of contrasting his heavenly rule to our earthly parents, gave us these words for encouragement. He is explaining why these things happen so that we endure them with a correct attitude. His discipline is out of love because we are sons. In ancient culture, fathers were very active in their children’s upbringing, but they ignored an illegitimate child. The comparison is the same for God. All chastisement is out of love and concern for what is best for us as part of His family. Rather than allow our hard experiences to nurture seeds of doubt in our relationship with the Father, we must trust Scripture and be trained by what God allows in our lives.