Trained by The Father
Hebrews 12:3–11 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
What Hebrews 12 makes clear is that, the endurance and perseverance that stands behind this epistles and is captured in Hebrews 10 is here described as discipline. The discipline in view here is not so much corrective as it is formative. This discipline has been conceived as the endurance the church needs to endure under the trial of persecution. Persecution is at the heart of this discipline. The essence of this is captured in the author’s calls for endurance in the face of such hostility as they have already seen from the hand of their persecutors:
Hebrews 10:32–36 32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. 35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
As we meditate on what it means to undergo this discipline in our own lives, the text gives us several things to ponder. Not only are we called to embrace the discipline of the Lord with the right perspective, we can also see the pattern, principle and purpose of God-ordained discipline that is afforded to us in this text.
The Pattern Of Discipline
As with all spiritual lessons, discipline begins with the example of Jesus Christ. We are called to follow in His steps. He has left us a pattern to follow:
1 Peter 2:20–23 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
There are two things in this text of Hebrews that Jesus’ example prepares us for. He prepares us to suffer hostility and He prepares us to strive after holiness.
Christ’s Example Prepares Us For Hostility
Jesus entire life could be called a life of suffering, a life of passion and persecution. Before He was even born Jesus was already despised by the forces of darkness including the rulers of this world who attempted to destroy Him from birth so that Jesus needed to be protected by the angels (Mt. 2.1-13). The more Jesus matured the more hostile the world became towards Him. He was opposed by the devil (Mt. 4.1-11), He was opposed by people in His own hometown (Mt. 4.14-30), He came to His own and His own did not receive Him (John 1.12). From His birth all of the world had been against Him and “endured such hostility by sinners against Himself” (ὑπομεμενηκότα ὑπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἀντιλογίαν). Of course all of this happened because the world was blind to who Jesus was:
1 Corinthians 2:7–8 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;
Christ’s Example Prepares Us For Holiness
But as we “consider” (ἀναλογίζομαι) Jesus’ example what we find is the Son striving against sin and perfectly resisting the temptation to give in to the evil around Him so that He did not revile in return those who reviled Him, as Peter says, “who committed no sin” (1 Pet. 2.22). Now this is important because, holiness in the world and in the culture around us begins by resisting the temptation to imitate the carnal tactics of the world whether its violence, slander, ridicule, or any other fleshly way of thinking that deviates from Jesus’ lamb-like example that refused to return evil for evil because Jesus understood that behind the agents of evil stood the sovereign decree of God. Although it was “hostility by sinners against Himself”; we know that this is not the deepest level. The deepest level is that this was God-ordained persecution and suffering and so Jesus could resign himself under the sovereign hand of His heavenly Father (cf. John 6.38). Instead of returning evil for evil, we are to be imitators of God and imitators of Jesus Christ when we, like Him, suffer according to God’s sovereign purpose for our lives:
Ephesians 5:1–5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
The Principle Of Discipline
The principle of discipline is spelled out for us in the family-metaphor where, any loving father disciplines the children that he loves; if not they are “illegitimate” (νόθος). Hebrews quotes the wisdom of the Proverbs (i.e. Prov. 3.11-12) to exhort the church to view their present circumstances from the proper perspective. First, he reminds them to remember the biblical teaching, “you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons” (ἐκλέλησθε τῆς παρακλήσεως, ἥτις ὑμῖν ὡς υἱοῖς διαλέγεται). The emphasis is on the believer’s filial relationship to God. This is what the Proverbs are teaching:
Hebrews 12:5b–6 5 “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.”
The metaphor is simple enough, if you love your kids, you discipline them, you are disciplined enough to discipline so that they come to realize that you are responsible for them. The parent that does not discipline their child reveals a lack of understanding that their progress, maturity, character and conduct is their responsibility. It ultimately reveals a lack of love, “for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (τίς γὰρ υἱὸς ὃν οὐ παιδεύει πατήρ;) (12.7b). From this domestic norm, we are to deduce that God’s discipline in our lives, whether in terms of correction and chastisement or through the positive training that happens when trials come to have their perfect character-producing work in our lives— we should arrive at the conclusion that it is the hand of an all-benevolent God who has afflicted us for our good:
Psalm 94:12 12 Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord, And whom You teach out of Your law;
Psalm 119:67 67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
Psalm 119:71 71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.
Psalm 119:75 75 I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
Notice the redemptive benefits of God’s discipline in our lives:
1 Corinthians 11:32 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
What these texts reveal is that our discipline and our training through our trials has a real purpose in God’s plan to purify a people for himself (cf. Tit. 14). We do not suffer needlessly if we suffer according to God’s will. That is why we should not “regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him” (μὴ ὀλιγώρει παιδείας κυρίου μηδὲ ἐκλύου ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ ἐλεγχόμενος). We understand that God’s hand not only disciplines us but rears and trains us for our own good.
The Purpose Of Discipline
Not only does our discipline reveal the character of God, it also produces character in us. In fact, these two components converge in the text i.e. God’s character and ours for, the net result of our disincline is that it produces something very godlike in our own lives, namely “His holiness” (τῆς ἁγιότητος αὐτοῦ). While the discipline that parents may inflict upon their children physically has its temporal limitations, godly discipline is transcendent because it takes us to newfound spiritual highest of partaking in the divine nature, “For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness” (12.10). Thus, the purpose of discipline shows us several things.
To Show Us God’s Perfect Paternal Love In Our Suffering
While earthly fathers disciplines us in the way that “seemed best to them” (κατὰ τὸ δοκοῦν αὐτοῖς), which refers to a limited, fallible, and flawed standard that is contingent on each individual father and household, their culture, circumstances and traditions; God’s discipline is perfect, “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness” (ὁ δὲ ἐπὶ τὸ συμφέρον εἰς τὸ μεταλαβεῖν τῆς ἁγιότητος αὐτοῦ). God’s discipline is truly sanctifying, it is “for our good” (ἐπὶ τὸ συμφέρον, Lit. ‘for our profit’). We must understand that, unlike ourselves, God’s chief ambition for us in our lives is our spiritual progress. This may be why we often scratch our heads at the providence of God. This may be why God’s way are often mysterious and baffling to us, ‘he answers prayers for faith and grace.’ He is not as concerned about temporal things as we are.
His discipline is superior to all earthly fathers:
Today many struggle with the father figure, with the absence of one, the abusiveness of one, and the dysfunctional nature of many father-child relationships. But God does not make mistakes with His children the way that earthly fathers do with theirs. There is not one stroke of His rod done in rash, erratic anger; God’s discipline does not have a short fuse, “He disciplines us for our good” (12.10).
His discipline is superior to all earthly standards:
God’s discipline is not whimsical, traditional, superstitious, or arbitrary; it is rather rooted in His own moral perfections, His Law, and His own holiness and purity. It is rooted in a standard He himself abides by because it reflects His nature; His Law is an exposition of His holy heart that is righteous and good (cf. Rom. 7.12).
To Show Us Our Need For Perspective In Our Suffering
There is a distinct perspective that our trials should show us if we are seeing it from the biblical divine eternal perspective. The phrase in verse 11, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful” (πᾶσα δὲ παιδεία πρὸς μὲν τὸ παρὸν οὐ δοκεῖ χαρᾶς εἶναι ἀλλὰ λύπης) is telling us that if we fail to have the proper perspective of our suffering, we will fail to come to the proper conclusion as to the purpose of our trials and thus, fail to reap the benefit and lessons that discipline should teach us. It also inject the realism into our trials. Nothing in this text is meant to negate the fact that there is a real experience of “sorrow” and pain that is inevitable with our sufferings but that pain is not the deepest level. Because God’s “discipline” is connected with the concept of suffering and specifically persecution; it is quite natural for us to misunderstand God’s actions in ordaining our suffering as evidence that He no longer loves us or that He no longer cares what happens to us so that like the disciples in the boat we ask, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing” (Mk. 4.38). Jesus taught the complete opposite:
Matthew 10:28–31 28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
To Show Us The Great Gain Of Suffering
Again the overarching purpose of our discipline is “holiness” (ἁγιότης). But when we lose that perspective we cease to be heavenly minded, eternally minded and lose sight of the great gain of godliness in the midst of the trials that produces it. It is only when we understand that God’s discipline (formative and corrective) has the capacity to benefit us if we are willing to be “those who have been trained by it” (τοῖς διʼ αὐτῆς γεγυμνασμένοις). Hebrews has already connected the concept of joy with suffering. Jesus suffered the cross because of the joy set before Him (12.2), in v.6 God himself is motivated by “love” in His disciplinary actions in our lives, we also may fail to perceive the joy in God’s discipline and may think the experience is entirely one of “sorrow” (λύπης), but in the reality if we allow ourselves to be “trained” by God through His loving hand of correction, we will reap the harvest of righteousness for, “afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (καρπὸν εἰρηνικὸν... ἀποδίδωσιν δικαιοσύνης).
The construction of the Greek stresses the importance of the “fruit” (καρπὸν) not the discipline per se. The “fruit of righteousness” (καρπὸν... δικαιοσύνης) here represents the redemptive, spiritual and gracious benefits of the “training” (γυμνάζω) that God intends to produce in us through our trials. Our suffering, especially persecution, may seem vicious and warlike; bearing in mind the analogy to Jesus in v.3, “who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself.” Thus, this “fruit” is first “peaceful” (εἰρηνικὸν) which describes the end of either an individual battle in this life or the totality of war in the life to come. Second, the fruit consists of “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνης). Our training is a “striving against sin’ (12.4). Thus, it is the great gain of godliness that is at the heart of this “fruit.” Even as Jesus, “learned obedience from the things which He suffered”, we too learn and grow and are ultimately made to share in God’s holiness through the things we may suffer:
1 Peter 1:6–7 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
James 1:2–4 2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
1 Peter 4:12–13 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
This should leave us greatly encouraged, “so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12.3). Because the benefits can be seen in the character God is building in us now, we take great comfort that like the cloud of witness that has gone before, who were also disciplined (cf. Job 42.11), trained and scourged by the Father, we are running a race we have already won, we are training for a race we are already qualified for, we are being disciplined not to become sons/daughters but precisely because we are children of the living God. Thus precisely because we will suffer with Him, we will also triumph with Him in glory (cf. Rom. 8.17).