God’s discipline, like persecution, is a type of suffering that is unique to the people of God. Suffering can be a means of God’s discipline in our lives. But how do we know the difference? How can we identify it? In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscious; but shouts in our pain; it is his megaphone to arouse a deaf world.” Lewis would agree that God will sometimes introduce pain into our lives in order to get our attention. What is God’s discipline, anyway? What do we mean when we say that? God’s discipline is loving training given to amend actions and attitudes. In other words, it is correction, not punishment.
I can’t recall a time in the past 26 year of teaching and preaching that I have ever dealt with this subject or this passage in a full length sermon. It was challenging to prepare and challenging to deliver. I’m sure it was challenging to hear as well. I think it’s an important subject, especially in light of the broader context of suffering. There’s no need for Christians to speculate on matters and questions when Scripture provides insight and understanding. So over the next few days I’m going to unpack the concepts that I shared in last weekend’s message.
Hebrews 12:3-5 provides some context for the readers understanding of God’s loving discipline: “Think of all the hostility (Jesus) endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you.’”
Perhaps the discipline that the author has in mind is to provide help in the battle against sin. The word “struggle” comes from a wrestling metaphor and literally means “hand to hand combat.” One scholar suggested that the readers were afraid that their suffering was a result of God’s inattention to their lives or that God had abandoned them. That was not the case. They were experiencing God’s discipline and needed to identify it as such.
Just because we identify our suffering as God’s discipline does not necessarily mean that we will respond to it appropriately. It is possible to respond inappropriately to God’s discipline, and the writer gives two classic examples. First, it is possible to make light of it or to shrug it off as no big deal, not unlike a junior high kid that laughs with his friends after being sent to the principal’s office. The second response is to become so overwhelmed by the discipline that you feel like giving up or quitting the Christian race.
It’s very important that we identify God’s loving discipline when (not if) it comes and that we respond appropriately. When you accept God’s discipline in your life you are acknowledging God’s authority over your life!