Do Not Regard Lightly the Lord's Discipline
Topic: Suffering & Sufficient Grace Passage: Hebrews 12:3–12:11
In the early 1800s, Adoniram and Ann Judson served as missionaries in Burma. According to one article, they “served as a spearhead for the modern mission movement and the spread of the Gospel in Asia.”[i]
At the same time, the Judson’s “service in Burma was marked by years of toil and hardship, loneliness and grief.”[ii] Listen to one tragic loss that Sharon James narrates. “The year after their arrival, the Judsons rejoiced at the birth of a baby boy, whom they named Roger. Before his first birthday the infant succumbed to one of the diseases so common in the native climate. The loss was the more appalling, as Ann and Adoniram were totally alone in a foreign land without the fellowship of their friends and family. Ann wrote in a letter home of their grief and enduring faith…”—and I want you to listen very carefully to the way Ann processes the loss of their baby:
[Our little Roger, our only little darling boy, was three days ago laid in the silent grave. Eight months we enjoyed the precious little gift, in which time he had so] completely entwined himself around his parents’ hearts, that his existence seemed necessary to their own. But God has taught us by afflictions what we would not learn by mercies—that our hearts are his exclusive property, and whatever rival intrudes, he will tear it away… But what shall I say about the improvement we are to make of this heavy affliction? We do not feel a disposition to murmur, or to enquire of our Sovereign why he has done this. We wish, rather, to sit down submissively under the rod and bear the smart [i.e., take the pain], till the end for which the affliction was sent shall be accomplished. Our hearts were bound up in this child; we felt he was an earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error, and to strip us of our only little all. O may it not be in vain that he has done it.[iii]
Many Christians walk through similar pains. The path of obedience brings with it much hardship, much loneliness and grief. But how many Christians process the hardship and pain like we observe in Ann Judson? I’m thankful for her example, and that God gives grace to endure hardship. Still, I must ask if that’s the way I’d respond. Would I sit down submissively under the rod of discipline, ready to learn from the Lord?
Last week we learned that the Christian life is like running a race, but that race is one that requires endurance. The path of obedience is marked by many tribulations, and those tribulations make us weary. Losing your baby while already lonely and exhausted is enough to make anybody want to quit.
Moreover, the questions begin hounding you, don’t they? “Lord, isn’t this suffering too much for me?” Or, “Lord, you say that you’re loving, but it doesn’t feel like it. Isn’t this pain a most unloving thing?” Or, “Lord, what’s the point? Is this suffering meaningless, because it sure feels like it?” The hardship, the pain, the hounding questions—they make us weary. In order to endure, we need help, divine help. We need help processing the hardships. We need help answering these questions.
Hebrews 12 is in your Bible to do just that. These Christians had grown weary through trials. There was their own struggle against sin, resisting temptation. Then there was the persecution. Both internal pressures and external pressures made them weary; and these folks were on the verge of quitting, giving up on Jesus. They need endurance. So, the Holy Spirit inspires these words to help them endure. He inspired these words to help you endure. Let’s read them together, and then let’s talk about what they mean…
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
There are two main exhortations. The first comes in verse 3, “Consider [Jesus]…” The second comes in verse 7. The ESV has “It is for discipline that you have to endure.” The NIV is better: “Endure hardship for discipline.” So, “consider Jesus” and “endure hardship” are the main points. They relate to each other like this: we endure hardship by considering Jesus and your status as sons in Jesus.[iv]
Consider Jesus for Your Endurance
There’s more to it than that; so let’s jump in by looking at the first exhortation with its supporting verses: consider Jesus for your endurance. We saw last week in verse 1 that we must run with endurance.” Then verse 2 said that we endure by looking to Jesus, who endured the cross. Verse 3 takes that further: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Consider means to give careful deliberation. We study his sufferings—all of them. In great detail, we turn them over in our minds as we compare his sufferings to our sufferings. Hebrews does some of that for you, doesn’t it? 2:10, in order to get many sons to glory, God made Jesus “perfect through sufferings.” 4:15, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 5:7, “in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears…” Now here in 12:2, it’s the shame of the cross. In verse 3, “[he] endured from sinners such hostility against himself.”
We must preach Jesus’ resurrection power, Jesus’ glorious seat at God’s right hand, Jesus’ authority to crush his enemies. But we must also consider Jesus’ sufferings and how his endurance played out in the midst of the suffering. The purpose is that we will find strength for our endurance through suffering. That’s what it says: “Consider him…so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Are you feeling weary?—you’re not really done with Jesus, but man the sorrow sometimes makes you want to be done! If that’s you, consider Jesus. By considering Jesus’ endurance against sinners, we find strength for endurance against sin. See the comparison?—Jesus against sinners; you against sin. The idea is that regardless of how the opposition manifests itself—sin inside of us; sinners outside of us—the Christian must find endurance in the struggle by considering his Savior. Jesus walked this road before us and endured. In him we will find everything necessary to endure.
Here’s one way that plays out in verse 4: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” 10:32 said they “endured a hard struggle with sufferings.” They were “exposed to reproach and affliction.” Some were imprisoned; others lost their property. None of them had yet been martyred, though. Still, it was enough suffering to make them waver, to make them want to quit—and that’s a real concern.
When we suffer in the path of obedience, one objection often raised is, “Lord, isn’t this pain too much? Aren’t these hardships too much?”[v] Based on verse 4, Hebrews answers with, “No, it’s not too much; consider Jesus who went before you. You haven’t yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” That’s got an edge to it, doesn’t it? An edge that cuts against self-pity. You have hardships, yes! But have you considered Jesus’ hardships? Have you considered his endurance unto death?
How could that possibly increase someone’s endurance? Have you ever described how much the trial hurts only to have someone then compare it to something worse? It feels like they’re saying, “You shouldn’t feel this way,” or “Oh, just get over it; that’s small compared to this.” That’s not exactly what’s happening here. The comparison isn’t brought up to say, “Get over it.” It’s brought up to say, “Your sufferings are not too much for the Lord. If the Lord sustained Jesus through sufferings far worse than you’ll ever experience, will he not also sustain you through something lesser?”
They haven’t resisted to the point of death yet, but considering the sufferings of Jesus will prepare them when death comes. If the Lord sustained Jesus through an event as awful as the cross, he is able to sustain those united to Jesus and who take up their cross as well. Yes, you’ve suffered, but you haven’t yet resisted to the point of blood. These lesser sufferings shouldn’t make you quit the race. It shouldn’t make you quit the sacrifices. It shouldn’t make you quit pouring yourself out in love. God is able to get you through even worse sufferings—consider Jesus’ sufferings and you’ll see it.
Another objection we feel in suffering, though, is this one: “Lord, you say that you’re loving, but it doesn’t feel like it. Isn’t this pain a most unloving thing?” That’s where verses 5-6 come in. Not only should we consider Christ who went before us; we must remember the Father who loves us. Listen to verse 5: “Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
That’s a quotation from Proverbs 3:11, some seven- to nine-hundred years older than these Christians. But notice how it still speaks in the present: “the exhortation that addresses you as sons.” Again and again in Proverbs you find the language of a father imparting wisdom to his son. But he’s not just any father; he’s a godly father. He’s a father who reflects the way God himself would instruct his own son to live. Of course, we get a realization of this in the incarnation. In the person of Jesus we find the Son growing in wisdom; we find the Son in whom are all the riches of wisdom.
The way Proverbs 3:11 still speaks to you is by your union with Christ. In Christ, God adopts you into his family. He makes you his sons and daughters, such that when we read Scripture, we are hearing words not from some unknown god unacquainted with our hardships. We’re hearing our Father speak, a Father who has loved us with a great love, who names us his own, and who cares for us very deeply.
I want to know what he thinks about my hardships. In the path of obedience, how does he teach us to view our hardships? We are to view them as discipline from a loving Father. Hardships may come at us due to the consequences of our own sinful choices. Hardships may come at us due to enemies persecuting us unjustly. Hardships may come due to the general brokenness of the world. But however they come in the path of obedience, all of them are designed by our Father who disciplines the one he loves.
Don’t think discipline only in a negative, corrective sense—though that could be present from time to time. By “discipline,” Proverbs also means in a positive, formative sense. My friend, Ched Spellman once illustrated this well. He said, “Think of the hands of a father. The hands that help his daughter learn how to walk down the hallway are the same ones that will stop her from bolting down the stairs or into the street. The same voice that says, ‘Yes, daughter, say Daddy,’ is the same voice that says, ‘No, daughter, never say anything like that to your Mother.’”
So whether formative or corrective, the discipline in view builds into us the character God wants to see in us. That’s the lens through which we are to view our hardships. Even more, we’re not to regard them lightly. If the Lord disciplines the one he loves, how much more should we pay attention to him in our hardships. Weariness sets in when we forget the Lord’s loving disposition toward us. If all you got from a father was a beating day after day, and never once knew whether your father loved you, you would grow weary. Some run away. But if you knew he loved you, he gave his best gift to have you, to adopt you, to protect you, to keep you, to give you the inheritance, there’s reason to learn under his rod. There’s hope that he has something good for you in this pain. There’s reason to bury your head in his chest when the pain comes.
Endure Hardship for Discipline
Which leads him to a second exhortation: endure hardship for discipline. That’s the better translation of verse 7. We get an imperative: endure. Then we get the purpose of that endurance: for discipline. Hardship, tribulation, afflictions—when they come, we endure them for the purpose of learning whatever the Father wants to teach us.
Not even Jesus was exempt from this. He was without sin, but as a Son he too had to endure various sufferings, and through them he had to learn obedience. It’s not that he did anything wrong and needed correction. It’s that part of his mission included his obedience being tested under the most extreme pressures. Everything he learned in suffering, he learned by constant dependence on his Father through suffering. Why would things be any different for us? We’re not greater than our Master. We too will undergo the Lord’s discipline. Unlike Jesus, though, sometimes ours will be corrective.
Regardless, though, here’s one thing we need to remember when that discipline comes. Verse 7, “God is treating you as sons”—as daughters, as his children. Far from God being absent in our hardships, he is present as Father. “For what son is there,” he says, “whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” In other words, discipline confirms our status as God’s sons/children.
[Some people may have trouble with this line of reasoning, because it rubs against some of our culture’s assumptions about childrearing. Becoming more and more popular is the notion that any “negative” treatment—spankings, rebukes, bringing any kind of pain into a child’s life is harmful. If you embrace that, you’ll struggle to accept Hebrews 12, which has as its backdrop the biblical portrait that parental discipline will, at times, have to inflict pain of some kind.[vi]
At the same time, others struggle with this line of reasoning, because their father inflicted pain unjustly. His motive was not love; he was abusive. In order to accept these connections here, you too will need to be reminded of the biblical portrait of fatherhood. Godly fatherhood is just and not arbitrary. He’s present to affirm the good while correcting in love. He doesn’t exasperate his children, so that they will not grow discouraged. Have this vision of fatherhood in mind as you’re reading Hebrews 12.]
God is treating us as sons. One essential aspect of a proper father-son relationship is discipline. All of God’s children experience this discipline in various ways—unless you don’t belong to God’s children. If you follow that logic, receiving discipline from your heavenly Father means that you must be a son, a child of God.
So when you encounter hardships in the path of obedience, that doesn’t mean you’re cut off and God’s done with you! It means God’s not done with you. Your Father has some things to teach you, to help you mature as son, as daughter. As James 1:4 says, he wants the various trials to produce steadfastness, having its full effect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. The Father is doing something.
Discipline also conforms our character to God’s holiness—that’s another reason to endure hardship for discipline. Listen to verses 9-10: “Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”
Earthly fathers discipline their children. They disciplined us, he says, “as it seemed best to them.” Meaning, it wasn’t always perfect. After all, they’re limited in knowledge. They assess motives poorly. Sometimes they act impatiently. Nevertheless, we still respect them. In the end, we understood that they had our best interest in mind. How much more does our heavenly Father deserve our respect and submission? He knows all things. He understands our motives perfectly. He never makes mistakes. His discipline is always just. More than anyone else, he knows what’s good for us.
Listen to it again in verse 10: “…he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” This answers another question that often bothers us in suffering: “Lord, what’s the point? Is this suffering meaningless?” Verse 10 says No, it’s not meaningless. The Lord brings discipline into our lives that we may share his holiness. That’s what’s good for you, holiness. Your ultimate good is not a pain-free life. It’s holiness. It’s conformity to the image of Christ. It’s sharing in God’s character.
One way God makes that happen is by discipline, by bringing various hardships into the lives of his children that serve our holiness. God has a glorious aim in making you more like himself. That’s how a woman like Ann Judson can say, after tremendous loss, “We wish…to sit down submissively under the rod and bear the smart, till the end for which the affliction was sent shall be accomplished.”[vii] You can only say that when you know that the Father loves you, he counts you among his children, and that he’s brought this trial into your life to make you holy like him.
He then gives one more reason to endure hardship for discipline: discipline will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Verse 11, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant…” Notice, he’s not minimizing the pain. Christianity doesn’t pretend pain isn’t there. It doesn’t teach the power of positive thinking. It looks the pain straight in the face and weeps. We struggle. We bury our head in the Father’s chest and cry, “Father, this isn’t pleasant!”
Thankfully, though, the pain isn’t the final word. For those who humble themselves before the Lord’s discipline, for them discipline will eventually yield “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” What’s that? James 3:18 relates these two concepts as well. Here discipline yields righteousness and that righteousness is peaceable. In James 3:18 peacemakers sow a harvest of righteousness and that too is done “in peace.” Romans 14:17 says “the kingdom of God…[is a matter of] righteousness and peace and joy in the Spirit.” Why do the apostles relate these two ideas—righteousness and peace?
Because the Old Testament did when it spoke of the messiah’s coming reign on earth. Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 11:1-9, Isaiah 32:17—look those up when you get home. The rule of the Messiah in righteousness will usher in a kingdom of peace on earth, when everything is rightly ordered before the Lord and made whole. It seems to me that Hebrews 12:11 is saying this. The Lord brings discipline into our lives to produce the righteousness of Messiah’s kingdom that leads to peace. Discipline helps us submit our wills to the Father more and more, such that our lives become signposts, pointers to the King of Peace and his coming kingdom.
When I was in college I bought a tractor to help care for my grandmother’s ranch. Once a year, I’d hook it up to a heavy disc-plow that cut deep into the earth. I had to tear up the hardened soil, otherwise the rains would just run off and not allow the grass and the winter oats to grow very well. When God brings discipline into our lives, it’s like that plow cutting into the dirt, turning out rocks. But its goal is a bountiful harvest of righteousness that will lead to peace in Messiah’s kingdom. When we are trained by it, through faith, discipline will cause you to bear the fruit of Jesus’ kingdom.
The Christian life is not easy. Some people have this impression that by accepting Jesus, everything in life will get easier. It doesn’t. Not only will becoming a Christian invite persecution, invite onslaughts from the evil one; God himself will take you through various hardships to discipline you.
It turns out that we often set aside the pursuit of God and grow lazy in the pursuit of holiness when life is easy. Listen to Psalm 30:6-8. David says, “As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’ By your favor, O LORD, you made my mountain stand strong…” Then listen to this, “You hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy.” That’s how we act in prosperity: “I shall never be moved.” Then God hides his face. Why? To destroy us? No. To humble us and drive us back to himself. Or, what does it say in Psalm 119:67? “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word…[verse 71] It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
The Christian life isn’t easy. It’s full of hardships. But none of them come by accident. They’re designed by a good and loving Father to drive us into his arms and to conform us to his holiness. Whatever hardship you’re going through, they will not be too much for you. In the same way God sustained his Son through suffering, he will also sustain you, adopted child in Christ. If you belong to him, he relates to you as Father. Your hardships in the path of obedience are not signs that God has abandoned you, that he doesn’t love you. Rather, he is present. He is Father. He knows what’s good for you. Everything he brings into your life is motivated by love, a love that gives you what you truly need most—his holiness, his righteousness.
Nine years after the Judsons lost Roger, Adoniram suffered a miserable six month imprisonment for his faith. Ann was home with their three-and-a-half-month old daughter, Maria. During this time, Ann contracted an illness that prevented her from being able to feed her little girl. Again, listen to what she writes about that situation…
Our dear little Maria was the greatest sufferer at this time, my illness depriving her of her usual nourishment, and neither a nurse nor a drop of milk could be procured in the village. By making presents to the jailers, I obtained leave for Mr. Judson to come out of prison [in fetters] and take the little emaciated creature around the village, to beg a little nourishment from those mothers who had young children. Her cries in the night were heart-rending, when it was impossible to supply her wants. I now began to think the very afflictions of Job had come upon me. When in health I could bear the various trials and vicissitudes, through which I was called to pass. But to be confined with sickness, and unable to assist those who were so dear to me, when in distress, was almost too much for me to bear: and had it not been for the consolation of religion [i.e., her Christian faith], and an assured conviction that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I must have sunk under my accumulated sufferings.[viii]
What’s she saying? Without the truths that we’ve seen in Hebrews 12, without knowing that the Father oversees her trials and orders them with infinite love and mercy, without knowing that he has a glorious end for this, she wouldn’t have made it. Hide these things in your heart now. Only by considering Christ and knowing your heavenly Father will we be enabled to endure. These things are written for your endurance.
You will face various trials. They will make you weary. You may even suffer to the point of shedding blood. Consider Jesus for your endurance—it’s not too much. Remember your Father’s voice: “the Lord disciplines the one he loves.” It’s not meaningless. He loves you. He wants you to share his holiness. It’s not pleasant right now, but his discipline will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those trained by it. Brothers and sisters, you’re in training. You’re being trained by a Father who intends for you to finish the race. Training includes discipline. Endure your hardships for discipline.
Don’t give up. The finish line is coming. The glory stored up for us there will far outweigh these light and momentary afflictions. The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd, and he will guide us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Until then, let us endure hardships by considering Jesus. He is our only hope, and in him God treats us as sons, as daughters.
[i] Sharon James, “The Life and Significance of Ann Haseltine Judson (1789-1826),” SBJME 1.2 (Fall 2012), 22.
[ii] James, “Judson,” 28.
[iii] James, “Judson,” 28, with additional parts of the quote taken from Sharon James, My Heart in His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 1998), 87.
[iv] So Ched Spellman, “When Hope Screams: Learning How to Suffer as Sons from the Book of Hebrews,” SWJT 53.2 (Spring 2011), 134, although I have added our status in Jesus (i.e., our status as “sons”).
[v] The two objections about hardships being too much and hardships making one feel like God is not loving were taken from Spellman, “When Hope Screams,” 119.
[vi] George H. Guthrie, Hebrews, NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 407.
[vii] James, “Judson,” 28.
[viii] James, My Heart in His Hands, 174.