For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

—Hebrews 12:6

How good it would be if we could learn that God is easy to live with. He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile, the proud, tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is.

Some of us are religiously jumpy and self-conscious because we know that God sees our every thought and is acquainted with all our ways. We need not be. God is the sum of all patience and the essence of kindly good will. We please Him most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all our imperfections, and believing that He understands everything and loves us still. ROR014

Thank You, Loving Father, for Your incredible patience. Help me indeed to look more and more like You each and every day. Amen. [1]

Proofs in Discipline

“For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” 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? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (12:6–8)

To the Christian who is responsive to the Lord’s discipline, it proves two things: His love and our sonship.

Proves God’s Love

The first thing we should think of when we are suffering is our Father’s love, for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines. We cannot prove this to anyone, or even to ourselves, except by faith. Even less can we prove, by reason or human understanding, that we are being disciplined because of God’s love. But faith proves it. Faith’s logic is simple: “We are God’s children. God loves His children and is bound by His own nature and His own covenant to do them only good. Therefore, whatever we receive from God’s hand, including discipline, is from God’s love.” More than any earthly father, the heavenly Father wants his children to be righteous, mature, obedient, competent, responsible, capable, and trusting. We benefit in all these ways, and many more, when we accept His discipline.

Paul tells us to be “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17), that is, to have a settled assurance that God cannot do anything apart from or contrary to His love for us. God continually loves, whether we are aware of His love or not. When we are aware of it, however, it can accomplish immeasurably more good in us and for us. instead of looking at our troubles, we look at our Father’s love, and thank Him that even the troubles are proof of His love.

A man who was asked why he was looking over a wall replied, “Because I can’t see through it.” When Christians cannot see through the wall of pain, confusion, hardship, or despair, they need only look over the wall into the face of their loving heavenly Father.

Just as God’s love has predestined us (Eph. 1:4–5) and redeemed us (John 3:16), it also disciplines us.

Children have long wondered why parents insist on saying, “This spanking hurts me more than it does you.” The idea is hard for a child to accept, until he himself becomes a parent. A loving parent does hurt when he has to discipline his child. The parent gets no joy or satisfaction out of the discipline itself, but out of the eventual benefit it will be to the child.

God is more loving than any human parent, and He suffers when He has to discipline His children. “For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant loving-kindness. For He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men” (Lam. 3:31–33). The Lord is tender and careful in His discipline. Nothing is more sensitive than love. Because God loves with infinite love, He is infinitely sensitive to the needs and feelings of His children. He hurts when we hurt. He takes no more pleasure in the painful discipline of His children than in the death of unbelievers (Ezek. 18:32). Nor will He discipline us beyond what we need or can bear, any more than He will allow us to be tempted beyond what we can endure (1 Cor. 10:13). He does not discipline to grieve us but to improve us.

God suffers whenever we suffer, whatever the reason for it. “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isa. 63:9). Everything Israel went through, the Lord went through with her. Everything she suffered, including punishment for her sins, He suffered with her. God does not understand us simply because He made us, but also because He identifies with us as our Father. We can be sure that our discipline hurts Him more than it hurts us. If He Himself is willing to endure suffering for our good, how can we not be willing to endure it gladly and thankfully?

Proves Our Sonship

And He scourges every son whom He receives. 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? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (12:6b-8)

The second thing that discipline proves is closely related to the first. It proves our sonship. All men are subject to God’s punishment, but only His children receive His discipline.

At times we have all wanted to discipline someone else’s children when they disturb or irritate us. When we see an unruly child throwing a tantrum in a store, we think to ourselves, “If I could have him for just about a week.” But we have no continuing desire to discipline children that are not our own, because we do not love them as we love our own. The relationship is not the same and therefore the concern is not the same.

Besides the motivation of love, discipline is given because of obligation. Since our children are our special responsibility, and since discipline is for their good, we are obligated to discipline them as we are not obligated to discipline other peoples’ children. God has a covenant relationship with His people, and has obligated Himself to redeem, protect, and bless them. “ ‘For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My loving-kindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ says the Lord who has compassion on you” (Isa. 54:10).

We can know we are God’s children by His leading us (Rom. 8:14) and by the witness of His Spirit to our spirits (8:15–16). We know from the fact that we have trusted in Jesus Christ that we are God’s children. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). We also know from our discipline that we are His children, because He scourges every son whom He receives. An undisciplined child is an unloved child and a miserable child. God’s love will not allow Him not to discipline us, and His punishment is another of the many proofs of His love and of our sonship.

The other side, the tragic side, of this truth is that those who are not disciplined by God are not His children. He scourges every son is inclusive. Not a single one of His children will miss out on His loving discipline. Whom He receives, however, is exclusive. Only those He receives through their faith in His Son are His children.

Scourges (mastigoō) refers to flogging with a whip, and was a common Jewish practice (Matt. 10:17; 23:34). It was a severe and extremely painful beating. The point of Hebrews 12:6b, and of Proverbs 3:12 (from which it is quoted), is that God’s discipline can sometimes be severe. When our disobedience is great or our apathy is great, His punishment will be great.

Parents often become discouraged when discipline seems to have no effect. Sometimes we just do not want to go through the trouble for ourselves, even though we know our child needs discipline for his own good. But if we love our children, we will discipline and continue to discipline them as long as they are under our care. “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Prov. 13:24; cf. 23:13–14). Our juvenile courts are constant testimonies to the truth that “a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15)-as well as to his whole family and community. We can be certain that because God will always love us, He will always discipline us while we are in this life.

So, discipline in the Christian life is not in spite of sonship, but because of sonship. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? A truly loving father is absolutely committed to helping his child conform to the highest standards. How much more is our heavenly Father committed to our conforming to His standards, and to inflicting the pain to make such conformity a reality.

When we look at how well many unbelievers are doing and then at how much trouble we are having, we should take this as evidence that we belong to God and they do not. If they are without discipline, they are illegitimate children and not sons. We should pity, not envy, the prosperous, healthy, popular, and attractive person who does not know God. We should not wish on them our trials or suffering, but we should want to say to them, as did Paul to Agrippa, “I would to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29).

Jerome said a paradoxical thing that fits the point of this passage of Hebrews. “The greatest anger of all is when God is no longer angry with us.” The supreme affliction is to be unteachable and unreachable by God. When the Lord disciplines us, we should say, “Thank you, Lord. You have just proved again that You love me and that I am Your child.”[2]

5–6 TNIV repunctuates these verses as a question: “And have you completely forgotten this word …?” The syntax could be read either way (and Greek manuscripts had no punctuation marks), but the gently scolding interrogative perhaps better suits the stronger form of the verb “forget” chosen by the author. It is typical of our author that the words of Proverbs 3:11–12, in which the OT author addresses his own son, are taken as an exhortation addressed directly to the readers as God’s children (just as this letter is itself an “exhortation,” the same word, 13:22), though this time it is Scripture itself rather than God or the Spirit that is understood to be speaking.

The quotation as usual follows the LXX, which by adding the verb “punishes” (TNIV “chastens”; lit., “flogs”) in the last line has sharpened and made more unambiguously physical the nature of the parental “discipline.” There are two opposite but equally wrong ways to respond to discipline: to “make light of” it by refusing to learn from it, or to be so oppressed by it as to “lose heart.” The LXX verb “lose heart” or “faint” picks up the language of v. 3 and so focuses the readers’ attention on how these words fit their own situation. But the key word for our author’s purpose is “discipline” (Gk. paideia, GK 4082), which will be repeated six times in vv. 7–11 as the text is expounded. It is the normal Greek term for education or upbringing, but, like its Hebrew counterpart mûsār (GK 4592), it denotes much more than a merely intellectual process. It is instruction for living, as much concerned with morality and resolve as with mental stimulation and information. And in the process of turning a child into a responsible adult, the ancient world took it for granted that corrective “rebuke” would play an important role at the physical as well as the verbal level. For a similar use of this OT theme, see Revelation 3:19.[3]

12:6 When we read the word chastening, or chastisement, we tend to think of a whipping. But here the word means child training or education. It includes instruction, discipline, correction, and warning. All are designed to cultivate Christian virtues and drive out evil. In this passage, the chastening was not punishment for wrongdoing, but training through persecution.

The passage in Proverbs distinctly states that God’s discipline is a proof of His love, and no son of His escapes chastisement.[4]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 391–395). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 171). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2203). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


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