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 lovingkindness. 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 lovingkindness 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.”
7. For what son is he, &c. He reasons from the common practice of men, that it is by no means right or meet that God’s children should be exempt from the discipline of the cross; for if no one is to be found among us, at least no prudent man and of a sound judgment, who does not correct his children—for without discipline they cannot be led to a right conduct—how much less will God neglect so necessary a remedy, who is the best and the wisest Father?
If any one raises an objection, and says that corrections of this kind cease among men as soon as children arrive at manhood: to this I answer, that as long as we live we are with regard to God no more than children, and that this is the reason why the rod should ever be applied to our backs. Hence the Apostle justly infers, that all who seek exemption from the cross do as it were withdraw themselves from the number of his children.
It hence follows that the benefit of adoption is not valued by us as it ought to be, and that the grace of God is wholly rejected when we seek to withdraw ourselves from his scourges; and this is what all they do who bear not their afflictions with patience. But why does he call those who refuse correction bastards rather than aliens? even because he was addressing those who were members of the Church, and were on this account the children of God. He therefore intimates that the profession of Christ would be false and deceitful if they withdrew themselves from the discipline of the Father, and that they would thus become bastards, and be no more children.
7 The Greek ὑπομένετε, hypomenete, “endure,” could be read either as imperative (so the NIV) or indicative, in which case the sentence would read, “It is for discipline that you endure hardship”; the imperative sharpens the exhortatory focus, but the resultant sense is not very different.
12:7–8 / Having presented the ot quotation, the author now provides another midrashic commentary in which he utilizes the actual words of the quotation to present his argument (for earlier examples of this procedure, see 2:6–9; 3:7–4:10; 10:5–11). This can be seen in the threefold use of the words “discipline” and “sons” (or “son”) in these verses. The root of the word “discipline” (paid-) also occurs once in each of the next three verses. The readers are first exhorted to endure their suffering as discipline and the sign that God is dealing with them as sons. The author continues with a rhetorical question that points to the universality of the disciplining of sons by their fathers (or children by their parents). Indeed, he adds, without the experience of this kind of discipline (and everyone undergoes discipline), one must count oneself as an illegitimate rather than an authentic son or daughter. In short, it is a part of authentic sonship (and not the contradiction of it) to experience the discipline of God as Father. We may recall what is said of Christ in 5:8: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.”
7a. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.
In times of affliction, says the author, keep in mind that all your setbacks come from God; he is training you in godliness and has accepted you as sons. The adversities you encounter are blessings in disguise, for behind your difficulties stands a loving Father who is giving you what is best. God’s children, then, must always look beyond their trials and realize that God himself is at work in their lives.
Translators differ in their reading and understanding of the Greek text of this verse. Here are the three representative translations:
KJV “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons.”
R.S.V. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.”
NIV “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.”
The King James Version, based on a variant Greek reading, translates this verse as a conditional sentence. The evidence for the reading is rather weak.
A common translation is that given by the Revised Standard Version. The verse is a statement of fact and informs the reader that the recipients of Hebrews endured suffering as discipline.
The New International Version renders the verse as a command. The author-pastor tells his readers what they must do. The choice is difficult, but the general context of the first part of this chapter features many sentences as commands (imperatives).
7b. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
The question is rhetorical. Of course a son submits to his father’s rule; otherwise he would not be a true son.
The concept discipline in ancient Israel was not limited to describing physical punishment but included the concept education. That is, the father as head of the household taught his children the law of God, the tradition of the elders, and the skills of a trade. Education was meant to inculcate obedience to God’s law, respect for authority, and a love for their national heritage.
The point of verse 7 is that God himself is educating his children. The writer employs the illustration of a human father teaching his son. In a similar way God himself is giving his children moral and spiritual training. In the case of the recipients of Hebrews, the writer relates that they made light of the training God gave them. Therefore, the readers needed a pastoral admonition to submit to discipline. God trains them as sons, so that they may take their place next to the Son of God.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 391–395). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (pp. 317–318). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 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. 173). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (p. 216). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, p. 376). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.