Discipline by a Loving Father–Hebrews 12: 5-6

Did you ever hear someone say, “God disciplines those He loves?” Really. God disciplines me out of love? Where does someone get such a strange idea? Probably from Hebrews 12: 5-11.

When I think of God’s discipline, I think of the loving discipline a father gives to his child. Remember when you were a child. Did your father discipline you? One of the responsibilities of a father is to teach his child self-discipline. To this end the father gives his child chores to do, such as mow the yard or wash the dishes after supper.

If the child does not obey, the father must take harsher measures to teach his child self-discipline. For example, he might send his child to his bedroom or make him sit in the corner of a room with his face to the walls. Continued disobedience may result in stricter measures to teach the child discipline.

Does the father want to teach the child to be cruel? Absolutely not. Such lessons in discipline help prepare the child to live as an adult. Responsible adults need self-discipline for regularly perform essential “grown-up” responsibilities, such as getting a job and going to work, paying taxes, and honoring commitments. Lessons in self-discipline are an essential part of life as an adult.

What About Godly Discipline?

What does this have to do with godly discipline? First, please understand that God uses discipline to help you grow. God wants you to grow and mature to the place where you are conformed to the image of His son (see Romans 8: 29 and II Corinthians 3: 18). Discipline helps move us toward that goal.

Second, God’s actions as a Father do not compare to the actions of an earthly father. Some people grew up and never even met their father. Others had fathers who were abusive or cruel. And some of us had fathers who were kind and intelligent and self-sacrificing. They wanted their children to have the best father possible. This last example of a father faintly mirrors God’s kind of fathering. But God is perfect love. Love is the key to His fatherhood. Love also is the key to understanding Hebrews 12: 5-6:

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;
            For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom he receives.” (NASB 1995)

Hebrews 12: 5-6 helps us understand God’s loving discipline. How do these Bible verses do that?

Four Greek words

These two verses use four words describing discipline: discipline and reproved (in verse 5) and disciplines and scourges (in verse 6). Let’s look more closely at these words in the Greek.

  • discipline (noun) — Greek paideias (παιδείας) — properly, instruction that trains someone to reach full development (maturity)(taken from the Discovery Bible’s Word Study HELPS)
  • reproved — Greek elenchomenos (ἐλεγχόμενος) — properly, to convince with solid, compelling evidence, especially to expose (prove wrong, correct) (from Discovery Bible’s HELPS)
  • discipline (verb) — Greek paideuo (παιδεύω) —  to train children, to chasten, correct (Strong); paideúō (“to instruct by training“) is the root of the English terms, “pedagoguepedagogy.”
  • scourges — Greek mastigoi (μαστιγοῖ) — properly, to whip (scourge) with a mastigos; to “flog (scourge) a victim, strapped to a pole or frame” (from Discovery Bible’s HELPS).

Notice that the positioning of these words indicates a progression of godly discipline. First, God uses training to improve our ability to obey and to follow Jesus. If we resist or ignore godly training, God tries to correct our behavior by reasoning with us. Following the failure of correction through convincing arguments, God must chasten us, that is, He must use mild punishment to correct. If this fails, God must resort to punishment that is not mild.

Sadly, the last two categories of discipline (chastening and punishing) causes some people to question God’s goodness and love.

Discipline With Love

Does God discipline with love? Let’s consider some additional thoughts from Hebrews 12.

A Father’s Close, Personal Presence During Discipline

Let’s look again at the opening phrase from Hebrews 12: 5: “And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons.”

The writer of Hebrews used a special Greek word “parakleseos” (παρακλήσεως) for the English word “exhortation.” The Greek words means “a calling to one’s aid for encouragement, comfort, exhortation, or comfort (Strong’s Concordance).

Another form of this word is “parakletos” (παράκλητος). English Bibles translate this word as Comforter or Counselor. Jesus speaks this word when He tells His disciples about the Holy Spirit in John, chapters 14, 15, and 16.

There is one important aspect of “parakletos” that deserves special mention. The word describes a counselor or comforter who stays very close to the person he is helping. In other words, “parakletos,” in this context, refers to God as a heavenly Father Who remains very close to His child during discipline. Our God never leaves us or forsakes us, even during discipline.

Reasons for a Father’s Discipline

Hebrews 12: 7-11 further explains the important similarities between a father’s discipline and God’s discipline.

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? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 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. 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. (ESV)

Four similarities between a father’s discipline and God’s discipline:

  1. Fatherly discipline confirms the relationship between father and son. Godly discipline also validates your relationship as a child of God.
  2. Children respect their father when he rightly disciplines them.
  3. God disciplines us for our own good that we may share His holiness.
  4. Discipline “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Discipline With Love

Why does God discipline His children? Because He loves us. Believe this if you can because it is the truth.

The Bible’s Power to Create a Culture

Why is the Bible special? What makes the Bible different from all other books? Yes, there are many ways to answer that question but for this particular blog entry one word stands out: “power.” The Bible has power that is unknown from any other book.

OK, I realize that if an atheist read those words, he would be rolling on the floor in laughter. “The Bible? Power?” He would say with a chuckle. “Give me a break. That’s the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard.” But wait! Let me explain. During the last 2000 years the Bible has shown its ability to transform lives and to civilize cultures.

The Bible makes changes in partnership with the Holy Spirit of God. That’s right, the third member of the trinity. How can the Bible do this? Well, the Bible begins by showing us the values and standards needed for transformation. Then the Holy Spirit gives individuals the power to transform. Finally, when a civilization becomes dominated by transformed individuals, the civilization undergoes change.

In other words, the Bible provides the blueprint and the Holy Spirit builds the house. Changed lives provide the basis for changed cultures. For more than two thousand years, God has used the Bible as the basis for civilization. But how does this process begin?

The First Step — Change the Man

All Christian growth and discipleship start with a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Why? Because if you do not have a living, loving relationship with God, you cannot know or understand the things of God. The apostle Paul wrote about this connection in I Corinthians 2: 10-12, 14.

“For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. . . . The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (ESV)

Thus, the relationship with God begins. Now the process can be guided by the Bible and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This relationship with God enables the Christian to read and understand the Bible in a whole new way. The Christian for the first time can appreciate biblical standards.

Biblical Standards

God’s standards for human behavior are completely different from the standards mankind sets for itself. Why? Because God’s standards help us strive for holiness. The world’s standards leave us to wallow in a swamp of sin. The Bible speaks of the superiority of God’s standards in Isaiah 55: 8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (ESV)

OK, if a Christian wants to live for God, then he must adopt God’s standards for his own life. And where do we find God’s standards? By reading and studying the Bible. And according to Psalm 119: 7, 9, 11, we should store up God’s word in our hearts.

I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules. . . .
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word. . . .
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you. (ESV)

As the Bible begins to show us God’s standards and expectations, the Holy Spirit provides us with the power to change.

Power From the Holy Spirit

This change does not happen all at once. Change begins when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. In II Corinthians, chapter 3, the Bible uses the metaphor of a veil to describe this change. Before we accept Christ, a “veil” covers our eyes and prevents us from seeing the Lord clearly. However, according to II Corinthians 3: 16, “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” Thus begins an incredible change described in II Corinthians 3: 18:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (ESV)

What is the extent of this change? How far will God change us? Romans 8: 29 states that God’s intention is that we be “conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” God wants us to become just like Jesus Christ.

As more people are transformed, they begin to have an effect on their society.

Transformed People = Changed Societies

The real power in the Christian’s life comes from a restored relationship with God and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Bible has the ability to accurately and authoritatively introduce us to God and to bring us before the throne of God.

History provides many examples of the Bible’s power to transform society. The laws in the Old Testament provide the basic structure for the laws of many societies today — including the United States. The words of Jesus help us learn compassion and kindness toward others. When the rule of law is paired with a culture of kindness and compassion, the transformation of a society is inevitable.

The Bible provides the support needed for the foundations of our government and our society

Eighteenth century philosopher Immanuel Kant provided a good summary statement. “The existence of the Bible, as a book for the people, is the greatest benefit which the human race has ever experienced. Every attempt to belittle it is a crime against humanity.”