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.

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