In the previous four articles considering discipline (link to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), I focused especially on principles of discipline gleaned from the book of Proverbs. This final installment considers the Biblical ideal, modeled by our Heavenly Father, and discussed in Hebrews 12:4-11.
After encouraging believers to walk in faith, with eyes focused on Jesus, the author of Hebrews reminds believers of the importance of the Lord’s discipline on those whom He loves. The writer alludes to Job 5:17 and Proverbs 3:12: “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” (Heb 12:5b-6). These verses introduce us to several important principles of our Father’s discipline: (1) it is certain, (2) it is exclusively (in this context) for His children, and is a defining component of that Father/child relationship, and (3) His children are to respond neither by growing faint nor by taking His discipline lightly. The Greek μὴ ὀλιγώρει (me oligorei) can be translated do not despise or do not think little of. Likewise, believers are μηδὲ ἐκλύου or (mede ekluou) not to grow weary at His rebukes, arguments, or corrections. The writer reminds, “it is for discipline you endure” (12:7a), or perhaps better translated, “endure unto or for discipline.”
These three principles are confirmed and augmented in the following verses. In vv. 7-8, the writer reiterates that God disciplines believers as His children, and that if the readers aren’t being disciplined, then they are not His children. This certainly confirms the certainty of discipline and the integral aspect of discipline to the father/child relationship. However, the statement goes beyond those simple confirmations, for it reminds that discipline is not punishment – it is not God’s wrath manifest (as κόλασιν denotes in Mt 25:46). Instead it is, as the word (παιδεία) denotes, the leading of a child toward maturity.
Further, in v. 9, readers are reminded that just as there was an expected response (respect), to the discipline of fleshly fathers, so there is an expected response (being subject) to the discipline of our Heavenly Father.
Whereas in previous verses earthly fathers are used as examples to illustrate the reasonable response to God’s discipline, in verse 10, there is an important contrast that distinguishes God the Father from earthly fathers. Earthly fathers discipline for a short time (lit., ὀλίγας ἡμέρας, a few days), and they do so according to their choosing (κατὰ τὸ δοκοῦν αὐτοῖς) – or according to what seems best to them. So the discipline of earthly fathers is both temporary and even subjective. In contrast, the Father’s discipline is “for our good” (συμφέρον), and purposed that His children might share in His holiness. A fourth principle, then, in this context, is that the Father’s discipline is neither subjective nor is it temporary in its view. Instead it has eternal, loving purpose, and it is grounded in His own holiness – His primary characteristic (see Is 6:3 and Rev 4:8).
Two further principles are evident in verse 11 (for those who are counting, these are principles number five and six). First, discipline initially seems sorrowful (λύπης) rather than joyful. There is an inherent aspect of discipline that is – shall we say – rather unpleasant but necessary. This is similar to the progression Paul describes in Romans 5:3-5: “…we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured our within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Nobody wants to go through tribulations and trials without purpose, but in God’s plan, these things have precisely aimed purpose in the lives of His people. From this description the final principle of this context is evident, that discipline bears fruit, and “for those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11).
Being reminded of the Ephesians 6:4 mandate for fathers to train up their children in the discipline (παιδείᾳ) and instruction or reproof (νουθεσίᾳ) of the Lord, as earthly parents we can look to the Model and the Example. In Hebrews 12:4-11, we are introduced to no less than six principles regarding the discipline of the Lord:
(1) It is a certainty that our Heavenly Father will discipline His children (12:6).
(2) His discipline is a defining component of the Father/child relationship, and is thus essential and profitable (12:7-8).
(3) His children should have a proper response to His discipline – neither taking it lightly nor growing weary – but instead being in subjection (12:5,9).
(4) His discipline is not subjective or temporary in its view, but had eternal, loving purpose, with the ultimate result being children who share in His holiness (12:10).
(5) His discipline is initially sorrowful (12:11). This seems an inescapable reality of discipline and one God does not avoid or lighten (e.g., Rom 5:3-5).
(6) His discipline is later joyful, as it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (12:11).
If we as parents are not disciplining in accordance with the example our Heavenly Father gave to us, then we are simply not training up our children in the discipline of the Lord. If we have become lukewarm in our discipline – either in response to His discipline of us, or in our discipline of the children He has entrusted to us, then perhaps we ought to consider that the last Biblical use of the term discipline (παιδεύω) is found in Revelation 3:19. In the final of seven letters to seven churches Jesus reminds the readers in Laodicea, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” The imperative to be zealous (ζήλευε) is an exhortation to set one’s heart (in this case) on what is right, and to repent (μετανόησον) means to change one’s mind. Now obviously, Revelation 3:19 is not focused on parental discipline, however, Jesus’s exhortation reminds us of the value He places on discipline in the life of the believer. Do we have a proper zeal and mindset for His discipline? Or do we need the Revelation 3:19 wake-up call?