"Our Heavenly Father's Discipline"
(Delivered Father's Day Sunday, June 17, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
As believers, we have been given the greatest honor that could ever be granted to any created being. As fallen and sinful men and women, we have been redeemed by God's grace, and have been forgiven of all our sins; and that alone is wonderful enough. But more than that; having been redeemed and forgiven, we have now been invited to rightfully call God our "Father". The almighty God - Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth - has made us into His children, and has adopted us as His own. Out of all the other things God has created, only redeemed sinners like us can claim Him as our "Father". We alone have this greatest of all honors.
Have you ever thought about what it means that God has 'adopted' us into His family? Just as in the human realm, our adoption is a legal act by which God declares that people, who formerly did not belong to Him, are now His own children - with all the rights and privileges that go with being His sons and daughters. As God's adopted children, we now have a new identity before Him. We enjoy a new relationship with Him. We share in the full inheritance that belongs to His firstborn Son Jesus Christ. Our "adoption" isn't an expression of mere sentiment. We aren't simply permitted to call him "Father" as if it were a 'nickname' and nothing more. No; we have been, in actual fact, fully adopted by Him and fully declared to be His bona-fide daughters and sons.
And this is a privilege that's ours completely by God's grace. I heard a sermon recently by a man who had been adopted by a couple as a child. As he looked at all of us in the audience, he told us - with tongue in cheek - that he considered himself a whole lot more 'special' than the rest of us. Our mothers and fathers got stuck with us whether they wanted us or not, he explained; ... but he was specially 'picked'! But then, he quickly told us that all of us who had trusted Jesus Christ as Savior were special before God; because we, too, had been specially 'picked' by Him to be His children in love.
No sinner could ever declare himself or herself to be God's child on their own initiative. What a dreadful blasphemy that would be!! Our adoption is - and can only be - an act that God Himself must perform toward us. If we stand before Him as His children today, it's only because He Himself first chose to adopt us, and wash us of our sins in the blood of Jesus, and then declare us to be His own. We did not first "pick" Him; but He first "picked" us! What a great privilege of grace it is to be "adopted" by God the Father!
Think of it! The Bible says that God now declares fallen sinners like us to be the objects of His love, "having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will ..." (Eph. 1:5). When Jesus was raised from the dead, He wanted His disciples to be told, "I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God" (John 20:17). "... As many as received [Jesus]," as the Bible teaches us, "to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name ..." (John 1:12). The apostle Paul reminds us, "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father'" (Rom. 8:15).
"Father's Day" is the perfect day to give thanks to our heavenly Father for giving us the greatest privilege anyone could ever receive - that of being adopted fully into His family, as His own precious sons and daughters, forever!! I hope that's a privilege you have come to enjoy through faith in Jesus Christ; and I hope that you'll never take this wonderful privilege for granted.
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As we think about our heavenly Father's love for us this morning, however, I'd like to draw your attention to one of it's least appreciated aspects. This particular aspect of God's fatherly love toward us is expressed in beautiful, poetic form in Proverbs 3:11-12.
The whole book of Proverbs, written mostly by King Solomon, is a book of short, pithy statements of wise instruction. It's a book that makes us think of a good, godly father putting his arm around his young son and giving him serious words of guidance for living. And in the book of Proverbs, we read these words:
My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights (Prov. 3:11-12).
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Have you ever asked why it was that God sometimes allows His precious adopted children to suffer? Perhaps you've undergone a terrible time of suffering and trial; and found yourself asking why it was that God was allowing it to fall upon you. Have you ever prayed something like this? - "Father, You know my heart. You know that I love You; and You know that I believe You love me too. But why are You doing this to me? Why are You laying so much upon me? Why are You putting me through this trial?"
If you've ever asked something like that of God in your prayers, then these two verses provide the answer. What they say may not tell us everything we want to know about why God's people sometimes suffer; but it does, I believe, tell us everything we need to know.
Look for a moment at the details of this passage from Proverbs. First, you'll notice that it affirms the fact that God sometimes allows His precious adopted children to suffer. There's no way around this; because whatever may be the immediate and circumstantial cause of our suffering, this passage clearly declares that it's the Lord Himself who is ultimately responsible for the "chastening" and "correcting".
Second, you'll notice that this passage suggests how we're often tempted to react during such times of trial or suffering. We're sometimes tempted to "despise the chastening of the LORD"; that is, to reject it and to esteem it lightly - to hate it. Or, we're tempted at other times to "detest His correction"; that is, to loath it, or to resent it, or - as the Hebrew word implies - to feel a sickening dread of it. We sometimes react to it with that same horrible feeling we remember experiencing when we got called into the principle's office. It's an experience you would do anything to avoid if you only could.
But, third, notice why we're encouraged not to "despise" or "detest" God's chastening. It's because "whom the LORD loves He corrects." The reason our Father allows His children to experience times of suffering and trial is never because He doesn't love them. Quite the opposite. His great motive behind His chastening hand is because of the depth of His love for those whom He has adopted. What we call "suffering" and "trials" and "times of affliction", God, in this passage, refers to in positive terms that speak of His loving care: "chastening" and "correction".
Any time God allows us to go through a time of suffering or trial, it's never to punish us or to pour out His wrath upon us. All of God's wrath, and all the punishment for our sins, has already been poured out once and for all on Jesus when He went to the cross. He took all our sins upon Himself, and paid the full price for them in His own body on the cross. God is no longer wrathful toward those who place their trust in Jesus. And so now, suffering for the child of God isn't a matter of "punishment", but rather of "instruction" and "character development". He is seeking to take us away from the sinful habits and behaviors that used to characterize us, and to conform us to the image of His Son Jesus Christ.
And finally, notice the analogy that this passage uses to help us understand God's motives of love: He disciplines us "just as a father the son in whom he delights". We are already His great pleasure. He already loves us infinitely through His Son Jesus Christ. He already delights in us more than any earthly father could ever delighted in the most delightful earthly child. And it's because He delights in us so much that He seeks to perfect us, and to conform us into the image of His Son Jesus Christ, through times of "chastening" and "correction". He disciplines us, "just as a father the son in whom he delights".
When I was a boy, I certainly didn't understand that aspect of fatherly love at all! You see, I didn't have a very politically correct father. My dad believed in spanking. He never told me that he believed in it ... let's just say that I could tell.
When my father punished me, he'd almost always preface my punishment by saying, "I'm going to spank you, Greg, because I love you." And man! - did that ever put my brain in a torque! I remember thinking to myself, "I guess I'm pretty thankful then that he doesn't 'hate' me!!" And that was because, in my immaturity, I thought that if he really loved me, he wouldn't spank me. But now, I understand that, if he truly did hate me, he'd never have bothered to spanked me at all. As the Bible says, "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly" (Prov. 13:24). In spite of the conventional, fashionable wisdom of contemporary culture, a truly good and loving father isn't permissive; rather, he lovingly disciplines his children.
Well, God is a good Father to His children too. Those whom He loves - those whom He adopts into His family, and makes into His own precious children - He also disciplines. We should resist the temptation to "despise" His discipline, or "detest" it, when it happens. In fact, the reality of God's disciplining hand upon us should be looked at as a very encouraging sign. We should see it as a demonstration of God's claim on us; that we truly belong to Him, that He loves us very much.
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But of course, when you're going through such a time of chastening and correction, it's hard to remember God's motives behind it. Some of God's choicest children have cried out in despair during such times, and have questioned God's love and care for them when He disciplined them. It would certainly be nice if we all had the strength and maturity to respond to such times with gratitude for His love and care for us; but I know that I've responded with rather weak faith at times, and I'm sure you have too.
But I believe it would be a great source of strength and encouragement to us if we could learn to see those times as a sure demonstration that God loves us and that we truly belong to Him. The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews wrote something about God's love in fatherly discipline; and it would help us greatly if we devoted some of our time on this Father's Day to consider what he wrote.
The writer of Hebrews was writing to a group of Jewish believers who were undergoing a terrible time of persecution. They had heard the gospel message, and had responded by placing their trust in Jesus as the Messiah. But as a result, many of them were suffering dreadfully for their faith. Many had lost their jobs. Some had seen loved ones put to death. Some had become utterly rejected by their families and friends; and suffered the lost of homelands, inheritances, and hopes for earthly comforts in the future. Many were beginning to question whether or not they did the right thing in coming to faith in Jesus. Some were beginning to completely question God's love for them and were harboring doubts that they even really belonged to Him at all.
The writer wanted very much to exhort them to keep enduring through their time of trial and not forsake their faith in Christ. And he wrote to remind them of the devotion and sacrifice of Jesus; encouraging them to consider all that He suffered and struggled against as "the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2).
And near the end of the letter, the writer points back to those two wonderful verses in Proverbs, and reminds these discouraged and wavering Jewish Christians of what those verses say about their suffering;
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives" (Heb. 12:5-6).
The word that the writer uses to describe that message from Proverbs - here translated "exhortation" - has the meaning behind it of comfort and encouragement. It's much more than simply a command concerning how they were to think about their trials; the writer of Hebrews describes that message from Proverbs as a word of 'encouragement', designed to lift the spirits of those who heard it. This passage is meant by God to be an encouragement and comfort to us during times of suffering, struggle, and the experience of His disciplining hand.
The writer, then, goes on to fill in the details of this encouraging word; helping us to understand and appreciate what a good sign it is that God chastens and corrects us;
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, when you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (vv. 7-11).
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I never want to be simplistic about the trials and difficulties we go through together in the family of God. But what this passage is saying is profound; and I believe that, if we allow the Holy Spirit to sink its message down into our hearts, it will absolutely revolutionize the way we look at those trials. I certainly don't expect we'd ever be "happy" and "giddy" about those trials. They'll always hurt. But I believe that, if we listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling us through this passage, He will help us to grow to see our Father's loving hand behind those trials, and - because of His great love - even learn to welcome and submit willingly to what it is that He's trying to accomplish in us through them.
What is it that God would want us to know about our trials? There are three basic principles expressed in this passage that show us why we should be encouraged whenever God disciplines us. First, notice that it teaches us that ...
1. GOD'S DISCIPLINE IS ONLY DIRECTED TOWARD THOSE HE LOVES.
The writer of this passage says,
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, when you are illegitimate and not sons (vv. 7-8).
I remember talking to a friend of mine who went to a company picnic many years ago. He had two little pre-school aged boys at the time; and he told me about how they were off playing by themselves. Now, my friend was a good Christian dad who knew how to discipline his own children. But on this particular occasion, because he was preoccupied in conversation with someone, he wasn't paying attention to what his boys were doing; and so, another man in the group decided that his boys were acting up, and chose to step in and give one of the boys a spanking.
My friend jumped up and was about ready to spank that other guy! He ran over, rescued his son, shaking a finger in the man's face, and said, "Look; nobody - I mean nobody - spanks my sons but me!! If you think they need a spanking, you call me!! They are my sons; and their discipline is my job!!" There were lots of "my's" in that rebuke; and no one misunderstood who those two boys belonged to ever again!
You can tell which children go with which set of parents at times like that. Have you ever been in a crowded public place where there were a few little people carrying on and getting wild? It usually doesn't take long to determine who the parents or grandparents are just by watching. They're the ones who take responsibility and stop the party. By the same token, most of us who see other people's children acting up are hesitant - except in the most extreme of cases - to jump in; and we're particularly hesitant in such cases to administer discipline. It's not our job because they're not our children; and it wouldn't be appropriate. There's a principle involved: discipline is tied to relationship. You'll quickly discipline a little person who belongs to you, however, because you love them and they're yours. It's very appropriate then.
By the same token, if someone didn't discipline their child, it would be a sign that they didn't see a significant relationship involved; or if they did, that they didn't value that relationship much. It would be a matter of neglect; and would show that they really didn't care about the child.
When God chastens or corrects us, He's only seeking to do what any good father would do for his own children. God loves us; and when He disciplines us, He seeks to conform His own adopted sons and daughters into the image of His firstborn Son, Jesus Christ.
We may sometimes wish that God would not discipline us, and just leave us alone with all our imperfections and sinful habits. We may be tempted to think that life would be a whole lot easier then. But to say this would be tantamount to saying that we wish God would treat us as if we weren't His children. If He didn't discipline us, He would be treating us as if we were "illegitimate children" - children with which He had no sense of relationship, and therefore children for which He felt no obligation to care. No good father ever withholds necessary correction from His children, and neither does God. If He didn't correct and chasten someone, it would be because they didn't belong to Him. If someone expects to hang around the household of God, but not be disciplined by the Father, they're expecting to be treated like an illegitimate child - and God doesn't have any of those.
And so, whenever we suffer the experience of God's chastening hand upon us, we should learn to truly rejoice in this wonderful fact: that God is confirming to us that we truly do belong to Him and that He truly does love us.
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We should also feel encouraged to submit ourselves to God whenever He chastens us because ...
2. GOD'S DISCIPLINE IS ALWAYS GUIDED BY HIS HIS PERFECT CHARACTER.
The writer of Hebrews goes on to say;
Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness (vv. 9-10).
Have you ever been punished for something you didn't do? Didn't you hate it? It happened to me, and I hated it too. (But of course, I also have to admit that there were lots of times when I got away with not being punished for something I did do - so I guess it all comes out in the wash, doesn't it?)
As the writer tells us, our earthly fathers corrected us imperfectly. They didn't know all the facts or rightly interpret all the motives behind what we did. Sometimes, they punished us to a far greater degree than we deserved; and sometimes, they punished us far too little. But - except in some notable and sad cases - most dads try to discipline their children as best they know how. But the correction we receive from our heavenly Father is far different. It's always guided by His perfect wisdom. He never corrects us more than we need; and He never fails to correct us when we need it. His discipline is always perfect.
And think also of what the discipline is meant to produce. Our earthly fathers disciplined us with a limited and fallible understanding of what's best for us. They had a vision of what they wanted us to be; and they sought their best to teach us and train us to become conformed to that image. But they had an imperfect and limited vision. Sometimes, even from the best of earthly fathers, discipline is tainted with some self interests. Sometimes, they punish out of frustration; or sometimes out of unreasonableness. God, on the other hand, disciplines us in a perfect manner for the highest and greatest goal possible. He disciplines us "for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness".
And what's more, God's discipline is a consistent project. Our earthly fathers only disciplined and corrected us "for a few days" - that is, during our childhood. Often, their discipline depended on what they knew; and what they knew depended on what they were present to see. But God is a faithful, life-long, ever-present Father to us. Until the day that we finally stand in His presence, and are brought completely and perfectly into the full glory of His Son Jesus, He will always be there to lovingly chasten and correct us when we need it.
Now; the writer of Hebrews is presenting us with an argument from the lessor to the greater. Our earthly fathers disciplined us with imperfect understanding, with imperfect motives, for imperfect goals, and for only a limited time. And yet, as imperfect as our fathers were, we still submitted to their authority and endured their discipline with a due sense of respect and reverence. Even Jesus subjected Himself to His imperfect parents (Luke 2:51).
And if it's true that God blessed us when we were subject to "fleshly fathers", how much more should we be subject to the "Father of Spirits" - a Father that is perfect in wisdom, that has the highest of motive of love for us, who seeks our eternal good, and Who will always be there to strengthen us and help us along? If we submit to Him, we will "live"; that is, dwell with Him forever, and enjoy the full benefits of being made partakers of His holiness.
And so, whenever we suffer the chastening of God, we should learn to welcome His chastening as that which is under the control of One who is perfect in character. We can safely and confidently submit ourselves to His discipline. His chastening will never result in wrong to us, but only good; because the chastening of our heavenly Father will only serve to conform us - more and more - into the image of Jesus.
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Finally, we see that we can feel encouraged whenever He disciplines us because ...
3. GOD'S DISCIPLINE IS PERFECTLY DESIGNED TO BRING ABOUT THE MOST BLESSED RESULTS.
Discipline is never fun; and frankly, it wouldn't work very well if it was. But discipline - properly and lovingly administered - is never meant to be an end in and of itself. It's an act of temporary pain and sorrow that is meant to bring about a good, satisfying, and ultimately pleasurable result. This is certainly supposed to be true of the discipline children receive from their earthly fathers. It should always be constructive and results-oriented. It should be focused on producing something good in the life of the child.
And this is absolutely and unfailingly the case with respect to the discipline we receive from our heavenly Father. The writer of Hebrews speaks of the discipline of God in our lives and says;
Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (v. 11).
If you look carefully at this verse, you can see a wonderful symmetry in the way the writer describes both the chastening and the result it's intended to produce. First, there's the fact that we need to be chastened; but at the other end of that chastening is someone who has been "trained" by that chastening - in much the same way that an athlete who has undergone the painful riggers of preparation for an event is, as a result, "trained" for it. That's the product God is seeking - children who have been transformed from spiritual immaturity to those who are "well-trained" or "well-exercised" by His loving discipline.
Second, there's the fact that the process of discipline is temporary and limited- that is, it's not "joyful for the present". God's discipline - like that of our earthly fathers - is only "temporary". It's not the end product; but simply a part of the process toward that end product. But at the other end of that process is a state of being that gives us eternal blessings - righteousness. That's another way of saying that we're being conformed to the image of Jesus.
Thirdly, there's the experience of the process itself. It's "painful". It hurts. It's contrary to the "peace" that we crave. But on the other side of that process is a product - a "fruit" - that's described as "peaceable". It's the righteousness that God desires to see in our lives, and that leads to true, lasting pleasure before Him. What is "painful" for a while eventually leads to what is "peaceable" forever. Paul said that "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18); and that "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory ..." (2 Cor. 4:17).
Our heavenly Father's discipline is perfectly designed by Him to bring about the most blessed results; but this is only true for those who willingly submit themselves to the temporarily painful process of chastening, to be "trained" or "exercised" by it.
It helps if we keep our eyes focused on the end product that God is seeking to produce through those trials. As James writes, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4). Or as Peter writes, we "greatly rejoice" in our hope in Christ, "though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith - the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:6-9).
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Have you trusted Jesus as your Savior? Do you rest on His sacrifice on the cross for you? Then by faith, you are God's adopted child! You belong to Him. And you can rest in confidence that no trial or testing will ever come into your life except that which He has designed for your good. "... All things," as the Bible tells us, "work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). His "purpose" is to conform you to the image of His Son Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you're feeling the chastening hand of God in your life right now. Then please, dear brother or sister, submit to it. Let your loving Father do in you, through that suffering, what He knows best to do. He will always and only discipline you because you are His, and because He loves you infinitely. He will always and only discipline you in great wisdom and perfection. And He will always and only do so to make you more like Jesus.
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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