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“As God Disciplines Us”

Hebrews 12:4-11
Bob DeGray
April 14, 2002

Key Sentence

All discipline must imitate both God’s goals and his methods.


I. God’s Purpose in Discipline (verses 10 and 11)
II. God’s Definition of Discipline (verses 5 to 11)
III. God’s Methods of Discipline (verses 5 to 11)


        Military discipline. The phrase may create several different images in your mind. Military discipline might bring to mind troops marching in step, row after row of straight backed, trim, soldiers in perfect uniform. Military discipline might mean troops in battle, going forward in obedience to commands even if it means going into the face of death. Military discipline might be a court martial, where soldiers are tried and sentenced for the violation of orders. I was never in the military but the accounts I’ve read assure me that one goal of all good basic training is to impose military discipline on the recruits.

        How is this done? Partially by hardship. The recruit is cut off from civilian life, forced to undergo intense physical work to toughen him up, and deprived of things like sleep, leisure, and free time. It’s also done by training. The hours of the recruit’s day are spent learning physical and mental skills that will make him a soldier. He learns how to march, to shoot, to fight in a unit. Then there is punishment. Whether it’s the drill instructor ordering the recruit to drop and give him twenty push-ups or the company commander ordering extra duty for a violation of uniform regulations, the recruit knows that when he messes up, there will be a consequence. The goal of all this instruction, training, hardship and punishment is to make a soldier, someone physically and mentally prepared to fight effectively, who has developed internal discipline for a time of crisis as a result of the imposed military discipline.

        Now how does this apply to us as we study discipline? When we think about how God disciplines us, and when we think about how we discipline, in the family and in the church, the example of military discipline helps open our minds to the Biblical truth that discipline means far more than physical punishment. Discipline involves a whole spectrum of training and instruction, it involves regimen and hardship, and sometimes it does involve punishment, all with a clear goal in mind.

        Our text for this week, Hebrews 12:4-13, provides a unique model of how God disciplines us - his methods and his goals. I want to apply Hebrews 12 to ourselves and our families because I’m convinced that all discipline, whether in our families, in our own lives or in our churches must imitate God’s goals and his methods.
        Let’s begin by reading the text. We’ll look in it for the purpose of discipline, then for the definition and methods of discipline. Hebrews 12:4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

I. God’s Purpose in Discipline (verses 10 and 11)

The writer of Hebrews has used many examples to show the importance of perseverance and faith in difficult circumstances. Chapter 11 showed us dozens of believers who endured difficult situations by faith. Chapter 12 added Jesus to that list, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame. We fix our eyes on him, we consider his sufferings when we undergo of trouble. In verses 4 to 11, the author gives a third reason for endurance: We endure because we see the troubles we experience as being discipline from God.

        This whole text gives a tremendous picture of how God disciplines us, but the first thing we want to pull out is God’s purpose in discipline, because if we don’t understand his goals we won’t know what he is doing in our lives, and we won’t be able to imitate his discipline in the lives of others. The best verses for seeing God’s purposes are 10 and 11. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

        Four related goals for God’s discipline are mentioned. First it benefits us. God disciplines for our good. He doesn’t discipline arbitrarily or inconsistently or for his own self satisfaction or convenience. Instead he does what is best for us. His second goal is holiness: that we may share in his holiness. God wants us to be conformed to the image of his Son, to be like him in purity, set apart from evil. Closely related is righteousness. Discipline produces a harvest of righteousness for those trained by it. God is creating for himself a people who live with morality and integrity. And the last goal is peace: a harvest of righteousness and peace. The person who has learned self discipline through God’s discipline experiences God’s peace.
        So God disciplines for our good, toward holiness and righteousness and peace. This was his whole goal in sending Jesus. Romans 3 says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are made righteous freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” It says “this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” So God’s purpose of holiness and righteousness is achieved for us by Jesus, and given as a free gift when we believe.

        But if that’s true - and it is - what is this whole discipline thing for? It is to make us what we already are. We are righteous and holy in God’s eyes because when he sees us he sees Jesus. But now he desires that we live like Jesus. He disciplines us so that we can live holy and Christlike lives, so that we can experience righteousness.

        Knowing God’s goal when he disciplines us makes it easier to discern our goals when we discipline. As parents, when we discipline children, as a church when we discipline believers, as believers when we discipline ourselves, we ought to be imitating God in his purpose for discipline. I’ve long been intrigued by the goals of discipline articulated in books on parenting. Some have a very narrow definition of discipline. James Dobson, for example, in his useful book ‘Dare to Discipline’ seems to communicate that the goal is child management, child control, constraining a child’s behavior. Not very lofty. Charles Swindoll, in his very good book ‘You and Your Child’ takes a similarly narrow view, seeing discipline as a remedy for rebellious and disobedient behavior. I think God’s goal in discipline is larger than that.

        Gary Ezzo, in ‘Growing Kids God’s Way’, comes closer when he separates discipline from mere chastisement or spanking. He says that the principle function of discipline is to teach morally responsible behavior. Tedd Tripp, in “Shepherding a Child’s Heart,” comes closest of the four to keeping God’s goals for discipline in mind. Very early in the book he asserts that it is not external behavior we really want to influence in parenting, but rather it is the heart of the child we want to influence. The purpose of discipline, he says, is to guide and guard the heart.

        God’s goals should be ours as well. We should want to raise children who share in God’s holiness and who experience a harvest of righteousness and peace. Every aspect of discipline, every method we employ, should be done to move children toward that goal: not toward external behavior, no matter how commendable, but toward an internal reality of sold-out devotion to God. I’ve often told my children that my desire for them is not success at some skill, its not academic achievement, its not financial independence or even happiness in the families they will form. My goal is that they walk with Jesus, in dependence on God and in integrity of life. It’s a heart attitude that I want. It’s a heart attitude that God wants. Therefore we have to keep heart issues at the forefront of both our discipline and our self-discipline. Anything that does not have a clear goal of heart transformation is not worth doing.

II. God’s Definition of Discipline (verses 5 to 11)

        In light of this a narrow definition of discipline can not be sufficient. We must not see discipline as simply the management of inappropriate behavior. Instead, we need to understand the New Testament word ‘discipline’ as used in Hebrews 12. There is one Greek word overwhelmingly present in this passage: paideuw, or paideia. The word is used eight times and each use adds to our definition of discipline.

        Verse 5 quotes from the book of Proverbs, a word of encouragement or exhortation: “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you.” Discipline is something to be welcomed, but it does include verbal rebuke: communicating what is wrong. God, as father, points out our shortcomings verbally - through his word. Our use of discipline must include this verbal aspect.

        Verse 6 says he disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Discipline is an expression of love - it is designed to bring good. All of God’s discipline has a loving purpose. Often we need to show love by discipline as well. But the word discipline is also parallel to the word punishment, and that word implies a physical kind of a punishment, as when God brings sickness or calamity. That aspect of discipline also needs to have a place in our thought process.

        In verse 7 we are told, literally, that we endure unto discipline. In other words endurance results in discipline. Here discipline isn’t an event like rebuking or punishment, but is a result, like the self-discipline learned in the military. As you endure you gain self-discipline. In verses 8 and 9 we find that discipline is universal, administered by those in authority, like parents, and to be received with respect and submission.

        Verse 11 adds that no discipline is pleasant at the time, but painful. No matter how gentle and helpful it is, correction is always hard. Finally, verse 11 says that discipline is training by repetition. Discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. The word trained is the Greek ‘gymnaziw’ from which we get ‘gymnasium.’ So discipline trains by repetition, the way a coach trains an athlete for the Olympics - and that means it is hard work.

        So from the passage itself we would infer that discipline can be unpleasant or painful, that it can involve punishment or verbal reproof, that it is a kind of training that leads to God’s goals in our lives, and that it is also a desired result: if we endure discipline we achieve self-discipline. But we need to add one thought to that from elsewhere in Scripture. Acts 22:3, for example. Paul says: “Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly educated or instructed in the law.” This is a very important aspect of the word. It’s often used in ways that can’t possibly be translated ‘punished.’

         Take 2 Timothy 2:25 for another example “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance.” Here discipline is explicitly ‘gentle’ or ‘humble’ instruction. It’s not harsh, but compassionate and kind as it calls people to repentance and righteousness. Finally, 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Scripture trains us in righteousness - disciplines us to righteousness There is a wide scope to this word. It doesn’t mean just educate or just punish, just instruct or just rebuke. In the New Testament it can mean each of these, and it should probably mean each of these as we apply it.

        The English word ‘discipline’ has the same range. The dictionary says: 1. training expected to produce specific character or behavior; 2. controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self_control; 3. control obtained by enforcing compliance or order; and finally, 4. punishment intended to correct or train.

        This wide range of meaning is important because too many people have a narrow view of discipline: too many see discipline only as a use of punishment to control behavior. That’s a small part of real Biblical discipline. When you think of discipline, you ought to think of instruction and training, as well as rebuking, correcting, and punishing. If our goal is that our children live in holiness and integrity we have to apply this whole definition of discipline to the methods we use in parenting. If our goal in applying this word to believers is that they walk in holiness, we have to apply the whole definition of discipline to the methods we use. To a large extent its when we disciple believers that we embrace the real scope of Biblical discipline.

III. God’s Methods of Discipline (verses 5 to 11)

        And this leads us to the last point of the message: discipline must imitate both God’s goals and his methods. It seems to me the very words we have used to define discipline tell us what our methods of discipline should be. We’ve said first of all that discipline is instruction. Parents have a foundational duty to teach their children what’s right, to be teachers and models of moral and ethical truth, to reveal God and his ways, his plan, his love. Beyond parenting we have a fundamental obligation in dealing with all believers to teach what is right and holy and God-honoring for Christian living. We even have this obligation toward non-believers.

        The great passage on instruction is Deuteronomy 6:6-8 “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Notice that God’s word is to be on our hearts. If we’re going to be in a position to instruct and discipline others we first need to be instructed and disciplined ourselves through the Word of God dwelling richly in our hearts. Then we are to teach it in response to the opportunities of each moment.

        A second word we’ve used to define discipline is ‘training.’ How does training differ from instruction? Training is repetitive. We can teach trigonometry, but we have to train to drive a car. We can teach a child their phone number, but we have to train the child to use the toilet properly. We call it potty training, not potty teaching. In fact, most discipline is the result of repetition - developing habits of righteousness. God does this: by repetition he trains us to do what is right. And notice that this discipline, this training is something that is done quite apart from disobedience. We train and teach so that people will develop discipline before falling into disobedience and without the use of punishment. Most discipline is preventative medicine.

        Hardship or testing is also used by God as discipline. When God brought Israel through the wilderness, there was significant hardship. Deuteronomy explains it this way: “Remember how the Lord led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord God disciplines you.”

        God was using the hardships of the desert to discipline the people of Israel into dependence on him. He often uses the deserts of life, especially emotional deserts, to discipline us into dependance. In the same way, we can sometimes use hardship to bring growth to those under our care. Tom Landry described this when he said “The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don't want to do, in order to achieve what they've always wanted to be.” Hardship often brings discipline.

        So discipline begins long before disobedience begins, and this teaching, training, testing discipline is perhaps the part that needs most of our thought, time and energy. But because our goal is a righteous heart, discipline must also include a thoughtful response to disobedience. Willful disobedience is knowing right and doing wrong. Children often do this: when you tell a one year old not to touch something, they will at least once look you right in the eye and touch it. Adults to this too, when God tells us not to touch something or do something, we go right ahead and do it.

        As parents, we imitate God in responding to wrongdoing by first using verbal forms of discipline: reproof and correction. We tell the child that they have done wrong, and what they have done wrong, and the moral reason it was wrong, Then we correct: we tell the child what is right, and why its right, and how the situation can be put right. As moms and dads, unless we are willing to take the time to reprove and correct we have no particular right to punish or allow consequences. We need to imitate God. Some translations of Revelation 3:19 say 'Those whom I love, I reprove and correct” And he often does it through Scripture: “All Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” God uses words to communicate correction to his people. We have to be willing to communicate when someone needs correction. It’s the way we show them love.

        A second response to wrongdoing is to allow or promote natural and logical consequences. Consequences are powerful things. They are one of the chief methods God uses to discipline us. The Biblical truth is that you reap what you sow. Each one of us has to live with the consequences of our actions and decisions. If we murder, we may reap the death penalty. If we commit adultery we will devastate our marriage. If we lie God almost always allows it to be found out. If we rebel, God makes us more miserable than we were even when obedience was a struggle.

        The hard part about consequences is knowing when to shield people from them. You have to rescue your children at times: from the hot stove or the middle of the street. God shields us at all times from the full impact of our sin. But you don’t have to rescue children from the consequences of breaking a toy, or not eating their dinner, or harassing the cat. Even in cases where there is no obvious natural consequence, it is often appropriate to offer a child a choice that develops a logical consequence. “You can sit nicely at the table, or be excused and sit on your bed. It’s up to you.” “You can play nicely with your sister, or I can find a job for you. It’s up to you.” God does this too. He says in Ezekiel 18 “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” Hey you’ve got a choice, and the choice involves a consequence.

        Creative, Biblical consequences will include both loss of privileges and separation. God’s punishment of Israel was often the loss of a privilege, such as effective sacrifice or productive land. He also used separation. The exile was a time out - 70 years of time out. In the New Testament the consequence of sin within the church is to be separated from the church. In fact, the ultimate consequence used by God for rebellion is separation, to be separated from God for all eternity.

        So there is reproof and correction, there are consequences, and last there is punishment. This is called the rod or chastisement. In parenting the most common application is spanking. The four books referred to earlier in this message: Dobson, Swindoll, Ezzo and Tripp, all agree that spanking is appropriate as one method of discipline for children. It is also one that God uses with us. Though he never literally spanks somebody, He does allow pain as a punishment of sin. The verses we’re studying say that the Lord punishes everyone he accepts as a son, and that no discipline is pleasant, but rather painful. We should expect God’s correction of sin to be painful at times. And we should use painful discipline at times with our own children. When there is rebellion or contempt in a child’s heart, it must be dealt with, and spanking is often effective. For the record: unless you are just grievously inclined to child abuse, you ought to, under specific circumstances, spank your kids.

        Let me tell you how we’ve applied this in our family. When we recognize in a child willful disobedience, we first send the child someplace to wait. This is a private place: we don’t embarrass them by punishing them before others. And they typically wait there a couple of minutes so they can think about their behavior, and we can cool off, so as to not spank in anger. Then we sit down, and talk about the behavior and why it was wrong and why there needs to be discipline. Then comes the actual spanking - typically three good swats. And immediately we sit the child on our lap, and tell them we love them, and help them to ask for forgiveness. We also encourage them to ask God for forgiveness. It’s a formal spanking, and we have seen it to be quite effective in addressing heart issues among our children.

        But I hasten to remind you that this is not all of discipline by a long shot, and each of the other pieces: instruction, training, testing, correction, and consequences are equally important. In fact, as our children have gotten older this particular aspect of discipline has become secondary, as other things have become more important and effective. Remember, when God disciplines us he uses all these things: instruction, training, testing, reproof, correction and painful consequences. We should use all these things in our discipline and in our self discipline.

        Remind yourself of the importance of everything we’ve seen. First, that God has a goal in discipline - it’s for our good, so we can share in his holiness and reap righteousness and peace. All discipline should have this goal: the shaping of the heart, not just behavior. Second, the Biblical use of the word discipline forces us to see it as much more than just punishment, but also instruction, training, reproof and correction. Third, our methods of discipline should grow out of the definition of discipline. We should first of all instruct, train, and test to instill discipline, and when wrongdoing takes place, we should reprove and correct, allow or impose consequences, and punish as fits to the situation, with the constant goal of restoring the heart to a right relationship with God and with others.

        Clearly, these things have a tremendous practical use for those who are parents trying to care for our children as the Father cares for us. But I want to close by commenting for a minute on what these things mean for the person being disciplined - for you and me as well as for our children. Verse 9 of our text says that when under discipline we should submit and live. So often I have seen children and adults respond badly to loving discipline, to correction for their own good. We have to get it embedded deep in our hearts that God loves us and disciplines us to help us. Also that our parents love us and disciplines us to help us as best they know how; also that our brothers and sisters in Christ love us, and correct, instruct, train and even discipline us to help us attain self-disciplined discipleship.

        We need to respond to discipline - whether rebuke, correction, training or consequences - with submission, humility, soft heartedness, self examination and a willingness to change. Submission, humility, soft-heartedness, self-examination and a willingness to change. My favorite light bulb joke is the one about how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb. Just one, but the light bulb has to be willing to change. So also with us - we must be soft hearted toward correction because the alternative is disaster. If we consistently respond with pride, hard-heartedness, and judgment of those who are trying to help us we will damage ourselves and others. This is true for children, and its true for adults as well. My plea to God for myself and for each of you is that when God disciplines us, or when others discipline us using God’s goals and methods, we respond with soft-heartedness and a willingness to change and grow and become like Jesus.

An outline of the discipline system as described above.
I. Before Wrongdoing - the instruction side
A. Teaching
B. Training
C. Testing
II. Because of Wrongdoing - the correction side
A. Verbal reproof and correction
B. Verbal plus consequences
C. Verbal plus punishment