Living by faith (10)

Discipline: training in faith

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 94:12-19
  • Hebrews 12:1-13


There is no doubt about it: because discipline in the house has gone out the backdoor, our society now stands on loose legs.  Those involved in law enforcement will tell you that their workload would probably cut in half (or even more) if discipline in the home can be restored.

The flow-on effect of chaos in homes has devastated public education, or in fact, all education.  Little wonder that lawlessness and anarchy in many cities and suburbs has become one of the biggest challenges of our time.  The enemy of the family unit laughs, while churches are not immune against this onslaught.  There is hardly any respect for parents, and in our society, by and large, there is no room for the honour of God and his law.  It spells disaster – and our enemy knows it.

Let’s say it loudly and clearly: discipline is good and beneficial; one does not need to be a Christian to understand it.

The writer of Hebrews knows this too well:

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! (Hebrews 12:9, NIV)

The interesting thing is that Christians, while understanding the advantage of discipline in everyday life, we sometimes find it difficult to come to terms with it when God applies discipline for our spiritual good.

The Psalm we read together this morning declares:

Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law (Psalm 94:12, NIV)

He understood the connection between discipline and love as he continues:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. (Psalm 94:18, NIV)

He also understood that discipline protects against evil, because, God “will never forsake his inheritance (Psalm 94:14).”   It was God’s loving discipline that made him strong to face his enemy, and it was God’s loving discipline that stood between him and the evildoers.

We are involved in a struggle

Without elaborating about this at this point, all Christians need to know that they are, because they are on God’s side, involved in a struggle.  Last week the same truth came to us as we heard that we are in a race.

Our struggle is fierce, because our enemy hates Christ and his church.  Peter says:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)

Paul writes:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)

For this struggle we need to be fit.  Like the soldier during basic military training in preparation for combat, discipline is lifesaving. What you learn during this time will come automatically during the crisis; discipline teaches you to be alert, fit and discerning – with only one thing in mind: the battle, survival and victory.

The same principle applies to Christian life. That’s why the Bible this morning teaches us:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7, NIV)

We are God’s children

When the Bible says that we are God’s children, we once again need a fresh understanding of who God is.  Let’s read verse 10 again:

God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. (Hebrews 12:10, NIV)

God is holy.  With Him there is no sin, no blemish; He is most holy, most righteous, most glorious, most living, most gracious, merciful and altogether good.  He hates sin because He is just; He is terrible in all his judgments and will by no means clear those who reject his mercy in Jesus Christ.

God therefore wants us to be holy, because He is holy (1Pet 1:16).  He wants us, as his children, to display something of our Father to the world.  And in doing so, we can surely expect God’s enemy to become our enemy.  For this battle God wants us to be ready, fit, effective and victorious in Jesus Christ his Son.

In a mission report of Frontline Fellowship about missionary work and the Christian Church in the southern part of Sudan in the Nuba Mountains where hundreds of Christians face starvation in the face because the Government in Khartoum cut supplies to those people I read this only yesterday:

The Khartoum government has blocked humanitarian aid reaching the Nuba Mountains while escalating aerial bombardment of refugees and displaced people in the Nuba. Almost a million Nubans are facing starvation conditions.
Arab aerial bombardments of Christian villages in the Nuba Mountains has escalated dramatically: 108 aerial bombardments were recorded in October alone.
Why is the International community so indifferent to this genocide?  Is it because the victims are predominately Christians? Is it because the victims are Black and the perpetrators are Arab Muslims?

This battle is against Christ and his church.  That’s why the world is not interested to hear about it to do something about it.  For our brothers and sisters in those mountains we pray and encourage – and we do not do it lightly, but with tears before the throne of our Father:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7, NIV)

This means then that if the world does not see any reason to hate us there must be something wrong with our sonship.  Quite right:

If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. (Hebrews 12:8, NIV)

What is endurance?

Endure means to be steadfast, to persevere and to wait patiently. What should we patiently wait for?

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (2 Thessalonians 3:5, NIV)

O, may we see the love of God and how Christ persevered the pain of the cross where He, the sinless, died for sinners to give them righteousness!

To the church in Philadelphia our Lord says:

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. (Revelation 3:10, NIV)

Stand your ground in Christ.  Why?

Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us (2 Timothy 2:11–12, NIV)

Endurance for the readers of Hebrews was not something new.  Turn with me to Hebrews 10:32 and following verses.  When they became Christians we read “they stood their ground” in very difficult circumstances.

They all of a sudden became aware of this contest or race (the original word here reminds us of being an athlete) which presented them with suffering.  What sort of suffering?

  • They were publicly exposed to insult – probably the hardest for of suffering – and persecution.  Insult is aimed at your person and who you are, and has psychological trauma in mind; persecution is aimed at physical pain and trauma.
  • If it did not happen to them personally, they sided with those who experienced this sort of treatment.  That’s Christians do, because we are members of the same family, we love one another; the pain of one Christian is the pain of another.  That’s why what is happening in the Nuba Mountains concerns us.
  • Some of their fellowship ended up in prison – this is where physical and psychological suffering meets.  What did the other Christians of their fellowship do?  They sympathised with them – and probably visited them their and took food and water with them.  You can hardly remain an anonymous Christian when you do this. What happened then?
  • The authorities, and maybe other who opposed them, confiscated their property – we are not sure what the extent of this confiscation was, but their “hanging in there” was driven by the fact that they understood that what they had in Christ was not only better, but also lasting.

Their eyes were fixed on Christ. Look at Hebrew 12:2

  • He too endured, waited upon his Father, He never gave up.
  • He endured the cross of shame where He not only sympathised with sinners, but took their place.  He was scorned, insulted, ridiculed – and eventually even forsaken by the Father – all because He loved sinners like you and me.
  • He endured opposition.  The word translated “opposition” here is probably not strong enough to express what is says in the Greek text.  Remeber: Christ is God from all eternity; what is said about the Father’s Person, is said about Him.  Through Him God created the universe; He is God’s King on earth, representing the Father – and yet: sinners, in their opposition to Him, took the holy sinless Son of God, rebelled against his authority, insulted Him, and nailed Him to a cross.
  • Why would He do such thing?  He saw the joy of his Father’s approval:  He is the true Son of God, and although He did not need it, He subjected to the will of the Father to become sin in order for us to become righteous, and now He reigns with his Father as it was before He came to rescue us.

What is discipline?

To discipline according to the Bible is to bring up and to handle a child which is growing up to maturity, because it needs direction, teaching, instruction.  It might call for a certain measure of compulsion in the form of discipline or even chastisement. To discipline is both a way of education and training with the goal of becoming mature in Christ.

As we have seen, God interfered in the lives of the Hebrews with discipline: it seemed harsh at the time, but the end product was sweet:

No 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. (Hebrews 12:11, NIV)

  • It taught them that God is holy.
  • It taught them that sin leads to destruction.
  • It taught them that nothing is of any value in the face of God’s eternal blessing.
  • It taught them to love one another and look after one another.
  • It taught them that others, with Christ, will look after them should the time of their personal endurance come.
  • It taught them what the price was their Saviour had to pay to set them free. Peter writes:

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16, NIV)

Peter writes elsewhere:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1–2, NIV)

What does God’s “treatment” mean

Hebrews 12:7 states:

God is treating you as his children.  (Hebrews 12:7, NIV)

My understanding of Greek is surely not much to go by, yet this word “treat” in the NIV, or “deal” in the New American Standard Bible, in the Greek can in some cases have the meaning of “carry”, “sustain”, “bring” and “present”, depending on the context.  It seems to me, also in the light of other uses within the letter to the  Hebrews, it seems acceptable to understand it in our verse that God’s dealing with us has an element of sustaining or carrying.  So, endure hardship as discipline, because God is sustaining and carrying you as son.  That’s what earthly fathers do for their children in difficult times.  Abundantly more so, our heavenly Father.

He knows our hardship; He knows our circumstances, but more than that, He knows what is crippling us in our Christian walk to become mature Christians.  His discipline is aimed at withholding those things from us so that we can one day become grown-up Christians.  That’s his aim.

And that brings us to another possible understanding of the word “deal”:  in our preparation for service here on earth we need discipline so that our Saviour, through the work of the Holy Spirit, at the return of Christ when we all need to appear at the judgment throne of God, can present us to our Father as true sons.

This is what happened to Christ, our Lord.  He endured hardship for our sake, and all along He could pray to his Father to sustain Him, be with Him, knowing that after all He had to accomplish, his Father would welcome him home as Victor over all evil – that’s why our text says He “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
That’s why we must consider Him who endured.  We must look at Him, fix our eyes on Him, fill our thoughts with what He did for us, then we will understand that we must “endure hardship as discipline, [because] God is treating us as sons.”

Don’t lose heart

If we focus on Christ, if we understand that God is disciplining as us as true sons to make us fit for the battle and to ultimately be fit for heaven, and we understand that in the process He is carrying and sustaining us, then we

will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:3, NIV)

It’s easy to become exhausted, its easy to opt out or to just go and sit on the side and give up.  One of the major themes of the book of Hebrews is exactly to encourage not to give up.  In Hebrews 4:11 he writes:

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:11, NIV)

In Chapter 6:11-12 he warns:

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (Hebrews 6:11–12, NIV)

In our verse he spurs on that no one would grow weary or exhausted, or even lose heart and faint.  He ends this pericope with these words; let us listen to it and take heart this morning as we fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith:

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13, NIV)

May God give us grace.

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