Godly Discipline Yields the Peaceful Fruit of Righteousness

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“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 (Hebrews 12:11).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Over the last three weeks, the author of Hebrews has been hard at work building us up in the faith. Two weeks ago he held before us the example of Abraham and the other patriarchs, and urged us to imitate their faith, a faith that does not receive the things promised in this life, but looks expectantly to them in the eternal life to come. Last week he encouraged us to look in faith to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, that we may run with endurance the race of faith set ahead for us. Today he encourages us to not grow weary or fainthearted in the midst of suffering and persecution for our Christian faith. The discipline of the Lord is proof of our sonship, not of God’s disfavor. And the author promises that though painful and unpleasant such godly discipline yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
The author of Hebrews obviously never read the books by modern Church growth gurus or the entrepreneurs who run the thriving mega-churches. If he had, he would have shied away from such depressing topics and focused on things more practical and positive. Success and prosperity are more suitable topics for popular preachers to address than suffering and persecution. You can’t pack the people in the pews (or theater seats) if you’re not encouraging people to find their purpose or become the champion they were meant to be. Nor will people send in money to your ministry if you’re only promising hard times in return. But neither can you prepare people for tough times, when they inevitably come, if you’re only scratching itching ears, if you don’t preach Christ crucified and the cross of His Christians.
So, is it true? Can something unpleasant and/or painful actually end up with positive results? Certainly! Let me give you a few examples from everyday life: exercise, dental exams, colonoscopies, childbirth. Each of these are things that seem painful or unpleasant at the time, but ultimately are good for you. Godly discipline is the same. No one wants to face it; it’s painful, unpleasant, at times embarrassing, even shameful, but its cultivation reaps a rich harvest. The writer of Hebrews, like Job, demonstrates that suffering is not necessarily proof of God’s wrath; prosperity is not necessarily proof of His favor. God often works through suffering for the good of His people.
You need look no further than His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. If ever anyone deserved prosperity and popularity it was He. Still, the Son of Man had no place to lay His head. His only earthly possessions were the clothes taken off His back at His crucifixion. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed” (Is 53:3-5).
For Jesus, facing the opposition of men meant the shedding of His blood on Golgotha. For some of the Old Testament heroes there had also been a bloody end, but not so far for the Hebrew Christians. They had had difficult days in the past (10:32-34). When they originally received this epistle their opponents were trying to terrorize them into abandoning their faith in Jesus. Perhaps the future would even demand their blood. But it is no time to be confused or unclear about the role of affliction, or as the author calls it, “discipline.” So he proceeds with a great section on godly discipline, giving us not all the answers to the problem of suffering but enough to encourage us to endure when it comes.
First of all, the author reminds us what God’s Word says: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.” Quoting Proverbs 2:11-12 from the Septuagint, the author shows the close connection God’s Word makes between sonship and discipline. Discipline is the training necessary to lead a child to maturity. It is the instruction and correction, the leading and warning that a wise, loving father constantly provides his son so that character may be molded and maturity achieved.
Sometimes godly discipline comes directly from the hand of God. Other times it comes from the hand of the enemy, but with God then shaping it to suit His gracious purposes. But God always sends or bends such discipline for the well-being of His children. That’s what it means for Him to be our Father and us His children. It means, as Romans 8:28 says “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
How shall we children of God react to godly discipline? “Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,” the author urges. When God disciplines, indifference is not a suitable response. God may be saying something important that we can hear better when shivering in the storm that when basking in the sunshine. To make light of God’s discipline might be to miss the message.
Nor are we to “be weary” because of godly discipline. God never forsakes His own. When He tests, He also toughens. However heavy the discipline, His grace will cover. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul offers this comfort to those undergoing trial: “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Because God has promised to remain with His people, you are never left in a losing situation. Even when you have been faithless, God’s grace in Jesus Christ provides new opportunities for you to be faithful.
In Luther’s explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, he writes:
“‘Lead us not into temptation’… refers to times when God gives us power and strength to resist the temptation [1 Corinthians 10:13]. However, the temptation is not taken away or removed. While we live in the flesh and have the devil around us, no one can escape his temptation and lures. It can only mean that we must endure trials—indeed, be engulfed in them [2 Timothy 2:3]. But we say this prayer so that we may not fall and be drowned in them. To feel temptation is, therefore, a far different thing from consenting or yielding to it.”[i]
The right reaction to God’s discipline is confidence in God’s love. Those who He loves, He disciplines. Sometimes that even includes the rod. Proper training involves both instruction in the way to go and correction when behavior is wayward. Behind such action also stands love of the highest kind, as measureless as God Himself and magnificent in purpose. From such a loving Father never comes more—or less—discipline than necessary for us, His children.
Second, the author reminds us of God’s fatherly care in discipline. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” The troubles the Hebrew Christians were experiencing were actually for their training, and that training was a visible sign that they were God’s sons. The same is true for you and me. Aren’t loving fathers supposed to train their sons so they mature instead of remaining childish?
Proverbs 13:24 expresses the same thought, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Only the illegitimate remain untrained because they have no father to care for them. Are you wearying under and wishing away God’s discipline? The lack of discipline may sound good, but in reality it shows a serious problem. It reveals a lack of sonship and could lead to tragic results if it continues.
The author appeals a second time to the example of earthly families. “Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who discipline us and we respected them,” he reminds us. Certainly Christian mothers discipline too, but fathers, as heads of the household, are finally responsible to God for such disciplining. When that discipline came, perhaps at first you resented it. Later, though, you respected your father because you realized what he was trying to do.
How much more should you submit to the heavenly Father, who deals not only with your physical good, but also with your spiritual existence! Even when He has to correct you for some fault, it is not to vent His anger but to reclaim and redirect His wayward sons and daughters. This Father has a love that cannot fail and a wisdom that cannot err. To see His caring hand behind life’s trials and to submit to His godly discipline is to live in the fullest sense of the word.
Third, the author reminds us more fully of God’s purpose in discipline. Earthly fathers can only discipline for the brief time their children are growing up. Also, earthly fathers can only discipline as they think best and consequently at times make mistakes. With God’s discipline there is no error, only and always profit for His children. The profit He has in mind is “that we may share His holiness.” The holy God, who is removed from and reacts against all sin, wants His children to be like Him. First He makes you holy by leading you to the Savior. Then He leads you to walk more and more in the holy footsteps of that Savior. Finally, in heaven He crowns you with perfect holiness.
True, discipline can be painful, but that is because you seldom see the outcome immediately. Like fruit on a tree, the ripening takes time. But it will happen in God's gracious timetable. Those who view the Lord’s discipline as the gym for the training of their souls will reap “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Being right with God through faith in Christ’s atoning work, you will more and more walk in right conduct toward God. The result is “peace,” which comes from knowing sins are pardoned for Christ’s sake.
God disciplines in order to strengthen us. Those who know this are to put forth their best effort for themselves and for others. With language borrowed from Isaiah 35:3, the author urges you, to reinvigorate your drooping hands for spiritual battle and strengthen your weak knees for faith’s race. Those who are strengthened by God’s discipline are to help clear the track of any obstacles in order to make travel easier for the weak. Lame Christians, not knowing which way to turn and in danger of turning away from Christ, need help from the strong. Just as a sprained ankle must be protected, discouraged Christians must be cared for and protected by their fellow believers. But how often do we kick their crutches out from them, or worse yet, figuratively kick them in the shins when they are most vulnerable? Much better is it to help them get up and cross the finish line in the race set before us.
The time will likely come for each of us when we need that same sort of help from our brothers and sisters. Who of us hasn’t tasted God’s discipline? Sometimes it comes in sharp and swift doses, almost taking our breath away. Other times it comes in slow and steady waves, almost wearing us out. When it comes, who of us hasn’t asked, “Why?” Strangely enough, we can tell our children not to ask why when we discipline them, only to throw that same question at our heavenly Father. Our children are to accept our wisdom as infallible, while we feel free to question the ways of the Almighty.
Not why but what is the proper question when discipline comes. The why we have been told often enough, and the author of Hebrews has repeated it for us again. It is because our Father loves us and wants to mature us for heaven. The what He will show us if we give Him time as He strengthens our faith and uses us to strengthen others. Nor will His discipline go on forever. The day will come when He on whom we fix our eyes in faith will return, and when He does, then we shall see face-to-face and know fully, ever as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Because you have been baptized into Christ, you have put on Christ. Clothed in the righteousness of the Son of God, God now sees you as holy for Jesus’ sake. But while you remain in this fallen world, you experience a paradox of two things: you are simultaneously saint and sinner. God sees you as holy, but you know the sin you continue to struggle with. This is a reality that will always be part of your earthly life, but it does not mean that you give up.
God calls you to struggle against sin. He calls you to a life that is pleasing to Him—and that is also a blessing to you. So for your own good, He disciplines you to correct you, train you, and make you stronger. He has a variety of tools at His disposal: struggles, challenges, and afflictions can all help you grow as you learn to trust in Him and His sufficient grace. This is godly discipline. No, you do not like it, but it is what you need, and it shows that God truly cares. He loves you as His own true child. Godly discipline yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
When times of godly discipline come, remember that they are signs of God’s perfect love. Respond by trusting in Jesus and putting your faith into practice by encouraging others and by doing works of service. The crucified, risen, and ascended Lord is ever serving you, granting repentance, taking away your sins, and equipping you for a godly life. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved

[i] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 421). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. 


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