************ Sermon on Hebrews 12:4-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 20, 2017
"Discipline, Not Punishment"
We have looked at many of the great heroes of faith of the Old Testament. Run the race, says Hebrews, just as the heroes of faith ran the race. Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Remember what we learned? It is hard to run when you are entangled by sin.
This brings us to the words of verse 4: "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." Hebrews is talking about the Christian's struggle against sin and temptation. Hebrews is talking about sins that entangle us as we run the race: anger, jealousy, lust, gossip, physical or spiritual laziness, pride, covetousness, the love of money. Striving against them is something we need to do and must do. Striving against them is the project, the assignment, the calling God has given you. According to Hebrews, it is not something we are good at: "you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." In other words, you have not resisted hard enough yet.
We need to resist sin and temptation. But this is not something we can do on our own. Our Bible reading makes clear God is at work in you and me so we can struggle and resist the sin that entangles.
I Why Life is Hard
A We are to live the life of faith, just like the Old Testament heroes of faith. We are to run the race of faith, just like Jesus. This does not mean life becomes a bed of roses. This does not mean health and wealth. This does not mean life is peaches and cream.
When you confess Jesus as Lord, when you enter the Kingdom of heaven, when you believe Jesus died for you and arose for you, life can be hard. Very hard. Extremely difficult. Why? Do we blame Satan? Do we blame Satan's demons? Some people think this way. They think if things go wrong in life it is of the devil. Why is it we are going through this? Why are we suffering? Why have we lost our property, our home, our business, our friends? Why has this happened to us? Why is life so hard? They blame Satan.
Here is the real answer: It is the discipline of God. When you have difficulties and challenges in your life, don't blame Satan, don't point the finger at Satan. Satan is not sovereign. Satan is not all powerful. Satan has no control over us and our lives. Don't ever forget, we have been delivered from his power.
The problems and trials that come into our life, the challenges that we face, the pain that we experience, are not the work of Satan. Those things in life that require us to have courage and call us to have a strong faith is the discipline of God at work in us.
B The word "discipline" occurs ten times in our Bible reading. Telling us it is an important word. Telling us it is the theme of our passage.
The Greek word for "discipline" is "paideia." This word is used for the upbringing of children, who need direction, teaching, instruction, and discipline. Discipline. The rearing of a child. The training of a child. The teaching of a child. The correcting of a child. The discipling of a child. A related word, "paidagogos," means a child trainer, a child mentor, a child teacher. The word group speaks of whatever occurs in the life of children to cultivate their soul, to correct, to control passions, to protect them from danger, to produce virtue, to build character.
Paideia. Paidagogos. These are words to keep in mind as we shortly start up our church programs for another year. Sunday School and Catechism teachers, elders, pastors, youth leaders, and Cadet and Gems counselors all have one goal: to function as a paidagogos, to train and mentor and teach our children and youth.
Paideia. Paidagogos. This is what our heavenly Father does for us who are His children. It is part of our training, our instruction, as Christians.
This means you need to look differently at the difficulties in your life. Don't look at them as negatives; instead, see them as the training of God in your life.
Some Christians have so many afflictions. Others seem to have hardly any. This tells us that God does not necessarily work with all of us the same way. God does not always give all His children serious and severe discipline. But there are times when He does. And when He does, it is always for His glory and our ultimate good.
C Go back to my sermon title this evening: "Discipline, Not Punishment." Realize, dear friends, there is a great difference between divine punishment and divine discipline. We all know the difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline speaks of training for a good outcome. Punishment speaks of retribution, vengeance, wrath. We talked about divine punishment this morning. We talked about the curse of God. We talked about the vicarious atonement of Christ that alone can free us from hell. Christ experienced punishment. Christ sustained in body and soul the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race. Christ shouldered the curse of God. And, someday, unless you believe Jesus took your place, you will be sent to eternal hell fire and you will experience the curse, the anger, and the punishment of God. But that is not what we are dealing with in Hebrews 12.
God does not punish His sons and daughters. Rather, God disciplines His sons and daughters. That's why life sometimes is so hard for us as Christians. God is discipling us. Correcting us. Training us. Exercising discipline.
II Three Reasons for Discipline
A Scripture indicates three reasons or purposes for God's discipline of His children.
The first reason is correction. Correction. God is in the correcting business. As Jesus puts it in John 15:
(Jn 15:2) He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.We all have sins in our life that need the discipline of correction. God cuts off to make me better and more fruitful.
Remember what happened in the Corinthian church? Because of improper eating and drinking at the Lord's Table, God's discipline rested upon the congregation and many among them became weak and sick. God even took some to heaven. The purpose of God's discipline in the Corinthian church was correction.
Understand that God's discipline is not punishment but correction. It is not condemnation but love. It often takes pain and suffering to get rid of sin. Realize this comes from God.
B There is a second reason for God's discipline of His children: prevention. Sometimes God's discipline prevents sin. Sometimes God is putting a fence around you. Sometimes God is guarding and protecting you.
As parents we put fences, restrictions, restraints, around our children all the time. We keep them from evil companions. We do not allow them to watch certain TV programs. We forbid them from going to certain kinds of websites. We are protecting our children. Hopefully, we are preventing the worst kinds of sins.
In the same way as a father guards and protects his children, so the Lord disciplines us. He wants to prevent certain sins in our life.
C And, there is a third reason for God's discipline of His children. The third reason is education. The Lord wants us to learn to depend upon Him, to find safety and security in Him. We need to realize danger is everywhere in a fallen world: crooks and murderers in our neighborhoods, fires and floods in nature, zealots and tyrants in the world, lurking germs and viruses in our bodies. No human, no home, no place is safe. God wants us to learn that the Lord alone is our safety and security.
Do things seem hard in your life? Realize it is the Lord's discipline: to correct, to guard, to teach.
D The Apostle Paul defended his apostleship by pointing to the many ways he experienced suffering and pain. How do we know he was an apostle? Look at all the suffering in his life. Sometimes it was correction. Sometimes it was prevention. Sometimes it was education. But always it was discipline. Try this argument on the Health and Wealth Gospel, the Prosperity Gospel, the Name It and Claim It Gospel, the Prayer of Jabez Gospel. They don't want to hear of God's discipline. In fact, they run from it and claim the opposite.
How do you know you are one of the Lord's saints? Look at the suffering in your life. It is not random. It is not accidental. It is not from Satan. We have a loving heavenly Father Who disciplines us for His purposes and our good.
III Remember - don't Forget
A Now, look at the text for this evening. Hebrews accuses its audience of forgetting. "You have forgotten." Forgotten. Not remembered. What have they forgotten? Hebrews says they have forgotten a "word of encouragement" for sons and daughters of God when it comes to pain and suffering and discipline. Hebrews is saying, "You should not be surprised. You should not be shocked. You should be expecting this. You should be expecting the Lord's discipline to correct, to prevent, to educate."
A footnote at the bottom of our pew Bibles tells us the word of encouragement comes from Proverbs 3:11-12.
(Heb 12:5-6) "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, (6) because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."Remember who Hebrews is written to? To Jewish Christians. To people familiar with Proverbs. To people raised on the Old Testament Scriptures. Have you forgotten? Have you forgotten the proverb that the Lord loves and therefore He disciplines. Have you forgotten the proverb that the Lord receives and therefore He corrects.
So Hebrews wants its audience to remember from Proverbs that discipline comes from the Lord.
B "My son [my daughter], do not make light of the Lord's discipline." We can treat it lightly by not thinking spiritually about it. We can treat it lightly by seeing it as unjust and unfair. We can treat it lightly by refusing to repent and change, by allowing sin, by not learning God's lessons.
"My son [my daughter], do not lose heart when he rebukes you." That's the opposite problem. Don't complain about the Lord's discipline. Don't become sour and bitter like Israel in the wilderness. Don't become depressed and despondent. Don't sink so low you are going to the medicine cabinet or the alcohol cupboard all the time just to cope. Don't have a "poor me" mentality. Instead, be like David in Psalm 42:
(Ps 42:11) Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.You should never despair about the trouble that comes into your life. Remember, don't forget, it is the discipline of God.
C Look at the next line of the proverb: "the Lord disciplines those he loves." The Lord's discipline shows something. The Lord's discipline shows He loves you. He cares for you. The Lord's discipline proceeds from His love. Be assured, my brothers and sisters, that everything that comes into your life comes from God's love.
And now the last line of the proverb: "he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." God wants the best for His children. God wants to correct them, God wants to protect them, God wants to educate them. What son or daughter is there whom our heavenly Father doesn't discipline? All of the heavenly Father's sons and daughters can expect discipline. God does not spoil His children. God does not neglect his children. God does not ignore His children. God disciplines those who belong to Him.
Let me jump to the end of our Bible reading. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful." Of course it is painful. It is not meant to be a pleasant experience. Our kids do not enjoy the discipline we give them. Similarly, we do not enjoy the discipline of the heavenly Father. When you are going through agony and pain -- illness, cancer, job loss, economic stress, family problems, marital problems, work problems -- it doesn't seem joyful. It seems sorrowful. Yet, to those who have been trained and corrected and protected and educated by it, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.
It is the world that reacts negatively to this. But not the Christian. Because we take the view of faith, that God is doing something to me. God is working with me. God is remaking me into His image.
Remember how we started? "In your struggle against sin." In your struggle against sin do not forget the Lord's word of encouragement in Proverbs -- that God disciplines His children.
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