Discipline for Legitimate Children – Hebrews 12:4-11

Someone recently told me, that it must be hard as a father of three boys to find the right balance between disciplining them and loving them. I think I know the intention was about the “how?” of discipline. Because there should be no disjunction between discipline and love – actually the contrary is the case! That I love my children is shown by me disciplining them. If I wouldn’t care for them (would not love them), I would let them go ahead and give permission to everything they want to (like playing with their bikes on Ashland – one of the bigger streets here in Chicago!).
The author of Hebrews makes a similar argument to some of our brothers and sisters in the first century A.D.
The Argument of this Passage
Those whom God loves He disciplines, and this discipline shows that we are adopted children of Him (the passage for today deals with this part). We should think of the place we have come to – MountZion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem– and do not even think about going back to the old system. We have an unshakable kingdom to inherit!
   
Structure
As we have seen last week (focusing on verses 1-3) chapter 12 can be divided the following way (verses 4-11 will be covered today):
          vv. 1-3:           The Christian Race
          vv. 4-11:         Discipline for Legitimate Children
          vv. 12-17:       Exhortation to Exercise the Faith
          vv. 18-24:       Earthly Mount Sinai and Heavenly Mount Zion
          vv. 25-29:       Exhortation to Listen to God’s Voice
Text
4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 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? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 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.
Brief Exposition
In relating verse 4 with verse 3 we see that “in view of their past experience, this encouragement would have had special relevance for the first readers (cf. 10:32–34), though they had not yet been called upon to resist to the point of shedding your blood” (Peterson, in loc.). The readers have been persecuted, yet martyrdom (as in dying for their faith) was not yet demanded from them.
In verses 5-11the author now turns from the athletic analogy to one of parenting and discipline. First he quotes Prov. 3:11-12 and then proceeds with a commentary on such. The purpose of the theme of discipline is to show the audience that their perspective on suffering and persecution is skewed. It is not because God had abandoned them, but because He treats them as rightful sons (children). 
There are three primary movements (Guthrie, 985):
          vv. 7-8      discipline serves to validate the hearers’ relationship to God
as Father
          v.9             proper response to such discipline (an a fortiori argument)
          vv. 10-11  encouragement by pointing out the benefit of discipline => holiness
                                    (which is God’s character and life; cf. Peterson)
Though a whole lot more could be said we will only make one last comment on this passage before we will move on to the next (see upcoming post). After the human analogy the author writes for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant. This is a reminder that pain and suffering is not pleasant but that it will produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness “in those who have been trained or ‘exercised’ by his discipline. In other words, by his grace, we can begin to share God’s holy life and character here and now” (Peterson, in loc.).
Conclusion
            The need for discipline in our society is more than obvious. Without it, children would not learn obedience and love. As our earthly fathers disciplined us, so are we to discipline. It is not my goal in this post to talk about the howof discipline, but to emphasize that it needs to be done if love is one of the characteristics of the disciplining party.
I hope and pray that we therefore are able to also see that God – out of love! – needs to discipline us when we stray from him (and stray we do). Because He loves us so dearly and adopted us as His children, we can expect His loving care for us. Let us remember the purpose for His loving kindness in disciplining us: he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness (verse 10).
Bibliography
Guthrie, George H. “Hebrews.” Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Ed. G.K. Beale and D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2007.    
Peterson, David. “Hebrews.” New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. Ed. D.A. Carson, et al. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

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