Endure Hardship As Discipline
Key Verse 11
“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.”
There’s a lot of good wholesome advice here in those verses, advice that can really change our attitude and life all together if, as Jesus once said: We consider carefully what We hear, and how we listen. (Mark 4:24; Luke 8:18) Simply speaking, here’s a truth that we ought to consider carefully. “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.” (11) He’s talking about God’s discipline. He’s talking about suffering. And he’s talking about attitudes of how we view God’s discipline in our lives and the suffering that sometimes comes from it, and the fruits of that discipline.
All people suffer, including God’s children— that’s a given in the Bible. We can trace the subject of suffering everywhere in the Scriptures, beginning with Adam who sinned and brought all kinds of suffering upon the human race. But that we suffer in so many ways in life is true. The Lord Jesus spoke of this: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) We suffer for many reasons, and I’m going to attempt to call them out. So why do God’s people suffer? Let’s see.
One of the reason God’s children (those who are spiritually young or seasoned saints) suffer— is because of our own foolishness. 1 Peter 2:20 says: “How is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” What he’s saying here is that we do a lot of wrong and bad things— sometimes foolish things— and we end up suffering for them. How often have we suffered for the wrong things we have done intentionally or unintentionally, deliberately or in ignorance! Then we suffer when we’re caught. Some people suffer for wrongdoings they repeatedly do even though they’re often caught and know the suffering that results from it. Others think they can get away with it. But when the truth finally comes out they get angry for having to suffer for their wrongdoing as if it were unfair to suffer in that way.
Another reason we suffer in this world is for taking a stand on the truth and righteousness. There is no doubt that if you take a stand on truth, you will surely suffer. Some people have no integrity of heart even if they claim to confess Christ. They’re very comfortable with lies and half truths and deceptions. They hide things. They do things in secret. They speak behind other people’s back. In that way they avoid the suffering that usually comes from being open and honest. But if you stand for the truth— if you do not withhold the truth nor cover the truth, but stand on the truth, although it’s hard at times to do so, you will suffer. But this suffering is with integrity, and far better than the inner suffering that torments those who do not uphold the truth. Of course if you speak the word of God in truth, you will also suffer. That’s why people rather deceive and indulge each other than tell them the truth and lose their friendship or love and admiration. If you make a stand on the truth rather than pleasing friends or colleagues, your will also suffer. But it’s always better to suffer other people’s anger than to withhold the truth in righteousness. John the Baptist suffered the king Herod’s wrath when he rebuked him for sinning against God by taking his brother’s wife for himself. He stood for truth and righteousness.
Another thing we suffer for in this world is our own sins. The Bible tells us that “If we judged ourselves, we would not come under [God’s] judgment.” (1 Corinthians 11:31) In other words, we can either deal with our own sins by repenting of them and turning to God in faith making no excuses, or we can refuse to deal with the sin in our lives, and have God himself deal with it. God will judge sin in our lives one way or another. No sins will go undealt with in our lives; that, we can be sure of! But when he judges us, he disciplines us so that we would not be condemned together with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:32) God’s children are precious to him, and God will deal with the sins in our lives through discipline as he sees fit in order to spare us from his own terrible righteous judgment. And that’s the subject we’re looking at in this passage.
Another reason we suffer is for our past sins. The Bible tells says: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7) And what this means is that if you plant corn, you will not reap beans but corn. When David sinned against God with Bathsheba, God forgave him when he repented with tears, but it didn’t mean that he would not reap what he had sowed. God revealed to him that he would suffer the consequences of his own sin against God and others. (2 Samuel 12) David didn’t complain that life would not be the same after this. He fully understood that God cannot be mocked, that a person reaps what he sows. Suffering comes not as a stroke of bad luck, but as a result of what we sow in our lives. It is always better to sow what’s good and right, what’s godly and gospel centered. The Bible tells us that “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:17-18)
Another reason God’s children suffer is for God’s grand purpose which God doesn’t necessarily always reveals to them. We all know Job and his endless suffering. Job suffered for no reason other than he lived a good and righteous life in the sight of God and of all heaven. Satan wanted to bring him down, and God allowed the suffering to show the world that there are those who love God for who he is— God; that they love God more than his blessings; or anything else in this world; that their love and honor for God isn’t the result of God giving them a good life. We know Abraham who suffered greatly when God required that he sacrifice his one and only son Isaac. God is sovereign and wise. When he allows suffering in our lives, it may be for his own lofty purpose. And he might choose not to reveal that purpose to us if he so wills.
Another reason God’s people suffer is of course for their faith. Chapter 11 is full of those whose faith made history. Many were killed by the sword. They are the great martyrs in our family of faith who suffered unbearably inspiring the generations of Christians to come to walk in their footsteps. The apostle says in verse 4: “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” He is encouraging the Christians who suffer for their faith not to turn back from the faith just because of they’re suffering, but to continue in the faith even at the cost of their own blood. Jesus resisted to the point of shedding his blood. And so did all those who walked in his footsteps of faith. No one can suffer for their faith to the point of shedding their blood on their own, nor by their own strength. But when we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, the Lord himself gives us the inspiration and power to do so! In fact the gospel of the kingdom cannot be spread unless we do it with a martyr’s spirit. A child of God has to be ready to die for the gospel. Otherwise we find ourselves doing nothing except be cautious of everything we say and do and incur guilt for watering down the gospel.
The last thing I want to mention regarding why we suffer is for the sake of discipline. And that’s what we have here in these verses. Read verses 4-13 again. [4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And 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, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 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 our spirits and live! 10 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. 11 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. 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.] This infers child training and discipline for the child’s own good. Punishment is for breaking the law. A judge passes judgment and executes punishment, but a father disciplines and he does it in love for the good of the child. The apostle makes it perfectly clear that you are an illegitimate child if you are not disciplined by the Lord. Many Christians say: “Why does God let this happen to me. I must not be a real Christian.” But the truth is that if you go through suffering, it is proof that you are a child of God. However, there all kinds of responses to the disciplines that God effects in our lives. Let us see how Christians may respond to God’s discipline.
So how do we respond to discipline? There are a few things in these verses that show us how we might respond. Look at verses 5-6.
The first response is that you forget the word of encouragement in the word of God which alone can aid you in your time of trouble. There is always an answer in the word of God for everything that happens in our daily lives and this world. If there’s no clear answer, there’s surely a word of encouragement or comfort that can ease our burden. The Bible is complete in that way. But many Christians choose to forget the word of God or to ignore it especially in times of suffering. It’s too burdensome to go to God in prayer and to read your Bible when you’re suffering or struggling with something that seems hard to understand in your life. Actually in times like this a lot of Christians prefer to use their own logic or way of thinking to handle the difficult things is their lives. Some will complain to someone whom they think would understand their suffering and offer them sympathy to ease their minds and hearts. Often that counsel is useless because it neither helps the person face the real issue nor does it lead them to Christ and to genuine repentance and faith. Some have a knack for finding those who would sympathize and complain along side us for things we should rather be rebuked for. And often we do receive such bad counsel and advice, which takes us further from the truth of the Lord. That’s why we have many bitter and angry Christians who easily forget the word of God’s encouragement. We shouldn’t so easily forget the word of God and the encouragement that comes from it. And we should be open to an encouragement that leads us to faith and to prayer and to genuine repentance and an inner change. Someone once complained that when they go to Mother Barry with a suffering problem they have, she always tells them to study Bible and pray together with her. We shouldn’t forget the word of God nor despise those who point us in that direction and who help us in that way.
The second response to God’s discipline is to make light of it— to treat it lightly. And that’s the attitude of many, even of those who profess the faith. It’s unfortunate how often we make light of the Lord’s discipline in our lives. What this means is that while we’re being disciplined by God, we tend to ignore the discipline for what it is— discipline— and consider it only as an unfortunate event in our lives that we need to simply bear until it’s over. That’s fatalism and the opposite of everything faith stands for. They say: “That’s life! Bad things happen. Everyone has a hard time here and there.” That’s fatalism! And here’s why. Nothing happens in our lives, especially if we are the Lord’s children, without a reason. But make light of it, ignore it— and you’ll never learn anything that the Spirit is teaching you. Here’s another way of understanding what making light of it means. It means playing down the seriousness of God’s discipline in our lives. People whine: “God doesn’t love me. That’s why this is happening to me”, when they should be paying attention to why God does what he does in our lives and seeing it for what it is. A healthy Christian would rather say: “God loves me. That’s why this is happening to me.” Making light of the Lord’s discipline means you do not recognize the fact that your heavenly father loves you enough to discipline you, and you don’t get what he’s trying to tell you through it at all. When Rebecca, Isaac’s wife was suffering unbearably from her pregnancy, she had the sense to know that as long as her life was tied up with God’s, nothing is an accident in her life. So she went to enquire of God: “Why is this happening to me?” she said (Genesis 25:22). And the Lord gave her a meaning and a reason. We should have the sense to know that “I’m a child of God and nothing that happens to me is random or without meaning or purpose”. We should have the sense not to make light of God’s discipline, but cherish it and view it with reverence. Then we will surely come to experience that all things do work out for the good of his children. (Romans 8:28)
The third kind of response to the Lord’s discipline in our lives is to “lose heart”. That’s understandable yet uncalled for, especially for the children of God. Losing heart every time something unpleasant happens to us; every time we don’t like the way God lets things happen in our lives and others’ lives. Losing heart and giving up, complaining, entertaining all kinds of negative thoughts, feeling sorry for ourselves, thinking that it’s not fair! The Lord Jesus suffered more than anyone. And when his suffering was near unbearable, the Lord didn’t lose heart and say “I can’t take it anymore. Enough! Give me a break. I don’t know if I can go on”. He said “Not my will but your will”. God disciplined Jesus because he loved him, and because it was necessary for him to learn obedience from what he suffered. (Hebrews 5:8) In the same way all the discipline God gives his children has a purpose. Read verse 10. “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.” God knows as we also know that suffering, in however way we suffer, is absolutely unpleasant. But God wants us to share in his holiness. Because without holiness, we cannot possibly fellowship with God and share in his glory. That’s why all his discipline is absolutely vital for our spiritual maturity, no matter how unpleasant it might be. This might not be very comforting when someone is actually suffering God’s discipline. But let the truth of this sink into your heart! Comforted in your suffering or not, God wants you to share in his holiness, and he’s prepares you for it.
Look at verse 7. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” This is also another response to the Lord’s discipline in our lives. “Enduring hardship”. But we need to understand this truth, otherwise we miss the point. As wrong as it is to bear the burden of hardship with a fatalistic view, that is, as something unpleasant that you just have no power over— so best that you just take it, so also is to endure hardship with a self righteous attitude that it’s from the Lord, so I might as well take it. What does this mean? Look again at verse 7. When God gives us hardship he wants us to endure it as discipline, and not just to endure it! God doesn’t punish, he disciplines, meaning that through the discipline there is always a lesson to learn— a sin to be repented— an attitude to be changed— a sacrifice to be made— a decision to be followed. A Christian who just endures hardship is one who wants to become a super saint so that he might be praised and glorified for his amazing ability to endure anything. Many endure hardship! Sometimes, what else can they do? But God wants us to accept the discipline in a way that changes our lives. If we don’t, we may get a gold medal for super sainthood, but we can’t possibly grow in holiness nor would we be able to mature inwardly in the way God wants us to.
But if we mature spiritually, enduring hardship as it actually is— as discipline, rather than enduring it as a pain in the behind— here’s what happens. Look at verse 9. “How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!” How should we endure hardship as discipline, in the right way, in God’s way? We submit to our Father God and to his discipline. And we do so because only in our submission we find life, real godly life. Without submission, we can’t possibly have life, nor enjoy the Christian life to the full. Usually what prevents us from submitting to God’s discipline is our pride and our love of ease and comfort. But neither pride nor the love of ease and comfort can help us grow in the fullness of Christian life, even if some are deluded to think they can.
Men’s pride tells them that they are above being disciplined, above being rebuked or chastened, or above being mentored or guided in the way of truth, because in their pride they are also deluded that they are better than that. So they reject discipline, whether from God or his chosen servants. They think “Who do you think you are”. Others, because of their love for ease and comfort think that every discomfort or pain is unnatural and must be resisted and opposed. So they miss out on the life God gives through his discipline. But God gives life to those who in humility of heart submit to his discipline. David was once pelted by a bitter man Shemei who cursed him as he was leaving Jerusalem because of David’s son Absalom who was rebelling against him. One of his generals asked if he should cut off this man’s head for his words and actions. But David, free of all pride and love of ease and comfort refused. “No. It might be from the Lord. So how can I but accept it”. (2 Samuel 16:10) Surely “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. (James 4:6)
So the apostle’s counsel to us is to submit to the Lord’s discipline that we might fully live in the presence and grace of God. Discipline comes to all God’s children, to all whom God loves. His discipline is for the purpose of holiness, but also for the purpose of sanctifying our lives. Our life without discipline is no real life at all. It’s faulty, weak, unfulfilled, unwholesome and unproductive. Look at verse 11. “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.”
There are two things here that are very important for us to know. First is that the sanctified life that results from God’s discipline produces a harvest of righteousness. Look at the life of Jesus. Look at the lives of all those witnesses who went before us. The harvest of righteousness they produced is marked by faith, hope and love. Another thing we learn here is that this fruit of righteousness that discipline produces can’t be produced without the proper training. An athlete can’t possibly achieve his goal unless he is trained. A doctor cannot possibly become a surgeon unless he is trained. Many people rather not train, nor exercise. Maybe it leaves them behind from a physical sense. But spiritual training or exercise is a totally different matter! You may not like training or spiritual exercise, but what will you do when trouble comes to trouble you? What will happen when real hardship knocks on your door? What happens when you have to suffer something unbearable? Or when your enemy assaults you on every side? Are you trained to meet up with all the hardship— with God’s discipline? Will you say to the Lord, “Why me?” Or “Not now?” Or will you be ready to endure the hardship and learn what God would have you learn? Most people hate training. The apostle said it was unpleasant. Actually it’s very unpleasant. But it’s necessary for our spiritual well-being. Without it, we cannot bear the fruit of righteousness, but end up bearing only the fruit of our own sins, the fruits of our selfishness, the fruits of our pride, our rebellion and our despair.
Here’s the apostles final exhortation, what we need to do. We need to train ourselves, and submit ourselves to training. Read verses 12-13. So get up from whatever it is that paralyzes you and makes you weak and unproductive. Don’t remain disabled but be healed in your inner person and in your attitude towards God’s discipline. Train hard spiritually, study the word of God, pray and serve the kingdom. God loves you, and he is making you holy, so that you can bear the good fruit of righteousness.