READ : Proverbs 3:11-12
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Proverbs 3:11-12, RSV
God subjects His children to discipline and reproof. That’s the plain thrust of these words and of many others in the Scriptures. Further, it is the experience of multitudes of God’s people in every generation. Chastening and correction are most surely involved in God’s dealings with His own.
The writer to the Hebrews makes the point that such discipline is not only inevitable, but essential to our lives as God’s children. Listen:
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons and daughters. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
No true child of God, we learn, is ever deprived of this discipline. Earthly parents may neglect it, and sometimes do. They may “spare the rod,” as we say. They may treat disobedience and rebellion with indifference, even amusement. They may indulgently look the other way. They may spoil their children by withholding from them the chastening and correction they sorely need. But God will not do that.
To leave His children without discipline would be for God a kind of disowning of them. He would be denying His fatherly relationship to them. He would be treating them as illegitimate, as though they did not really belong to Him. A child of God without discipline would be abandoned, deprived, disinherited.
We all know something of how earthly parents administer discipline. How does God do this? Does He too give words of censure? Does He sometimes speak sternly to His children, chide them for their wrong attitudes, their erring ways? Indeed! We learn that this is one of the chief ministries that He exercises in our lives through the words of Scripture. Listen to these from the apostle Paul: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Note that: reproof, correction, training in righteousness. God disciplines His children sometimes by word.
Sometimes that may happen as we study the Scriptures alone or in a group. Sometimes it may come as another preaches or teaches the Word in our hearing. Sometimes the Spirit may call to our minds a word of Scripture we have learned or heard before. Suddenly we see in a fresh and personal way its application to our lives, our situation. We sense that God is calling us up short, confronting us about our behavior.
Sometimes human parents also deprive their children of things for a time. They withhold some valued privilege. “You can’t use the car.” “You may not call so-and-so on the telephone.” Or the dreaded words, “You’re grounded,” that is, for such and such a time your activities are going to be severely limited.
Does God ever deal with His children like that? I believe He does. Christians often suffer losses and deprivations. Some project in which we have emotionally invested ourselves goes nowhere. We’re shaken with disappointment. We may go through financial reverses, suffer declining health, lose a cherished friend. We may find our lives hemmed in by circumstances over which we have no control. We may assign all that to chance or just to bad breaks. But may we not see in it also His hand? Christians nurtured in the biblical faith cannot separate these things from God’s providence and, in some sense, His discipline.
Earthly parents sometimes go beyond censure and deprivation. They even inflict pain. According to the writer to Hebrews, God’s chastening can include all kinds of afflictions. We may be humiliated, exposed to scorn. We may endure harsh treatment, even physical persecution. We may become the objects of the most bitter hostility. We may be mocked, maligned, even martyred. But the Scriptures tell us that we should not find any of that surprising. All of this is somehow a part of God’s dealings with His children. If He does not send these things, He at least allows them to come, doesn’t He?
WEARY WITH IT
When these things befall us, we are told, we are not to despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of His reproof. Let’s ask ourselves: How would a person do that? How would we despise God’s chastening? Suppose you’ve recently lost your job or had a business deal turn out badly. Maybe you’ve had an accident or you’ve been struggling with a handicap you’ve never had before. What would it mean for you to despise the Lord’s discipline in those things?
If the chastening came by word, despising it could mean refusing to listen. You don’t want to hear any criticism. You’re not willing to examine in God’s light the way you’ve been living. You reject the word of the Lord or you argue with it or simply turn a deaf ear.
We may despise God’s chastening by failing to see it in relation to Him. As we consider what’s happening to us, we don’t give God a thought. It’s as though for us He’s absent, uninvolved, almost nonexistent. We may condemn the role of other people in what we have suffered. We may lament our circumstances and curse our luck. But we aren’t led to God by what we experience. However we deal with it or react to it, we don’t take Him into account. Whatever purpose He may have in mind in what happens is completely lost upon us. We simply stew over it on our own.
But there’s another way of despising the Lord’s correction. We may see it as coming from Him but draw the wrong conclusions about it. We may even slander God’s motives. We may attribute to Him an attitude toward us that isn’t there. We may become angry, rail at Him, even hate Him because of what has come upon us. Or maybe we don’t express feelings like that, but we still have them down underneath.
Yes, and with that we may soon grow weary of His correction. Disappointment and pain lead to bitterness. We alternate between self-accusation and self-pity. Before very long, we’re discouraged. We’re fed up with life. We’re ready to give up. We’re sick and tired of the discipline of the Lord.
Now that may sound like the worst outcome, but it isn’t. Resentment against God, pained outcry, feelings of abandonment – painful and unchristian as all that sounds, is still far better than ignoring God, or acting as though He didn’t exist. It’s better than the final bleakness of imagining that everything happens by chance. You know what I mean. “That’s the way it goes,” we say. “That’s the way the ball bounces.” “That’s my luck.”
But, friends, it’s not part of my purpose to judge you or come down on you. Whatever your attitude is, it’s bad enough that you’ve had to go through what you’ve suffered, without any further putdowns from me or anyone else. And however you may have bungled in dealing with your disappointments, I’m sure I’ve sometimes done it worse. Maybe you haven’t listened to what God was saying to you. Maybe you’ve forgotten about Him entirely. Or maybe you’ve cursed Him in your heart. But all you know is that it hurts terribly. You’re torn up about it and you’re tired out. And here comes the Word of God or the advice of some preacher telling you not to feel that way. How can that possibly help anything?
LOVE IN DISGUISE
Let me simply echo this word of Scripture and share some thoughts about it that have helped me. “The Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” Let that tell you something about what you’ve been going through. It’s not blind fate, not a meaningless jumble of chance events. It’s not because God hates you. Oh, believe that. There’s nothing malicious or vengeful about it at all. It doesn’t necessarily mean that God is impatient with you; and it surely doesn’t mean that He’s rejected you. If you trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are God’s child. With Him you are totally accepted. Christ has suffered for all your sins, carried all your guilt, exhausted any judgment due to you by the sacrifice of Himself. You will never, never be punished or banished because of your sins.
In fact, precisely the opposite is true. Whatever you may have done, however you may have messed up, God is dealing with you kindly. Now I’m not mocking you in that. I’m not saying it’s easy for you to see that. I know it isn’t. But the word is that God’s chastening is a ministry of love toward those for whom He wants the best. It is not imposed on people whom God despises or wants to put down but on those over whom He rejoices. Can you believe that?
Listen to this word to God’s people Israel when they had been through the wringer of suffering, defeat and exile. “Do not fear, O Zion, let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, the warrior who gives victory. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will renew you in his love. He will exult over you with loud singing.” Do you get that? God rejoices in His wayward, struggling people. He sings over people like you and me.
I can’t stress enough the importance of seeing the motivation behind God’s ways with us. You know how it is when a loved one or a good friend says something to you that sounds cruel. You’re taken off guard. You’re suddenly uneasy. You stop what you’re doing and you look in that person’s face for reassurance. You have to know that they don’t mean it that way. You answer, “Hey, smile when you say that.” The smile brings the reassurance that you haven’t lost them. They still care.
Seeing the motivation behind God’s dealings with us is very close to what the Bible means by faith. Faith means trusting in God’s good will when all our circumstances seem to indicate otherwise. It’s seeing His smile when everything else seems to frown. The Tzeltal Indians have a phrase for it: “Hanging onto God with your heart.”
“How can I be sure about that?” you ask. “How do I know that’s not just wishful thinking? What can give me confidence that God’s love for me is something real?”
Oh, friends, the answer, the one, great sufficient answer, is Jesus Christ. See Him, the Lord of glory, becoming a helpless baby to share our life. Listen to His words of grace. Watch His works of mercy and healing. Hear His faithful promises. See Him in Gethsemane and in Pilate’s hall, scorned by His countrymen, mocked by soldiers. See Him spend His life willingly for us all, praying as He does, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” There, in the gift of God’s beloved Son, in the Savior dying for us all, we see the breadth and length, depth and height of God’s love for us. We tune in to the apostle’s logic. “If God didn’t spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” If He didn’t withhold from us His best and dearest, if He loved us enough to give His Son, surely all that He sends us is planned by love and meant for our good.
That, at least for me, is how I can be sure. I’ve seen enough of suffering in the world around me and known enough of heartbreak in my own family to make any comfort apart from this gospel seem cheap and shallow. Only a God who cares enough to enter our struggle and bear upon His own heart our sins and sorrows is big enough to believe in, great and gracious enough to win our hearts. But this Father of glory, this Father of mercies, this Father who sent Jesus, He’s the One our hearts need. He’s the One in whom we find rest. I pray today that the knowledge of Him may so touch your life that you won’t despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of His reproof. I pray that you will know yourself to be in Jesus Christ one whom He loves, a son or daughter in whom God delights.
PRAYER: Lord, sometimes it’s hard to bear what You send us. Give us grace not to make it worse by forgetting Your love, by wandering away from You. But help us to know that behind a frowning providence You hide a smiling face. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.