God’s Discipline Proves His LoveJanuary 6th, 2013 • Posted in Hebrews, Messages/Sermons • 382 views
The First Sunday of 2013
GOD’S DISCIPLINE PROVES HIS LOVE
Key verse: 12:11
“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.”
Today is the first Sunday of 2013. Time runs fast and does not wait for us. Six days have already passed. Every fall, tens of thousands of people from all over the world come to New York City to participate in the annual New York City Marathon. The course begins in Staten Island near the Verrazano Bridge, winds through Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, and finally ends near Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Although there is only one official winner, I find not all participants run to get first place. In fact, most participants are eager to run the full course and feel extremely happy about their achievement. Unfortunately, it was cancelled in 2012 due to the serious storm damages caused by Hurricane Sandy. But in 2011, a world record number of 46,795 runners (29,867 men and 16,928 women) completed the race. I don’t know about you, but someday before I die, I hope to participate in the New York City Marathon and complete the full race. But even if I can’t do it, I know I am already running the spiritual New York City Marathon, along with all of you.
Our life of faith is often compared to running a race, especially running a long distance race, like a marathon. At the end of his life, Apostle Paul confessed in his letter to his spiritual son, Timothy, that he had fought the good fight of faith and had finished the race. (2 Tim. 4:7) In today’s passage, the author of Hebrews gives good tips as to how we can run the race of faith successfully.
Look at verses 1-4. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith. For the joy before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
The word “Therefore” brings us back to Hebrews Chapter 11, in which the author mentions the heroic faith of Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, David, and Daniel who had run the race to the end in spite of terrible difficulties. None of these men and women of faith had lived an easy life. Yet, their life of faith truly inspires us to overcome our difficulties and be able to live also by faith in New York City. We are truly fortunate to know these men and women of faith in the Bible as well as the spiritual heritage of other numerous men and women of faith in our time.
In verses 1-4, the author strongly encourages his audience to run the race with perseverance and to never give up. For the successful race of our faith, most importantly we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, the champion of our faith and the one who initiates and perfects our faith. Jesus isn’t just the prime example of our faith but also the source of our faith. In other words, the more we look at Jesus by faith, who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, the stronger faith we can have in God’s power and love. That’s why the author said Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. This reminds us of what Jesus said to his disciples in John 6:53-56, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”According to these verses, having faith in Jesus means to have Jesus living in us.
Apparently, first century believers grew weary and lost the motivation to keep their faith in Christ due to the constant persecutions, chronic problems and difficulties in their lives. They were discouraged. Some of them actually hardened their hearts (3:8, 15). They even doubted God’s love and even His existence. It seems that many of them were about to give up their life of faith and go back to the old lifestyle they had before meeting Christ. Once people harden their hearts, it’s hard to help them.
Realizing their hardened hearts was related to their misunderstanding of God’s love, the author challenged them to correct their understanding of God’s love. In verses 5-13, the author reminds them that God’s discipline in their lives actually proves His love for them. Look at verses 5-6. “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Apparently, many first century believers, like some of us today, thought if God truly loved them, He should have treated them much better, not letting them experience hardships. Especially people tend to listen to what their itching ears want to hear, like the prosperity gospel, which teaches that God blesses those He favors with material wealth. But that’s not what the Bible truly teaches. Rather, the Bible repeatedly teaches us that God disciplines His loving children. In other words, God’s love isn’t always sweet, like when we receive candy. God’s love is sometimes very hard to take. In order for us to be sanctified and bear fruit of the Holy Spirit in us, God disciplines us. Sometimes, God puts us in certain situations where we cannot do anything except depend on His sovereignty and power.
Look at verses 7-8. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined – and everyone undergoes discipline – then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.” All children of God receive divine discipline, without exception, including all the patriarchs of faith in the Bible. For example, Abraham and Sarah had no physical children for many years even though God had promised to establish a great nation through their descendants. Why did God delay fulfilling His promise? It’s because through their childless situation, God trained Abraham and Sarah to be a mature man and woman of faith. If in fact God did not train Abraham and Sarah, they could not have grown to be true blessings to others. God disciplines His children because of His deep love for them. Joseph is known as the shadow of Christ in the Old Testament. But, in many ways, he also received divine discipline.
Job was a blameless and righteous man; he feared God and shunned evil. In fact, he was so good God had boasted about him to Satan. “Look at my friend, Job!” Then Satan replied, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” He quickly said Job served God only because God had put a hedge around him, his household and everything he had. He challenged God by telling him to remove his blessings from Job, and that Job would definitely curse God. God gave Satan the permission to afflict Job. Job lost all he had. He got sick and his wife even left him after saying to him, “Curse God and die!” However, Job never cursed God. Yet, he confessed God’s disciplinary love for him by saying “He (God) knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10) What did he mean by saying “when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold”? He meant that when God’s discipline would end, he would come out of it a much better person than he was. He never doubted God’s love. In fact, Job believed that God’s discipline proved His love for him.
Look at verse 9 and 10. “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 the spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.” I had a very loving father. I remember him buying me a lot of toys, candy and many good things. He always took me around and often played sports with me. Although we didn’t have good communication, I knew my father loved me very dearly. I don’t remember him disciplining or spanking me for doing anything wrong because I behaved very well. However, due to the lack of parental discipline in my life, certain parts of me remained undeveloped and immature. But God has been disciplining me in many different ways. Although I didn’t realize God was disciplining me and didn’t always like the way God disciplined me, I found that God’s discipline is always good. One of the most painful parts of God’s discipline is breaking human dreams. I still don’t like it. Yet, by breaking my human dream, God’s hope and vision becomes more real and clearer to me. I wonder what would have happened to my life if God hadn’t disciplined me. The author says if God does not discipline us, we are not His true children. We would remain as unchanged people. Therefore, if we realize that God disciplines us, we should not be discouraged. We should not lose heart. Instead, we should be sure of God’s love and His sovereignty. We should pay attention to Him more closely.
We also must know that God does not discipline us because we make mistakes. If God disciplines us whenever we make a mistake, then we should be very careful not to make any. That would be impossible and our Christian life would be full of worries and fears. On one hand, God does not discipline us even when our mistakes are so obvious. On the other hand, God sometimes disciplines us when we are doing very well without making any mistakes, like in Job’s case. God disciplines all His children for their good according to His wisdom and purpose.
God disciplines us for the purpose of sanctification, which will result in the best in Christ Jesus. Saint Peter said to the early Christians who were under trials, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”(1 Peter 1:6,7) When we are surrounded by many trials and difficulties, we immediately feel alarmed. We don’t feel like rejoicing. Yet, Saint Peter encourages us to rejoice, greatly rejoice. Of course, if sufferings are the result of our wrong doings, we should repent. Yet, we should still trust in God’s mercy and His sovereignty.
We don’t know God deep enough. But we are deeply known by God. God knew us even before we were conceived in our mother’s womb. He knows our sitting down and rising up and even our inmost thoughts. And He disciplines us for our good according to His wisdom and plan. James 1:2-4 also read, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials or many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”The author of Hebrews shares a similar view to Saint Peter and James. 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.”In fact, God’s discipline makes our life truly genuine, beautiful and wholesome, like a pearl in oysters. It’s amazing to know how a beautiful and gorgeous pearl is formed in an oyster. Pearls are oyster irritants. Natural pearls, sometimes called “Oriental pearls”, are created in the oyster’s stomach when an irritant, like sand or a very small rock particle, intrudes the mollusk’s shell. To protect itself from the intruder, the oyster produces a liquid called “nacre”, which is the same material the oyster uses to build its shell. Nacre is concealed over and over in layers enveloping the irritant making it smoother. Eventually over time, the layers, in a snowball effect, create a large, shiny pearl of various colors, white, pink, black, red, blue and green. Pearls usually take an average of 3 years to reach their full size. If you have hardship and difficulties in your life, it maybe that God is forming a spiritual pearl in you. So rejoice! How many spiritual pearls do you want to see in you at the end of your life? No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening – it’s painful. But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
Look at verses 12 and 13. “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”In 2013, undoubtedly God would discipline all His loving children, including all of us here today. If we are not disciplined, we are not His true children. It’s not our personal choice. Whether we like it or not, God will discipline us for our good. From a human perspective, it’s scary because we don’t know what will happen in 2013. Yet, from a spiritual point of view, 2013 will be a truly exciting year because God will continue to work in us according to his good purpose and wisdom. When we are trained by God’s discipline, we will be more loving, forgiving, patient, kind, grateful, gracious, confident and free. Though outwardly we might be wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For us who believe in God’s loving discipline, 2013 will be a win-win situation no matter what happens.
Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to accept hardship and suffering as God’s loving discipline this year as well. We should never compare ourselves with others because in His great wisdom and love, God custom-designed discipline for the spiritual welfare of each of His children. We should neither be afraid of nor remain passive to the coming difficulties and hardships, knowing that if God is for us, no one and nothing can be against us. We should be confident that God who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion this year and until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). Are your arms feeble? Are your knees shaking in fear and uncertainty? Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Stand up straight and run the race with confidence and perseverance. When we complete our race, the crown of glory will be given to us from our Lord Jesus Christ. Have some of you stopped running the race? You can start running again. Let’s run together this year. Victory is guaranteed to all those who run after our Lord Jesus Christ. We are a family in God. None of us should drop out of the race. We will all win or lose. Let us love and encourage one another more and more this year so that all of us may be able to complete the race marked out for us.