Discipline is an unavoidable part of God’s plan for spiritual transformation.
Mature Christians should be able to offer a few personal examples.
It’s helpful to see how the father in the book of Proverbs included this truth as he trained his son about life with God. The father challenged his son to trust in the Lord with all his heart and acknowledge the Lord in all his ways. To respond this way to God, the son must avoid the temptation to lean on his own understanding. He must fear the Lord and shun evil, lest he become wise in his own eyes. He must also understand a firm truth about life with God — “the Lord disciplines those he loves” (Proverbs 3:5-11).
If he responds to the Lord as his father guided him, he will “make his path straight or smooth” and it will “bring health to his body and nourishment to his bones.” If he honors God with his wealth, with the firstfruits of his crops, he will have an overflowing provision from the Lord.
But will things always go this way for His son? The father knew better. David Hubbard suggested that the father,
“. . . knew that perfect obedience was an impossibility. The temptations were too pressing and attractive; individuals were too gullible and willful. No matter how clearly God marked out the paths of righteousness, some would miss them by carelessness and others would leave them by stubbornness. And when they did, because their basic trust was in God and their deep-seated desire was to please Him, He would meet them as a disciplining Father determined to point out their mistakes and return them to the right road” (pp. 72-73, Communicators Commentary, Proverbs).
The words of Proverbs 3:11 suggest that the son may be tempted to misunderstand the Lord’s discipline. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke.” Like a child who resents his father or mother when they discipline him, so God’s children sometimes resent His fatherly discipline.
It is this exact concern that occasioned the New Testament use of these verses from Proverbs found in Hebrews 12.
The Hebrew Christians (to whom the book of Hebrews was written) were facing intense persecution and suffering. They were being persecuted mostly by their Jewish friends and relatives who opposed their turn to Jesus as Messiah.
These believers were in danger of being overwhelmed with discouragement because of a false reading of their circumstances. It is this that occasioned a very significant use of Proverbs 3:11-12:
“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, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son’” (Hebrews 12:5,6).
Notice how the New Testament author takes a text of scripture written centuries earlier and treats it as the voice of God conversing with suffering believers in New Testament times. He personalized the text in verse 5 when he wrote; “addresses you.”
Then, in Hebrews 12:7-13, the writer applied the authority of the text from proverbs by expounding its implications — resulting in one of the most in-depth treatments of the subject of God’s discipline.
NT use of OT Scriptures:
Not unlike other New Testament uses of the Old, this one freely re-applies the Old Testament text, without drifting outside its original intention. The quote runs this way, “do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you.” It picks up the Septuagint (Greek translation of the O.T.) addition: “and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” But the main truth is that “the Lord disciplines those he loves.” The readers of the book of Hebrews needed to hear this so they would not misread their hardships as an indication that God had abandoned them—that he was unconcerned for their well-being.
The author of Hebrews argues for the opposite position.
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 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! 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. 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” (Hebrews 12:7-11).
The statement in Hebrews 12:7 is significant: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.” Their hardships were brought on primarily by mistreatment from others. Here they are encouraged to “endure it” — (don’t collapse and give up) — as God’s discipline. As an example, verses 2-3 appeal to Jesus.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him 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 sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Emphasis mine).
Perhaps it is most difficult to discern the hand of God or, “God treating us as sons,” when difficulties come from hostile treatment by others. Yet it is at these times that we must rise above the circumstances and see God as superior to the evil intentions of people. We must resolve to see our situation as from our heavenly father — not from those who treat us with hostility. We must confess our Father’s greater love and ask him to sustain us and thank him that he is willing to take so much time to conform us to his likeness. “God disciplines us for our good that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
Endure the unpleasant work of the planting and growing season by being mindful of the harvest (see Hebrews 12:11). What did Joseph say to his frightened brothers in Genesis 50:20? “Although you intended evil against me God meant it for good to bring about the saving of many lives.” The Psalmist recognized another benefit in suffering when he wrote: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” and “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I may learn your decrees” (119:67, 71).