My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, nor 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 ESV
God loves us so much that He disciplines us.
That is not a fun statement.
It is, however, no accident that discipline and disciple come from the same root word for training or teaching. You cannot be a disciple of Christ without facing the discipline of the LORD because discipline is a means of teaching and training us to follow Jesus.
In fact, Proverbs teaches that disciplining his children is an expression of parental love, while the lack of discipline is equated with hatred.
Consider two proverbs.
Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline.”
Do we think of discipline in those terms? If a father does not discipline his children, he hates them. He does not love his children, and he is setting them up for failure later on in life.
Or Proverbs 19:18: “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.”
That’s saying that without discipline, children are heading for death (maybe not always in this life, but certainly spiritual death).
Discipline is a good thing. Hebrews 12:7-11 also quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 and then offers this commentary:
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? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 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? 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. 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.
Anyone who has ever exercised knows the truth presented in these verses. In the moment, the discipline of working out is painful, not pleasant. But in the long run, it produces the fruit of greater endurance for our bodies. Likewise, God’s discipline is a means of training us and growing us in the peace, righteousness, and holiness of God.
Let me make this clear, the discipline of the LORD is NOT punishment. The ultimate goal of discipline is not to punish sin but to correct the heart. Discipline takes us off the path leading to destruction and back onto the path leading to eternal life. It corrects us out of love, calling us toward repentance. Punishment is simply about satisfying justice, but discipline is about teaching, instructing, and correcting. Punishment is an act of righteousness, but discipline is an act of love, mercy, and grace.
In the Bible, there are (at least) two big forms of God’s discipline, and they both center on suffering.
First, God sometimes disciplines us by allowing us to face the consequences of our sin. Remember that we believe that Jesus’ death absorbed all the punishment for our sins; therefore, there is not one ounce of God’s wrath left for us. We have nothing but love, grace, and favor from God our Father. But at times, God allows us to feel the temporal consequences of our sin as a means of discipline. These consequences are meant to show us the sinfulness of our sin and remind us that sin leads to death.
We find God using this form of discipline on Israel in the Old Testament. Coming out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were meant to enter the land of Canaan and conquer it by God’s strength. Unfortunately, only two of the twelve spies sent into the land encouraged the Israelites to trust the LORD to give them the land, and the people eagerly sided with the other ten. God, therefore, caused the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for forty years until that present generation died off. God did not permit them to enter into the land of promise because they failed to trust Him. This wilderness wandering was a disciplinary act of the LORD as a consequence of their sin. In fact, at the end of the forty years, God explicitly tells them this in Deuteronomy 8:2-5:
And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did you fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not sell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.
The LORD allowed them to feel the consequence of their sin as discipline, not punishment. The entire point of the wilderness was to teach them trust in Him. The humility of forcing the Israelites to rely upon God for their daily provision was an act of love from the LORD.
The second form of discipline is through general sufferings, which are the natural sufferings that come with living in a broken, fallen world. In other words, these are sufferings that are not the consequences of particular sins but instead are the result of living in a world scarred by sin. Paul speaks of these sufferings in Romans 5:3-5:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been give to us.
Why does God allow us to go through suffering?
Because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hoping in God means trusting and relying upon Him. Suffering forces us to hope only in God, to trust Him. Suffering conforms us to the image of Christ. Suffering brings into closer communion with the LORD.
All suffering, whether it is the consequence of our sin or simply the product of life, is the discipline of the LORD. For the Christian, this is good news because it allows us to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that nothing happens to us as a punishment from God. Jesus has already absorbed every drop of punishment for our sins, satisfying the justice of the Father. Therefore, every trial and suffering that we face, even when caused by our own sin, God uses to discipline us, teaching us how to trust Him more and more.
How has God disciplined you through suffering?
How has your suffering caused you to trust Him more?