“Lord, how happy is anyone you discipline and teach from your law” (Ps. 94:12).
Happy to be disciplined? Is that even possible? The writer of Hebrews said, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful” (Heb. 12:11a). Unpleasant and painful sounds right. But then he said this: “Later on … it [discipline] yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (v. 11b).
Unpleasant. Painful. Yet profitable. Therefore, yes, “how happy” we can be when disciplined.
Already, we see that the thought of divine discipline can elicit various reactions. How should we think about God’s discipline?
Leviticus 26 lists of series of blessings and curses on God’s people—blessings if they obeyed Him, curses if they disobeyed Him. The Lord warned them in verse 18, “But if after these things you will not obey me, I will proceed to discipline you seven times for your sins.” “Seven times” indicates “thoroughly” or “to the fullest measure.” God’s people could expect His hand of discipline if they didn’t follow His commands. Even today, we should not be surprised by God’s hand of discipline.
There are three things we can affirm are always true whenever God disciplines His children:
God’s discipline is evidence of His love (Prov. 3:12; Heb. 12:6-7).
“Do not despise the Lord’s instruction, my son, and do not loathe his discipline; for the Lord disciplines the one he loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights” (Prov. 3:11-12).
Likewise, the writer of Hebrews said, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves and punishes every son he receives. Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline—which all receive—then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:5-8).
Who loves his child more—a father who allows the child to do what will harm him, or the father who corrects and disciplines the child to help him learn what is right? God’s discipline is evidence of His love for us.
“Love precedes discipline,” said Puritan theologian John Owen. God is not a mean disciplinarian. He disciplines us not because He takes delight in inflicting pain but because He delights in us.
God’s discipline is purposeful (Heb. 12:10-12).
“For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-12).
The word discipline means “to teach” and “to train.” The purpose of God’s discipline is not to punish us but to transform us. He’s already meted out punishment for our sins on Jesus at the cross. The purpose of His discipline is to transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ.
God’s discipline calls for a response (Heb. 12:9).
“Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live?” (Heb. 12:9).
How should we respond to the Lord’s discipline? Not in anger or self-pity. Instead, we are to submit to the Lord’s discipline with gratefulness and submission.
Mike Livingstone is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.