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.
There are many verses which tell us of the reason that God disciplines us, but I shall be working from Hebrews 12, a very important passage on the topic of discipline. There are at least five different reasons that God disciplines us, and many of them are illustrated in this great passage from Hebrews. There is some overlap in these verses, but I think, with other verses added, it can easily be seen that God has the best of intentions to using discipline for his church.
First, God disciplines us because we are his children. Hebrews 12:7 tells us, “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?” What a wonderful thing it is that God cares about us enough to discipline us! The wise father sees many things his young son cannot, and will guide the child through the hurts of this world, sometimes without the child understanding the why. My son-in-law removed the smart phone from his three year old son today, explaining that his grandparents were visiting and wanted to talk to him. He was teaching his son a moral value that there is no way a three-year-old will ever understand. Not until he is much more mature will he understand compassion and politeness, as right now it is altogether foreign to his selfish nature. My son-in-law simply understands more of what it takes to build character, and was willing to endure the tears shed to enforce a better way.
Our Father in heaven acts in a similar fashion. It is commonly said that a good minister speaking to his congregation lacks greatness until he has been broken before the cross. My wife and I will sometimes comment on such a speaker, “He will be great when he is broken before the cross”, meaning that hard times teach our souls in a fashion that cannot be otherwise reached. Therefore, it is logical that we welcome such times, perhaps not because of the pain of the discipline, but definitely because it is the path to become more like the creatures God would have us to be.
Of course, I think, and maybe you do also, about all the priests who would flay themselves with whips in public, believing that somehow they were becoming better servants of Christ for their self-inflicted pain. There is no evidence whatever that God would have us to do such acts; in fact, Matthew 6 teaches us that acts done in public already have their own reward, and there is no evidence that self-inflicted pain ever produces godliness. Instead, God teaches plainly if we are to pursue godliness that we are to forsake ourselves for the sake of Christ, and to unselfishly give of ourselves to others. Punishing ourselves in such a manner is an act of utter selfishness, since we are focused only upon our body, and neither looking to Christ, nor to the service of others. The admonition of Christ is to take up our cross and follow him. We are admonished rather to become the willing servants of others, even to the point of washing their feet, in our following Christ, not to beat our bodies to a bloody pulp to please God. How far off we get from the God who loves us! He disciplines us that we might be better sons, not that we should torture ourselves to delight him. Such a perverse idea of the nature of God is utterly foreign to scripture!
Second, discipline is for our growth, and it is taught in Hebrews 12:10, “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.” Just as an earthly father loves his child, and knows training his son will be of great good will sometimes do corrective behavior that the child cannot understand. Just as a rock lover will take the rough stone and begin the long work of polishing it, so the Lord takes us, and bit by bit chip and cut away at our personality until we are much more like what he wants. Not that we will ever attain, as the apostle reminds us, but we are pressing on, by faith looking toward him who has justified us, while as Paul reminds us, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).
The apostle Paul must have had the ears of God. When he prayed I am sure God heard. Yet, the scripture says that Paul brought his unspoken affliction to the Lord three times, and not until the third time, did he receive an answer. Not at all the answer that he prayed for, but it was an answer that fully satisfied Paul. “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). I have seen many afflictions and diseases which the Lord has not chosen to heal, and I have seen men and women broken before the Lord because they cannot understand how a God whom they know to be so good, does not hear their prayer. I wish that I could impart to every such believer the fact that God is good, just as they think, and that faith (trust) is the only rational response. Psalm 103 tells us that he heals all our diseases and infirmities, but that is obviously looking forward to a time when God shall dwell with men, and not the present world, where we continually see evil and darkness at every turn.
Thirdly, notice the same verse, Hebrews 12:10, “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.” We are not only told that discipline is for our good, but it is also for our holiness. God is purposing to make us like him, and though we will never enjoy the discipline, yet we can rejoice, like Paul, that the very power of Christ should rest upon us.
One of the harder lessons for new Christians has exactly to do with the fact that we see God more clearly than ever, we know his goodness, and we are often overwhelmed with his love. But we are trapped in a world that knows not Christ. Death and disease and famine are always lurking nearby, and we must work diligently to see that they do not come calling. Our jobs are less than ideal, to say the least, and we do not yet live in the better place that God has prepared for us. Keith Green points out somewhere that it took God but seven days to create the earth, but he has had over 2,000 years to prepare heaven for us. What glory it will be when we are changed into his image, and finally see what he has worked on so long to prepare for us.
The problem in now. Now we are buffeted and perplexed, torn on every side, and there is much, just as with the small child, that we cannot understand. But with the eyes of faith, we look assuredly toward the better place. It is often the only answer that I can give to those of my brothers and sisters who are grieving because of their loss. The Bible does promise that all things work together for good, and not at all that all things are good. There is a great distinction between the two. In a sense, we are sent into a hopeless battle, winning skirmishes, even while we are losing battles to the world, waiting for our Great Captain to appear, when all things shall finally start to be put forever right. So we are meant to look by faith to the victory, even while we learn the bitter taste of continual defeat in this world. Death reigns continually, but we know him who has overcome death. We are not able to make the world perfect, but we know the one who is able. On that day, he will laugh at all the plans of the wicked rulers and leaders of our world, for all their schemes will come to exactly nothing, and it will be as Narnia, when death itself begins to work backwards.
Fourth, we are disciplined so that God may prepare his bride. Hebrews 12:28 tells us of that time for which we are being prepared, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28). We are a bride, being prepared for that time when all things will be judged. We are reminded in the parable of the virgins awaiting their master’s coming that we are to have oil in our lamps, and to be found ready at our groom’s coming. Revelation teaches this fact in 19:7 and 8, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Paul mentions elsewhere that if we do not produce good works that before the judgment seat of Christ those works which we did do will be burnt up, but we ourselves will be saved, yet as if by fire. Not a comfortable position to be in by any means, and it ought to be a situation which every living Christian seeks to avoid. As I survey the many Christians that I know who maintain what I would term a low threshold of obedience, I shudder at that coming and terrible judgment. Yet, God will make us his bride, and if we are not cleaning up our own lives with the good fruits of the Spirit, it is some comfort that one day he will do it, though it cost us dearly. May more of us lift up our eyes to the horizon and watch closely for his coming!
Last, the chief means of carrying the gospel is through his saints. It is not the only way. I can quite imagine a world without Christians, which will certainly one day soon happen if I am right about the Rapture, but the word of God would remain behind, a most powerful testimony which the Holy Spirit will bring to his elect. Nonetheless, in this age, it was the aim of Christ to build his church on the testimony of his disciples that he was, indeed, the long promised Messiah. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). He disciplines us that we might learn compassion for others—for our brothers and sisters first, but also for the unsaved. By our compassion for each other, Jesus says that the world will recognize that we are his disciples.
In summation, there are at least five reasons why God disciplines us. He does it to establish that he is our father, he wants us to grow, he wants us to learn holiness, he is preparing his bride, and he is using us to testify to the world. The admonition of Hebrews bears repetition here, “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” (Hebrews 12:11). No wonder Paul found reason to rejoice in his weakness (many feel that Paul’s eyes had lost sight, but we are not sure for we are never specifically told). It was a necessary discipline of the Lord, and brought to his name glory. We may rest assured, that while we may not understand the discipline at the time, God has a purpose in it to work his glory.