Saturday, October 29, 2016

Why does the Lord chasten us?

Revelation 3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

It is interesting to me to note that the above verse is given before a verse that is frequently misused for salvation: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” This was one of the verses I memorized as a salvation verse early in my Christian life. But it actually is not speaking about salvation, rather it appears in a letter to the church of Laodicea filled with believers, and just after the verse at the top of the page. The Laodicea letter is often thought by Bible scholars to be a letter addressed to the latter church age, or to us of present day. It is a rebuke to Christians who were not living the kind of life we are called to live. It is written to people who have at least professed Christ, and thus is better understood as a directive to Christian. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” is often portrayed to us with a picture of Christ standing at heart’s door for an unbeliever, and waiting to be invited in, but it is actually better thought of as Christ standing at the believer’s door, knocking, and suggesting that he needs to be invited in. The believers that the letter was sent to were going astray, noted by the admonition of Christ, “I would that ye were hot or cold.” Instead the church was saying that they were rich in themselves and had no need of anything, and thus they do not even realize that they are wretched and poor and blind.Does this apply to the church in the United States today? Certainly we are rich, and we can find examples of Christians paying little attention to the commands of godly living. Perhaps there are many places we can find where we are ignoring Christian living in favor of pursuing materialism.

But that goes a bit beyond what I want to focus on. We know that it was a letter to Christians. We know that the Christians were not focused on Christ as they should have been. We know that it is therefore a rebuke, a warning to the very children of God to realign their priorities to point to Christ. We know this because of verse 19, “As many as I love, I rebuke.” Thus it is directed so plainly to Christians, whom Christ already loves. Isn’t it awful that those who proclaim to be Christian should spend their lives away from him? If there is an application of Laodicea to today, it is certainly found here. We are so busy with our lives that God seems to have but little priority. But notice the important part of the verse, “be zealous therefore, and repent.” Repentance, properly understood, is finding out that you are going the wrong way, and turning around and going in the way that you are supposed to go. Repentance means to turn around, and the letter here is asking Christians to turn around, or repent.

And that is exactly what we should be willing to do when we find ourselves on the wrong course. Repent. But now I come more directly to the question, why does the Lord chasten us? The verse declares it is because of the love that Christ has for us. Is it not a great comfort to know that God has adopted us into his family, and that if we go astray, he will chasten us and bring us back? I know of many Christians who are walking after the things of the world, who are pursuing headlong after material goods. There are so many who do this, and their number is found in the empty seats we find on Sunday mornings, giving mute testimony to those who have found something more important to do than associate with fellow believers. Oh, that the hand of the Lord should chasten us, and remind us afresh of the richness there is in being a child of God!

I am reminded of the pastoral story of the shepherd who has a wandering sheep. He brings the sheep back, perhaps several times, but then as soon as he leaves, the sheep goes astray yet again. He may rescue the sheep from a pasture of grass that looks so good to the sheep, but is not the protected pasture that the shepherd watches. He may get himself stuck in holes, and perhaps even fall over a small cleft, losing his way, and bleating for the shepherd. Finally, not wanting to lose that sheep, he takes his front foot carefully, and hits it with his rod, breaking it. The shepherd then takes the foot, carefully bandages it, and lifts the sheep over his strong shoulders, carrying it while it heals. By the time the leg heals, the sheep has bonded permanently with the shepherd, and will follow him all the rest of the days of his life. Thus, we have a picture of the chastening of our Lord. We are chastened, that we might be healed, and in our healing become devoted to the shepherd.

The great chapter about chastening occurs in Hebrews 12 (included below), and here the writer tells much the same story. The Lord loves us (v. 6), and chastens those he loves. If he did not love us, he would not bother with the chastening. It is done for a specific purpose, “that we might be partakers of his holiness”, and when we receive chastisement, we must be patient, waiting for the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.”

Paul, who may have been the writer of Hebrews, tells us in another passage that he has a weakness that he prayed three times for the Lord to heal. Instead, the Lord answered his prayer negatively, saying that his strength was present in Paul’s weakness. We are not told exactly what Paul’s weakness was, but from other passages we get clues that it may have been weak eyes. Think about an apostle with weak eyes. Paul lived to read the scriptures, the parchments. He was constantly searching the scripture that he might better be able to understand and present his Christ to a lost world. What a dreadful thing for an apostle! But Paul amazes us in that having learned of God’s answer, tells us that he glories therefore in his weakness, that the power of Christ should be evident in him.

So perhaps we need to envision Christ standing at our heart’s door, and asking to come in. That he should ever be out of our door is an awful thought! Let us invite him in, knowing that when he looks at all the clutter of our lives, he will chasten us to remind us of our priorities. And then we ought to echo Paul, and rejoice, that our Lord loves us enough to chasten us.

Hebrews 12:5-11
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

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