Reading Heb 12:1 – 13
Discipleship and other training.
A flight had just take off, when a 5-year-old boy decides to throw a wild temper tantrum. No matter what his frustrated, embarrassed mother does to try to calm him down, the boy continues to scream and kick the seats in front of him.
Suddenly, from the rear of the plane, a retired Air Force Pilot slowly walks forward up the aisle. He leans down and, whispers something into the boy’s ear.
Instantly, the boy calms down, and gently takes his mother’s hand, and all the other passengers burst into spontaneous applause.
As the retired pilot slowly makes his way back to his seat, one of the cabin attendants says, “Excuse me, General, but could I ask you what magic words you used on that little boy?”
The old General smiles and confides, “I showed him my pilot’s wings, service stars, and military ribbons and battle scars, and explained that they entitle me to throw one passenger out the plane door any time I choose.”
Isn’t it amazing how fear can be used to produce the behavior we want in others. But how does God do it? What kind of a Father is He really? Is He the Good Good Father.
Today we are looking at some seriously Good News. We know that the word “Gospel” literally means “Good News”. And so, no matter what we read in the Bible, in God’s Word, we need to see the Good News, we need to find the Good News. If we are left with anything other than Good News, then maybe something has gotten lost in translation!
We know, from God’s Word that;
Gal 5:1a It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…
John 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
John 14:6 Jesus answered – I am the Way and the Truth and the Life…
And so we are always trying to understand what total Freedom in Jesus is like, and that if Jesus is the only Way and in Him alone is Life and Truth, then what would my life be like if I was indeed fully free and alive in Jesus?
And all of us struggle to grasp such things when we live in a world where we experience life very differently sometimes. There is so much cruelty and unfairness in this world, and worst of all there’s this thing called “politics” and taxi drivers! This world is in fact full of bondage and corruption – and yet I am to be free in Christ and fully alive. And if it is for my freedom that Christ died, then I need to pursue this freedom at all cost – because it cost Christ everything to
give it to me. And as Jesus is the Truth – then I need to understand His Truth on every subject – and Trust what He says.
One of the questions we have to grapple with is – the Bible talks about God’s discipline. How does God discipline us?
And so we asked about 40 people – when you hear the word “discipline” what’s the first thing that comes to mind. And we made a list;
Punishment, anger, wrong doing, painful, guilt, fear – every word on their list was negative! It seems that in our culture, our upbringing, school experience – when it comes to discipline, there is always this negative side. Even if we can look back and say, I know my parents loved me, I know it was for my good in many ways – there is this negativeness to it all.
Of course we then try to understand the difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline is supposed to be done in love, a positive thing – punishment is often done in anger, a very negative thing – and we so easily confuse the two. In fact we pretty much see the two as the same thing if we are completely honest.
And so when we hear of God disciplining us – the first things that come to mind are not positive. There’s an uncertainty, a fear, questions of “what have I done wrong”? A shying away from God.
When life is going all roses and how we want it – we think God is blessing us. And if things start to go wrong in any way then God is punishing us.
Many feel that when things go wrong in their lives, hard, difficult times – that God is disciplining them. And of course we read;
Rom 12:6 the Lord disciplines the one He loves and He chastens everyone He accepts as His Son.
Rev 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Firstly, you may find it is surprising that this “English” word “discipline” is actually used very few times in God’s Word in this way – and, each time, God’s perfect love is mentioned with it. And yet our immediate response is something negative. And so we want you to be free today from any distorted understanding of what God’s discipline is. We want nothing to be lost in translation or distorted by our cultures, or how we use the English language.
Look at the passage from our reading today! We asked the same 40 people mentioned earlier, who had listed all the negative things that the word discipline brought to mind, to read this
passage in Hebrews and then list all the positive words in this passage. The following is their list;
Surrounded, great, witnesses, throw off, run, perseverance, marked out, fixing, pioneer, perfector, faith, joy, endure, encouragement, love, acceptance, His children, true sons and daughters, respected, Father, live, best, good, share, holiness, pleasant, harvest, righteousness, peace, training, strengthen, level paths, healed.
Maybe this passage is just not meant to be negative in any way at all. In fact;
Heb 12:5 have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son?
This is in fact a word of encouragement.
The key to understanding this passage is;
Heb 12:11 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.
The key word in this whole passage and in understanding this word “discipline” is the word – training.
In fact the original Greek word used here is a word that best translates – training and education, the cultivation of mind and morals, the cultivation of the soul, instruction which aims at increasing virtue. Perhaps those typing out the Bible got lazy and tried to fit that all into one word – discipline.
Is there a negative side to God’s discipline? God only wants the best for us. And even when trials and hardship and difficult things happen in life – He is a loving Father who is there to guide and nurture and train to increase virtue, quality.
Even the word rebuke – means, to convict of what is wrong, to bring to light and to correct. It is not about punishment. Nowhere in God’s Word do we read – if you do not obey me I will give you a serious clup!
Perhaps it will help to look again at the verse in Revelation – and read it as from the Message Bible. And yes the Message is ok.
Rom 3:19 The people I love, I call to account – prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!
Interesting that here we also see this idea of running. Our passage in Hebrews starts with the metaphor of running a race.
What is lost in translation is that every time the word “discipline” is used – it would make more sense to us to use the word “training”. If you want to do well in a race, you need to train. And training is often not pleasant. You have to get up early, when you don’t feel like it, your bed is warm, it’s raining outside…. Your muscles burn. It’s hard sweat and discipline!
The whole focus of this passage is not being “disciplined by God”, but learning to live a disciplined life.
We need to balance this with;
1 John 4:18 – 19 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.
God wants to make us perfect in His love, He loves us perfectly. And there should be absolutely no fear in our relationship with Him. If there is, then we are not truly free or alive in His Truth!
Rom 8:1 there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit, who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
What is the law of sin – it is punishment! But in Christ there is no condemnation, there is no punishment. There is only training and running a race – living our lives for God!
The key here is not being disciplined – but living a disciplined life. God’s goal is not to “discipline” us – but to train us and help us live the right way, being at peace, strong and disciplined.
Let’s look again at;
Rev 3:19 NIV Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Rom 3:19 MSG The people I love, I call to account – prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!
Even this word repentance used here – the emphasis is not the guilt and shame for what we have done wrong. The idea is, we were going the wrong way, God shows us the right way, we turn, about face and now do things God’s way.
And if we do this does it mean everything will run smoothly and perfectly in life? We live in a fallen world. Life is tough. God will use it all to continue training us that we might be fitter, stronger and have more endurance – that we can run the race marked out for us to the best of our ability. And there is a great cloud of witnesses – through God’s love and training many have completed the race before us and so then can we, so be encouraged. We can face this world and be victorious. And none of us, in our struggle with this world and sin have yet resisted to the point of shedding blood – because Jesus has done that for us.
Often we do things and make decisions that carry negative consequences – this is not God punishing us – this is our own doing. Often things in this world are tough, we live in a fallen world – but God is saying, my son, my daughter – I’m here for you, I will train you to get through this, I will show you the wrong way and how to do things the right way. Be encouraged you are my true sons and daughters. You are surrounded by me and all who have gone before you, we are your greatest fans, we are cheering you on – so you can throw off all the bad stuff, and I will run with you, so let’s run with perseverance for there is a great prize – I want to share with you my holiness, I want you to have a harvest of righteousness and peace. I want to see you strengthened and fully healed, fully race capable. The stronger and fitter you are, the easier the race. This has got nothing to do with punishment, Jesus already took all your punishment, this is learning to live a disciplined life, that you might fully live! This about going into training.
This is indeed is only Good News.
Jesus tells a story about a man who had two sons. The one said – father give me my share of your estate, my inheritance. The father did and the son left and squandered this immense wealth on wild living. And he got into a desperate state. The best job he could get was looking after pigs. He was starving, humiliated, full of shame and guilt.
One day he came to his senses – in my father’s house even the servants live better than I am now. Let me go back to my father and apologize for I have wronged him, and I will be satisfied just to be one of his servants.
So he went home and said father – I am no longer worthy to be called your son! I am sorry for everything I have done, I have sinned against you.
We’re not sure what reaction he expected from his father, I’m sure he expected something negative, but as Jesus tells the story – the father saw his son coming from a long way off and he ran out to meet his son. He was filled with compassion and hugged his son and kissed him. And put a new rob on him and rings and ordered a feast of celebration.
“For this son of mine was as good as dead to me but is alive again, he was lost and is found” – shouted the father.
There was no condemnation from the father. No scolding, no punishment. By returning to the father, the son had shown a repentant heart. The son was back where he was supposed to be – by his father’s side. In his Father’s house. Do you believe this story? Do you believe it for you?
We maybe still carry fear and guilt and shame – the Father has for us robs and rings and compassion and hugs.
This is the true nature of your good good Father in Heaven.