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Rev. Miersma is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church of Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. 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: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 

Hebrews 12:4-6

(Please read on through verse 11)

Chastened of the Lord. This passage assumes that we are involved in a great struggle with sin and that in that struggle we are suffering for Jesus’ sake. We are persecuted and mocked by the world, sorely tempted, and have to battle against besetting sins. Besides, we share in the afflictions of the present time. Some are sick, others are lonely or distressed, some mourn, and some are facing the prospect of death. All these are the daily experiences of the child of God.

However, the question is: What is our attitude towards all of this? Do we recognize all these experiences as coming from the hand of our heavenly Father, as the chastening of the Lord? Or have we forgotten the exhortation which speaks to us as sons: “My sons, despise not the chastening of the Lord”? Perhaps we are becoming weary and faint. Perhaps we even complain of our lot. Perhaps we are not so submissive to the Lord’s way with us. Does the question nag in your soul, Why? Why does it have to be this way? Why me? If that be the case with you, then this word from our text is especially for you. According to the context, we as Christians are in a race. In that race we must lay aside every weight, anything that would hinder us in the running. Especially must we lay aside the sin which so easily besets us. Thus we run with patience.

We may be encouraged by that great cloud of witnesses, those heroes of faith who have run before us. We run that race in the strength and by the grace of Jesus. We must run, always looking to Him, for He is the author and finisher of our faith. Jesus, having endured the cross, is exalted at the Father’s right hand in glory. By His grace we are enabled to run.

Apparently, however, the Hebrew Christians were becoming faint in the race. They found the struggle wearisome and were losing courage. They did not have the stamina anymore to endure the suffering for Jesus’ sake. In spite of the great cloud of witnesses and their wonderful testimony of faith’s victory, they were discouraged and were inclined to draw back, compromise, and avoid the suffering for Jesus’ sake. They needed the admonition of our text, for they had forgotten an important truth, that this was the chastening of the Lord. That is our inclination also.

The text describes that chastening with three terms. There is, first of all, the word chastening. This word refers to the entire training and education of children, the cultivation of mind and morals. It employs for this purpose both commands and admonitions, both reproof and discipline. It refers also to the correction of error or the curbing of sinful passion. Finally, it may mean instruction which aims at the increase of Christian virtue. All of these ideas are included in the text. The second word is also found in verse 5, when chastening is spoken of as being rebuked. That word means to convict, refute, or correct. It means to reprimand severely, chide, admonish, or reprove. Especially this latter is the idea of the text. That chastening is further described in verse 6 as scourging, which is whipping.

The idea is quite plain. That chastening of the Lord is all of the suffering that we experience in this life, the trying of our faith, the disappointments, the troubles, the sorrows. Through these means the Lord molds us and prepares us for glory. Many are the means which the Lord uses. He uses the persecution of the world, its reproach and scorn. All are under the direction and control of the Lord. At times He may also use sickness or the taking away of a loved one through death. Often the chastening is so hard as to be almost unbearable. Always it will be a struggle for us.

Therefore we are reminded in verse 11 that “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous.” Indeed, it is painful. And because it is painful it causes us grief. We do not laugh; rather, we sorrow and grieve. That is our lot here upon the earth. Someday when the Lord takes us to glory He shall wipe away all our tears. Yes, we sorrow and weep, but not as those who have no hope.

This is what the Hebrews had forgotten. And we often forget this as well. In life we are in a battle, striving against sin. As God’s children we must know that that is how our life is. Life is not a happy lark, but a fierce battle, face to face with sin. We must fight against Satan who goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. In addition there is the world of unbelief with its temptations, pleasures, treasures, and persecution. Then there is the battle with our very own flesh, which is no little enemy. In this battle the Hebrews had “not yet resisted unto blood.” They had not yet died a bloody martyr’s death. Many of the cloud of witnesses had resisted unto a bloody death. Jesus had done so on the cross. But the Hebrew Christians had not, and neither have we.

Since they had forgotten that they were being chastened by the Lord, they despised that chastening. Because they regarded it only lightly they were fainting at the rebuke of the Lord, becoming spiritually exhausted. The result was despair and discouragement. No doubt they began complaining of the difficulty of their way and sought ways to avoid it. They had forgotten the encouraging words of Proverbs 3:11, 12: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord.”

That is the danger for us now. Though we are in that fierce battle against sin, yet we have not resisted unto a bloody death. The danger is that we forget that encouraging exhortation which speaks to us as sons: “despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him.” Why is it a danger to forget such an exhortation? Because we not only complain of the Lord’s way with us and fail to appreciate the wonderful way in which the Lord prepares us for glory, but we seek ways to avoid the suffering of the Lord’s chastening. The only way to avoid that suffering is to stop fighting sin, to compromise, and to draw back. That is sin! And that is all the more serious in the light of the wonderful purpose which the Lord’s chastening serves.

That purpose is twofold. The first purpose is stated in verse 10: “that we may be partakers of his holiness.” God chastens us in order that we may share in His holiness. As God is holy, so must we be holy. Holiness is separation from all that is sinful, from all that belongs to the darkness and pollution of sin. God, the Holy One, is perfectly pure. Holiness is total consecration to Him. It is to serve Him and love Him with all that we have and all that we are. God works that holiness in us by means of chastening us. All our life long we must be chastened, rebuked, scourged in order to partake more and more of His holiness. Even the holiest of God’s saints have but a small beginning of that holiness. Perfection is not reached until we are in glory. That is the purpose of God’s chastening us. More and more through chastening we learn to hate and flee sin, more and more we are dedicated to God.

The second purpose we find in verse 11: “it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” God puts us through the vigorous exercise of chastening in order that we may have the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Righteousness is to be right with God, to meet God’s standard, and thus to be in harmony with the Lord according to His Word and law. Legally God declares us such through the merits of the crucified, risen Lord Jesus Christ. By the work of the Holy Spirit we are actually righteous in all our works and ways, now in principle and perfectly in glory. That is a peaceable fruit. In thatconsciousness God’s child has perfect peace, peace with God and peace with himself and peace with his fellow saints. Chastening is a wonderful blessing indeed.

That is all the more reason not to despise the chastening of the Lord. The writer drives home the point by a reference to our earthly fathers. They chastened us according to their own pleasure, that is, according to what seemed good to them. Even though that was often mixed with sin, we gave them reverence, honored and obeyed them. So much the more should we be in subjection to the Father of spirits who chastens us for our profit, to make us holy. The peaceable fruit of His chastening is righteousness for us. How much more then ought we be in subjection to Him. For when we despise the chastening of the Lord, when we become faint at His rebuke, when we complain of our lot, and when we compromise to avoid the suffering, then we are failing to subject ourselves to our spiritual Father. Then we walk in disobedience and rebel against the good and perfect and wise will of God. We must heed this word. Always, no matter how hard, no matter how grievous and painful, no matter how dark and sorrowful the way, always our prayer must be, “Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way.” That is the purpose of the Lord’s chastening.

Finally, chastening is proof of our sonship. The text clearly points out that God deals with us as His sons, His children. God loves His children, and whom He loves He chastens. He scourges every son whom He receives. If you are without chastisement, if this is not your experience in life, then you are bastards, illegitimate children (v. 8). However, if you are a child of God, then you are chastened, and that exactly because God loves you. Eternally He has chosen us to be in Christ Jesus. God sent His Son to suffer and die the death of the cross for us, His sons. Therefore, He chastens us. That chastening is proof that we are the children of God. That we are chastened means that God is working His work in us. He is saving us.

Wonderful chastening of the Lord. Always it is out of God’s love for us and never meant to punish us. Punishment comes out of God’s wrath and is always for the ungodly. For us His children there is no more punishment, for the punishment that we deserved was borne by Jesus, and that is finished. God chastens us out of love in order to save us. He never allows us to wander continually in sin as we are so prone to do. Always He chastens and always He rebukes, and always He seeks us out to bring us back. And when our faith grows weak and we begin to faint, He chastens in order to strengthen us that we might be consecrated to Him in holiness and be assured in our hearts that we are His sons, righteous in Christ.

Let us receive that chastening of the Lord with thankfulness, for God is doing so in order to bring us into His arms of loving fellowship. Let us always pray: “Not my will, Father, but Thine. Let thy will be done that we may be holy as Thou art holy, and that we may have that peace which passeth all understanding.”