Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hebrews 12: Godly Training and Discipline



Heb 12:3-11 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,and chastises every son whom he receives."  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?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  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.  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. 

The word "discipline"/"chastises" (Greek: paideia) occurs 10  times in 6 verses in this chapter, from verses 5 to 11. Thayer's Greek lexicon explains paideia as:
  1. "the whole training and education of children Eph 6:4
  2. whatever in adults also cultivates the soul, especially by correcting mistakes and curbing the passions
    a. instruction which aims at the increase of virtue: 2 Tim 3:16
    b. according to Biblical usage chastisement, chastening Heb 12:5"
We get our English word pedagogy from this Greek word--which now refers to the training and education of young children, But in biblical terminology paideia is not limited to training children but also training adults. In the context of Hebrews 12, training entails discipline and discipline means pain and suffering: "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" (Heb 12:11). If we think pain is unnecessary, ask someone who has gone through military training. Pain is also a necessary part of spiritual training that produces "the peaceful fruit of righteousness".

There is no painless way to godly character. As in the natural, so in the spiritual. God puts within the physical world natural laws to teach spiritual truths. Paul often uses earthly examples to illustrate heavenly truths: "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything" (2 Tim 2:3-7).

None of the above vocations of soldier, athlete and farmer is possible without some kind of painful discipline associated with the training. So it is with spiritual and character formation: it is a fruit of disciplined training. As the saying goes, "No pain, no gain". Christ's own suffering and death does not remove from us the need for pain: He invites us to join him when he said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). The goal of Christian discipleship for a believer is the formation of Christ-like character--and the way to do it is to "deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me." While we can be saved by grace through faith, we can only be changed by daily self-denying, cross-carrying obedience to Christ.

While becoming members in the Kingdom of God is free because Christ has paid the full price of the entrance ticket, learning to behave like Kingdom citizens will require efforts and discipline to learn the new ways of the kingdom: humility, honesty, mercy, peace-making, suffering persecution. Like foreigners who take on Singapore citizenship: the becoming process is simple- you take the pledge of allegiance in front of the flag and some legal representative of the State, sign the papers, get your citizenship certificate with a offical handshake from the representative--and you're in! But behaving like a true-blue Singaporean will entail some giving up of old habits and acquiring new habits like queuing up, enjoying or enduring smell of the durian and curry, compulsory military service, affirming religious and cultural diversity, speaking Singlish. It's easy to become Singaporean (takes a few minutes) but learning to behave like a true Singaporean may be hard and painful. And may take years--or for some, never.

So, it is the same with becoming and behaving like citizens of the Kingdom of God. God will train us and the training will require discipline and discipline means pain and suffering to mold us and make us fit for kingdom life--both now and when God finally establishes his rule on earth forever.

Father, thank You for training us. Help us move from just becoming to behaving like citizens of heaven. Amen.

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