In the first division of our study of Hebrews 12 we are reminded that the chastening of the Lord which we are called upon to endure is the sign of our sonship. We will now look at the conclusion of the Hebrew writer's argument.
"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?" In this passage the fathers of our earthly corporeal being are contrasted with the Father of spirits, the Author not only of our spiritual being, but of all spiritual beings.
1 This verse can best be understood when observed in the light of the next verse which reads, "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."
Taken together these two passages present several contrasts. One such contrast is that of parentage. "We owe our earthly fathers for our bodily life.., it is God to whom we owe our immortal spirit.''2 In the words of the Pulpit Commentary, "Earthly parents transmit carnal life, our spiritual part is due to our Divine parentage.''3 There are also contrasts that can be made between the chastening of the earthly fathers and the chastening that comes from God. As the passage states, fleshly parents chasten "after their own pleasure" or in other words, as they judge to be best. The discipline of an earthly parent is the expression of his ideas and wishes, while on the other hand the discipline of God is meant for the individual's well being and is intended to profit them morally and spiritually. 4 In like manner, the physical parent in the process of chastening is likely to give vent to temper or wounded personal feelings, and even when restraint is practiced the tendency is to put emphasis on the authority over the child. With God this is not the case. God's chastisement is one characterized by self-control and exercised with divine wisdom.5
Another aspect of the passage is that fatherly discipline is a process of education.6 We are educated through our physical needs; we are brought into the world helpless. We must be cared for and nurtured through our early years. In this physical existence the parents must train and chasten a child until he is ready to live in the world on his own. 7
The same is true as children of God; we enter his family helpless, and we are capable of feeding only upon the milk of the word. We must be built up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord until we are strong enough to digest the meat of the word. We are built up through a process of chastening administered by the Father.8
Too often we confuse the concept of chastening connecting it only with the idea of physical punishment. But we can be chastened by spiritual suffering for the cause of Christ and not always is it in the form of physical persecution for Christ.9 Another valid point to consider is that without-suffering we tend to settle down in easy nests until the slightest disturbance of the pleasant routine irritates us.10
Another way in which we are educated is through our mental needs. The human being is by nature curious, so that we hunger and thirst after knowledge and truth.11But the human tendency is to exalt or even deify our wisdom. The chastening of the Lord helps us remember that the wisdom of man is foolishness in the eyes of God. The third way in which we should look upon chastening as education is as a means of meeting our spiritual needs. We all feel the need of propitiation and reconciliation and as in the case of Job, suffering or chastisement taken in the proper frame of mind reconciles one to the father. 12
There are two relevant comments which should be made concerning the "few days" of this passage. First our earthly parents only chastise us for a short while and then leave us to go on in our own unguided erring way. Even while our fathers were guiding us, they corrected us according to what seemed good unto them, and many times they were in error. 13 This is not true of the chastisement of God. For one thing, we are under the training of our heavenly Father all our life. 14 And secondly, we have no need to fear error in His chastisement for He is the unerring almighty God. 15
The latter phrase of the passage tells us why the chastisement of the Lord is superior. The chastisement of our earthly parents may better suit us for life in today's world, but the chastisement of the Lord is to enable us to partake of his holiness.16 We should look on the hardships of life only as the discipline of God, sent to work not injury or harm, but for the ultimate and highest good? Discipline is the mercy of God. 18
The final verse of the text sheds light on the impression chastisement makes upon the thoughts and emotions of those who receive it. "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." The observation of the writer that all chastening is at the time of its administration a thing of grief or displeasure is easily proved through our own personal experiences. The inspired writer just acknowledges the fact. All chastisement, both human and divine, gives us present pain. 19 Sometimes the correction of a necessity must be painful, the chastening being consequential to the act which precipitated it.20
No matter how grievous the chastisement seems, the endurance of it brings reward that is out of perspective with the amount of chastisement. The efficacy of chastisement of the disciple depends upon the spirit with which it is received. 21 In other words, if a disciple accepts chastisement graciously and applies it to himself, he will reap bountiful gifts. Although when first being exposed to chastisement the experience may seem unpleasant, the experience yields fruits of peace. 22 Righteousness is its fruit, and this fruit gives us peace and consolation when our soul is grieved and troubled. 23
The final point of the passage is probably the most important, as an admonition to those who are to receive the chastisement. There it says that the chastisement yields peaceable fruits "unto them who are exercised thereby." Therefore, the fruits are granted not to everyone, but only to those who take advantage of God's training. A large part of chastisement is the struggle to accept that teaching, although the immediate results may be unpleasant, fully realizing that they will result in greater joy. 24
There are bountiful gifts in chastisement, consisting of the fruits of peace and righteousness, but these are available only to those who are willing to accept chastisement. 25
1. B. F. Wescott, EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1965), p. 401.
2. Barclay, OP. CIT., lx 200.
3. Spence and Exell, OP. CIT., p. 357.
4. THE PREACHER'S HOMILETIC COMMENTARY. (32 vo. edit}, XXX, p. 417.
5. Ibid.p. 417.
6. Delitzsch, OP. CIT., p. 312.
7. Hamilton. 8. Ibid.
9. Homer Halley, "The Problem of Suffering (No. 3}" THE PRECEPTOR III, No. 6, (April, 1954}, IX 11.
10. Harry Cotton and Alexander Purdy, THE INTERPRETER'S BIBLE, XI, HEBREWS (New York: Abingdon Press, 12 Volumes, 1955}, IX 740.
11. THE PREACHER'S HOMILETIC COM MENTARY, (32 vol. edit}.
13. Milligan, OP. CIT. p. 351.
14. Spence and Exell, OP. CIT. p. 357.
15. Milligan, OP. CIT. p. 351.
17. Barclay, OP. CIT. p. 200.
18. INTERPRETER'S BIBLE, p. 741.
19. Milligan, OP. CIT. p. 351.
20. Hastings, OP. CIT. p. 374.
21. Wescott, OP. CIT. p. 400.
23. Milligan, OP. CIT. p. 351.
24. PREACHER'S HOMILETIC, (32 vol. XXX, p. 417)
TRUTH MAGAZNE XIV, 19, pp. 6-7
March 19, 1970