Last month we noticed the reality of discipline in the life of a child of God and the forms it can take. Our purpose is to encourage and strengthen each saint, especially those who are passing through such times of great distress and difficulty. They are personally drinking a bitter and difficult cup that can be made more difficult by wrong attitudes toward the experience of discipline and chastening by Godís hand. However, such an experience of trial should be an encouragement, for it proves the reality that such an one is a genuine child of God (Heb. 12:6). All who belong to the Lord will know His hand on them in some way, and each experience is under Divine knowledge and control. He is One who knows each of His children perfectly and discerns what is needed to form His purposes in our lives for His glory.
PURPOSES OF DISCIPLINE
Discipline in our lives can take many forms and can have various purposes. Remember that discipline is a term that includes all the dealings of God by which He seeks to train and develop us as believers and to produce in our lives that character that is most pleasing to Him. It is "Christ-likeness" and conformity to His own person that He desires to produce in each one. The purposes of discipline can be seen under several headings:
1. Educative. Teach spiritual lessons, BUILD SPIRITUAL CHARACTER. We can learn the principles of Scripture and learn from the examples of others (and we should seek to study these continually), but the reality of such development is only expressed through trying experiences that remove the dross of fleshly reactions and produce a spiritual character that corresponds to Godís purposes. God told Israel (Deut. 8:2-5), that they were to remember all the way God had led them in the wilderness and to remember the purpose that He had for every step of that way. Here are some examples:
JOB: Trial allowed by God revealed the nature of his heart and magnified the character of God. There were aspects of Jobís inner thoughts concerning himself and God that were not revealed and corrected until he was allowed to be tried by the hand of Satan.
JOSEPH: Trial developed patience to wait Godís time, and see Godís hand working through adverse conditions. This period of trial was part of Godís purposes to develop him as a leader and deliverer, not only for Egypt, but also for the brothers who had hated him and ultimately his own nation.
MOSES: His exercise to deliver his own people from oppression and to adjudicate their problems was too hasty. It is clear that his fleeing Egypt, with the subsequent, trying times caring for sheep in the backside of the desert, were an intricate part of Godís education of one who God used to deliver and lead His people from their bondage.
2. Preventive. Preserve us from difficulties that might develop later if conditions are unchecked so as to preserve one s life for God. There may be elements that we fail to recognize or deal with personally that God sees and determines to keep from hindering our usefulness for Him. Examples:
JEHOSHAPHAT: God allowed his ships to be broken, causing great economic loss, no doubt, but to preserve him from further involvement in unequal yokes that were harmful to his life and testimony as a righteous king.
PAUL: The thorn in his side was intended to prevent exaltation of fleshly pride through revelations he had received.
3. Punitive. Punishment for sin committed under judgment of God. This is not always the cause for trials and others should not assume this to be the case. If this is the reason for the trial, God would make it evident to the individual in the trial that He is dealing with him because of definite reasons. This seems to be clear in James 5:13-15 in the sick man. Examples:
DAVID: His adultery resulted in the death of the child, his sons killed, concubines taken. His later numbering of the people cost the lives of many of Israel (70,000 men).
SAMSON: Failure in separation cost him his eyes, his freedom to suffer abuse by Philistines, and eventually to lose his life.
4. Corrective. Produce an attitude of greater desire toward God. God desires to deal with attitudes or wayward conditions that need correcting through discipline. His desire is to produce repentance that will result in restoration.
NAOMI: Departed with her husband against the mind of God in self-will. She came back empty, but with deeper character.
JOB: Result of trial was coming forth as fine gold for God.
POSSIBLE ATTITUDES IN DISCIPLINE
What is important in discipline is the attitude of the one who is experiencing Godís dealings. In Hebrews 12 we notice that there are various attitudes one might have. Our attitude or response will determine what blessing we receive from the experience.
1. Make Light of it or Not see Godís hand in it (v. 5). To despise it seems to indicate that one would act as if it were not important, not worth consideration, not a matter to be concerned about it. One might do this, possibly, by acting as if the occurrence were just a happenstance, an accident, just something that happens to everyone. This indicates a lack of exercise and failure to discern that God is able to use even the elemental and often, what may seem to us to be inconsequential, things of life to work out His own purposes. The man of the world considers a difficulty, a sickness, or a calamity as "just something that happens to everyone," whereas the believer exercised by the Spirit of God would seek to discern if the Lord is seeking to teach him something through it.
2. Faint under it or Not appreciate Godís heart. (v. 5). This would indicate an attitude that thinks that God doesnít care, that He is against me or being severe. It would seem difficult to think that a child of God would react this way, but possibly so. To faint would also mean that the person is overcome in his weakness by the adversity as if God is not able to support and give strength in every trial He brings our way. There is no temptation or trial that is greater than we are able to bear, for God does not try His children beyond their capacity or beyond His ability to minister grace to their need. Note I Cor. 10:13, James 1:2-4.
3. Endure the trial or Not see Godís purpose in it (v. 7). This may be only suggested from this verse, but it is possible that one might simply determine to "wait it out" and hope it will soon be over without seeking to gain any blessing from the trial. If this is our attitude, then we will not realize that God has a purpose in every experience He brings our way and we will fail to make spiritual progress in our lives as He desires.
4. Exercised by it or Appreciate Godís Mind (v. 11) We should all have this attitude in any experience of trial, to seek to understand Godís purpose in it, to yield to His hand in it, and to progress in our spiritual life as a result. In this passage we find that there are results, and they are desirable for each one of us. To experience the "peaceable fruit of righteousness," as a result of the trial and to be "partakers of his holiness," (v. 10) would make it worth all the difficulties that are involved. God has an infinitely wise purpose in every manner in which He deals with His own children. He is not like us in our disciplining of our own in the flesh, when we make mistakes and fail to direct our actions toward our children as we ought. He knows exactly what is needed in every case and will not use any means unnecessary to accomplish His gracious ends.
May we realize the value and preciousness of Godís discipline in our lives, recognizing that such events of any character are a clear indication of our position in relation to a heavenly Father and His unfailing love toward us. All He does is for our good, for His glory, and is intended to produce the resulting character that in some measure conforms to that which was displayed so clearly in our blessed Lord.
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Christian, beware how you think lightly of sin! Sin is a little thing? Who knows its deadliness? It girded the Redeemerís head with thorns, and pierced His heart. It made Him suffer anguish, bitterness and woe. Look upon all sin as that which crucified the Saviour and see that it is exceeding sinful.
C. H. Spurgeon