When Talking Isn’t Working
Robert Wurtz II
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? (Hebrews 12:5-7)
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. (Hebrews 12:8–10 ESV)
A simple reading of our texts reveals that God’s purpose in discipline is holiness. God is holy, and He intends on perfecting His children in holiness. Jesus is our example, and He exemplified a life that loved righteousness and hated iniquity (Hebrews 1:9).
God’s discipline is sure evidence that we belong to God and that He loves us. All true children of God experience God’s disciple at some time or another. However, if a person is left without discipline, in which all of God’s true children have participated, then they are illegitimate children and not sons. (See Hebrews 12:8) Simply put, when a person comes to church, no matter their position and can sin without conviction or conscience, we can rest assured that the person isn’t a child of God. All of God’s children experience His corrective and instructive discipline.
How does God discipline His children? We have a clue in Hebrews 12:5, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him.” (Hebrews 12:5 NKJV) What does that look like to chasten with a rebuke? In Revelation 3:15-20, Jesus rebuked the church at Laodicea because of their lukewarmness. He showed them their fault and then warned them that He would spew them out of His mouth if they didn’t repent.
God’s ultimate plan is to bring many sons and daughters unto glory. (Hebrews 2:10) As we meditate upon His word (rehearse it over in our minds), His Word works in our lives to bring correction. His Holy Spirit deals with us daily, and His providence leads us into the paths of righteousness in ways we can’t always see. He gives us words of encouragement (to add courage) and words of correction through various means. He deals with us publicly through preaching and speaks the Word of His grace in our devotional lives. He is never at a loss for a means of bringing His word to our hearts.
Rarely, if ever, does a child focus on the purpose for which they are being disciplined. They only want the pain to stop or the punishment to end. This shouldn’t be true of Christians. We should recognize God’s desire to instruct and discipline us for our benefit. But what happens when His discipline measures aren’t working? What happens when we quench the Spirit or harden our hearts? If we ignore God’s dealings, He resorts to more drastic means.
What if stage one (so to speak) isn’t working? What is God to do when a believer isn’t getting the message (so to speak)? What if they refuse to “hear” what God is saying to them? Some people know they need to change but don’t want to change, so they ignore God when He speaks to them. Others are oblivious to problems with their personality or character that are unchristian. C.S. Lewis once stated that the enemy works to bring people to a condition where they can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about themselves, which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked the same office.
What is God to do when there are serious character issues unbecoming of one of His children? What about personality traits that are not in step with God’s word? When talking is not getting the job done, God knows how to bring about the desired effect. The challenge for us as believers is to identify those times when God is disciplining and (or) chastening us — rather than writing them off as something else. God corrects His children according to their needs.
Modes of Correction
We have two words in our text for how God deals with His children; chasten and scourge. First, we have chasten (paideuo or παιδεύσας). The word originally meant to bring up a child (παῖς). Hence, to instruct. In Acts 7:22, Moses was instructed in the wisdom of the Egyptians; and in Acts 22:3, Paul was instructed in the law. It can also mean to discipline or correct, as in Hebrews 12:6-7. The word paideuo is not synonymous with retributive punishment because the objective is to instruct and discipline, not necessarily to punish.
Chastisement and retributive punishment are often confused. Chasten is from the Latin word castus, “pure,” “chaste,” and to chasten is, appropriately, to purify. This meaning underlies even Pilate’s use of the word in Luke 23:16, who wasn’t likely to be friendly in his choice of words. Instead of punishing Him with death, he will “chastise Him” to “teach Him better.” As John Wycliffe’s 1395 translation renders v. 16, “I shall deliver him amended.” (And therefore ye shall amend Him, and deliver Him. Quoted in Vincent) In NT usage, the word came to mean “Instruction through vexations.” (Trench P.126)
Scourgeth (Greek mastigoi). This quote is from Proverbs 3:12 (LXX) and is the present active indicative of mastigoō, an old old verb from mastic, which means to whip. (A.T. Robertson) The Christian will regard suffering as God’s corrective love. (TDNT) This means that it is a universal rule that God sends trials on those whom He truly loves. It does not, of course, mean that He sends chastisement which isn’t deserved; or that He sends it for the mere purpose of inflicting pain. That cannot be. (Barnes) “We should not forget God in days of prosperity, nor should we allow ourselves to be estranged from Him by days of adversity.” (K.D.) “When we are afflicted, we ought not think of it as harder or continues longer than is necessary; nor should we conclude that relief will never come because it does not come as soon as we expect it.” (M. Henry) God tailors His scourging specific to the need; no more and no less.
Responding Rightly to Trouble
If God sends trouble, we should recognize it as His chastening. When we find ourselves tempted to take a wrong view of troubling circumstances, instead of brooding over the bad, we should ask ourselves prayerfully and honestly, “What does God intend for us to learn by this? Lord, search me, try me, and know my thoughts, and let me see whether these circumstances are your rod or not.”
God is never at a loss for a means to deal with us. When talking isn’t working (so to speak), He has a full quiver to deliver the necessary blow. It could be anything. It could even be a person that troubles you in the workplace. It could be anyone that speaks evil about you. You ask, “Why does God allow them to slander or curse me?” We read in 2 Samuel 16:7-12, And thus said Shimei when he cursed, Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial: he LORD hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the LORD hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man. Then said Abishai the son of Zeruiah unto the king, Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head. And the king said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? so let him curse, because the LORD hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so?
Notice that as Shimei cursed David, David said, “Let him curse; the Lord hath bidden him.” Why would David say this? Because he knew it was in some way Divine Providence. There was something David needed to learn from this situation.
Far too often, we look for relief in a situation before we seek to know what God is doing. In some cases, people blame the Devil or rebuke him, not knowing that God may be behind some trouble we are going through. This is a hard saying, but one we should recognize. God is interested in sons (children), not making us comfortable. He will do what He has to do to achieve his end. We must be aware of this. Discipline, more than anything, is an exercise in doing something we don’t ‘feel’ like or don’t ‘want’ to do.
Some people don’t learn by lecture, illustration, or revelation; but by destruction and devastation. It is sad but often true. Some people have to learn the hard way. There are many issues that God has to deal with, and He has an answer for each one of them. It would behoove us to submit ourselves to the Lord’s chastening hand. There is no such thing as purposeless trouble. We can trust that God is working something out of us. He is purifying us. He is bringing many sons and daughters unto glory.