When Talking is Not Working
Robert Wurtz II
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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)
God’s discipline is sure evidence of God’s love, and eventually all true children of God experience it. This is the plain reading of the text. In fact, If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:8 ESV)
Understand that while the believer has plans for his or her own life (typically rooted in temporal desires), God has an ultimate plan. He is bringing many sons unto glory. (Hebrews 2:10) This is His objective. Christians are prone to forget that God is performing this work in our lives daily, and in ways we don’t expect. For example, we expect God to speak to us words of encouragement as well as words of correction through public and private means. That is to say, He deals with us publicly through preaching and speaks the Word of His grace in countless ways. He also deals with us privately in our devotions and prayer. Nevertheless, what about other — more drastic means?
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. We must accept the fact that God is going to correct His children according to their need. His mode of correction will fit the condition He finds them in.
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. We have in Acts 7:22 Moses having been instructed in the wisdom of the Egyptians; and Acts 22:3, of Paul instructed in the law. It can also mean to discipline or correct, as in Hebrews 12:6-7. The word is not synonymous with retributive punishment, since it always implies an infliction which contemplates the subject’s amendment; and hence answers to chastise or chasten. In popular speech chastisement and retributive punishment are often confounded. Chasten is from the Latin word castus, “pure,” “chaste;” and to chasten is, properly, to purify. This meaning underlies even the use of the word by Pilate in Luke 23:16, who was not likely to be nice in his choice of words. Instead of punishing him with death, he will “chastise him,” in order to “teach him better.” As John Wycliffe’s 1395 translation renders v. 16, “I shall deliver him amended.” (And therfor ye schal amende hym, and delyuere hym. Quoted in Vincent) In NT usage the word came to mean, “Instruction through vexations”. (Trench P.126)
Scourgeth (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) Suffering will be regarded by the Christian 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 is not deserved; or that He sends it for the mere purpose of inflicting pain. That cannot be. (Barnes) As God should not be forgotten in days of prosperity, so one should not allow himself to be estranged from Him by days of adversity. (KD) 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.
What Does God Intend By This?
Because people are often moving in what Francis Schaeffer called, “Their own desire for personal peace and affluency ” — they miss the point of the sufferings and hardships of life. God does not want “nominal Christians,” He wants children. Achieving this goal sometimes requires radical measures. One of the great biblical examples of this is found in Acts 27:1ff. Paul is involved in a terrible storm while sailing for Rome. Verse by verse is a clinic on how human beings try to save themselves when God is intent on genuinely saving them.
In a figure, people get their lives so entangled with sin and Satan that God has to come in like a battering ram and break it all up. (G.W. N) Many times we pray for them that God would relieve their affliction when we have no clue that He may be trying to “destroy their ship” (their old life) so He can truly save them. And if afterwards they try to rebuild the “old ship” God may have to smash their ship again.
I have set thee for a tower and a fortress among my people, that thou mayest know and try their way. They are all grievous revolters, walking with slanders: they are brass and iron; they are all corrupters. The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain: for the wicked are not plucked away. Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the LORD hath rejected them. (Jeremiah 6:27-30)
This is a most troubling passage. The prophet employs the metaphor of a smelter to show how God had “turned the temperature up” in the peoples lives in an attempt to see them purified, but they would not change. Eventually the flame got so hot that the bellows itself caught fire and burned up! Amazing! But that’s what happened. Sadly, some people will not repent no matter how difficult the circumstances become.
Responding Rightly to Trouble
We must realize that as God’s children, nothing happens to us in this life except what goes over God’s desk first. That is to say, God will employ Satan to chasten us. This is why the young fornicator was turned over to Satan in 1 Corinthians. He needed to be brought to a place of godly sorrow for his sins. If God should send trouble, we must incline ourselves to recognize it. When we find ourselves tempted to take a wrong view of troubling circumstances, instead of brooding over the wrong, 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 thy rod or not.”
The God of the Full Quiver
God is a God of means. He is never at a loss for a means to deal with us. When talking won’t do it, 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. Maybe he knew, maybe he didn’t. But he knew enough to know God’s hand was there. In some mysterious way God has designed even these type things for our good, and it is prudent and right to receive them from His hand for our instruction. We might inquire, could there be some truth in these charges or these insinuations? Is it not for some good reason that the Lord has permitted the tongue of evil men to run loose against me? What is the lesson which God in His providence would teach me by these things? Perhaps a right response would be, “What wouldst Thou show me, Lord?”
Far too often we look for relief in a situation before we seek to know what God is doing. In some cases folk are ready to 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 worth considering. God is interested in sons (children), not our personal peace. 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.
We can get careless and misrepresent Christ. Other times God has to send circumstances because we don’t even see what our problem is. Experience can be a great tool in God’s hands. A person who lacks experience is like a person who lacks disciple; they behave accordingly. Not to fear. God can correct all kinds of issues in our lives directly and indirectly through circumstances. As I have often said, “Some people don’t learn by lecture, illustration, or revelation; but by destruction and devastation.” It is sad, but all to 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 — rather than getting angry or growing weary. There is no such thing as purposeless trouble. We can trust that God is working something out. He is bringing many sons and daughters unto glory.