Hebrews 12:6 (quoting Proverbs 3:12) says, “God disciplines those he loves.” Read or listen to this chapter of Enduring Trials God’s Way to learn why you can be encouraged by the bible verses about discipline.
Table of contents
- Do Not Confuse Trials and God’s Discipline
- Three Reasons to Be Encouraged When Experiencing God’s Discipline
- Who Benefits from God’s Discipline?
The text in this post is from Enduring Trials God’s Way: A Biblical Recipe for Finding Joy in Suffering, and the audio is from the accompanying audiobook. I am praying God uses the book and audiobook to strengthen your faith and exalt Christ!
You should expect trials, but when they take place, you do not have to wonder if you did something wrong! A woman wrote me about a miscarriage she experienced, asking if God was punishing her. It was heartbreaking. The miscarriage was painful enough without also having to wonder if it was her fault. It is tragic when people blame themselves for their trials.
It is also tragic when people experience trials and “friends” try to get them to blame themselves! Job’s friends come to mind. They started off well “[sitting] down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great” (Job 2:13). This demonstrates what to do when people are suffering. The “Ministry of Presence” requires being a good listener. I received a good piece of advice when I first became a pastor: “If you cannot improve on silence, do not.” Solomon said there is “A time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7b), and “He who has knowledge spares his words” (Proverbs 17:27a).
Unfortunately, Job’s friends did not follow these verses, and things went downhill after they opened their mouths. Eliphaz was the first to speak, and he summarized their argument in Job 4:7 when he asked, “Who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off?” In other words, “When have bad things ever happened to good people?” Job’s friends wanted to convince him that since he suffered terribly, he must have sinned terribly.
As much as Job’s friends initially showed what to do when people suffer, they later also showed what not to do—lecture, preach, say things like, “This is happening because…” or worse, “God would not be doing this if you…” At the end of the book, God showed up and “said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right’” (Job 42:7). He was referring to their statements that people only suffer when they have done something wrong.
In Jesus’ day, people thought if something bad happened it must have been caused by sin. Two accounts reveal that even the disciples held this false belief, and both times they expressed it Jesus corrected them:
- Pilate murdered some Galileans and a tower collapsed causing eighteen deaths. The disciples thought the people died because of their sinfulness, but Jesus said, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no…Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no” (Luke 13:2–5).
- When the disciples saw a blind man they asked Jesus: “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in Him’” (John 9:2–3).
God wants to reveal Himself through trials and use them for our good, but we do not have to wonder if we did something wrong. We learned that a trial does not necessarily indicate wrongdoing, but sometimes we do bring on our own suffering.
Do Not Confuse Trials and God’s Discipline
What happens if we suffer because we did something wrong? That is not a trial. That is discipline. The Apostle Peter identifies two causes of suffering: “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17). Suffering is part of God’s perfect and wise plan for His people even when they do good, but Peter wants his readers to avoid suffering caused by their sinfulness.
As tragic as it is when people experience a trial and wonder if it is their fault, it is equally tragic when people sin, God disciplines them, and they think it is not their fault. Consider these examples from Scripture:
- After Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it as God commanded, God said, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).
- After David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered Uriah, God told him through the prophet Nathan, “The sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Samuel 12:10).
- After Jehoshaphat entered an alliance with evil King Ahaziah to build ships, God told him through the prophet Eliezer, “‘Because you have allied yourself with Ahaziah, the Lord has destroyed your works.’ Then the ships were wrecked” (2 Chronicles 20:37).
These men suffered because of their sins. It would be incorrect to say they experienced trials. It would be correct to say God disciplined them. The same is true of the negative consequences of foolish decisions. Imagine the following:
- People lose their jobs, because they slacked off for years
- People’s finances are tight, because of years of impulsive purchases
- People are diagnosed with diabetes, because of years of gluttonous eating
- People are in miserable marriages, because they ignored their parents’ warnings about the spouses they married
These are not trials! These are the consequences of exercising poor judgment. These people were “led astray by their own great folly” (Proverbs 5:23b). Sometimes people sin, are disciplined, and then say, “Why am I suffering?” If friends love them enough to be honest, they will answer, “Because of your disobedience.”
Although there are rewards for enduring trials (See chapter 6), it is not the same with discipline. When we “[do] evil” and suffer because of it, God expects us to humbly accept it: “For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently?” (1 Peter 2:20a).
Three Reasons to Be Encouraged When Experiencing God’s Discipline
Although this might sound discouraging because there is no “credit” for receiving God’s discipline, there are many benefits! Hebrews 12:11a says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant.” How true are these words! Yes, discipline hurts, but the author of Hebrews also provides reasons believers can be encouraged when disciplined.
First, When Disciplined Be Encouraged You Are God’s Child
Hebrews 12:6–8 records:
“…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.
When we sin and God disciplines us, we can be encouraged that He does so because He loves us. We want to be confident in our salvation, and experiencing discipline allows us to say, “God is my Father. I am His child.” When I see other people’s children misbehaving, I do not discipline them because they are not my children. God acts similarly toward unbelievers. Sometimes people sin and it looks like “they are getting away with it.” Either God is giving them time to repent, or they are not His children.
Second, When Disciplined Be Encouraged You Are in God’s Hands
Prior to pastoring, I taught elementary school for almost ten years. When students disobeyed, I regularly found myself wondering what the appropriate punishment would be—detention, suspension, time out, or call parents? Circumstances make things even more complicated. What is the punishment for a student who lies once, versus a student who demonstrates a pattern of deceitfulness? What about a student who mistreated a student for no reason, versus a student who acted out when provoked?
Once, when my class was walking in a line, a notoriously cruel student repeatedly flicked another student’s ear. This went on for a while, revealing significant self-control from the student being picked on. Finally, he turned around and kicked the bully as hard as he could. What was an appropriate punishment for the student who kicked the other student? Part of me wanted to congratulate him for standing up to someone who intimidated others.
As a parent, I face the same question when disciplining my children. Ephesians 6:4a says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath.” Sometimes I ask myself, “I addressed this with my children before, if I bring it up again, will I be exasperating them?” While Katie and I pray almost daily for wisdom raising our children, we do not know absolutely that we are doing what is right. Hebrews 12:9–10 describes the situation: “We have had human fathers who…chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.” As parents, we do what “seems best to us,” but when God disciplines us we can be encouraged He is doing what “profits” us. We never have to wonder if He is acting too severely, choosing the wrong punishment, or failing in some other way.
Consider the situation that took place with David after he sinfully numbered the people. God sent the prophet Gad to rebuke him and give him the choice between three different punishments. Second Samuel 24:12–14 records:
[Gad told] David, “Thus says the Lord: ‘I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.’” So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ plague in your land? Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.”
And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
When David was disciplined, he wanted to be in God’s hands. When we are “in great distress,” we can be encouraged that we are in God’s hands. He knows what is best and He “works all things together for good” (Romans 8:28).
Third, When Disciplined Be Encouraged by the Fruit that Can Be Produced
God disciplines us because He wants us to repent. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about repentance is stopping a sinful action, but repentance is as much about starting (producing fruit), as it is about stopping. John the Baptist said: “Bear fruits worth of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Ephesians 4:25–32 provides examples of repenting (stopping, putting off), and producing fruit (starting, putting on):
- Ephesians 4:25a—“Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor.’”
- Ephesians 4:28–29—“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
- Ephesians 4:31–32—“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
As a pastor, people have asked me, “I repented of _____. Why do I keep struggling?” I respond by asking, “What did you start doing instead? What did you produce in place of your sin?” For example:
- You stopped going to bars, but then how did you spend that time?
- You stopped yelling at your kids, but what did you start saying to them?
- You stopped coveting, but what did you start giving?
There is an unfortunate human tendency for reform to be temporary. Psychologists, prisons, and juvenile centers can testify to this. One main reason is people attempt to repent without producing the corresponding fruit. When sin is removed, the vacuum that is created must be filled. In Matthew 12:43–45a, Jesus told a parable that warns against repentance that leaves a hole:
When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
The unclean spirit pictures sin, and the man removed it from his life, but he did not produce fruit. He stopped without starting. He put off without putting on. As a result, his life (the house) remained “empty.” Things looked good at first (swept, and put in order), but the spirit (sin) returned and the man’s condition was worse. When true repentance has not taken place, inevitably a person’s situation deteriorates as sin grows. We can be encouraged by God’s discipline, because it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11b).
Who Benefits from God’s Discipline?
The title of the previous section reads, “Fruit that Can Be Produced” versus “Fruit that Is Produced.” There is no guarantee God’s discipline will benefit us. The end of Hebrews 12:11 says “those who have been trained by it” and this identifies the people who benefit from the Father’s discipline. “He will never learn” is a fitting way to describe some people:
- Proverbs 17:10—“Rebuke is more effective for a wise man, than a hundred blows on a fool.”
- Proverbs 26:11—“As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”
- Proverbs 27:22—“Though you grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him.”
Fools suffer because of their actions, but it does not produce lasting change. Part of the reason is they do not see their fault, because fools never think they are wrong: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15).
There is a similar danger associated with confusing trials and discipline. When people make this mistake, they are acting like fools who fail to see their folly. Without recognizing they caused their suffering, they will not be trained by God’s discipline. Why is this the case? If they do not think they have done anything wrong, they will not understand God is trying to produce repentance. Spiritual growth will be hindered, and the painful situation will often be repeated.
When this pattern takes place, the only solution is to have the humility and wisdom to say, “This is not a random trial. I have sinned. God is disciplining me and I must repent.” Instead of saying, “How could God let this happen to me?” the proper response is, “I am thankful God loves me enough to get this sin out of my life and help me produce the corresponding fruit.”
- Why should it be encouraging to remember God is in control while you are in the middle of a trial?
- Have you been “building your walls” during times of peace? If yes, how? If not, how will you build in the future?
- Discuss three trials you experienced that are common to all Christians.
- Discuss three trials you experienced that were unique to you.
- Describe a victory God gave you from a trial.
- What daily trials do you experience that you need to be aware of, because of their potential to wear you down?