Sunday, January 15, 2017

DISCIPLINE AND ENDURANCE

“Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord” (Hebrews 12:5) 

The writer of the book of Hebrews, in speaking of being disciplined by God, says this: “It is for discipline that you endure” (Hebrews 12:7 NAS). The phrase struck me as a little peculiar, since it seemed to be saying that the purpose of enduring was only so that we could be disciplined. It sounded as if our goal or our objective should be that we be reprimanded. In other words, it seemed to be saying that we should bear up under our suffering so that we can be disciplined again.

Surely not very many of us would put it in this way or think of it like that. We are certainly not seeking to be disciplined. We would probably like to change the preposition to say something in the order of “it is through discipline that you endure,” rather than "it is for discipline."

That seems much more satisfying. By using the word through in this sentence, the act of being disciplined is made not to be the goal. Instead, our goal or our objective would instead be the endurance, much like an athlete in training who learns to discipline himself in order to build up his stamina.

This is self-discipline (which we all respect) instead of a type of discipline set upon us as a punishment. Discipline as a punishment is less satisfying to us, since it shows that we have a weakness or a flaw in our character that needs to be dealt with.

The building of self-discipline actually is the spin that the New International Version puts on the phrase. This translation takes out the preposition altogether. In addition; it makes the phrase sound more like a commandment: “Endure hardship as discipline.” To me, this sounds like when we endure hardships, it will build in us self-discipline. I agree that this is true, but I am not certain that this is the sense of the verse.


As I considered this verse, read the different translations and looked at the original Greek words, in the end I could not get over the fact that the verse did not give me the satisfaction of thinking this is speaking of self-discipline of a type for which an athlete would train. This instead is a discipline imposed upon us because we still need teaching. The King James and some other translations do not use the word discipline at all, but instead translate this specific Greek word into English as chastening. This is a rather old-fashioned word, but actually may come closer to what the verse is saying. It may be too strong to say it is discipline given as a punishment necessarily, but it is indeed speaking of a discipline given because we need correction in some way. 

Don’t Presuppose Prepositions

It is often very difficult to know the correct preposition to use in another language. To make things sound right when speaking in a foreign tongue, it is not so straightforward as to simply translate the words literally. In Spanish for instance, to say, “I have had no work for two years,” one would say “Desde hace dos años ya no tengo trabajo.” This translates literally, “It makes two years since I do not have work.” The preposition since is used instead of for. “I do not have work since two years.” It is understandable, but it is just not the way we would say it in English.

In this case regarding our verse in Hebrews, it is true that this probably is a difficult phrase to translate properly and I do not wish to put too fine a point on it, but in this case what preposition is used makes a big difference in the meaning of the sentence. It is a fact that in the Greek text there is a preposition and even though it might be unclear which English preposition would work best, I think it is probably not a good idea to just remove it and change the sense of the statement.

 It seems to me that this is not a declarative sentence in the sense that it is a commandment to endure, but rather is speaking of the benefits of discipline put on us by God. 

Two Words for “Discipline”

Part of my conclusion had to do with the fact that the Greeks had more than one word for discipline. Self-discipline, the kind of discipline that we admire in an athlete, is found, for example, in what the apostle Paul said to Timothy: “discipline yourself (or ‘train yourself’) for the purpose of Godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7 – gymnázō). This Greek word for self-discipline has the same root from which we get our English word gymnasium. It speaks of training, not of reprimanding.

However, that is not the word used in our verse in Hebrews that tells us that it is for discipline that we endure. This is instead a word that one would use when speaking in regard to a father disciplining his child (paideia). Another verse where this word for discipline is used in in Ephesians 6:4 where it says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” 

Two Words for “Endure”

Moreover, the word “endure” may not be what we think it is. We might read this word in English and think of someone steadfastly remaining firm. It indeed usually does mean this, but there is also another Greek word for this sort of steadfastly remaining firm. This word is also used by Paul in writing to Timothy when he tells him to “endure hardship[1]” (2 Timothy 4:5).

This happens to be not the specific word used in our verse in Hebrews that tells us that it is for discipline that we endure[2]. It is true that the word here in Hebrews is also often associated with remaining behind under difficult situations or even in suffering, as Jesus speaks of the situation in the last days of the earth when he says, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22; 24:13).

However, it is not always used in this way. It can be used simply to describe someone who remains behind while others go on ahead. For instance, this word for endure was used in describing what the twelve-year old Jesus did when Joseph and Mary were returning home to Nazareth. We read that Jesus “stayed behind” (endured) in Jerusalem while the rest went on ahead toward Nazareth (Luke 2:43).). 

Why Must We Go Through Discipline?

This is a lot of discussion of words and of grammar and I apologize for that, but I think it worth the effort. Taking all of these language facts into consideration, when we read in Hebrews that “it is for discipline that you endure,” what it might seem to be saying is that one of the reasons that the Lord still keeps us here is that we still need discipline. Like children who are under the authority of their father, we are still in need of training. There are still some lessons of discipline that we must learn.

Most of the things mentioned in this passage on the subject of discipline are not really new concepts to us, but quite truthfully, I sometimes wonder how much thought we actually put into the process of being disciplined by God. When we are being disciplined, all that we often see is that we are in trouble and we want to get out of trouble. Far too often, that is as far as our thought process goes. We are like a child in school who is put in detention because of an unruly deed. As we sit in the detention room, our whole focus is on looking at the clock and serving our time so that we can be freed again. We may not have learned much about how to improve our behavior, but only a determination not to get caught next time.

However, we know that true discipline from a loving father is not for the purpose of punishment, although the concept of punishment might be involved. Rather, the true purpose of the discipline is that we should learn from it and become better people. It is not that we seek to be disciplined, because as we also read in this passage in Hebrews, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful” (12:11 NAS) or “painful” (NIV). However, we go through the discipline so that we may grow. 

It is More Cruel if We are Not Disciplined

As painful as the discipline may be, it is not really the discipline that we should fear, but rather if it is lacking. If we are never disciplined, it does not show that we have become perfect, but the writer of this book of Hebrews says that it only shows that we are “illegitimate children and not true sons” (12:8). If one were to be concerned, it should be in this.

The fact that we sometimes enter into the discipline of God shows that God is still building his life in us. He is still trying to bring us into the character of his kingdom. 

An Old Testament Example

Almost 1500 years before the writer of Hebrews spoke of the discipline of God, the patriarch Moses also spoke of God’s discipline. When the early Israelites were about to cross the Jordan River after having wandered in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula for forty years, Moses was addressing the people on the importance of keeping the commandments of God which had been delivered to them. He told the people that God had purposely let them go hungry and then fed them with manna, a food that they had not before known, and which seemed to come from heaven. Also, although they were put through the test of wandering almost aimlessly for forty years, Moses told the people, “Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years” (Deuteronomy 8:4 NAS).

What was God’s purpose in all of this? One of the reasons was so that the Israelites would remember how the Lord had provided for them. Another reason, however, was that the people would know that the God was disciplining them “just as a man disciplines his son.” Moses told the Israelites, “And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:5 NAS).

Moses wanted to be sure that the people would not lose the lessons that they should have learned in the wilderness wanderings. The fact that the Israelites spent forty years in that condition was no guarantee that they would long remember what God had taught them. Indeed, we later see that they did not remember for long, for they quickly once again largely abandoned the commandments of God. They had not learned well the lessons of the discipline of God while they were in the wilderness. 

Present Day Examples

It is my opinion that the situation among Christians today is that God often disciplines us so that we might grow in our faith, but we usually do not even realize that it is happening. It is amazing to me that we as Christians get so caught up in the everyday problems of the world that we pay no attention to what God is trying to accomplish in all of it. More importantly to us personally, we often do not see what he doing in our own lives.

I do not mean to say that we should not be concerned about what is going on in the world, but we should not be so concerned with the external realities that we focus only on these at the expense of what God is doing in our lives. As much as the recipients of this letter to the Hebrews, we also need the exhortation, “Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord.” 

We Must Eventually Face Discipline

There is purpose in the discipline of the Lord. By whatever means necessary, bad character will be dealt with. We should not think that just because we are Christians, our actions are not important. It is true that our salvation and righteousness do not come from our actions, but only through the actions of Christ himself on our behalf. Nevertheless and perhaps even more so, it is because we are sons and daughters, that God, as our loving father, seeks to purify us. He does not discipline us with a simple motive of punishment, but rather that we will grow in our lives and ultimately, avoid punishment.

Again I will quote the apostle Paul. He was giving instructions to the church at Corinth on the importance and meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Included in these instructions was a stern warning against the misuse of the Lord’s Supper by eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord in an “unworthy manner.” The result of this carelessness, Paul says, is that we bring judgment upon ourselves. “For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (1 Corinthian 11:29-30 NAS).

I also do not mean to say that whenever we become ill or with every difficulty, it indicates a discipline of God. One thing that is important to remember is that we are still living in the culture of a world that is basically in rebellion against God. Even if we, ourselves are not in rebellion, because we are living here, we are naturally affected by the broader consequences of living within a culture that is against God.

I look at this similar to when I lived in Venezuela during the recent political upheaval there. I was not part of that upheaval, but certainly I and my family were affected by it. We have a son who is currently living in an African country that is under a state of emergency because of anti-government protests. He is not part of the protest, but his daily life is very much affected because of the political climate there.

Nevertheless, the words of Paul about judging ourselves should be an encouragement to all of us to examine our lives to see if there be anything with which we should contend in our lives and put right. Indeed, this is just what Paul says: “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined (paideuó) by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Corinthians 11:31-32 NAS). 

An Example from the Future

Near the end of the Bible, there is written for us a prophetic account pertaining to the very end of time as we know it. It is written to a church that is located in the city of Laodicea. When I read this, it is painfully similar to what I sometimes see in my own life and perhaps pertains also to the church of our age:

“Because you say, ‘I am rich and have become wealthy and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline (paideuó); therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:17-19 NAS).

Our time in this present life is not long. If God chooses us to yet remain for a time, we should use it to grow into His likeness like a child who admires and emulates his or her father. One of the ways in which we can do this is to recognize and respond correctly to Godly discipline.

“It is for discipline that you endure.”


[1]  Kakopatheó - suffer evil, endure hardship, see also 2 Timothy 2:9

[2] The Greek word in this case is hupomenó – stay behind, endure. The Apostle Paul instructs us to “persevere (endure) in tribulation” (Romans 12:12).

 

2 comments:

  1. Good words, Honey. Good thoughts on His Word. I will not look on that passage in Heb. 12 the way I have before.

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  2. During the past year, I have endured plenty conviction of sin. Recently God brought me a new friend who introduced me to the idea that conviction of sin is a gift from God. Discipline is indeed unpleasant but teaches me to avoid what I had fallen into and that my Father loves me.

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