Continuing our look at the doctrine of discipline as explored in Hebrews 12, we understand that in many cases, we endure pain and suffering as the disciplinary consequences of our sin. That was certainly the case for the original audience of Hebrews, for God apparently allowed their persecution to show them the futility of their transgressions, which would have included entertaining thoughts of apostasy (vv. 1–7a). However, not all suffering is due to our personal sins, and we can also understand discipline in a nonpunitive sense. For instance, there is the discipline of athletes who practice their sport, lift weights, work up their endurance, and so forth. In so doing, they become more adept and do better in their competitions. Scripture also speaks of discipline in this way (1 Cor. 9:24–27), and as we will see, even the author of Hebrews can use the metaphor in that way (Heb. 12:12).
In both cases, discipline proves God’s love for us. Good earthly fathers do not allow their children to go undisciplined. A child who never faces discipline never attains maturity and has a distinct disadvantage when it comes to life in this fallen world. If even our good earthly fathers love us enough to discipline us for earthly success, how much more will our perfect heavenly Father discipline us for spiritual “success”? Because of divine discipline, we will share in God’s holiness and thus see Him face-to-face in glory (vv. 7b–10, 14).
Today’s passage makes the observation that we cannot understand the goodness of discipline if we do not consider the future. In the present, “all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant” (v. 11). Since we have a built-in aversion to pain, if we judge the value of our discipline merely by our present experience, we will think the discipline pointless and something to avoid. However, just as earthly discipline produces maturity and equips us to do well, spiritual discipline from God the Father “later yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (v. 11). As John Calvin comments, “Chastisements cannot be estimated aright if judged according to what the flesh feels under them, and that therefore we must fix our eyes on the end.”
John Owen notes that Hebrews 12:11 assures us that spiritual fruit will come in its due season. The Lord knows exactly how to discipline us so that we grow in spiritual maturity on His perfect schedule. God is sovereign even over our sanctification.