Chastening. We have been brought into relationship with God as our Father. In that relationship, God is watching over us, taking care of our every need, and seeking to conform us to the image of His Son. Just as with natural fathers, discipline or chastening is needed often for our blessing. Discipline is not always negative. For example, a parent might discipline their disobedient child, and a coach might discipline an athlete training under them. God’s discipline can be like both at times. Discipline really means training. But it is important to remember the positive side of discipline as well as the negative side. This subject is taken up in many places in scripture, but none so clearly as in Hebrews 12:5-11. “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Heb. 12:7-8). The very fact that we do experience chastening is proof that God loves us, and is in relationship with us as our Father. Often chastening is needed because of sin in our lives. God chastens us “for profit, in order to the partaking of his holiness.” God “is in the light” (1 John 1:7), and if we are to enjoy fellowship with Him, we must judge sin if it comes into our lives. Chastening helps us do that. The goal of chastening is greater fellowship with God. Chastening is not pleasant in the moment; “no chastening at the time seems to be matter of joy, but of grief”. There is a great danger that we might not take it properly, because it is grievous. Two “wrong” responses to chastening are: (1) to “despise” the chastening of the Lord, or (2) to “faint” when reproved by Him. We can despise it by ignoring it or not taking it seriously. We can faint under it by failing to see God’s heart of love behind it, and thus to give up, and let our hands hang down. The proper response is to be “exercised by it”, and if we do this, the chastening will “afterwards yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness”.
Illustration. Chastening is much like driving a car. To keep the car centered in the lane, the driver applies subtle corrections to the steering wheel with very little force. If the vehicle does not respond, more severe corrections will be made, and so on. With the Lord’s chastening of us, He applies the right circumstance, with the right measure, at the right time to have the desired influence. If we are sensitive to the Lord’s working with us, and if we submit to His hand, the chastening may be relatively light (although not necessarily, because there are other reasons for chastening). But if we despise the chastening of the Lord, we are sure to get into deeper trouble.
Reasons for Chastening or Discipline. There are a number of reasons for chastening in the believer's life. Chastening does not always come into our lives because of some sin we have committed. It is important to see that. Job and his three friends had a very limited understanding of God's ways, and all fell into error in their thoughts about God relative to Job's suffering. Bruce Anstey has nicely organized these reasons under four English words that begin with 'P'.
- Punitive. To punish the believer when positive sin is committed. The goal is to correct the believer, and if refused, it could lead to one being taken in death (Heb. 12:6; 9-10; 1 Cor. 11:32).
- Purgative. To remove unnecessary hindrances from a believer's life. The goal is to make the believer more fruitful, and more radiant (John 15:1-2; Psa. 139:2-3).1
- Preventative. To keep a believer from doing something he would have otherwise done; to preserve us from spiritual harm (Rom. 8:28; 2 Cor. 4:11; 12:7-9; Job 33:17-19).
- Preparative. To prepare a believer for a new phase of life or field of ministry, such as being a help to others who are suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-6; Heb. 2:17-18).