Second Reformed Church

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Discipline & Sin" Sermon: Hebrews 12:3-11

“Discipline & Sin”

[Hebrews 12:3-11]

January 26, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            In our current context – in twenty-first century America – when we hear someone talk about discipline, we are likely to jump to an understanding of abuse.  Someone may say she disciplined her child by chaining him to a radiator without food or water for a week.  That is not discipline, that’s abuse.  Someone may say that he disciplined his child by beating her until she had broken bones.  That’s not discipline, that’s abuse.  We have a tendency to confuse discipline and abuse to the point where discipline is a dirty word, and even if we believe in discipline, we are afraid to admit it for negative repercussions.

            However, discipline is a good thing – we discipline our bodies to make them stronger and more useful.  We discipline our children to help them to become the men and women we would have them be.  The Church is called to discipline – specifically those members who continue in unrepentant sin.

            As a child, I was disciplined by my parents spanking me with their hand on my backside.  It was done to make sure I understood that what I had done was wrong, and as an encouragement that I would not do it again, but, instead, that I would do what is right. 

In Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, there is a case of a man who is having sexual relations with his step-mother.  The Church demands that he stop, and when he refuses to stop sinning, they discipline him by refusing to admit him to the Lord’s Supper.  But when he finally renounces his sin and stops having sexual relations with his step-mother, the church readmits him to the Lord’s Table.

            Abuse is done to hurt someone; discipline is administered to cause someone to grow, to become a better person, and so forth.  Abuse is done out of hatred and anger.  Discipline is administered out of love.

            I hope that makes sense.  I spend the time on it because of the culture we live in.  I spend time on it because some of us have been abused by family, friends, and/or strangers, and it is important, as we look at this passage, to see that discipline is not abuse.  Discipline is administered for a person’s good.

            Last week, we looked at the idea that the life of faith is a race, and since we are running a race, we ought to throw off every weight – anything that would keep us from running the best we can for the sake of Christ – and every sin – the heaviest of weights which fights against our running.  We also saw that we have this great cloud of witnesses – all those believers who have gone on before us – watching us and encouraging us and cheering us on as we run.  And we have Jesus – the One Who is the Foundation of our faith and the Perfector of our faith – so we know that our faith to believe is given to us as a gift by God and Jesus will bring us to the finish line, because we are in His hands, and He will never lose one of those God has given Him to be His people.

            We ended last week, noting that Jesus is the Sovereign King of all of Creation, and, that He was able to endure the Hell of the cross, because of “the joy that was set before Him” – that is, Jesus was able to endure the Hell of the cross because He knew the end of all of His suffering was the Glory of God through His bringing a holy people into His Kingdom – the fulfillment of the Gospel.

            And we remember that the first readers of this letter are Jewish Christians who are suffering for their faith under the Romans and non-believing Jews.  They had suffered so much that they were wondering if they might have been wrong about Jesus – they wondered if they ought to turn back to the Old Testament Sacrificial System.  So, the author of Hebrews explained why the Old Testament Sacrificial System cannot make a person right with God – only Jesus can, and then he gave them examples of men and women of faith from the Creation up until their day – encouraging them to look to Jesus for encouragement and the ability to endure whatever they suffer for the Gospel.

            He then explains to them:

            First, we ought not to become weary of suffering for the faith because Jesus loves us.

            Second, we ought to understand that part of our suffering is due to our sin.

            Third, when we sin, God may discipline us.

            Fourth, God’s disciplining of us is as a loving Father.

            Fifth, we ought to understand that end of discipline is our good.

            So, we turn to our text for this morning:

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

First, we ought not to become weary of suffering for the faith because Jesus loves us.

The author of Hebrews tells his readers to consider Jesus and the suffering that He endured at the hands of sinners.  What did Jesus endure?

He endured being rejected by the people He created.  He endured attempts on His life.  He endured friends being put to death for His sake.  He endured being lied about, sought after, and used.  He endured the Scripture being twisted.  He endured being betrayed.  He endured being man-handled and illegally tried.  He endured being spit upon, punched out, having His beard torn out of His face.  He endured a crown of thorns being pounded into His skull.  He endured being mocked.  He endured being deserted.  He endured being flogged.  He endured being crucified.

These are some of the things Jesus endured at the hands of sinners.  And the author of Hebrews tells us to consider what He endured – what He suffered at the hands of sinners.  And remember that He endured all of this – and more – “for the joy that was set before Him” – He endured all these things – as holy man and Holy God – because the end of enduring all these things was joy for Him – the glorifying of God through the bringing of a people to glory in the Kingdom.

If Jesus endured all these things to glorify God by bringing His people – all those who will ever believe – into glory in the Kingdom, is that not proof that He loves us?  Is that suffering not enough for us to not give up?  If Jesus did all this, and provides us with what we need to endure in His Name all that we suffer on earth for His sake, do we every have any reason to say, “I’ve had enough; I can’t be a witness to the Gospel any more”?

Understand, the author of Hebrews is not saying that there aren’t times when we have had enough – we’re tired and beaten and want a break.  We have those times.  Our bodies, minds, and souls need periods of restoration.

What the author of Hebrews is saying is that, no matter how much we suffer for the sake of Christ, because He has suffered as He did for us, we will not refuse to suffer for Him.  That is, a Christian will not run away from suffering for Christ’s sake.  We don’t seek out suffering, but, if it comes, we stand strong in Jesus, unashamedly standing for the Gospel.

Then, the author of Hebrews reminds his readers that some of our suffering comes on us because of our sin.  Sometimes our suffering is not from those persecuting us for the sake of Christ, but because we have sinned.

“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

Second, we ought to understand that part of our suffering is due to our sin.

We have been called to resist sin – to struggle against it – to fight against temptation and to deny sin, but we are not yet perfect, and we give in to sin.  That is not to be an excuse, but it is a current reality – until Jesus returns for us and sanctifies us and glorifies us, we will still – less and less, by the Grace of God – choose to sin.

And sinning is a choice:  we look at the options before us – to obey God in thanksgiving and obedience or to rebel against God and tell Him that He doesn’t know what’s best for us – and we choose.

Jesus went to the cross for sinners like me and you – all those who would believe savingly in Him – and He shed His blood for every sin we would every commit – He took upon Himself the Wrath of God for our sin and suffered to the point of shedding His blood.

So, to all those who say living for Christ is too much, the author of Hebrews points out to us, none of us “have yet resisted to the point of shedding [our] blood.”

It’s as though the author of Hebrews said, “Don’t complain if you suffer for your sin – Christ has made the way through His suffering and paying the debt for your sin that you don’t ever have to sin – you sin by your own choice.  And I know you try – to some degree – to keep from sinning – but you have continued to choose to sin – you have not resisted sin to the point of shedding your blood, like Christ did.  So, understand, if you suffer for your sin, you are responsible – you should not be surprised.”

However, God is not sitting in Heaven, watching us, looking for any chance He can to catch us in sin and make us suffer.  God is not a sadist.  God does not hope we fall into sin so He can “zap” us.  Yet, it is true that God does discipline us for our sin at times.

Third, when we sin, God may discipline us.

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure.”

And here, let us understand that there is a difference between just punishment and discipline.  There is a difference between what we deserve and discipline.  God is quite clear about what sin deserves:  “For the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23a, ESV).  Our just punishment would be immediate death.  And sometimes God does kill people for their sin – even believers.

We remember Uzzah from the Old Testament.  There is no reason given in the text to assume that Uzzah was anything but a believer.  The Ark of the Covenant – that sacred box with the Ten Commandments and others items – was recovered from the Philistines and King David was bringing it back to Jerusalem, and we read:

“And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God” (II Samuel 6:5-7, ESV).

Uzzah stopped the Ark from falling off the cart into the mud.  And God killed him, because it was against the Law to touch the Ark.  He sinned, and God killed him.

We remember as Paul explains to the Corinthians about how they were sinning in receiving the Lord’s Supper in an inappropriate manner:

“That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (I Corinthians 11:30, ESV).

We have no reason to believe that these members of the Corinthian church were anything but believers, and yet God killed some of them for sinfully receiving the Lord’s Supper.

Thankfully, God does not usually give us just punishment – God’s tendency is to discipline His sons and daughters.  As we see in the word to the Corinthians, some of them were “weak and ill” – they were disciplined for their sin, but change could come.

I mentioned that I was disciplined as a child by my parents – were any of you disciplined as children?  Did you discipline your children? 

The author of Hebrews quotes Solomon, as he tells his readers not to despise the discipline of the Lord – we are not to consider it nothing – something we can ignore.  There is purpose and meaning behind discipline.

If God disciplines us, it proves that we are His sons and daughters.

Have you ever been in a supermarket where a parent or guardian is allowing a child to run around and scream and pull things off the shelf?  Have you ever wondered where the parent or guardian was and why that parent or guardian was not disciplining the child?  Have you ever gone over and disciplined the child yourself?  Why not?  Because you are not the child’s parent or guardian – you do not have authority over that child.  Perhaps you may have addressed the child’s parent or guardian, but I doubt any of us has disciplined a child we didn’t know.

God disciplines us because we are His.

And He disciplines us because He loves us and wants us to be better people – to advance us in our salvation.

Hear what God’s Word says about God’s disciplining of us for our sin:

“Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law, to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked” (Psalm 94:12-13, ESV).

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119.67, ESV).

“I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (Psalm 119.75, ESV).

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3.19, ESV).

“Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you” (Deuteronomy 8.5, ESV).

“I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men,” (II Samuel 7.14, ESV).

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13.24, ESV).

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die” (Proverbs 23.13, ESV).

Keep in mind – this is not abuse – this is loving discipline.  This is action caused to make us repent and turn from our sin and not do it any longer.  When we are disciplined by God, God is showing His love for us, that we are His children, and that He is working to advance our salvation – to make us holy.  So, let us not despise the discipline of the Lord, but understand it is for our good and respond to it accordingly, by not sinning again.

The author of Hebrews continues:

“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. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”

Fourth, God’s disciplining of us is as a loving Father

If you were abused by your parents, I would ask that you think of what a parent should be, not what you experienced – not to deny what you experienced, but so you will understand and take this well – for God is our loving Father.  God is the loving Father of all those who ever believe in the Savior He sent.

The author of Hebrews asks us to consider our earthly fathers – or what our fathers should have been, if you were abused.  Earthly fathers discipline their children because they want their children to desire to live rightly – and that shows their love of us – that our fathers want us to be good and righteous people – doing what is right, following God, and believing in the Savior He sent.

We respect fathers who discipline us out of love and out of the desire for us to be good people and to become better people, and all of other fathers – even the best – even you – are or were sinners.  If we respected our sinful fathers who loved us and desired that we would become better people, how much more ought we to respect God, our Father, when He disciplines us in His holy love?

God loves us so much that He sent His Only Son to live and die that we might be right with God.  God loves us so much that He has indwelled us with God the Holy Spirit that we would be led to become the men and women He has called us to be in holiness – like His Own Son.  God loves us so much that He allowed His Son to suffer at the hands of sinners unjustly.  And now He shows His love for us in disciplining us so we will stop sinning and turn to follow after holiness.

You see, when our father – our parents – disciplined us, they were examples of God to us.  And what they did and what God does in discipline is not to destroy us, but to make us truly alive – that we would seek to kill sin – to mortify our sin – and to seek to live holy lives.

That does not mean, however, that we should “enjoy” discipline.  Even though discipline is for our good,

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Fifth, we ought to understand that end of discipline is our good.

            Discipline hurts!  When I was spanked as a kid, it hurt.  It was not pleasant; it was painful.  However, the end of discipline, as we have said, is not the pain that we feel, but that we would respond in growth in godliness.

            The end of discipline is that we would yield “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”

            What does that mean?

            The end of discipline is “peaceable” in the sense that we come to recognize it as beneficial.  I do not despise my father for spanking me; I recognize – after the fact – that is was beneficial for me to be disciplined, so I would know what is right and wrong and be encouraged to do what is right and to live rightly.

            The end of discipline is “the fruit of righteousness” in the sense that we would fear God – be in awe of God – humbly respect God, and strive to live a godly and holy life.

Paul’s words are true about all kinds of suffering – even discipline:  “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (II Corinthians 4:17, ESV).  Discipline is preparatory – it trains us to be the people that God has called us to be.

So, let us hold fast to Jesus – remembering all that He suffered on our behalf and seek not to offend Him and rebel against Him through sin, but rather let us seek the Power of the Holy Spirit and follow after all that God has called us to do and be in His Word.

And when we sin, let us not be surprised that we suffer for it, but, instead, recognize the discipline of God and, again, respond by repenting of our sin and seeking to live lives of holiness, knowing that we are disciplined by a loving Father Who has saved us by Himself and for Himself.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You that You are our Father and You love us.  We thank You for sending Your Son to be our Savior.  Help us to always keep before us all that He endured to secure our salvation, and when we need to be disciplined for our sin, help us to repent quickly, receiving Your Fatherly Hand against us for our sin, and run to You, seeking strength to be matured in the faith, becoming holy men and women, like Your Son, our Elder Brother, Jesus.  For it is in His Name, we pray, Amen.

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