Of all the characteristics of fatherhood, Hebrews focuses on discipline as the classic example of fatherly love. What does this tell us about our heavenly Father? As Alistair Begg explains, we become members of God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we should neither be caught off guard nor crushed when our God uses suffering to discipline us. Rather, as children whom God is training, we must recognize suffering’s privilege, purpose, and product in our lives.
Can I invite you to turn again to the portion of Scripture that was read some moments ago from Hebrews chapter 12? For those of you who are visiting us today, you may assume from the passage of Scripture, mentioning fatherhood as it does with frequency, that we have turned to this particular portion just uniquely for today because it is Father’s Day. Such an assumption would be inaccurate, because we are continuing to go consecutively through the letter of the Hebrews, and it just so happens that we find ourselves at these verses on this particular day.
This is not unfamiliar to us. We find this happens with regularity, that God matches the Word of his truth to the needs of our lives. And we certainly acknowledge this morning, on Father’s Day, the unique challenges that are represented in the responsibility of fulfilling that role. And indeed, in the song that was just sung, one of the verses mentions the fact of the father’s inability to get it all right, and how, with the pressure of life, they just can’t seem to get it all done. And the fact of the matter is that―and I’m quoting here from a little book that I have—
It is often the most diligent of men who feel the greatest challenge. They[’re] trying to please their bosses and respond to their customers. They[’re] trying to live up to the high standards in fulfilling the role of a biblical husband. They also want to be the spiritual leader in their homes, and therefore recognize their responsibility for their children. And in many cases, they[’re] living on a fault line, with a growing fear that the big earthquake may come at any time and engulf them.
As fathers this morning, there are certain things that are inescapable truths to us. I note these in here under the section of “The Role of a Husband,” and I wrote these from somewhere, with myself in view, sometime ago. I find them distinctly challenging.
Number one: I am a dad. That’s fact number one. Even on the mornings when I don’t feel like it, even when I know I blew it, even when I think I’d rather be doing something else, the central fact of my existence is that I am a husband and a father.
Secondly, the home is the single most important influence on my family. I can delegate a lot of my responsibilities at work, but I cannot delegate my hopes for my family.
Because of its inherent difficulty and importance, fathering is the most dignified role I will ever play. The dignity of fathering has been eroded. Television has portrayed fathers as buffoons, absentee workaholics, or permissive nice guys who don’t have a significant value or ethic in their heads. So it’s no wonder that many men have ceased to devote the kind of time and energy the task of real fathering demands.
Four, being a parent is one of the greatest sources of joy we can ever know.
Five, we can all improve on what we’re doing.
Six, everybody’s unique―our children, and so are we. And therefore, we must learn from one another.
And seven, it is jolly difficult to be a good parent. There are no magic formulas, no special potions. One of the great myths in society is that we can be parents without real investment of time and energy. The great truth is that there is no substitute for the investment of time and effort.
Which of us this morning, as fathers, can then evade the challenge that is before us? A whole generation is growing up around us who have no knowledge of fatherhood at all―not because their fathers are gone; their fathers are present, but their fathers are not fathers. They’re everything else but father. And it is because in many cases we have missed the great, essential, distinguishing factor of what it means to be a child in a home and a father over a home.
Of all the characteristics that the writer of Hebrews may have used to describe the fatherhood of God here in chapter 12, the one that he isolates—and it’s not unusual in the course of the Scriptures—is that of discipline. Discipline. Verse 7: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.” In other words, the classical expression of a father’s love is discipline. It’s not the provision of what the child desires; it is the provision of what the child requires . All kinds of people can meet the desires of our kids, but only to the parent—and in this case, primarily and particularly—is given the responsibility of jurisdiction over the discipline and the forming of their lives. If our children are to come to maturity, then we neglect this to our peril.
Now, the context in the letter is simply this: that these individuals who had become God’s children through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—which is the way in which an individual becomes a child of God. We are all the children of God by creation, insofar as none of us exists physically without his creative handiwork, but we become his children—his spiritual kids, if you like—by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And these people to whom the letter has been written had heard the preaching of this good news, and they had turned from their previous way of life, and they had embraced Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and Master and Friend and Guide, and they had set out on the journey of following him. They hadn’t gone very far down the road until they began to meet with some significant roadblocks, when they began to find out that this was not a cakewalk, when they began to hum to themselves, as it were, the country western tune,
I beg your pardon,
I never promised you a rose garden;
Along with the sunshine
There’s [gonna] be a little rain some[times].
And these people were saying, “‘A little rain’? It’s like it’s gonna rain forever! Is this what it means to follow Christ? Is this what it means to have God as your Father? Is this what I signed up for?”
It’s the spirit of Pliable at the very beginning of Pilgrim’s Progress, when Pliable leaves the City of Destruction along with Pilgrim, and they haven’t gone very far, and they end up in the Slough of Despond. And they’re in this dreadful, muddy predicament, and they’re sinking in further and further. And Pliable, you may recall, turns to Pilgrim, and he says, “Is this the kind of thing you promised to me? Is this what it means to have God as your Father? I’m getting out of here! And I’m getting out on the side of this Slough that is closest to my home.” And so Bunyan describes how Pilgrim got out on the side on the way to the destination; Pliable got out on the far side and retreated to his house.
And the readers of this letter were tempted to retreat, tempted to go back. And that’s why from chapter 10 he’s been saying, “We’re not the kind of people who retreat. We’re the kind who continue. If you want to know what it’s like to continue, take a walk through the portrait gallery of Hebrews chapter 11.” And then he says, as he comes into chapter 12, “By the way, you may be tempted to focus so much on these individuals that you fail to keep your eyes on the right person, and the right person is Jesus.” What did Jesus do? He endured all these things, all the “opposition [of] sinful men.” And he says, “If you keep your eyes on him, then you won’t grow weary and lose heart.’” But it is a necessary reminder. And so he says in verse 4, “In your struggle against sin, you have[n’t] yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” “You think this is bad?” he said. “You’re still alive. And where there’s life there’s hope. Others have died.” Read the second half of chapter 11. “You’re still going. But it is a struggle.”
And anybody who sells you Christianity or God as your Father as some kind of soft-soap, wishy-washy journey for mamby-pamby nitwits, then they don’t have a Bible in front of them. Because it’ll take everything in you as a man to live for Jesus Christ. It will take the striving of every sinew within you to resist the influences of those around us, who mock us in our day, who deny the truths of God’s Word—the nonsense that spews from various pulpits all around us here in the city, such as I was listening to this morning in driving here from someplace, that the name “Adam” in Genesis 1 is not “Adam”; it is “earth person,” and he is the first earth person, and he was introduced to another earth person, and there is no gender between them save that which is externally established, and so much nonsense you could never imagine, within ten or twelve miles of where I’m standing right now. Now, if you’re gonna stand up and affirm the truths of God’s Word and live for Jesus Christ, then there’s gonna be a struggle that you face.
So he says, “I want you to figure on the struggle that you’re facing, and I want to remind you,” verses 5 and 6, “of the Scripture you’re forgetting.” He says, “You’re forgetting to read your Bibles.” And you see, when we forget to read our Bibles, things start to go wrong. Because it is by our Bibles that we are given the food for the journey and we’re given the map on the way. He says, “You haven’t been reading the book of Proverbs. If you’d been reading the book of Proverbs,” he said, “you would remember the verses, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, because the Lord disciplines those that he loves.’” So he says, “I know your circumstances are difficult. I know that life has not been going particularly tranquilly for you. I know that it’s not a walk in the park. But I want you to remember something you’ve been forgetting: you haven’t yet shed your blood on this journey, and secondly, you haven’t been paying attention to the Bible as you should.”
Now, let me summarize what he says here in verse 5 and 6, just in a couple of phrases.
Number one, he says, “Don’t be careless.” Don’t be careless. That’s the phrase “Do not make light of.” You see, the danger lies in failing to recognize that God’s hand is at work both in our struggles as in our successes. Indeed, I would say on the strength of forty-five years of life that I’ve known the hand of God more at work in my struggles than in my successes—that I have made greater progress, small though it may be, in times of tear, pain, difficulty, disappointment, disenchantment than ever the progress that I have made when my spirit has been lifted up within me. And yet, I still am foolish enough to seek always that which lifts me up, sets me up, and sets me on. And in seeking to shun trials, I fail to receive blessings. And the danger is that I am just careless in relationship to the Lord’s discipline. I make light of it. I say, “Well, it’s not really there.” Oh yes, it’s there, and it’s there for a purpose.
Secondly, he says, “Don’t be crushed by it.” The first danger is that we would be casual or careless in relationship to it. The second is that we would be crushed by it. That’s the phrase in the second half of verse 5: “Do not lose heart.” Don’t lose heart! You see, this is a very, very important word to these people, because they were in danger of being completely overwhelmed. The adversity of life was such that they were loaded down with all kinds of troubles, and their natural tendency―and let’s be honest, as is ours―was simply to think that their Father had given up on them, and that somehow or another, now they were left to their own devices—that God had the phone off the hook, as it were, and he’d gone away to look for something, and all this was taking place while he was gone, and it would seem that he wasn’t coming back to pick up the phone, and we were left with all these unanswered questions at the end of the line.
He said, “Now, don’t you be crushed by the Lord’s discipline. Don’t be casual or carefree about it. But,” verse 6, “be clear.” And what is the clarity that he wants us to have? Well, he says, “I want you to be absolutely clear that the Lord disciplines those he loves.” He disciplines those he loves. What other verb would we perhaps have put in there? We’d be tempted to put all kinds of verbs in there: “The Lord provides for those he loves.” He does. “The Lord protects those he loves.” Of course he does! And so we could fill it in with all kinds of things. But the distinguishing feature here for the writer of the Hebrews is, “If you want to know that you’re a child of God, you’ll know it because the Lord disciplines you.” He doesn’t discipline those to whom he is indifferent. And his affection for his children—those whom he has accepted or adopted, there at the end of verse 6—does not overrule his purpose for us. He is not about to overlook our faults and our foibles, because these very things will stunt our spiritual growth. And therefore, as in earthly parenting, he cannot let his kids away with it, because if he does, we will turn out less than that which he desires for us, which is to be mature in the face of the struggle. If he were to simply wink his eye at sin, if he were simply to allow us always to live in tranquility and in ease, if he were simply to provide for everything we asked at the time that we asked and to be some kind of cosmic genie in the sky, then there would be no reality in this partnership that is described here.
Don’t be crushed. Don’t be careless. Do be clear.
God uses discipline in order to cure us. And I’m using “cure” there in the way in which tobacco is cured, or ham is cured, or leather is cured. It goes through a certain process in order that it might be more useful at the end than it was at the beginning. You see, most of us want to be really useful without being cured. Most of us want to be strong without doing the exercise. Most of us want to get soft and tender eyes without ever having that which makes us cry and weep and breaks our hearts. Most of us want to be able to minister to others out of the fullness of our experience, but we don’t want the fullness of experience that gives us the ability to minister. We want a “press button A, press button B” Christian kind of experience, and it’s certainly not in the Bible. And the writer says, “I want to tell you about fatherhood. And I want to give it to you in one word, and the one word is discipline.”
I mentioned to somebody this morning, they said, “What are you speaking on? Is it Hebrews 12?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “And what is it?” I said, “Discipline.” She said, “I don’t like that topic.” Now, I understood what she meant by that; I don’t particularly like it myself. But I want to say three things about discipline. Actually, I don’t. I want to show you three things that the writer says about discipline. And they’re very simple.
Number one: the privilege of discipline. The privilege of discipline: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.” It is a sign of our sonship.
Now, we might use “sonship” generically here so that ladies do not feel left out, nor should you. Because in the context in which the writer is describing these things, he was not limiting this simply to the male gender, but people would have understood the generic use in a way that is an example to us. “If we were really God’s children,” some of these people were saying, “then we wouldn’t have to face these things.” Have you ever said that? You know, “If God really loved me, then this wouldn’t happen to me.”
I visited in the hospital this week. Somebody described a situation in the intensive cardiac care unit where one man had died and another man had lived. And the person started to explain to me, “Well, it must be that God loves this one and he doesn’t love that one,” or “It must be that the one who lived was doing a lot of good things and the one who died was doing a lot of bad things.” I said, “Well, that’s easy enough to say when your guy’s the one that lived. Kinda difficult when he’s the one that passed away.” And I said, “Do you really believe that God would operate on that kind of scale?” And we had a wonderful opportunity to talk.
But at the very heart of it all was this flawed understanding: “If God really loved me, I wouldn’t go through this.” No, the reverse is the case: “Because God really loves me, I am going through it, I have gone through it, or I am about to go through it.” Set it down as a fix point in your life that if you and I are going to follow wholeheartedly after Christ, if we’re going to live as children within our Father’s house, then discipline will be an ongoing part of our experience . And it is by that very experience of discipline that we are marked out as his sons and his daughters. Indeed, he says in verse 8, the absence of discipline is not an expression of blessing; the absence of discipline indicates that we are illegitimate. We’re “illegitimate children”! “If you’re not disciplined, then you’re illegitimate kids.” If you’ve come up with some approach to this Christian life whereby it’s all smiles and laughter, it’s all sunshine and springs, then, he says, the chances are you don’t even know what it is to be a Christian. Because this privilege of discipline distinguishes the believer from the unbeliever.
Now, in verse 9, you’ll see he moves from the lesser to the greater. He argues from human experience. “Moreover,” he says, “we[’ve] all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.” That’s the normal course of events. That’s how it’s supposed to be. You discipline your children, and they respect you for it. If you don’t discipline your kids, they won’t respect you. Oh, they may think you’re a big cozy-dozy character, but they won’t respect you. Proverbs 29:15: “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.”
Just take the teenage circumstances of our contemporary culture and look at this. You’re not allowed… The European Parliament has legislated not simply about the punishment of children in schools but the punishment of children in homes. They want to take away from parental jurisdiction the very thing that safeguards the culture in a coming generation. Because it is the “rod of correction” that “imparts wisdom,” and the child left to himself will be a disgrace to his mom.
Why are these screaming, raging, fiendish little rascals tyrannizing supermarkets all over America? How can they close the place down with such amazing ability, reduce the mothers to tears in TJ Maxx? “I want the big book! I want the big book! I want the big book!” And the mother’s going, “No, I have a nice little book,” this and that. “Look at that.” “I want the big book! I want a big...” I wanna go over, take the big book, bam! Not on the kid. On the mother! Get that thing out of here, take it home, and get the rod of correction out. Do you realize you’re ten years away from a total nightmare? You think his teacher’s going to fix this? You think the courts’ll fix this? Hey dad, step up! Same thing: “Discipline your son, he’ll bring you peace; he will delight your soul.” Fail to, he’ll bring you anguish and agony.
Somewhere in here I have a quote from the newspaper. I think I got it from Ann Landers. It was a letter by a father to his son. It went like this:
Dear Son: As long as you live under this roof you will follow the rules. In our house we do not have a democracy. I did not campaign to be your father. You did not vote for me. We are father and son by the grace of God. I consider it a privilege, and I accept the responsibility. In accepting it, I have an obligation to perform the role of a father.
I am not your pal. The age difference makes such a relationship impossible. We can share many things, but you must remember that I am your father. This is 100 times more meaningful than being a pal.
You will do as I say as long as you live in this house. You[’re] not to disobey me because whatever I ask you to do is motivated by love. This may be hard for you to understand at times, but the rule holds. You will understand perfectly when you have a son of your own.
Until then trust me.
Now, in contrast to that, the Houston Police Department put out a memo some time ago, indicating to people, on the basis of what they’d been seeing in domestic disputes, “How to Ruin Your Children.” This is the memo: “How to Ruin Your Children,” and they guarantee it to be 99 percent effective. Number one:
Begin with infancy to give the child everything he wants.
When he picks up bad words, laugh at him.
Never give him any spiritual training. Let him wait until he’s twenty-one and then let him decide for himself.
Avoid using the word “wrong.” It may develop a serious guilt complex.
Pick up everything he leaves lying around so he will be experienced in throwing responsibility on everybody else.
You turn to the pages of Scripture, and it is there right before our gaze. He says, “We … all had human fathers who disciplined us.” If we did, we should arise and call them blessed. “And we respected them for it,” and so we ought. “How much more then,” he said, “if that is the case on an earthly basis, should we then submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” If through our earthly pilgrimage we granted honor and respect to those who were our physical parents, how much more, then, should we bow and give that same honor and obedience and respect to our Father, who is the author not only of our physical lives but also of our spiritual lives? Indeed, we should pity, then, the child whose father has assumed that love demands that he allow his son to do what he likes, have what he wants, and to come and go as he pleases.
And I want you to know that this is a challenge for me. That’s why I said I wrote this for myself. Immediate gratification says, “Oh, let it go. Oh, get it. Oh, leave. Oh, who cares? Oh, I’ll see you later.” The immediate gratification, ’cause it gets it all out of your hair. You don’t have to deal with it. Within thirty seconds, it’s gone. The offending article has escaped. Delayed gratification, the gratification of wisdom and maturity and progress, demands that we have to go through the same jolly conversation a hundred and fifty million times: “No, you can’t have it. No, you can’t do it. No, you can’t stay over.” I don’t know why my hair is still the color that it is. People have started to say that I’m coloring my hair. Let it be known that the day that happens, it’ll be a hot day in Iceland. But God somehow or another is preserving the thing, but it’s not for wanting of getting all the challenges here. The Puritans said, “As God corrects none but his own, so all that are his shall be sure to have [correction]; and they shall [regard] it [as] a favour.” Mark Twain said, “When I was fifteen, I thought my father was a fool. When I became twenty-one, I realized what a wise man he was.” I don’t have anybody that reached twenty-one yet. And it seems pretty clear that the jury is out.
But that’s the privilege of discipline. It’s a sign of belonging. All the kids playing in the backyard—when you come home you could stop the car, buy ice cream cones, and give them to all of them. If there were thirty of them there, you can give it to them all. You can invite them to a picnic, you can provide them with a party, you can do everything else. But only those who are your own children may you intervene in their lives and exercise discipline and jurisdiction over them. And the one thing that distinguishes them from the rest of the group when dad shows up—especially where the behavior is less than desirable—will be the fact of our exercise of our parental jurisdiction.
Well, I spent longer on that than I should. But that’s the privilege of discipline. Notice how we’re told the purpose of discipline. The purpose of discipline. Verse 10: “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us,” notice, “for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”
“Why is this happening?”
“Well, it’s happening for our good.”
“Doesn’t seem like good.”
“I know that, but it is.”
“How do you know that?”
“’Cause God’s Word said so: in order that we might become holy.”
“I don’t know if I want to become holy.”
“Believe me, you do.”
“‘Holy’ sounds like mothballs.”
“I know it does, but holy’s good.”
“Are you sure it’s good?”
“Yes, it’s good.”
“I don’t think it’s good. I think this is good: the pleasures of sin for a season. I think being here’s good. I think being with her is good. I think doing that’s good. But I don’t think this is good. And I don’t think this is exactly what it says.”
“Honey, this is exactly what it says, and this is what it means.”
He disciplined us.
Now, the interesting thing is—and it’s pointed out here, and notice it in passing: “Our fathers disciplined us,” notice, “for a little while.” For a wee while. How quickly our children pass through our hands. How quickly! In a moment, they’re gone. How can it be that this little four-year-old kid that came with me and Sue here graduated from high school and is within six weeks of driving off into who knows where? How did that happen? You’ve been there. You’ve got your grandchildren coming home. You said, “How did this happen?” And you meet young couples at the mall, and you say, “Now, enjoy all the days and enjoy all the stages,” and the young couple are going, tearing their hair out, saying, “‘Enjoy all the stages’? Hey, why don’t you take this stage? You think… Maybe you’ve forgotten this stage. Try it for a while! How would you like the teenage stage? How ’bout taking that one?”
But we know, you know, there is enjoyment in all of that. And it only lasts for a little while. And the discipline that we exercise is as we think best. Our fathers disciplined us for a wee while―eventually, we were gone, beyond their jurisdiction―and while we were there, they did it “as they thought best.” In other words, listen very, very carefully: parental discipline is never perfect ! Now, don’t be strutting your stuff around: “Oh, I know about parental discipline.” Be very careful! You may just stand on the end of a rake; it’ll make a permanent mark right on your nose. The people that know about parental discipline know they don’t know about parental discipline. We know the principles, but the application’s hard, because our motives in disciplining aren’t always best.
Now, if I go back to the grocery store just for a moment here… Here comes Mrs. X with the kid in the chariot. The kid is being a royal pain in the teeth for five rows. “Oh, come on now, Charlie. Come on. Come on, Charlie,” and around we go. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, she takes a cornflake box and whacks it right on the back of the head. And the child’s saying to itself, “How did the cornflake… Where did the cornflake box come from? How did that happen?” And then he looks beyond his mother, and he sees Mrs. Y coming round the corner. And see, Mrs. Y is in Mrs. X’s Bible study, and Mrs. X is doing the parenting trip, you know? So she knows about parenting. But she’s had five rows of sheer aggravation, and now she decides to discipline. Why? ’Cause she’s motivated by pride. She doesn’t want Mrs. Y to see that she’s making a hash of it. She doesn’t want to see this terror that she has in the chariot. And dads do the exact same thing.
Also, our timing in disciplining is often horrendous. And our methods are often flawed. And we serve nothing to our children by seeking to suggest to them that the privilege of discipline and the necessary protections which discipline provides are also coexistent with our perfect ability to apply those principles . So we have to be honest enough to say, “You know, it was right and necessary for you to be disciplined. I’m sorry that I did it at the time that I did, I’m sorry that I did it in the way that I did, and I’m sorry that the motives of my heart had more to do with me preserving my own image and ego than they had to see you becoming the kind of child that I know you need to become.” And it is often a failure to do that on the part of fathers in particular that creates the dreadful autocratic role that is so unhelpful and so inimicable of the pattern of God in relationship to discipline.
Now, the contrast is so obvious: “Our fathers disciplined us for a wee while; they thought it best. God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” In other words, the exercise of discipline that God our Father exercises is unerring in its wisdom. It’s not a hit-and-miss kind of thing. It’s directed to this one end: “for our good.” We tend to think we know what is for our good, the same way that our children do. They think they know what’s for their good regarding bedtime, regarding diet, regarding purchases, regarding friends. They think they’ve got that all down. And they need to learn that father, in the best of cases, knows best, and it is certainly true here in relationship to God our Father.
And what the writer says to these dear struggling believers, and to us this morning, is simply this: “Our heavenly Father orders these events. He’s working them together for our good and in order that we might become like his Son.” That’s really what it means, “that we may share in his holiness.” Doesn’t mean we become stiff and starchy, for God is not that. It means that we are set apart to God and set apart for God, that there will be the attractiveness of the gospel, the attractiveness of peace in a world of disquiet, the attractiveness of joy in a world of gloom, the attractiveness of assurance in a world of uncertainty. And God uses these factors in our lives to fashion us to that end. Says Jim Packer, the Bible “does not allow us to suppose that because God is love we may look to him to confer happiness on people who will not seek holiness.”
Now, look at the last point there in verse 11. The privilege of discipline, the purpose of discipline, and the product of discipline: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.” “Thank you for such an honest and realistic sentence,” we find ourselves saying. The writer in no way minimizes the experiences through which we go. There are things that, if we could rewrite the chapters, we would take them out in an instant. If we could delete it from the computer experience of our lives, we would press the Delete key and go back for quite a long way. But the fact of the matter is that it is there. “Now,” he says, “I don’t want you focusing just on the red marks, on the bruises, the bumps, the tears, and the anguish. I want you to hold on and realize this: that how it hurts in the present is subservient to what it holds for the future. Because,” he says, “later on, it’ll produce a harvest of righteousness and of peace.”
It’s hard to believe that when you plant stuff, isn’t it? You plant stuff, you dig a hole, you put it in the ground, you cover it up, and there’s nothing there. You come back the next day, there’s nothing there. The next day, there’s nothing there. Nothing, nothing, nothing. You say, “Goodness gracious, I went down the road, spent all that money, dug a hole, put it in the ground, and nothing.” What do you have to be? Patient. You can’t be a farmer without being patient. And he says, “Listen, this is no funny little slick, methodological Christianity where these three things are the key to your existence, and if you do this, and do this, and do this, you’ll be this.” I mean, that’s the whole myth of physical fitness, isn’t it? I mean, every jolly magazine in creation has got something on it about how you can have a stomach that looks like Schwarzenegger and shoulders that look like whoever it is—“And you can do this in twenty minutes!” Do you believe that? Well then, how come you look like you look? Honestly! I mean, you can’t hold up the front of Men’s Health magazine in front of the mirror in your hotel room, and yourself, and do anything except just burst into tears. And the possibility of getting like that sometime in the next millennium is so outlandish. Because we want… “Could I be like that tomorrow?” Not a cotton-pickin’ chance! “Can I be a mature, steady, following Christian tomorrow?” No! But maybe the day after tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow’s tomorrow. Because eventually, he says—and here’s the promise—“you will produce a harvest of inner peace and moral uprightness, providing you have been trained by it.”
Now, let me hit that phrase and we’re through: “trained by it.” In other words, the harvest is not reaped by people who simply experience it; it is reaped by those who are trained by it . Because, you see, in the expression of discipline, our kids aren’t always trained by discipline. We can discipline our kids and they’re not trained by it. Have you noticed that? You discipline your children, and they reply in a spirit of defeated resignation; they sorta give themselves up to it: “Oh, well, go ahead. Do what you have to do. Fine, I’ll stay home. I’ll go in the basement. I don’t care.” There’s no training in that. Nor when they reply in a spirit of hard-hearted defiance: “Go ahead! It won’t hurt me. It won’t change anything!” There’s no training in that. In a spirit of self-pity: “I’m the only person this happens to. No one else gets this in my school. I don’t have… None of my friends have this. Look at me, I’m the worst person in the world!” Oh, shut up! That doesn’t train anybody. Nor are they trained when they respond in a spirit of resentment: “What have I done to deserve this? Who do you think you are? You’re not allowed to do this stuff. They told us at school you’re not allowed to do this stuff!” There’s no training in that.
The only time that discipline produces training is when the person is “trained by it.” What does it mean to be “trained by it”? It means to submit to it in a spirit of endurance which recognizes that the source of it is the hand of a loving father, not the hand of a cruel tyrant. And all that stuff that you used to read before you had kids―and I used to read it and smile. You’d read these things: “And when you discipline your children, you should tell them that this hurts you more than it hurts them.” I said, “Oh golly, my dad wrote a book now! Where did we get this stuff from? ‘Hurts the father more than it hurts the kid’…” Then you have a child. It does. I’ve wept more over my kids than I wept over my own sins.
Here’s the deal, loved ones: to think of God as a loving, heavenly Father is to think correctly. To think that his love is a kind of love which is soft and Santa-Claus-ish is to think unbiblically. But rather, he loves us with the same kind of compassionate care that the best of earthly fathers will show to the children that are under their jurisdiction. And the key thing is, are we gonna attend the training, or are we gonna be trained?
Sometimes I would cheat at training for soccer in Scotland. I’d come home congratulating myself while I was there, but I didn’t really do it. I thought I was a smart guy. We trained three nights a week, till Saturday came. And then on Saturday, when I was five yards short in running for a ball in the middle of the field, then I wasn’t such a smart chap after all, ’cause I shortchanged myself. I attended the event, but I did not get under the burden of the experience. The “harvest of righteousness” is in those who’ve been “trained by it.”
This is one of my little notes and quotes, and with this I close. One of my good friends twenty-plus years ago had married a girl called Maria. I’ve mentioned her before. She was strikingly beautiful. And I always looked at him and said, “Man,” you know, “how did you manage that?”—in the same way that people look at Sue and look at me and… And they hadn’t been married a year and she was diagnosed with cancer. And the cancer just ravished her. And I watched them both. And this is her last entry in her diary. It reads like this:
God, I don’t understand, but I love you and I trust you. Don’t let me let you down in this battle. Help me, Lord, to be what you want me to be in this, to learn what you want me to learn in this, not to waste this experience but to show the reality of knowing you.
And because she was prepared to endure the discipline in that way, all these years after going to heaven, by my telling you, Hebrews 12 is fulfilled. She is reaping “a harvest of righteousness and peace,” along with others who will be trained too.
Let us pray together:
O God our Father, we thank you that you are our Father in heaven, and we love you this morning, and we thank you for loving us. In fact, if you hadn’t loved us, we wouldn’t know how to love you in response. We bless you for your Word. We thank you that it cuts to the very heart of our lives; it touches where we live. It’s an old book, but it’s a vital and up-to-date story. Its themes are practical, life changing. Some of us, Lord, have been making a hash of it as dads, and we confess that and ask for your help. Others of us have occasion to go and thank our earthly fathers and to bless them for their provision. And all of us have reason to look up to you, our Father in heaven, and thank you for ordering our steps. And now we commit one another into your care.
May your grace and mercy and peace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be the abiding portion of all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.
 Alistair Begg, Lasting Love: How to Avoid Marital Failure (Chicago: Moody, 2015), 146.
 The following list can be found in Begg, Lasting Love, 160–61.
 See Ephesians 2:8.
 Joe South, “Rose Garden” (1967).
 Hebrews 10:39 (paraphrased).
 See Hebrews 12:2–3.
 Proverbs 29:17 (paraphrased).
 Quoted in Ann Landers, “It’s Never Too Late to Tell Dad ‘Thanks,’” Chicago Tribune, June 19, 1988, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1988-06-19-8801080911-story.html.
 See Proverbs 31:28.
 John Trapp, A Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 688.
 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (1973; repr., Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2018), 122.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.