59 – Hebrews 12:4-11: Chastening and Correction

Hebrews 12:4-11

“You have not yet faced death in the struggle against sin. But you have forgotten the encouraging words of Scripture which reason with you as with children, ‘My child, do not undervalue the discipline the Lord inflicts or be discouraged when He reprimands you, for the Lord loves those He admonishes and chastises everyone He acknowledges as His own.’ You must submit to discipline, because God is dealing with you as any loving Father would. No true son ever grows up uncorrected by his father.

However, if you do not accept correction when it is necessary (which all true sons have to bear), it shows you are illegitimate children rather than members of His family. We respected our earthly fathers when they reprimand us; should we not all the more readily submit ourselves to our Spiritual Father and live a better life? Our fathers trained us as they deemed fit for only a few brief years, but God always corrects us for our own benefit so we may share His holy character eternally. Discipline is never pleasant and when inflicted is painful. But in the end, the results can be seen in the peaceful and righteous lives of those who have submitted to the training.”  (paraphrased)

The writer now begins a series of exhortations to encourage his readers to continue in the faith – despite the hardships they face.

v. 4
Although the readers suffered such indignities as imprisonment and confiscation of property, as yet they had not been tested to the point of martyrdom (10:32-34). The writer mentions their struggles were not nearly as difficult as those of other Believers. “Resist” antikathistemi, pictures a terrific, strenuous fight. “Striving” is antagonizomai, from whence we derive our word “antagonist” and refers to face-to-face combat. However, men such as Stephen and James had already given their lives for the Gospel (Acts 7:60 & 12:2). “Not yet” is a clause suggesting others will die for Christ in the future. But even our worst trials and tests are insignificant compared with those of the Man of Sorrows (Isa. 53:3).

v. 5
“Forgotten” (eklelesthe) means “to cease to ponder.” Believers are called to meditate upon the reasons behind their troubles. “Exhortation” (parakleseos) carries the double-meaning of encouragement and admonition. A major responsibility of preachers and teachers is to constantly remind people of things they are constantly forgetting. The readers are challenged to recall Solomon’s precedent concerning divine correction (Pv. 3:11-12). The writer knows his readers have options: they can despise it, faint because of it, or accept it. We are not instructed to simply “grin and bear it,” but to learn from the Lord’s corrective measures. The combined concepts of fatherhood and sonship in the next few verses urge us to reflect upon God’s paternal care.

To “despise” (oligorei) means to belittle, treat as trivial, or make light of something. Believers must take God’s chastening seriously. “Chastening” (paideias) is a word used eight times in these eight verses and refers to training, education, and discipline. It is a term regarding corrective measures, rather than punitive measures. Our Savior who suffered does not allow His children to be afflicted without reason. Christian trials and hardships can only be properly interpreted in the light of divine discipline. Jesus affirms He will rebuke and chasten those He loves (Rev. 3:19).

Under the former covenant, Israel learned that droughts, famines, and captivity by foreign powers were signs of God’s displeasure. Such calamities were allowed in order to teach the entire nation. But under the new covenant, the Lord deals with Believers on a personal level. He disciplines us for one of three reasons: retribution, education, or prevention. For example:

<> David received retributive punishment for his sins concerning Bathsheba and Uriah (II Sam. 12:18).
<> Job was taught God’s concern for his welfare (Job 2:10).
<> Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” to prevent him from becoming proud (II Cor. 12:7).

v. 6
Apart from discipline, no life can be improved for God. His love and chastening work in tandem. We must not be preoccupied with the rod of correction, but with the One holding the rod. The term “scourge” (mastigoi) is strong imagery, referring to “punishment by whipping.” “Every son” indicates there are no exceptions to this rule, for the true child of God will submit to His instructive reprimands.

v. 7
As Jesus endured the cross and the hatefulness of sinners (12:2-3), so must we tolerate chastening. We should accept these things humbly, thankfully, patiently, prayerfully, joyfully, and expectantly. The ideal attitude toward correction is as follows:

<> As God’s child, I accept His admonishment.
<> I believe all my trials are regulated by the Lord.
<> My will is always subordinate to His.
<> God can teach me whatever and whenever He chooses.
<> God is wise and justified in His dealings with me.
<> I am grateful for his personal care and interaction.

Endurance under God’s corrective hand validates our familial relationship. The Lord does not treat us as enemies He hates – but as children He loves. The related concepts of fatherly chastisement and sonship are inseparable. “What son is he whom the Father chastens not?” The question is rhetorical and the answer is obvious. Instead of asking this question when disciplined by God, many tend to ask, “Why this is happening to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” They refuse to believe trials are actually beneficial. God’s correction is always fair, but He is not obligated to explain why. Inappropriate responses to discipline include totally rejecting it, accepting it resentfully, or enduring it with an attitude of self-pity.

v. 8
It is the duty of a father to chasten and the duty of a child to submit to it. Every Believer needs chastisement. Those who refuse God’s discipline are not truly His children. The term “illegitimate” often refers to children born out of wedlock or those born to slaves and concubines. Because they were not family members, the head of the household felt little responsibility toward them. They were not disciplined because they held no family status. Without a connection to the biological head of the family, such offspring had no rights to an inheritance. Illegitimate children were banned from the congregation of the Lord (Deut. 23:2). 

v. 9
The readers of this epistle were well aware Roman fathers had absolute dominance over their children. He could punish his offspring as severely as he chose and even sell them into slavery. Although it was a rare occurrence, the Roman father could even execute a son who displeased him. In extreme cases, even the Jews were permitted to stone to death a rebellious boy (Deut .21:18-21). The daughter of a Levitical priest who turned to prostitution was burned until dead (Lev. 21:9).

Today, America suffers because we live in a “fatherless” society. The number of deadbeat or absentee dads has reached epidemic proportions. Many parents are poor disciplinarians because they were corrected infrequently or inconsistently when they were children. Parents are fallible and might punish out of anger or presumption. They can misunderstand a situation and penalize either too severely or too leniently. The duration or method of punishment might not suit the offense. Such castigation arouses more resentment than respect. However, the writer is not teaching child-training, but rather contrasting human and divine discipline. He compares chastening which is sometimes inappropriate with that which is always appropriate.

Normative fatherly correction should result in obedience and respect. A loving son will eventually realize that success in life depends largely upon his attitude. If he learns from correction, he will be empowered to face the trials awaiting him in the future.

The phrase “Father of spirits” portrays God’s concern for our immortal souls, as contrasted with the temporal concern of earthly fathers. If parental chastisement proved beneficial, how much more will the correction of our Heavenly Father? He will never discipline us beyond what we can bear (I Cor. 10:13). God uses such things as injuries, illnesses, deaths, and accidents for our betterment. The additional clause “and live” means “to have true life.” The writer adds this thought in order to contrast the temporary benefits of a human father’s discipline with the eternal benefits of our heavenly Father’s remedial methods. The question we face is not His willingness to correct us but our willingness to accept it.

v. 10
The writer contrasts the brief period of a child’s upbringing with the eternal benefits of holy living. “After their own pleasure” means “to suppose; to have an opinion.” The phrase does not suggest sadistic abuse. Both biological fathers and stepfathers make mistakes, but God’s correction is perfect. “Profit” (sumpheron) means “to improve the ability for increased productivity.” We are useful to the Lord as we allow Him to mold us into His image. Current trials are designed to pave the way for future blessings. The disciplinary lessons God sends our way are intended to formulate Christ-like character. 

v. 11
Chastisement is never a pleasant experience or a cause for joy. The immediate effects are pain and sorrow. Children do not tend to laugh, smile, or rejoice after a spanking. If correction was pleasant, it would negate any positive effect. However, if accepted with the right attitude, the end results include improved behavioral patterns and temperament.

The Biblical precedent for disciplining children is crystal clear. The father who loves his son must chasten him from time to time (Pv. 13:24). We are to admonish our children while there is still hope and must not desist just because they cry (Pv. 19:18). The rod of correction will drive foolishness from the heart of a child (Pv. 22:15). Spankings can result in deliverance from hell (Pv. 23:13-14). “Nevertheless, afterwards”….. is a phrase we should meditate upon during our trials.

“Yield” (apodidomi) means “to give back.” As trees are trimmed to increase productivity, so God’s children often need pruning. The recompense for suffering is well worth the discomfort. In the end, the result of discipline depends upon the response of the recipient.

The writer introduces another athletic metaphor (12:1-2). “Exercise” (gumnazo) refers to the conditioning of an athlete before a sports event. It is from this term we derive the word “gymnasium.” Suffering should be seen as “spiritual aerobics”  – which should result in visible benefits.

If we would be “conformed to the image of His Son,” we are obligated to accept discipline as faithful children (Rom. 8:29). Let us say with the Psalmists, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes” and “Happy is the man the Lord chastens” (Ps. 119:71 & 94:12). Peter informs us our sufferings are intended to make us mature, establish us, and strengthen us (I Pet. 5:10).


Hebrews 12:4-11

1. What word is found eight times in this passage?
A. temptation
B. tests
C. paternal
D. endurance
E. chastening

2. According to Heb.12:11, what effect should God’s corrective discipline have upon on lives?
3. According to I Peter 5:9-10, what effects can afflictions and suffering have upon us?

4. According to I Peter 4:12, should Believers expect trials?

5. According to I Peter 4:13, what should be our attitude toward such trials?   

6. After God delivered Joseph out of all of his afflictions, what happened to him?  (Acts 7:10)
7. What does Paul teach Timothy regarding afflictions?  (II Tim.4:5)

8. According to the Psalmist, who was it that chastened him?  (Psalm 11:18)

9. Paraphrase Deuteronomy 8:5.

10. List three particular trials you felt the Lord was allowing you to undergo for your betterment. Note what you learned from each of them.


Maxim of the Moment

The height of your accomplishment will equal the depth of your convictions. - William Scolavi