Lesson Number 22
"And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'Myson, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged whenyou are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, Andscourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God dealswith you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, thenyou are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fatherswho corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readilybe in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a fewdays chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we maybe partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for thepresent, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit ofrighteousness to those who have been trained by it. therefore strengthen thehands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths foryour feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed." (Hebrews 12:5-13, NKJV)
It is imperative that God's people have a sound view of spiritual life. Misconceptions of Divine intent and spiritual life have led many a soul to despair, and some, to an abandonment of the faith. One of the chief purposes of Scripture is to clarify the nature of salvation, and assist us in identifying our participation in the "eternal purpose" of God. This is not apparent to those who have been victimized by institutionalized religion. Those caught in the snare of recruitment and the promotion of the organization cannot perceive the purpose of Scripture. They view God's Word as a manual of conduct, or the appointed means of proving they are in the right group. Nothing could be further from the truth! The Word of God has been inspired of God to ensure the person of God is "complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17). That is another way of saying God's Word is intended to bring us to a point where God can work in and through us. As it is written, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10).
The section of Scripture before us clarifies HOW God deals with us. His objective is to bring us to partake of His holiness, and produce glorifying fruitage within us. Doctrine is placed before us that must be remembered. We will be confronted with believers that forgot a relevant word from God, and thus were thrust into backward motion. They did not assess life correctly, and therefore stood in jeopardy of being cut off from God. The chastening of the Lord--a subject requiring our understanding.
"And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to YOU . . . " This can also be viewed as a question, i.e., "And have you forgotten the exhortation . . . " (RSV). Either way, the meaning remains the same. If considered a question, it is a rhetorical one, not an inquiry for information. The stresses, temptations, and difficulties of life had moved them away from the due consideration of Scripture! This is not an uncommon experience, yet it is not always viewed with the sobriety reflected in this text. Remember, we are dealing with the matter of salvation--with drifting away from the moorings of the soul, and getting beyond the circumference of hearing. No one will land safely on that heavenly shore who insists on living at a distance from the Captain of their salvation. We must never forget that spiritual safety is found in closeness. Jeopardy is always related distance from and insensitivity to the Savior. Although this is elementary, it can easily slip from our grasp.
The proper application of Scripture
The text brought to our attention is taken from Proverbs 3:11-12. It might appear from that passage that Solomon was addressing the words only to his son. While they were given to his son, they are not limited to him. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable . . . " (2 Tim 3:16-17). It is only as God's Word is perceived as addressed to us that it truly becomes profitable. Scripture is not limited to the province or the time in which it was written. Notice, the Spirit says the exhortation of Proverbs 3:11-12 "speaks to YOU!" Solomon did not have YOU in mind when he said this, but the Spirit did when it moved him to do so.
Earlier in this book, we are admonished to "hear" what the Spirit said in Psalm 95:7,8,15; 4:7. "To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness." The account of Israel rejecting the Lord at Kadesh-Barnea is not simply a historical event. It is a key to the nature of God's dealings with humanity. What He offers must be received! What He commands must be obeyed! The steeling of the heart against Divine influence must be avoided at all cost!
Those who deprive the people of God of access to and instruction in Moses and the Prophets have done a great disservice to them. Some professed leaders are so immersed in the affairs of the day and contemporary situations, they scarcely have time to peruse the things that "happened" to the ancient people "as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Cor 10:11, NKJV). O, the inestimable value of what has been written. "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom 15:4). Discard no section of God's holy Word! Consider no part of it pointless or vain!
The seriousness of forgetting.
How serious is it to "forget" the exhortations and admonitions of Scripture? How important is it to maintain a lively awareness of Scriptural exhortations? Most serious, indeed! These are one of the appointed means of calling us back into "the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" into which God called us (1 Cor 1:9). Our recollection of Divine utterances plays a key role in the maintenance of our faith. It is not possible to keep a Divine perspective without our hearts and minds being regularly exposed to the expression of that perspective.
Forgetting God and the things of God is consistently associated with retrogression, sin, and an unacceptable condition. "Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, And have forgotten the God who fathered you" (Deut 32:18). "My zeal has consumed me, Because my enemies have forgotten Your words" (Psa 119:139). "Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation, And have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold, Therefore you will plant pleasant plants and set out foreign seedlings; In the day you will make your plant to grow, And in the morning you will make your seed to flourish; but the harvest will be a heap of ruins In the day of grief and desperate sorrow" (Isa 17:10-11). " . . . Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number" (Jer 2:32). "They have forgotten the LORD their God. Return, you backsliding children . . . " (Jer 3:21-22). " . . . Because you have forgotten Me and trusted in falsehood" (Jer 13:25). "Because My people have forgotten Me, They have burned incense to worthless idols" (Jer 18:15). "My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray; They have turned them away on the mountains. They have gone from mountain to hill; They have forgotten their resting place" (Jer 50:6). "When they had pasture, they were filled; They were filled and their heart was exalted; Therefore they forgot Me" (Hose 13:6)."For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins" (2 Pet 1:9).
Suffice it to say, forgetting God and the words of God is not an innocent omission. It is the direct result of being diverted to the mundane, earthly, and temporal. Unless the tendency to forget matters having to do with God is averted, it will eventually lead to condemnation. The words of our text are a solemn warning, not an academic diversion.
Forgetting the exhortation of the Lord is a form of insensitivity to Him. You simply cannot forget that to which you are sensitive! A love for the Lord, an appetite for His Word, and a longing for righteousness will not allow spiritual insensitivity! However, when the individual neglects the "great salvation" which is found in Christ Jesus, a lack of sensitivity to that salvation ensues.
Dominated by the consideration of other things
To forget the exhortation, other things must dominate the heart and mind. In a word, "all that is in the world; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; is not of the Father but is of the world" (1 John 2:16). With consistent and unwavering aggression, Satan seeks to divert our attention to these things. He appeals to the "old man," or "flesh," within us, attempting to entice and draw us aside through the lust resident in our members (Eph 4:22; Col 3:5; James 1:14-15). Those who succumb to his temptation invariably begin to forget the exhortation of the Lord. Our minds simply cannot dwell upon the things of this world and retain a grasp of the Word of the Lord. Without "giving the more earnest heed to the Word," we soon lose our grasp of it, no longer profiting from it (Heb 2:1).
At this point, a word concerning cross-bearing is appropriate. Our Lord Jesus spoke of taking up our cross every day and bearing it with determination and strength. "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" (Luke 9:24). While taking up our cross is not confined to being chastened of the Lord, it does involve the experience. Chastening is an appointed means of separating us from things which cannot transfer to the world to come. It alerts us to personal involvements that inhibit Divine fellowship, disqualify us from the race, and dull our spiritual senses. When we are chastened, let us nobly pick up our cross, and make some advance to the city of our God! We are not enduring a strange thing, but an experience common to every member of the household of faith. Life in Christ is attended with challenge, pain, and difficulty. Those who do not realize this will eventually stumble because of the normalities of spiritual life.
"My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him . . . " The words spoken by Eliphaz the Temanite to Job were correct, even though his application of them was flawed. "Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty. For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole. He shall deliver you in six troubles, Yes, in seven no evil shall touch you. In famine He shall redeem you from death, And in war from the power of the sword" (Job 5:17-20). The Lord has a glorious purpose in chastening. Therefore, blessed is the one chastened! The person being chastened is NOT happy because he is experiencing the chastening hand of the Lord. Rather, it is the OBJECTIVE of the chastening that brings a sense of benefit to the suffering one.
This is a solemn word: "Do NOT despise the chastening of the Lord!" The word "despise" describes a most subtle reaction. It does not denote a harsh reaction, but a lethargic one. The word means to have little regard for, i.e., to disesteem. It means, do not regard lightly, disparage, or brush aside. This is what Israel did when they confronted hardship in the wilderness. They were being tested by God, or chastened (Deut 8:2-3). Their reaction: they "murmured," thinking lightly of God's dealings with them (Ex 15:24; 16:2; 17:3; Num 14:2; Deut 1:27; 1 Cor 10:10). They thought nothing of criticizing God, having no fear of Him. They spoke against Him and His servants. They "despised" the chastening of the Lord.
First, it requires a degree of spiritual sensitivity to know we are being chastened of the Lord. Some people are so dull of spirit, they never associate difficulty and hardship with the hand of the Lord. The Psalmist, acutely aware of His God, associated great difficulties with the hand of the Lord. "For all day long I have been plagued, And chastened every morning" (Psa 73:14). An insensitive soul would never have made such an association. Even when crushed by the weight of trial, the man of God cried out, "The LORD has chastened me severely, But He has not given me over to death" (Psa 118:18). The Apostle put it this way, "as chastened, and yet not killed" (2 Cor 6:9). Even Israel, in its more sensitive posture, sensed God dealing with her. Of her God said, "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself: 'You have chastised me, and I was chastised, Like an untrained bull; Restore me, and I will return, For You are the LORD my God. Surely, after my turning, I repented; And after I was instructed, I struck myself on the thigh; I was ashamed, yes, even humiliated, Because I bore the reproach of my youth" (Jer 31:18-19). Those are the words of one who does not "despise the chastening of the Lord."
We live in a spiritual climate that requires this exhortation: "Despise not the chastening of the Lord!" I will be bold and say words like "I am angry with God," "Why did this happen to me?", and "I do not understand why I am going through all of this," are all expressions of despite. They reflect a spiritual insensitivity that is not appropriate for a child of the King. They are an incorrect assessment of experience with the Almighty, and a confession of a fundamental ignorance of the Lord and His ways. While the religious world concocts positions that tolerate such actions, giving hop-e to those who express them, God declares, "Despise not the chastening of the Lord!" I know this is not a popular word, but it is a necessary one. We do well to be more sensitive to God than to circumstance!
Notice that chastening is equated with Divine "rebuke." The Lord will not allow His people to continue in an unlawful and unprofitable course without rebuking them. The rebuke is not an audible word uttered from heaven, as when Peter sought to build three tabernacles (Matt 17:4-5). It comes in the form of chastisement. The Lord is graciously correcting a wayward bent, pointing us away from the path that leads to death. Our ways and manners are not always as innocent as they seem. Many a soul has been caught in the maelstrom of transgression because they were not sensitive to the rebuke of the Almighty. David associated rebuke with chastening. "O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure" (Psa 6:1; 38:1). We do well to do the same. Chastening may be our lot, but it does not have to be in anger!
"For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." What a comforting word is this! The language is strong, but so is the blessing. The word "scourge" speaks of flogging. Coming from mastigoi (mas-tig-o'-o), it means beat with a whip; discipline, punish severely. This is a hard lesson for the people of God to learn, but it is a necessary one. A culture that disdains discipline, and looks upon the correction of children as abuse, knows little of the meaning of this word. Satan has robbed our society of an exceeding precious truth.
Our very salvation is founded upon the chastening of the Lord! Christ's vicarious atonement is described as "The chastisement for our peace" (Isa 53:5). The Divine lash fell upon the Savior--not because of His own need for correction, but because of our need. We could not have born the whip wielded against the Lord Jesus. That is why He bore it. It remains, however, for us to feel the stroke of Divine correction and rebuke in a lesser way. Such dealings are not to be viewed as Divine anger, but as Fatherly love. It might be well to say here that God's dealing with His people is the solitary point in reference.
If we do not recognize the scourging of life as the hand of a loving God, they will bring no profit to us. They MUST be so perceived! We must not allow the wicked one to cloud our vision on this matter. Carnal explanations for difficulties must be forthrightly rejected, for they are not true. It is God with Whom we have to do. As it is written, "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb 4:13). But it is not a harsh and indignant God to Whom we must give an account! It is One Who loves us, and corrects us with the intent of bringing us to glory! I do not mean to be morbid, but when sorrows befall us, and life becomes a burden, we must learn to look at it as God dealing with us. Satan does not have free access to us. His temptations must pass the Throne of the universe before they come to us (1 Cor 10:13). He cannot desire us without the Savior praying for us (Lk 22:32). The storm cannot rise on Jonah's sea without the Lord (Jonah 1:4), nor can Paul receive a thorn that is sent by God (2 Cor 12:7).
When Job was sorely tested, he knew God was dealing with him--he just did not know why (Job 1:21). When Shimei cursed David with provocative words, David knew God was dealing with him. " . . . because the LORD hath said unto him, Curse David" (2 Sam 16:10). When Eli received the message of judgment upon his house, he responded, "It is the LORD: let Him do what seemeth him good" (1 Sam 3:18). Paul knew he had been given a "thorn in the flesh" "lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations" (2 Cor 12:7). Others might have considered that "thorn" a curse, but not Paul. He learned at the feet of Jesus that the Lord "scourges every son whom He receives."
The Holy Spirit directed some very sensitive words to the insensitive Corinthian church. Some of their number had become sick, while others had even died, under the mighty hand of God. Their thoughtless attendance at the Lord's Table had not gone unnoticed by the Lord. Because they treated it with contempt, not wrapping their thoughts around their Savior, the hand of the Lord was raised against them. "For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1 Cor 11:29-30). Although it is not fashionable to say so, I should not be surprised if this accounts for the condition of many churches in the land.
But this is not the end of the Spirit's word. Although harsh judgment had been experienced, striking down some with sickness, and others with death, Divine intent is proclaimed. "But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor 11:32). The hand of the Lord seeks to turn us from condemnation. If the spiritually indolent among God's people begin to absorb the ways of the world, God will, through chastening, seek to divert them from their wayward course. He does this because He loves them, and desires their fellowship and presence with Him. Our text summons us to respond to these overatures.
"If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" The question is not whether or not you will be chastened, but if you will endure it--if you will come out of it having made some progress to glory. The chastening will yield no benefit if you do not bear up under it! Although "tribulation" is not confined to the matter of chastisement, there is a connection between the two. Chastening is an appointed means of purging us from spiritually inhibiting manners. It is no wonder believers are told, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Let us learn to interpret the hardships and tests of life correctly!
God deals with us as with sons IF we "endure chastening." This means IF we remain on the Lord's side, refusing to ourselves become spiritually unstable because life seems to have lost its stability. To "endure" means to stay under, remain . . . have fortitude, persevere, abide, endure, take patiently, suffer, tarry behind. Chastening, in this case, is viewed as a mighty wave that washes over the soul of the believer. The wave is large and intimidating, with enough force to dislodge one from the moorings of the soul. But after the wave has passed, the believer who remains has "endured." Such an one can rejoice after the night of weeping. This is the very point made by David in the thirtieth Psalm. "For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning" (Psa 30:5). THAT IS ENDURING! It is to sing at midnight, after being flogged during the day (Acts 16:25). THAT IS ENDURING! It is to come back to Jesus after denying Him three times (Lk 22:34; Mark 16:7). THAT IS ENDURING!
Israel did NOT endure chastening. Rather than standing firm, they murmured against their God, supposing He had led them into a trial from which they could not recover. How grievous the words of the Lord about their lack of endurance. "Also in Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry enough with you to have destroyed you" (Deut 9:8). "Also at Taberah and Massah and Kibroth Hattaavah you provoked the LORD to wrath" (Deut 9:22). "They forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger" (Judges 2:12). Their sin was that they folded under pressure! They did not respond to correction. They were not sensitive to the working of the Lord. He meant to bless them, but they interpreted His work as a curse. God could not overlook their lack of endurance!
Do you wonder at the severity of God's reaction to a lack of endurance? Hear the Word of the Lord, and determine to ENDURE the chastening of the Lord. "He also gave His people over to the sword, And was furious with His inheritance. The fire consumed their young men, And their maidens were not given in marriage" (Psa 78:62-63). Hear it again! "Therefore the wrath of the LORD was kindled against His people, So that He abhorred His own inheritance. And He gave them into the hand of the Gentiles, And those who hated them ruled over them" (Psa 106:40-41). Lest some imagine this has no relevance to those in Christ Jesus, the Spirit solemnly reminds us of God's dealings with Israel. "Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10:6-12). Such solemn words are designed to provoke in us a determination to ENDURE the chastening the Lord, not fainting when we feel the scourge.
If we do NOT endure chastening, recoiling when the hand of the Lord is upon us, we must not assume ourselves to be sons. One mark of a "son of God" is their ability and determination to "endure the chastening of the Lord." This is the possession of the spirit of Job. "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him" (Job 13:15). Perhaps a New Covenant perspective of this truth will kindle a spark of hope within those who are under the scourge. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:35-39).
When we "endure the chastening of the Lord," the perception of this truth confirms our sonship--TO US! We realize by faith that God is dealing with us "as with sons." That is, this is how God treats His children--this is His manner. It is not a crude or thoughtless one, but one of purpose and objective. How gracious the Lord is!
"But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons." Here is a hard saying for the flesh--in fact, flesh cannot receive it. This contradicts the notion that everything is always ideal and without difficulty for the believer. Those who teach such things are in sharp conflict with God and His truth. The text presupposes an assumed identity with God. This is not speaking about those who claim no association with the Lord, but of those who do. Notice the firmness of the statement. "But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons." Other versions, though etymologically correct, soften the word "bastards" with "illegitimate."
The implications of this are arresting! There is such a thing as illegitimate children of God. Such claim relation to God, but really have none. They profess they are born of God, but are not. The Law developed this concept for us. "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD" (Deut 23:2). God spoke to some of Israel with tones most harsh--tones that declared their illegitimacy. "But come here, You sons of the sorceress, You offspring of the adulterer and the harlot!" (Isa 57:3). Jesus spoke to the religious elite of His day, charging them with being children of the devil. "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do" (John 8:44). Their claim to Divine acceptance was false. They were "bastards!" Such are those who will stand before the Lord in that great day, professing "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" They were in the "right" group, and worked with diligence in the name of the Lord. But Jesus will not recognize them. He will say, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matt 7:22-23). They were illegitimate sons!
There are several tests, as it were, of sonship in God's Word. One is loving the brethren (1 John 3:14). Another is keeping "His commandments," retaining them in our hearts and joyfully obeying them (1 John 2:3). Another is holding "fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end" (Heb 3:6). Jesus spoke of enduring "unto the end" (Matt 10:22), and John of being cognizant of the indwelling Spirit (1 John 3:24). In our text, however, we have a most unique indication of sonship: CHASTISEMENT! What pilgrim is there who cannot derive comfort from this? Those straits through which you have passed were God dealing with you as with sons! If God dealt with Joseph in the pit, Potiphar's house, and Pharaoh's prison, think it not strange that he is dealing with you!
"Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness." We have a perfectly logical situation before us--logical in the Spirit. There is no reason for any of us to miss it. Even in this world, fathers correct their children! Those of sound mind do not despise them for their correction. Does it not make good sense to subject ourselves to the very Father of our spirits in order to live?
He now refers to the ideal earthly fatherhood. Conduct which deviates from this is abnormal, and invalid before God. Our fathers chastened us "after their own pleasure." This does not mean they delighted in chastening us, but "time as seemed best to them" (NASB), or "as they thought best" (NIV). They chastened us in a quest for our welfare, and to avert our propensity to foolishness. They sought to turn us from danger, and culture us for benefit. They did the best they could, and we gave them reverence and respect for it. They did not always make us feel good, but they did seek our good. If we went astray, it was not owing to their negligence!
If our earthly fathers sought our welfare, will any imagine that our heavenly Father will not do so? If the rod of our parents did not offend us, will we allow the chastening of God to do so? Some might suppose that because chastening applies only when we are children, that in Christ we will soon outgrow a need for chastening. But this is not so. The saints of God, as long as they are in the world, are "little children," being cultured for a world to come (Gal 4:19; 1 John 2:1; 3:7,18). We are "children" in comparison to what we shall be. This is the condition to which Paul referred when he wrote, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead" (Phil 2:12-13).
Note the glorious objective of chastisement: "that we might be partakers of his holiness." The chastening itself does not make us holy, but enables us to "perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord" (2 Cor 7:1-2). It helps to clear our vision, that we may enter more fully into the works God has before ordained, "that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). This is another view of becoming "participators in the Divine nature." Peter relates that to the embrace of God's "exceeding great and precious promises" (2 Pet 1:4). There is no conflict between that expression and our text. When we perceive the chastening hand of God, the promises become more precious to us. Promised recovery is sought with zeal, and the vain promises of the devil one become repugnant to us.
Here is a most wonderful truth to see. When sin is removed from us, holiness will come to us. This is not holiness in the imputed sense, but in the practical sense. When we believe God, righteousness is imputed to us so that God and Christ may dwell within and fellowship with us. The rest of our lives we "are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18, RSV). The chastening of the Lord plays a key role in this marvelous transformation.
We are in a state of spiritual development, being "conformed to the Image of His Son" (Rom 8:29-30). That condition requires chastening and correction. Because waywardness is so deeply ingrained in our fleshly nature, chastening often takes a painful form. That chastening, however, is more proof of the love of God for us, than of our personal propensity to iniquity. It is God's dealing with us as with sons that must capture our attention. Chastening is not intended to thrust us from the presence of the Lord, but to push us out of the path of destruction.
"Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." There are times when smiling is the last thing on the mind of God's people. The surface religion that promotes much smiling is not as wise as it seems. There are times when the heart is heavy, and the tongue is thick under the chastening hand of God. We may not always be pleasant to be around, although that is not our desire. To be sure, we should bear up under the mighty hand of God in a way that glorifies God. Nevertheless, "all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant" (RSV). Such discipline is not always punishment. Sometimes it is the discipline of training--of preparing us for hardship and rigorous kingdom activity. The spiritual sweat and pain related to such training does not, at the time, joyous.
The people of God do not live for the NOW. Faith does not find its objective in "this present evil world." The realm of time only yields introductory benefits. That is why we experience things from God that are "grievous." When we experience the chastening of the Lord (which we surely will), we are not to judge it by the feeling of our flesh. Grief is not the yardstick by which the chastening of the Lord is measured. It is the yield of chastisement that gives it worth! We must fix our eyes on the end, or objective, of the chastening. "To those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (NASB).
Only those "trained by" chastening, or "exercised thereby," will receive the fruit. Being unresponsive to Divine dealings is possible. Jesus upbraided the cities where He did most of His mighty works because they "repented not" (Matt 11:20). They did not respond to great advantage. The false prophetess of Thyatira was granted "space to repent" by the Lord of glory, but did not respond to His longsuffering. She "repented not" (Rev 2:21). But God's Word also speaks of those upon whom great judgments were poured--judgments designed to induce repentance and an abandonment of sin. Those experiencing such awful judgments "did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons" (Rev 9:20). Others, "scorched" with the great heat of Divine judgment "did not repent and give Him glory" (Rev 16:8). Rather, "They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds" (Rev 16:11). Those assuming great judgment necessarily induces a return to God are wrong in their assessment. Were that the case, the words of our text would be useless.
Those "who are exercised thereby" are individuals who learn from and respond to the chastening of the Lord. They confess with the Psalmist, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word" (Psa 119:67). Again, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word" (Psa 119:71). Such have been "exercised" by chastening--made stronger and more willing in the day of His power. They will surely profit from the very chastening that is not pleasant, for the moment, but grievous.
What will their chastening yield? What will be the harvest reaped by those who endure the discipline of the Lord? It will surely yield "peaceable fruit of righteousness!" By "peaceable," the Spirit describes the state of the soul. While the chastening produced grief at one time, peacefulness is in its wake. The soul becomes quiet, and the soft winds of contentment and joy sweep over the human spirit. By "fruit" the unwavering effects of chastening are intended. What is described will be found in those responding in faith to the "hand of the Lord." Just as a tree given due care yields fruit, so a person cultured by chastening produces fruits suitable for Divine recognition.
After the hot wind of chastening blows across the desert of trial, the "fruit of righteousness" is found in those "exercised thereby." From one point of view, this is a more thorough acquaintance with the ways and purpose of the Lord. The Psalmist expressed it this way. "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law; That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked" (Psa 94:12-13). But there is more to the fruit than this. The believer harvests a righteous character "afterward." Our hatred for sin is more intense. Our longing for glory is more dominant. Our strangership in this world is more evident. Our hunger and thirst for righteousness are more acute. Our involvement in the "good and acceptable and perfect will of God" is more consistent. Those receiving discipline through chastening do not talk of righteousness as much as they do it. For them, the world has been pushed further from them, and heaven has been brought nearer. They have learned more of their God, and more of themselves as well. The glory of salvation has been accentuated, and the malignity of sin has been seen more clearly. Thus they grip the plow with more firmness, run with more certitude, and fight with more assurance. How glorious is "the peaceable fruit of righteousness!"
This "fruit" flourishes in the courts of the Lord, where the individual has peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1). It stands the test of Divine scrutiny, brings glory to the Lord Jesus, and displays before angelic hosts the manifold wisdom of God. It is a sure harvest, and will invariably be found in those who keep the faith, even when they are chastened of the Lord. How blessed to experience something that yields consistent results!
"Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed." And what are they to do, for whom nothing seems to be going right? What of those who are "appointed to death," as it were, made a "spectacle to angels," and "made as the filth the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day" (1 Cor 4:9,13)? What of those who are "accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (Rom 8:36), against whom both man and circumstance seem to be aligned? Many of them have grown weary, and have become spiritually feeble under the stress of life in this world. What is to be their reaction to these things?
The chastened ones are to view their circumstance as God dealing with them! They are to remember they are yet in this world, where imperfection has not yet been eliminated, and perfection is being accomplished--in them! The hands that "hang down" in fatigue and discouragement are to be lifted up! There are believers who are weary and fatigued with weights and burdens of sins and afflictions. They are faint, fearful, and timorous, because they see no good ahead. Their persecutions have wore them out, and caused their hands to hang down. They see only approaching dangers, and have become weak and emaciated. If you are not presently in the situation, there will come a time when you will be. It is then that you must remember this text, and consider that, through this circumstance, God is bringing you to perfection. Here is how Peter put it. "But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you" (1 Pet 5:10). You are not the victim of circumstance. You do not stand powerless before the adversary of your soul, who may work his will with you.
Lift up those hanging hands and the feeble knees! For you, this will be as difficult as a lame man taking up his bed and walking (John 5:5-9). It will be as difficult as a blind man making his way, at the command of the King, to the pool of Siloam to wash that he might see (John 9:9-10). It may make no more sense to you that Naaman dipping seven times in the River Jordan to be released from leprosy (2 Kgs 5:10-14). But you must do it! You must take courage, lift up your hands, heart, countenance, and soul. Christ is at the helm of your life, and will not allow you to be snatched from His omnipotent hand! Lift up those hands in trust! Lift them up in praise! Be courageous!
Feeble knees are knees of fear, like those possessed by Belshazzar at his ungodly feast (Dan 5:6). They come when we are intimidated by the difficulties of life--when we suppose all is hopeless, and we are wearied with the footmen of human experience. This is "being weary and fainting in your mind" (Heb 12:3). Such people have "forgotten the exhortation," having been overcome by their trials.
The condition of those with hands that hang down and feeble knees, appears to belie any attempt at recovery. Discouragement grips the heart and fear mocks the mind. But all of this is a gross misrepresentation of the case. The word is simply, yet profound. "LIFT YOUR DROOPING HANDS AND STRENGTHEN YOUR WEAK KNEES" (RSV). It is the peculiar prerogative of faith to enable you to do the impossible. Our believing effort to recover will be matched by omnipotence.
"And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed." Strength is for recovery from waywardness. It is not an end of itself. Fellowship with Christ can never be realized on the broad road that leads to destruction--and there is no eternal life apart from that vital communion. Making straight paths for our feet involves choosing the high road, preferring things that are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. It demands the elimination of anything and everything in our lives that is unacceptable to our Lord. When we are chastened of the Lord, if our faith remains strong, we will become more aware of these things. Difficulties in the body can clarify our spiritual vision. Many a soul has been brought to see and think more clearly in the crucible of chastening.
Making straight paths for our feet involves resolution--a determination to rid ourselves of impeding weights and sins. This is the experience expressed by the Psalmist in Psalm 119:67. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word." Again, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes" (119:71). "I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me. Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, According to Your word to Your servant. Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; For Your law is my delight" (119:75- 77). This is the spirit expressed through the prophet Hosea. "Come, and let us return to the LORD; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up" (Hos 6:1).
"Lest that which is lame be turned out of the way." Some may imagine they can limp haltingly all the way to heaven. But if we do not make straight paths for our feet, zealously avoiding the ensnarements of the devil, our lameness will cause us to waver, and eventually wander from the path. The path to glory is too strenuous for lame feet. Alternate translations say, "so that what is lame may not be dislocated" (NKJV). "So that the lame may not be disabled" (NIV). "So that what is lame may not be put out of joint" (RSV). Here, lameness is descriptive of a halting mind--one that lingers in unbelief, and is not consistently stayed upon the Lord. Those dreaded inconsistency is common in institutional religion, but it is most dangerous. Those who fluctuate in their faith will eventually go astray. They must become stable, or "make straight paths for their feet."
When the sinews do not hold the joints together properly, eventually they separate and become dysfunctional. So it is with the individual that is sporadic in their commitment to Christ. Eventually, they become incapable of spiritual stability, and their foolish mind is darkened. I am persuaded that many professed Christians do not believer this. They play with their soul as though they had the control of it, and could instantly recover from any setback. This is an imagination that will, if not repudiated, result in being thrust from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power.
The best course of action is to "make straight paths for our feet" BEFORE we are chastened of the Lord. It is not necessary to wait until the hand of chastening strikes us. Hear the word of the Lord. "For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor 11:31-32). Given the alternative, thank God for His faithful chastening! It is our obligation to pay attention when we are chastening!
The chastening of the Lord is integral to spiritual life. It is an expression of Divine love, designed to bring us to higher spiritual levels, and make us "partakers of His holiness." In order to accomplish this, our affection for this world must be uprooted. Chastening, whatever form it takes, can accomplish this. It can show us how futile life in the flesh really is. It is only life in Christ that is worthy of our total effort. Only a heavenly country and knowing Christ are valuable enough to forgo the loss of all things. Chastening, when we are exercised by it, confirms this to be true. Now, lift those hands and knees, and be strong in faith!