No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
It doesn’t take a Christian to get the gist of the message behind this verse. There are many people for whom strict discipline is required – they train to be disciplined and to top it off, they need to be disciplined in order to train. Athletes, for example – an analogy that the New Testament authors quite liked, especially Paul – perhaps with the popularity of the Panhellenic Games during that period of time. Or take the military as another example – use any similar analogies and this verse would make perfect sense. In this study we will look at the connotations beyond discipline and grasp the promise embedded within the verse.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful – Being disciplined is not easy, that’s for sure. What does the term ‘discipline’ means? Most modern versions adopt this term, while older versions use the term ‘chastening’. I would like to suggest three connotations that I believe can be derived from this term. Firstly, training on a rigid regime in order to better oneself in a certain area. Like a sportsman. Secondly, the behaviour and conduct of a person, much like the military. Thirdly, the penalty or punishment that comes as a form of correction, much like chastening.
It is interesting to note how numerous scholars link the term discipline of this verse to the idea of adversity, affliction and suffering. I’m sure you get where they’re coming from – if you replace the term discipline with affliction in the verse, it would go smoothy as well. Yet I am not utterly convinced that this verse is wholly about suffering. True, some form of discipline would include suffering – after all, the author of Hebrews professes discipline to be unpleasant and painful. But I am not convinced that the entire concept of discipline can fall under the huge umbrella called suffering.
Discipline is a very important trait to have as a Christian. If we do not have it, it is crucial that we train ourselves to have it. It takes discipline to read the Bible daily. It takes discipline to pray regularly. It takes discipline to go to Church. It takes discipline to serve joyfully. It takes discipline to tithe. It takes discipline to take up the cross daily and follow him. And for the most part, discipline is often unpleasant and painful. It often causes pressure and oppression. You would want to run away and give up. That is discipline.
Later on, however – whenever I come across something that borders on the concept of time in the Bible, I become wary, because the Bible comes from God, and God simply works on a different clock than we do. Later on – I cannot begin to imagine what this means, really. There is no timeframe set to it, simply because God does not run by time. It could mean tomorrow. It could mean 10 years later. It could mean a thousand years later. Not quite ‘later’ to us, but to God, it’s the same. While we have a guarantee that the pain and unpleasantness will end, it is a guarantee that requires faith, because there is simply no timeframe to it. So do not become discouraged or disillusioned after 5 years when you’re still struggling with the weight of discipline, because you shouldn’t have expected a timeframe for deliverance in the first place. 5 years, to God is nothing. But let’s not scare ourselves away.
it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it – A person who is disciplined with his spiritual life and his relationship with God would be ready for times of spiritual attacks and thus be equipped to stand firm in righteousness even in temptations and peace even in suffering. Imagine trying to run a full marathon when you haven’t ran more than half a mile for a year? Imagine facing an enemy in the battlefield but you had been dozing off in your arms training and now you don’t know how to operate the weapon? Imagine being tempted to sin and trying not to because you are a Christian but you lack the well of verses that would tell you why you shouldn’t and point you to our hope in the Lord? Training to be disciplined is like seed sowing. You won’t reap the results for a long while. But when you’re ready to, it will be a harvest.
Suffering moulds – suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope [Romans 5:3-4]. Again, I’d like to emphasize that character-building isn’t always the main reason for our suffering, but it is often the main result of our suffering. Let’s not pretend to justify God by saying that God allowed me to suffer because he wanted me to learn – it might not be false, but I find it myopic. Who are we to profess that we can ever understand the plans of God? We cannot justify God – we don’t need to. Instead, we can take comfort in the results of our suffering and be able to thank God for our suffering, because at the end of the day, should we pull through it, we would have come through as a better person.
Essentially, what is the message behind this verse? What is the point of telling us that while it may hurt to practise discipline now, we will one day reap the rewards of our efforts today? I think it’s clear – don’t give up – And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up [Gal 6:9]. Never lose heart [2 Cor 4:1]. It make take time – it may take longer than you expect, but the results will come as promised.