Derek Prince - How Do We Respond to God's Discipline
At the end of the previous session we just started into chapter 12 of Hebrews and we had considered the first two verses. I will simply read those two verses from the New American Standard and comment very briefly to bring you up to date, then we'll go on with the new material. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. I pointed out briefly that the Christian life is compared to a race. There is a fixed course marked out which we have to complete. It's not a 100-yard dash but it is a kind of marathon.
One of the essential requirements for success is cultivating endurance, staying power or stamina. Another requirement is looking away from ourselves to Jesus and finding in Him both the pattern and the inspiration for the race. Two other points which came out were that there were two things we have to lay aside. One is sin which so easily entangles us, but the other is burdens or encumbrances. I pointed out the last time that "encumbrances" are not necessarily sin. They can be things which in themselves are completely neutral but if they get in the way of our running the race successfully, then we need to lay them aside. I suggested that it might be profitable for some of you to consider whether you are carrying any encumbrances on this race which you should do better to lay aside.
So I'm just disposed to wonder if anybody went through that little exercise of self-analysis, and if so, whether any of you here are minus an encumbrance which you were carrying last week. Is there anybody that can say, "Yes, Brother Prince, I discovered that such and such [you don't need to tell us what] was an encumbrance and I've laid it aside". Good, there's one! I think you need to realize that the assignments are very important. I do a certain amount of plowing. I plow the ground up, but you've got to do the sowing and the watering. So I would suggest that you do really give heed to the encumbrances and lay them aside. As a matter of fact, I thought of one myself so I benefited from the lesson, too.
Now we're going to go on with verse 3 and 4. I'll translate them from the Greek literally, not aiming at elegance, and then we'll make some comments on them. For give consideration to the one who has endured such contradiction from sinners against Himself, that you may not grow weary fainting in your souls. You have not yet resisted against sin to the point of shedding blood... Or: you have not yet resisted compating sin to the point of shedding blood. Let's pause now and look at the outline on those two verses. First of all, we need to note that again Jesus is the pattern, He is the one who endured such contradiction of sinners. He was very patient. He could have spoken the word and blotted them out of existence but He didn't, He endured. Then we see here that, like Him, we are in a struggle against sin.
This is part of being a Christian; you cannot be a Christian without being involved in this struggle. It's just what goes with being a Christian. We are engaged in a warfare. There are no options about that. The only option we have is whether we win or lose. There is nothing in between winning and losing. Not to win is to lose. I'd like to turn to Romans 12:21, which is a very powerful verse of Scripture. The last verse of Romans 12: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. You see, there there's no middle course. You say, "Well, I'm not overcoming evil, but I'm not overcome". I don't believe that's possible in the long run. If you don't overcome evil you will be overcome by it. The only thing that's strong enough to overcome evil is good. So it has to be positive goodness that gives us victory. Not neutrality, not an attitude of "I don't do anybody any harm," or "I'm as good as the next man," but a positive commitment to good and the application of good in our lives that enables us to overcome evil.
If you study the promises of the New Testament I think you'll find there are no promises of blessing except to overcomers. If you turn to the last book of the New Testament, the book of Revelation, you find every promise to the people in the seven churches was "to him that overcomes". So we need to face the reality of this life. It is a serious thing, the Christian life. It's not a stroll; it's a race. We have to run by the rules, we have to meet the conditions and we have to be prepared to confront evil. I suppose many of you would agree with me, I speak from having lived almost seventy years, that in many ways the power of evil today is much more obvious and much more active in the world than it was when I was young. I believe the forces of Satan are intensifying their efforts to destroy the human race and, in a certain sense, that demands a corresponding intensity of effort on our part.
Now we'll go on to verses 5 and 6 which deal with the subject of divine discipline. The writer goes on: And you have forgotten... That's one of the sad things about the Hebrews. So many times they had forgotten, they were slow of understanding, they didn't remember. And as I've said, but it's probably helpful to say it again, in many ways the position of the Hebrew believers in the first century is like that of Christians in the twentieth century. In those days they had all the benefits. They had a background in the true faith in the Scriptures, they understood the principles of worshiping God, they understood His basic requirements of righteousness. And yet, they were lagging behind Gentile believers who had come in very recently and who didn't have those advantages.
I think especially in the Western world today churchgoing Christians are probably very much in the same situation that the Hebrew believers were in the first century. Today it's we who have the benefits. We have the background, we have the knowledge of the Scriptures to some extent, we have certain standards which are based on the Christian ethic. And yet, I'm inclined to think that if we were to take a trip to some of the churches in the Third World today we might find that with much less background they are outstripping us. The problem is complacency, really. I think that's a problem that we really have to face. It is a form of evil. We have to overcome complacency particularly in the place where I'm giving this talk. I think the spirit of this area of the country is a spirit of heathenism. People come here for vacations, they want to have a good time, they don't want to be bothered, and that spirit and atmosphere tends to prevail in this area.
That again is something that we have to overcome. One of the key phrases that's used in the New Testament is "stir up". Stir up the gifts, stir up the embers, don't let the fire die out. Going on then with verse 5: You have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you [or converses with you] as sons... It's a rather familiar word; God is talking to His family. Now, this is a quotation from Proverbs 3:11–12, but it's a quotation from the Septuagint version, that's the Greek version, made about the second century before Christ. You'll notice that there are some differences between it and the English translation we have of the Old Testament, which is taken from the Hebrew. You have forgotten the exhortation in which God is speaking to you as sons, "My son, do not despise the discipline of the LORD, and do not lose heart [or give up or faint] when you are reproved by Him; for whom the LORD loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives".
Now let's turn to the outline. Scripture teaches that God disciplines all those who He receives as sons. I give you there the reference which was quoted by the writer; we won't turn there, Proverbs 3:11–12. The whole of Proverbs 3 and 4 is really a father's instruction to his son. One of the key phrases in it is "my son, my son". It' not addressed to unbelievers, it's addressed to God's sons and daughters. Scripture teaches that God disciplines all those who He receives as sons. This provides motivation for endurance in times of pressure. In other words, when we come under God's discipline, the key word is endurance. Don't lose heart, don't faint, don't give up.
And in the reference there, Romans 15:4, you find motivation for endurance which comes to us primarily from the Scripture itself. Just reading that one verse: For whatever was written in earlier times... That means written in Scripture, whatever Scripture was given in earlier times... was written for our instruction... We need to bear that in mind. The whole of the Old Testament is for our instruction... that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. So one of the great purposes of the Scriptures is to give us encouragement in times of pressure. But the encouragement is only for those who persevere. So our contribution is perseverance. God's contribution is encouragement for those who persevere. And the outcome is hope, that we might have hope. Then turning over the page to 12/2, the writer of Hebrews warns us against two wrong responses. The one is to despise or to regard lightly God's discipline.
We kind of shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, I don't know what's wrong. I don't know why God isn't helping me, blessing me the way I ought. But I'm not going to pay much attention to it". That's one of the wrong reactions to God's discipline; it's to treat it lightly. The other is more or less the opposite. To faint, to give up and say, "Well, I can't take any more of this, I don't know what God's after in my life but I'm just giving up at this point". So we're warned against two opposite reactions or responses to God's discipline. Then we go on with chapter 12:7–8. It begins with a short sentence. I think personally the New International Version has the right translation. Endure hardship as discipline...
I think that's a very illuminating translation. When you encounter hardship, treat it as discipline. Don't complain, don't give up, don't ignore it. Treat it as discipline. ...for God is dealing with you as with sons; for what son is there whom the Father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have been partakers, then you are illegitimate children and you are not sons. Because the mark of sons is to be disciplined. If we complain about God's discipline, then in effect we're asking God to treat us as illegitimate children. Let's turn to the note outline. We must interpret hardships as God's discipline and respond according. If we refuse discipline we are asking to be treated as illegitimate children. Notice that the writer has said all God's children have been partakers of discipline. We need to bear in mind that that applies first and foremost to Jesus Himself.
Let's turn for a moment to Hebrews 5:8, which we have commented on as we passed through. Let's look back for a moment, just the one verse, speaking about the experience of Jesus. Although He was the Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. So even Jesus was treated as a Son by the Father, He was disciplined and He learned obedience by the things He suffered. I want to tell you very simply that there's only one way to learn obedience and that is by obeying. You can be very willing, very dedicated, very committed. "Lord, I'll do anything You ask". "Fine, well, this is what I'm asking you to do. Now let's see you obey". There's only one way to learn endurance, I think I've said that. That's by enduring. You can be ever so willing and ever so committed, but that doesn't mean you don't have to go through the process because it's the process that produces the result.
We'll go on to verses 9 and 10. So then, or: Moreover, Moreover, we had fathers of our flesh... That is, "natural fathers". But it's better to use the word flesh because it's going to be contrasted with Spirit. ...we had fathers of our flesh, who disciplined us, and we showed them respect [we reverenced them]; should we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? For they indeed, for a little while, disciplined us according to their best understanding [according to what they felt right], but He, for our own good, so that we may partake of His holiness. Let's look now at the outline and learn some of the lessons from this passage. If we respected our human fathers, in spite of their limitations, we should much more respect our heavenly Father. I had basically a good father. He wasn't a strict disciplinarian by any means. He basically allowed me to find my own way through life. Perhaps he should have disciplined me more.
Nevertheless, looking back, I can see things he did which were mistaken but I gave him respect and I honor his memory today. So if we did that to our human father, the writer says, how much more should we obey, submit to and honor the Father of our spirits. And then it says "and live". This has become very vivid to me. The key to living is submitting to the Father of spirits. Rejecting His discipline, refusing His counsel is the path to death. But submitting to His discipline, accepting His counsel is the way to life. Do you want to live? I'm sure you do. Then be in subjection to the Father of spirits. Then in this passage we're given a very blessed revelation that the purpose of God's discipline is that we may share His holiness.
Now holiness is an aspect of God's nature which is not found anywhere else in creation unless in relationship to God. So when God disciplines us to produce in us His holiness, many times we don't understand what He's after because we don't understand the nature of holiness. I look back over my own experience and think how slow I was to understand what God was after many times in my life. I think the discipline was sometimes extended much longer than it need have been because I was slow to learn. God wants to reproduce in each one of His children His own holiness. That's the purpose of His discipline. We should really count it a privilege that He has that desire for us. Then I added this statement which is always very vivid to me. God is a sharer but Satan is a tyrant. God doesn't sit on the throne and say, "I'm here; you stay there". God says, "If I can make you partaker of My holiness, I'll share My throne with you".
It's just a beautiful illustration of the difference in the attitude of God and of Satan. And I illustrate it from Romans 5:17 if you'd like to look there for a moment. It may not be obvious to you immediately why I referred to this but I'll try to make it clear. Romans 5:17 is speaking about the difference between Christ's righteous obedience and Adam's transgression, and the difference in their results. For if by the transgression of the one [that's Adam], death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. See the difference? Death reigned as a tyrant. Satan is a tyrant. He dominates. He doesn't share, he lords it over us. But when Jesus has made us righteous, He invites us to reign in life with Him. And God disciplines us that we may share His holiness.
I've often said to younger men over whom I've had some influence, "If you are all twice as successful as I've been, I'll be the happiest". I have no monopoly over anything that God has given me. If I can impart it, I will. And if you can do more with it than I have done, that will bless me the most. I think that's really God's attitude. He's a sharer. The more He can impart safely, He will. But one of the safeguards is holiness. Without holiness if we just begin to receive the other attributes of God, His power and His wisdom and His knowledge, they will destroy us. Holiness is the safeguard that makes us capable of receiving the other blessings that God has for us.
Now let's look back in Hebrews 12:11. This tells us the right response. It's also very realistic. I think I said last time the Bible is a very realistic book. It tells it like it is. For every form of discipline, for the time being [or for the present time], does not seem to produce joy, but pain; but later it produces peaceable fruit of righteousness for those who have been exercised by it. I think one of the obvious marks of immaturity in a child is it cannot see beyond the present. The mother's gone to the rest room, the child gets in a panic because, Where's mother? It cannot accept the fact that in one minute mother will be back. The more mature we become, the better able we are, in a sense, to sacrifice the present for the future. I consider that to be a mark of maturity. So what God is saying is, "If you'll sacrifice the present, put up with the pain, you'll be very happy with the end result".
Again, the danger is throwing up our hands and saying, "I can't take any more of this"! You never know how much more you might have to take. You might be just five minutes away from the moment when the discipline ceases. But if you give up five minutes too soon, you've lost all the benefits. God has to go right back again and start all over again. One of my prayers to God is, "God, I realize I've got a lot to learn but I hope I won't have to learn the same lesson twice". I have seen young people that have had to learn the same lesson again and again and again and some of them still haven't learned it. What then is the right response? The key word is to be trained and that word is the Greek word which gives us the English word gymnast, gymnastic and so on. It speaks about a kind of rather rigorous course of discipline.
Every gymnast has to do a lot of exercises to strengthen certain muscles, to acquire flexibility and so on. There's this process of being made flexible, submitting to God. Not having a stiff neck and saying, "God, I won't bow". And that comes by being trained. If we're not willing to be trained we don't achieve the result. In this way, temporary suffering produces permanent righteousness. See, it is naive to suppose that the Christian life bypasses all suffering. I think there's a certain tendency in some sections of the Charismatic movement to have that attitude. "Well, now I'm a Christian, I know I won't have to suffer if I have enough faith".
Well, the people in the New Testament who had the most faith seem to me to have suffered the most. I don't know how you read the New Testament. I think Paul was a man of tremendous faith but there are few contemporary Christians who have suffered one tenth of what he suffered. I think I've quoted it before but I'll quote it again. There's a French proverb which says "To be beautiful, you have to suffer". I really believe there's a certain truth in that. I've looked at some people, some people in this congregation, and I've seen them go through things and I've seen them come out much more beautiful than they went in. In fact, there's a lady here to who I actually said that, I won't embarrass her by pointing her out. There's a kind of superficiality that's pretty easy to achieve. Mostly it's spiritual make-up. But in times of stress it wears off. But there's a deep, inner beauty which isn't superficial, which can't be put on and can't be washed off. That really only comes through submitting to God's discipline.
Going on in verses 12–13. Now we come to a therefore. You know what I said about a therefore? You want to find out what it's there for. Therefore, straighten up the limp hands [or the hands that hang limp] and the knees that are [actually the Greek word is paralyzed] I mean it's the same word that gives us paralyzed. no longer functioning... You know, when you're really in a state of shock, what happens to your knees? They start to knock and you give way, and you have to find somewhere to sit down. So, straighten up the hands that hang limp, and the knees that have lost their strength, and make straight paths for your feet [which is a quotation from Proverbs 4], in order that that which is lame may not be put out of joint [or the lame member may not be put out of joint], but rather let it be healed.
This is the application of the passage we've been studying this evening. The therefore tells us what's the bottom line because we're going to go on to a new section after these verses. First of all, it speaks of two things, hands and knees. There are certain principles, I believe, in interpreting Scripture. Like when it speaks about your ear it speaks about what you hear. When it speaks about your fingers or your hands it speaks about what you do. When it speaks about your legs or you feet it speaks about the way you walk through life. For instance, the high priest in the old covenant had to be anointed with blood, and with oil on his right ear, his thumb and his right big toe. Now that sounds kind of bizarre to some people but my way of approaching Scripture is that means he's got to be very careful what he hears, he's got to be correct in what he does, he's got to walk in the right way.
So in this passage when it talks about lifting up the limp hands and straightening out the sagging knees it refers to what we do and the way we walk through life. We've got to put strength, determination into what we do and the way we walk. I think in a certain sense perhaps the key concept here is determination. I'm not giving up, I'm not turning around, I'm not deviating. I'm going to stay to the path of God's will which is the straight path that He's set before me. All that, I think, is expressed by these words "straighten up your hands and your knees". Bear in mind, he goes on to say, that the path you walk on is going to affect others. Some may follow your path. And if they're lame and you don't walk on a straight path, on a plain path, their lameness may lead to their whole limb being put out of joint.
So again, we have to bear in mind that we have a responsibility for the way we live because, without any question, our lives affect others. Sometimes people we are not even aware of are watching us and by what we do, they will be influenced either for the better or for the worse. Now we're moving on to verse 14, which is a kind of link verse. It sums up in a way what has gone before but it also looks forward to what's coming next. We'll just look at the verse itself and then we'll look at the passage which it introduces. I say here in the outline there are two objectives that God demands. Peace and holiness. They're not options. It says there "pursue peace". Pursue is a strong word. I didn't translate it, let me translate it. Pursue peace with all people, and the sanctification without which nobody will see the Lord. So we're to pursue peace and holiness. I think they go together. I think it's hard to conceive of holiness divorced from peace.
That puts an obligation on us but our obligation is limited to what is possible. I think it's important to read also Romans 12:18. You'll notice that there's a considerable correspondence between Romans 12 and Hebrews 12. I think this is the third time that we've referred to chapter 12 and probably not the last. Romans 12:18: If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. The Bible is a realistic book. It recognizes that there are times when some people you just can't be at peace with because they don't want peace. So it doesn't put us in the impossible position of trying to achieve that when it's not possible. But it says "as much as lies in you," as far as you can, pursue peace and holiness. And then he comes out with that very searching statement: ...without holiness, no one will see the Lord. We could look for a moment there in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:8. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God".
So, to see God a pure heart is required. I think the writer of Hebrews says it in the same way, without holiness no one will see the Lord. And then I comment on that. Any brand of, quote, "salvation" that stops short of practical holiness is not acceptable. Some people have got the Christian life so divided up into compartments that you get saved and then sometime or other maybe you get sanctified. But if you don't get sanctified, you're still saved. I think that's a dangerous doctrine, because it says "without holiness," without being sanctified, "we shall not see the Lord". What's the good of claiming salvation if it doesn't qualify you to see the Lord? Now I agree there is an experience of sanctification, it's part of the New Testament teaching. I think some people are just content with the minimum. What's the least I have to do to be, quote, "saved"? I think if you have that attitude it's very unlikely you will be saved. I think that attitude is so totally wrong and contrary to God that you'll never get by with it.
I recall many years ago, and I have to say this rather discreetly, that I heard a well-known American Christian lady give her testimony. It was in London. I wasn't familiar with American Christianity at that time. She said something which just absolutely startled me, but she was a very sweet and gracious woman. She said, "I came to know Jesus early in life. I had received Him as Savior but I hadn't crowned him as Lord". And my doctrinal mind began to work on that. I said, "How come? Is that a possibility"? Because it says in Romans 10 that in order to be saved you have to believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess Him as Lord. I don't believe there's any salvation that doesn't make Jesus Lord.
Now I'm familiar with American Christianity and I can pretty well pinpoint her background and she's turned out to be a beautiful servant of the Lord. But I just don't believe that was a valid presentation of biblical truth. I don't think there is any salvation without holiness. I don't think there is any salvation without acknowledging the Lord as Lord. You see, we'll be coming later in this chapter to the kingdom which Jesus has invited us to share in, which He's king. I believe the Bible teaches unless Jesus is king there is no righteousness. Those who are not ruled by Jesus are not righteous because by our nature we're rebels. Unless we come into submission to the Lord, we don't have any real righteousness.