Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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From one of Pastor John's Old Testament Classes
Have you ever seen grapevines after they have been pruned? One would think they're so badly damaged that they will die. They look ruined, cut far too much to be good for the plant. I saw a picture of a famous French vineyard once as it appeared in winter, after having been pruned. All over the vineyard, there were just short trunks of vines sticking up a little distance out of the ground, all of them bent over in the same direction. The pruners had left nothing but the main stem. It seemed to me that they would hardly produce many grapes, but they did, at least according to the article I was reading. Those vines were healthy, very healthy, in fact, and very valuable. Those vines had been disciplined, so to speak, not chastened, and they bore much fruit every year.
The discipline of the Lord is the same way. And as with the vineyard in France, that discipline makes us productive and valuable. Because of that, we should be grateful for the discipline of the Lord. Wise Solomon spoke often of this issue. He warned his children that they should never "despise the instruction of the Lord", and he also told them, "Do not refuse the chastisement of the Lord." Both the discipline and chastisement of God are for our good, but the difference is that discipline, God's instruction, comes to us principally because God loves us and wants us to grow in grace and knowledge of God, while chastisement comes because God loves us and wants us to learn obedience.
And so, chastisement can be received with hope. Relying on some of Solomon's words, Paul spoke of both the severity and the goodness of God's chastisement: "My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked by Him. For whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son that He receives. . . . No chastening for the moment seems to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them who are exercised by it" (Heb. 12:5-6).
In the ancient world, to scourge someone was to whip them badly, to whip them until the flesh was cut and ripped off their bodies. Consider, then, what Paul just said. God will "scourge" every son that He receives. There is no one who will ever see the face of God who has not been scourged by Him, spiritually speaking. That tells us something of the human condition and God's determination to rid us of the old, evil nature. But I am persuaded to believe that one's scourging can be made shorter and more bearable if he yields quickly to God. David placed his hope in the fact that God will have mercy on the person who has "a broken and a contrite spirit."
The chastening of the Lord can be dreadful in the most severe cases. Some people very dear to me have been taken off the earth by God before their proper time because they resisted the perfect will of God. I have learned that those who resist either the chastening or the discipline of the Lord will make their path more difficult, and might well increase the number and fierceness of their stripes. But it is foolish for any of us to fight against the hand of the Lord. First of all, man cannot win such a fight, and secondly, God is always only doing what we need Him to do in order to prepare us to live in peace forever. God takes no pleasure in the suffering of His children, and His comfort, even in the most trying times, far surpasses whatever temporary trials we may have to endure. So, whether you are facing discipline or being chastened, you can rest in God's love.
One afternoon in 1985, just a couple of weeks before she died, I visited my middle-aged, cancer-ridden mother in the hospital room at Duke University Medical Center. She had been reading from the book of Psalms, and she had me read the verse she had found and that she now clung to. It was Psalm 118:18: "The Lord has chastened me sore, but He has not given me over unto death." We both knew that verse applied to her, and there was really nothing either of us could say.
I have no doubt that my mother is with the Lord now, but it still saddens me at times to know that if she had hearkened to the stern voice of God in the years preceding the day of my visit, she might have lived to see grandchildren and great-grandchildren born, living among the saints as an honored mother in Christ. Paul spoke of saints in Corinth whom God took off the earth in order to save their souls; their chastisement was premature death (1Cor. 11:30-32).
May God give us grace to be pliable in His hands, and we will be if we truly believe that, whatever path He chooses for us, it is the path that is best for us. There is no one who has ever humbled himself to do God's will who has not, in time, rejoiced that he did it.
Next Time: Discipline and Chastisement, Part 4: Doctrine