Chastisement is one of those things that God does, that to some believers seems questionable, but on close inspection found to be an essential ingredient in the lives of Christians. It would not be overstating it to say, that without proper, and timely, chastisement all the benefits of our blessed relationship with Christ would be scuppered; by indiscipline and waywardness.
One of the reasons some see the chastisement as questionable, is because they are slow to differentiate between prudent, beneficial chastisement, that is wholly positive, with the more vicious, vindictive chastisement common to humanity.
You will recall, that when King Solomon died, and his son Rehoboam became king, the people wanted some measure of relief, from the constant flogging they got at the hands of their supervisors. Rehoboam, after consulting his childish, reckless friends replied, "For whereas my father put a heavy yoke upon you, I will put more to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions." (2 Chronicles 10:11)
We can also call to mind that divine chastisement can be in the form of hostile rebuke, and vindictive censure, as shown when God dealt severely with the abominable Sodom and Gomorrah, as recorded in Genesis 19:24. We see something similar, and even more horrendous, when God terminated the universal, incessant wickedness of the Ante-diluvium world as recorded in Genesis 7:22-23, and saved but one family; that of Noah's.
Almighty God has every right, as creator and the preserver of life, to chastise the world and its inhabitants to the point of obliteration. However, his intention towards believers is never to obliterate them, or cause their downfall by his chastisement, but generally to lift them up, to perfect them, and make them fit, and suitable, for his purpose.
Believers should not view God's actions, or imply farfetched motivations to them, as the world does, but rather to see them in the light of their redeemed, privileged position in Christ, and God's design to keep them there securely; all the way to eternity.
It is in such a positive frame of mind, and a trustful spirit, that we should view divine chastisement.
Generally, divine chastisement should be seen as the effort by God to produce, in the believer, better, more correct behaviour through instruction, training and education until the believer fits the image of Jesus Christ. This chastisement may also include punishment, and discipline, but always for the purpose of improvement and attainment.
By divine chastisement God intends to do some important things, like:
1. Correct our faults. It is certainly true, that blessed as we are, we have faults. Some faults may be seen as minor, like anger, wrath and filthy communications as mentioned in Colossians 3:8, but also things like indifference, lack of courage and laziness. Sometimes we compound our faults and draw God's chastisement: "All thy lovers have forgotten thee; they seek thee not; for I have wounded thee with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of thine iniquity; because thy sins were increased." (Jeremiah 30:14)
2. Strengthen and grow our faith. Every believer is very aware of the importance of faith, for without it there can be no right standing with God. Jesus rebuked Peter in Gethsemane, "Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice." (Mark 14:33-34). Jesus knew what failure would do with Peter, "If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small." (Proverbs 24:10). The chastisement worked, and Peter's faith and strength were monumental in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. Advance our eternal welfare. All the laws and ordinances that God gave Israel was because he wanted them to shape up, and be the people worthy to be called his own. A good father is fully committed to his child's welfare, and will lovingly chastise him and put him right so that he can succeed in life. God too, through chastisement, does the same, both temporal and eternal for his children, "But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons." (Hebrews 12:8)
One can always have a moan concerning the way God does certain things, and many of us have, in the past, opined we would have done things differently. In truth, these things can always be done differently, but never better, for God, unlike us, always can see the whole picture; and his ways are vastly superior to ours. We should always remember this delightful scripture, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9)
The way God chastises us, his way and route of disciplining us, is never one size fits all, for he rebukes, reproves and convinces us as individuals, with our particular needs and sensitivities and specific foibles.
There are times when God will chastise by his Spirit, as in the case when Elijah ran away from Jezebel, and hid in a cave: "What doest thou here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:13). And there are times when chastisement is by ministers and the word, "Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them." (Isaiah 1:14), and here when Nathan the prophet spoke to David, "Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife." (2 Samuel 12:10)
At other times, afflictive providences will come into play, as Jonah found out: "And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you." (Jonah 1:12)
The one sure thing in all this, is that we will be chastised, because of our imperfections, and our special relationship with God, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." (Hebrews 12:6)
Seeing then that we will be chastised, the important thing here, is that our response, as Christians, to that chastisement, should be uplifting to ourselves, and glorifying to God. Yes, we can actual glorify God in our afflictions and bring honour to his name.
This is important, for our enemies will see the chastisement, and afflictions, as nothing but punishment, whereas God always deem them for the good. When Joseph was badly wronged and ill-treated, humiliated and hurt, he did not lose sight of God's redeeming hand, and he said, "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." (Genesis 50:20)
So how should we, as believers, respond to chastisement? I honestly don't think anybody likes chastisement, just look at a little child's face when he is chastised and see. All believers, especially those who are mature and spiritual, need to respond appropriately, even when the chastisement is dreadful, "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous..." (Hebrews 12:11a)
In order to reap the benefits of chastisement, believers are encouraged, and indeed expected, to act in such a manner that, along with the chastisement, they receive all the accompanying graces God intends them to have.
Believers, therefore, must not faint, or allow the chastisement to overpower them, or just throw in the towel because they are overwhelmed. "And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him." (Hebrews 12:5) To become bitter and resentful, because we are chastised, will gain us no approval with God.
As natural as it might appear, we must never despise God's chastisement. Solomon tells us this, "My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction." (Proverbs 3:11) Self-righteousness tends to make one regard God's chastisement as unfair, unmerited and unnecessary and, in that spirit, to despise it becomes normal. Believers should know better than to despise God's imposition; since his doings are always for our betterment.
Of all the advice given to believers this one, that we must submit to God's chastisement, comes to the fore. To do otherwise, would be a rejection of our place in Christ, and void our standing with God, and the household of faith. Here is what the Bible says on this, "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?" (Hebrews 12:9)
Finally, believers must regard God's chastisement as totally beneficial, and must be exercised thereby, "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." (Hebrews 12:11)
Unless and until the believer allows the chastisement to be efficacious, cooperate with God's intention, and strive for the attainment that is always the end product, then the full benefits of divine chastisement will not be accomplished. When the chastisement is over, and it will, the believer, acting with grace and appropriately, will always be in a better place, than he would have been, without the chastisement.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2017
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