Our study in Lamentations so far has been a bit of a bummer. I say that tongue in cheek of course, but the truth is it's painful to think and talk about topics like the discipline of God. And yet, if we examine the Scriptures carefully we'll see that God's discipline is a gift. In our study of Lamentations 3 we've noticed no less than three reasons why God's discipline is a good thing.
How does Jeremiah have hope, even when he feels hopeless? By putting fact before feeling, by remembering that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” Yes, discipline hurts. It may hurt more than anything you’ve ever endured in your life! But the Scriptures are clear that discipline doesn’t conceal God’s love, it reveals His love!
Hebrews 12:6-8 — For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
If you were disciplined as a child, you know this to be true by experience. Now some of you may be old enough to have lived during the days when it was socially acceptable to spank any misbehaving child, whether it was yours or not. But generally, parents discipline their own children. I don’t attempt to discipline the kids misbehaving at Target or in my neighborhood. I discipline those whom I deeply love.
So too with God. If you’re able to sin brazenly without facing the painful effects of His discipline, you should examine yourself to see if you truly belong to Him. But if you cannot continue long in sin without incurring His discipline, be encouraged! You belong to Him! As Jesus reminds the church in Laodicea, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev 3:19). Discipline helps by revealing the love of God.
Imagine a skilled surgeon. With scalpel in hand, she cuts and prods to remove the cancer that is destroying her patient’s body. It feels very invasive. Even with the most potent painkillers this will be a painful operation, followed by a painful recovery. But the patient who is thinking clearly does not question the care of his doctor. Because he knows his cancer is killing him, he willingly endures incredible pain in order to escape even greater pain.
So too with the Lord. He is the Great Physician. Yes, like Jeremiah you may feel like God is brandishing a weapon against you as you endure His discipline, but upon closer inspection what looks like a weapon is a scalpel. And God isn’t cutting you because He takes pleasure in harming you. He’s cutting the sin out of you that’s killing you. This is why Jeremiah can say beginning in verse 31, “the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” Discipline helps by reducing the spread of sin.
More than 30 years before Jerusalem was destroyed and the book of Lamentations was written, God promised He would discipline His people. Listen to what He says in Jeremiah 9:7 — Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: “Behold, I will refine them and test them, for what else can I do, because of my people?
Refining is one of the Bible’s favorite metaphors for how God purifies His people. Minerals like gold and silver are found in an impure state, so a refiner puts them through the fire to purify them. In a sermon about God’s refining fire, John Piper said this:
“A refiner's fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner's fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner's fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact.”
But, Piper reminds us, this is fire we’re talking about. He continues, “therefore purity and holiness will always be a dreadful thing. There will always be a proper ‘fear and trembling’ in the process of becoming pure. We learn it from the time we are little children: never play with fire! And it's a good lesson! Therefore, Christianity is never a play thing. And the passion for purity is never flippant. [God] is like fire and fire is serious. You don't fool around with it. . . . this is not merely a word of warning, but a tremendous word of hope. The furnace of affliction in the family of God is always for refinement, never for destruction.[i] Discipline helps by refining the people of God.
So, with God's help, let us learn to thank God even for His discipline. Even when it hurts.