Hebrews 12:9–10, “Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”
Our study of Hebrews has emphasized the original context of the letter in order to help us properly understand the book’s message. More specifically, we have again and again reminded ourselves that the original audience was suffering for their witness to Christ.
As we near the end of this marvelous epistle, we find that suffering has come to the original audience in order to discipline them (12:5–7). It is unclear exactly why the Lord needed to chastise this audience. Perhaps it was because they had not yet progressed past the elementary teachings of the faith (5:11–14). Maybe it was because they were not showing solidarity with other suffering Christians as they once did (10:32–34). Perhaps their sufferings were at first just the result of being exiles on the earth (11:13–16, 35b–38) and not disciplinary. Later they were chastised because they were not responding to suffering with endurance but with fear and doubt.
We cannot be sure exactly why the original audience needed discipline. What we do know is that they had misunderstood the meaning of God’s discipline. They needed to be reminded that their suffering proved that they were sons of God. They needed to know that their discipline proved that the way of Christ is true and that only His brothers are legitimate children of God (12:8).
That the suffering of the original audience proved that they were the sons of God is again emphasized in today’s passage. They are reminded that even earthly fathers discipline their children. If this is true, then God’s people must also be subject to discipline at the hand of the One who is the Father of their spirits (12:9).
Good fathers discipline their children. Good fathers correct them so that they may lead happy and productive lives. Good fathers lay down rules so that their children will become responsible and respectable. These things are all good, but in the end it is not enough. For our earthly fathers discipline us only as it seems best to them. They make mistakes and deal with us for only a short time (v. 10).
However, this is not so with our heavenly Father. He never makes mistakes when He disciplines us and He is our Father forever. Moreover, His discipline results not in temporary fruit but rather in holiness that lasts forever (v. 10).
The discipline that the Lord sends to His people will not last forever. It lasts only long enough to achieve God’s purposes and will cease entirely upon our glorification. If you are being disciplined, remember that it will not last forever and ask the Lord that you will see the lesson He wants you to learn from it.