Imprecation and the apostles – Did they curse their enemies?

INTRODUCTION. (This is the 6th post and final on the imprecatory psalms. Last one #509, March 31, 2022.) We began our study of the imprecatory psalms in the hopes that these psalms, which call on the Lord to curse the enemies of the righteous, might offer us an outlet to cry out to the Lord when we see gross injustice taking place. The horrible massacre of the people of Ukraine by the merciless Mr. Putin prompted this search of the Scriptures for such an outlet. As we have journeyed from the Old Testament to the New and have learned more about what Jesus taught regarding our enemies and regarding those who persecute us, it has become increasingly apparent that, since Jesus has come into the world, the imprecation (cursing) of our enemies is no longer an option. This post will examine how the apostles related to their enemies when they were being persecuted. What was their response when the flames of persecution and hatred burned against them?

METHOD OF STUDY. I will use the same approach taken in the other posts on imprecation; namely, we will be examining Scriptures from the book of Acts, the epistles, and Revelation to discern the apostolic church’s response to opposition and hatred from the world.  The study passages have been chosen because they give us information about the church’s attitude toward their enemies. Did the early church imprecate (call down curses on) their enemies? That’s what we hope to discover.

The Scripture reference for each passage will be given and then comments made with a verdict indicating the view of imprecation evidenced.

NOTE: Just as a reminder, “imprecation” in the Bible is when someone calls on God to curse someone else. The way we are using imprecation in this post is when a righteous person calls on the Lord to destroy or curse his enemies.

THE CHURCH IN THE BOOK OF ACTS

The church is born at Pentecost and the opposition comes almost immediately. In Acts 4:21, the Council tells Peter and John not to speak any more about Jesus.

Acts 4:23-31. The church leadership is made aware of the threat from the Council. They cry out to the Lord, but there is no hint of imprecation or of cursing of their enemies. Instead, the disciples affirm God’s sovereignty over all (4:27-28) and then pray that they would speak the word of the gospel with boldness so that Jesus would be exalted (4:29-30). In this whole passage there is no word directed against the Council. No imprecation.

Acts 5:27-32, 40-42. The Council again arrests Peter and the apostles and tells them to be silent about Jesus. Peter, however, will have none of this. Instead of being silent, he retells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. After Gamaliel gives his advice, the Council has the apostles flogged and then tells them (again) to stop talking about Jesus. Do the apostles respond with anger, seeking revenge? Do they cry out to God asking Him to avenge this injustice? Actually, no. Instead, they left the Council “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (41). And then they continued preaching about Jesus. There was no threat or anger or charges of injustice from the apostles. They received the flogging with joy and went back to their work. No imprecation.

(I am going to have to be more selective on these passages or we will have a twenty page document.)

Acts 9:10-17. Saul the persecutor has come to Damascus, and the Lord calls Ananias to help Saul regain his sight. I want to point out in this passage that Ananias has no anger toward Saul, nor does he hesitate to obey the Lord. There is no hatred toward Saul. The church as a whole accepts persecution as from the Lord and they resolve to persevere, not protest or seek revenge.

Acts 14:19-23. Paul is stoned by those in Lystra, yet he evidences no feelings of hatred or injustice. In fact, after his stoning, he goes back into Lystra to again proclaim the word. Paul accepted persecution as simply part of the price to pay for following Jesus.

Acts 16:22-26. Paul and Silas are beaten with rods in Philippi and thrown into the jail, but in the jail they “were praying and singing hymns of praise to God” (16:25). Instead of seeking revenge against the citizens of Philippi for their unjust beating and imprisonment, these men are praising the Lord. Why would they do that? They do that because singing to God after being unjustly beaten commends the gospel much better than seeking revenge, just like everyone else.

HERE IS A CLUE

And perhaps singing when unjustly beaten gives us a clue to the new paradigm. Now that Christ has come and died and risen from the dead, and now that He has sent out His church into the world, all that the apostles and the church say and do is for the furtherance of the gospel and the glory of Jesus (Ephesians 5:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31). So, for the disciple of Jesus, there is no longer any personal sense of injustice or any seeking God to avenge us on our enemies, because our persecution gives us a solid platform for proclaiming the excellencies of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). The church has been commissioned to preach the gospel and make disciples of all the nations, so our behavior has become constrained by our desire to accomplish the Great Commission that Jesus has given us. Thus, we see each situation as an opportunity to bring glory to Christ.

NEW TESTAMENT LENS

Because of this, imprecation and the imprecatory psalms must be evaluated under a New Testament lens. We have seen that Jesus explicitly teaches that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-29). Simply obeying our Lord rules out imprecating those who oppose us. But more than that, since we are “sheep in the midst of wolves,” we are to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Applying this teaching to opposition, affliction, or persecution means that, in any situation, we are to respond with the wisdom that “makes the most of the opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). When persecution comes, we respond strategically, asking ourselves what response the Bible commends and what response will advance the cause of the gospel. Through a gospel lens, imprecating our enemies fails on two points, for it is disobedient to the Lord’s explicit teaching on loving our enemies and is also a poor strategy for sowing the seeds of the gospel.

The same man who, with Silas, was praying and singing hymns of praise to God in a Philippian jail, also wrote 2 Corinthians. In chapter 6 of that epistle, the apostle Paul gives us instructions about how to have a flourishing gospel ministry. Consider his words below.

1we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things. – 2 Corinthians 6

As those charged with Christ’s commission, our priority is to “give no cause for offense, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God” (6:3-4). “No cause for offense” means that, in all situations, we present ourselves as harmless. We are meek servants of God, vessels to be poured out for the glory of Christ. Personally, we may be sorrowful, but publicly we are always rejoicing because Christ makes us joyful. We may be materially poor, but our desire is to make many rich with the salvation that Christ gives (see also 2 Corinthians 8:9).

CONCLUSION

And so we conclude our study of the imprecatory psalms. We have seen that these psalms which called down curses on the enemies of the righteous are no longer useful to the disciple of Jesus. Jesus Himself commands His people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, which renders an imprecatory psalm obsolete. But also, since we are to be wise ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), we realize that imprecating others is a poor strategy for sowing the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 4/7/2022                     #514

The martyrs under the altar (Revelation 6:9-11)

INTRODUCTION. This is the first post in a series about persecution. Since our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered persecution, we as His followers know that we will also be persecuted. The Christian is called to suffer persecution simply because they are a disciple of Jesus. This series looks at some of the Bible’s teaching on this subject.

Persecution is uniquely Christian. For while ethnic groups may be oppressed and afflicted for who they are, Christians are oppressed, maligned, and afflicted for what they believe. Those who are citizens of one country may be hated and attacked by citizens of another country, but disciples of Jesus are hated and attacked simply because they are disciples of Jesus. The point is that the suffering of persecution comes upon believers because believers associate with Jesus, and the world hates Jesus. So, persecution is a uniquely Christian experience.

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. – Rev. 6:9-11

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MARTYRS

In this passage in Revelation 6:9-11, we encounter the martyrs, those who had been slain because of the word of God and their testimony. These had paid the ultimate price for their allegiance to Jesus.

Since the earliest days of the Christian church, persecution has been a normal part of following Jesus. Our Lord Himself said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Taking up a cross means preparing for your own death. Jesus also said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Even though Jesus spoke these words over two millennia ago, His words have proven true. His followers are persecuted, and some are persecuted to death. Since Stephen was killed in Jerusalem (Acts 7) as the first martyr, the followers of Jesus have understood that being a disciple may cost you your life. What is remarkable is that the possibility of martyrdom has never deterred people from coming to Jesus for salvation. The true disciple understands that whoever believes in Jesus cannot die (John 11:25-26), so there is no fear in losing their physical life for Jesus’ sake (Matthew 10:39).

Now, as there were martyrs in the days of the early church and there have been martyrs throughout the gospel age as the church has been gathered in, so this scene near the end of the age shows that there will continue to be martyrs until the end. In the time of this scene, the earth is being made ready for the return of the Lord Jesus, history is drawing to a close, and end times prophecies are being fulfilled. And still we see persecution and martyrs. What this means is that, to the very end of the age, the true followers of Jesus will continue to willingly suffer and even die rather than deny Christ.

THE PERSECUTORS CONTINUE

By the way, this also means that those who hate Christ and who hate Christians will continue to persecute disciples of Jesus until the end of the age. For Jesus to declare that, for at least the next two millennia, His disciples will continue to count their witness for Him as more valuable than life itself is a remarkable prophecy. But to also declare that the world will continue to persecute and even kill His disciples over that same two millennia time period is even more amazing. Note that the world’s hatred of Jesus and of His disciples has not gone away over two thousand years. The martyrs willingly die and the persecutors eagerly kill.

Returning to the text, then, we see the souls of those who had been killed for Jesus’ sake (6:9). These souls then cry out to the Lord, asking how long He will refrain from judging and avenging their deaths (6:10). This cry is not imprecatory, for the souls of the slain are not calling down unusual curses on the wicked, but they are calling out to Him to render justice now. “We know that, at the end of the age, You will judge the wicked and avenge our blood on the unrighteous. O Lord, let Your judgment be now!”

But the Lord is going to delay His justice. He is not going to judge the earth now, because there are more martyrs who must be killed (6:11). The Lord knows that exact number of those who will be martyred and, until we reach that number, the justice of the final judgment will be delayed. So, disciples of Jesus will continue to willingly give their lives and the haters of Jesus will continue to persecute and kill His disciples. So, there will be martyrs until the end of the age.

A MARTYR TAKES TWO WILLING PARTIES

As I was reflecting on this passage about the martyrs and about their Holy Spirit-given faith and courage, something occurred to me that had escaped me before.

What is a martyr? A martyr is someone who is killed by another because of a radical difference in ideology. That means that a martyr cannot act independently. You cannot martyr yourself. A suicide bomber can blow themselves up independently, but they cannot thereby become a martyr. There is a big difference between suicide and martyrdom.

But what we have seen is that there will be martyrs for the entire gospel age all the way to the end. This Scripture in Revelation 6 is not just prophesying what believers will do for the entire church age, namely, willingly surrender their lives for “the word of God and the witness they had borne,” but also saying that the unbelieving world will continue to violently hate believers to the point of killing them for the entire church age. For a martyr requires two willing parties: one person willing to surrender their life for Jesus, and another person willing to kill that person because of Jesus. For both parties, Jesus is the issue. For the martyr, their testimony for Jesus is more valuable than their physical life, and for the murderer, their hatred of Jesus is great enough to warrant killing another human being. That is profound.

SDG                 rmb                 4/4/2022                     #512

Imprecation and Jesus – How did Jesus suffer?

(The previous post in this series was #505 on March 19, 2022.)

INTRODUCTION. We began our study of the imprecatory psalms from the perspective that the psalms which cursed the enemies of the righteous might offer us an outlet to cry out to the Lord when we helplessly watch the powerless being afflicted and oppressed and even murdered by the powerful. The horrible massacre of the innocent in Ukraine by the merciless Mr. Putin prompted this search of the Scriptures for such an outlet. But as our study has moved from the Old Testament to the New, and as we have learned more about what Jesus taught regarding our enemies, it has become increasingly apparent that, since Jesus has come, the imprecation (cursing) of our enemies is no longer an option. The post will examine how Jesus related to His enemies when He was undergoing the humiliation and agony of the cross. What was Jesus’ attitude toward those who plotted to kill Him? Can we find justification for imprecation here?

JESUS’ VIEW OF IMPRECATION

Having studied the Lord’s teaching in the gospels, we now turn to a study of His actions in the time of His most intense agony. Jesus was betrayed by one of His chosen apostles, abandoned by His closest friends, beaten and spat upon by evil religious leaders, scourged and mocked by Roman soldiers, and crucified even though repeatedly declared innocent. In all this injustice, does the Lord model for us an attitude of judgment of evil men? Does He call down curses from His Father on these wicked people who murdered Him? If Jesus retaliated or cursed or sought revenge, then the disciple would have a basis for imprecation. But it is also possible that the King of kings models the very opposite. Thus, the need for this study.

METHOD OF STUDY. The material will be largely from the gospels. This part of our study will focus on Jesus’ actions during His passion and crucifixion. The study passages are chosen because they give us information about Jesus and imprecation, whether pro or con. The Scripture reference for each passage will be given and then comments made with a verdict indicating the Lord’s view of Imprecation.

JESUS’ ACTIONS DURING HIS PASSION

Matt. 26:1-2. Jesus is completely aware of the plot to crucify Him, yet He does nothing to prevent it nor does He speak evil of the men who are plotting to kill Him. No curses of imprecation are uttered.

Matt. 26:21-25. Jesus again demonstrates His knowledge of the plot against Him by announcing His upcoming betrayal by one of His apostles. It is almost as if Jesus is the director of the play and is announcing the next scene. When He speaks to Judas Iscariot, it is not with hatred or ill will, but is matter of fact. Jesus displays no anger and indicates no imprecation.

Matt. 26:36-46. Now in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is preparing Himself for the agony of bearing God’s wrath against all the sins of God’s people of all time. He knows that His time has come and He knows who will be involved in His crucifixion, yet there is no hint of hatred against those who will crucify Him. He does not flee and He does not curse and He does not seek revenge. He simply bows to the Father’s will (26:39). No imprecation.

Matt. 26:47-50. Jesus allows Judas to kiss Him and thus to identify Him to the large crowd. Instead of angrily accusing Judas of betrayal, Jesus calls him “friend.” No cursing here.

Matt. 26:51-52. One of Jesus’ disciples attempts to defend Him from the crowd, but instead of applauding the disciple’s courage, Jesus sharply rebukes him and tells him to put his sword away. Instead of cursing His enemies, Jesus rebukes His disciple! No hint of imprecation.

Matt. 26:53-54. Jesus, as the Son of God, always has “at His disposal more than twelve legions of angels,” but He explicitly refuses to be rescued. Not only does He not utter a single word of cursing or anger against His enemies, but He also refuses to resist His enemies’ evil. He yields to His enemies, knowing that this is the Father’s will. No imprecation.

Matt. 26:57-68. Amidst all the pompous religious leaders and the false witnesses and the lying accusations, Jesus is completely silent. He does not defend Himself nor contradict the lies. There is no indication of anger or hatred or of seeking justice or revenge. Jesus does not curse or utter any threats but allows the drama to unfold. No imprecation.

Matt. 27:11-26. Now Jesus has been brought to Pilate, the Roman governor, who has the authority to have Him crucified. Now surely Jesus will tell Pilate of the injustice and of the wickedness of these religious leaders! But, no, Jesus does nothing of the kind. While false accusations and lies are flying, “Jesus did not answer him with regard to a single charge” (v. 14). He does not even resist the injustice, let alone imprecate His enemies.

Matt. 27:27-31. The Roman soldiers crowned Him with thorns, beat Him with a reed, mocked Him and spat on Him, yet Jesus endured this without a word. Despite this cruel injustice, Jesus does not curse or threaten or resist. No imprecation here.

Matt. 27:33-50. This passage describes the crucifixion and the death of Jesus. Here is the Lord of glory in extreme physical agony, but also under the full wrath of God as He bears the crushing weight of His people’s sins. And as He accomplishes the awesome work He was sent to do (John 17:4; 19:30), His murderers and the bystanders are hurling abuse at Him, mocking Him, and insulting Him. If ever there was an occasion to respond with curses and threats, this must be it. And yet Jesus speaks only once, not a curse to His enemies, but a cry of despair to His heavenly Father, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Through His entire ordeal, Jesus does not utter a single curse or threat against any of His enemies. Instead, He perfectly yielded to the Father’s will and endured the price of the atonement. No imprecation.

CONCLUSION

Our study of the imprecatory psalms and of imprecation in the Bible is nearing its end and we have reached a preliminary conclusion. Although the Old Testament psalms contain imprecatory passages which call on the Lord to bring divine judgment on the wicked, the life of our Lord Jesus Christ reveals no corresponding verses. Our study has revealed that, in His teaching, Jesus forbade His disciples from cursing their enemies and instead commanded them to pray for their enemies. In His life and death, Jesus modeled a refusal to curse or hate or threaten His enemies. The gospel record reveals that, with the coming of Jesus, imprecation of our enemies is no longer allowed. The disciple of Jesus is to love his enemies and to pray for those who persecute him (Matt. 5:44).

Our study of imprecation will conclude with the next post, which will examine how the disciples in the book of Acts and the epistles viewed imprecation of our enemies.

SDG                 rmb                 3/30/2022                   #509

Imprecation and Jesus – What did Jesus teach?

INTRODUCTION. Our study of the imprecatory psalms now shifts its focus to the New Testament as we seek to answer the question, “Now that Jesus Christ has come, and has lived and died and risen from the dead, and now that we are in the gospel age of ‘the favorable year of the Lord’ (Luke 4:19), are believers still allowed to call down curses on their enemies (“imprecate”) or to pray that the Lord would judge evil, wicked men?” This first part of our New Testament study will consider the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and what He taught His disciples.

Several posts ago, we started a study of the imprecatory passages in the psalms, those verses where the psalmist calls upon the LORD to judge the wicked and to bring curses down upon the psalmist’s enemies. Those passages in the psalms seemed to give biblical justification for the believer likewise calling down curses on those who are guilty of monstrous evil today. “If the psalms contain imprecations against enemies and against the wicked, is it not permitted for the believer today to do the same thing?” Of course, if the Old Testament contained the last word on this subject, then the answer would be yes. But the Old Testament does not contain the last word on the subject, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come, and Jesus has changed everything.

JESUS’ VIEW OF IMPRECATION

So, what do we see in the Lord’s teaching and in the Lord’s actions that informs our own attitude toward imprecation of our enemies or of evil men? Does the Lord Jesus teach His disciples to call for curses on their enemies? Does the Lord model for us an attitude of judgment of evil men? For if Jesus taught His disciples that cursing their enemies was allowed, and if He Himself retaliated against those who confronted and opposed Him, then the disciple has a basis for imprecation. But it is also possible that the King of kings teaches and models the very opposite. Thus, the need for this study.

METHOD OF STUDY. The material will be largely from the gospels. The first part of the study will focus on Jesus’ teaching (what He said) and the second part on His actions (what He did). The study passages are chosen because they give us information about Jesus and imprecation, whether pro or con. The Scripture reference for each passage will be given and then comments made with a verdict indicating our Lord’s view of Imprecation.

JESUS’ TEACHING AND WORDS

Matt. 5:38-48. “Do not resist an evil person. Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (39). Note there is no imprecation or resistance in the face of mistreatment. “You have heard it said, ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (43-44). Jesus’ teaching in this passage leaves no room for imprecation since He expressly commands His disciples to love their enemies.

Luke 6:27-36. This passage in Luke parallels the above passage in Matthew. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (6:27-28). These two verses alone could conclude this study since they intentionally exclude any thought of imprecation. “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (35a). Once again, the disciple of Jesus is commanded to love their enemies and to do good to others with no thought to how the other person is going to respond. Imprecation is excluded. “The Most High is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (35b). Jesus teaches us that God’s attitude toward “ungrateful and evil men” is kindness. This is certainly opposed to an attitude of cursing. And since God is kind toward evil men, it is incumbent on His children to be kind to their fellow human beings.

Matt. 6:14-15. According to Jesus, forgiving those who have transgressed against them is a mark of His disciples, and an attitude of unforgiveness indicates that the person is not a true believer. Now, it is obvious that forgiveness and imprecation are opposite actions, for no one can curse and at the same time forgive the same person. Since forgiving others is demanded of the believer, it necessarily means that imprecation is excluded.

Matt. 10:16-23. Jesus is teaching His disciples that they will experience opposition and persecution as they go out to proclaim His name. “sheep in the midst of wolves (16).” “they will scourge you in the synagogues (17).” “Brother will betray brother to death . . . they will cause you to be put to death (21).” “You will be hated by all because of My name (22).” “Whenever they persecute you (23).” These are the types of afflictions and suffering the disciples will experience as they go out to tell the world about Jesus. Yet in all this Jesus does not give them one word about how to fight back or to defend themselves or to avoid these afflictions. In the face of enemies and persecution and hatred, our Lord tells His disciples to endure to the end (22) and to flee to the next city (23), but there is not the slightest hint of any imprecation or retaliation against those who hate us and persecute us. Once again, we have strong evidence that imprecation is a thing of the past and is not available to the disciple of Jesus.

Matt. 12:20. Jesus is said to be fulfilling the words of Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 42:1-3). “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out.” The character of Jesus is diametrically opposed to the spirit of imprecation. He is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and feels compassion for the people (Matt. 9:36; 14:14).

Luke 9:54-55. Jesus is not received by the Samaritans because He was traveling toward Jerusalem, so James and John said to Him, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” In 2 Kings 1, Elijah twice calls down fire from heaven to consume the fifty soldiers sent to him. It is a display of God’s power and of His protection of His prophet. James and John want the same respect to be shone to Jesus, so they ask Jesus to give them permission to burn up the Samaritans. But, instead of destroying the Samaritans, Jesus rebukes His apostles and says, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” The picture is clear: Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), not to curse the wicked. Again, there is no room for imprecation.

Matt. 21:33-39. In the telling of this parable, Jesus is clearly aware the chief priests and elders intend to kill Him, yet He does not lift a finger to stop them, nor does He threaten them, so there is no imprecation here.

Matt. 24:9, 13. Jesus is telling of the great tribulation that will come upon the church at the end of the age. “They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (24:9). Jesus offers no defense tactics for the persecuted and He hints at no curses for the persecutors. As in Matthew 10, our Lord declares that “the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (24:13). Endurance, not imprecation, is the Lord’s charge to His disciples.

We have surveyed Jesus’ teaching in the gospels and have seen that, each time Jesus had an opportunity to imprecate his enemies and those who opposed Him, He chose not to retaliate or to offer any curses. Instead, both explicitly and implicitly, Jesus taught that the believer is to receive the hatred and persecution of the world as the expected cost of following Him and being His witness (Acts 1:8).

The next post will look at the supreme example of Jesus’ attitude toward imprecation as we examine His actions and words during His passion and crucifixion. In His crucifixion, the Son of God is subjected to the greatest injustice in human history and is condemned to death by His enemies. Does Jesus cry out to His Father for justice? Does He curse His enemies because of their wicked acts? Does He threaten these evil men with eternal judgment? We will see.

SDG                 rmb                 3/19/2022                   #505

Imprecatory psalms – A definition, then a look at Psalm 69

INTRODUCTION. In post #500 on March 8, I had begun a series of articles discussing the so-called “imprecatory psalms” in the Bible. There are a number of these passages in the psalms, and their purpose seems to be to ask the Lord to destroy the psalmist’s enemies. This post will consider specific imprecatory psalms and think about how the believer is to apply these passages.

In the last post about this topic, we had taken time to get the proper mindset for these imprecatory passages. While the Bible does give us these psalms as a means of calling upon the Lord for justice, the calling down of God’s curses and God’s vengeance upon someone is an exceptional act. This is done rarely in cases of unusual cruelty or when the injustice is blatant and heinous. A believer is usually to endure the evil in the world and to persevere through the evil using the ordinary means given to us in the Scriptures. So, the believer is not to call down heaven’s curses and woes on every personal enemy at the first sign of conflict but is rather to bear with the conflict and the difficulty while pressing on in obedience. There comes a time, however, when the injustice is too evil merely to be endured. The time has come for God to stop the evil and to stop the evildoer. “Rise up, O Judge of the earth. Render recompense to the proud” (Psalm 94:2). This is when the believer calls upon the Lord and imprecates the wicked.

DEFINITION

We need to establish a definition for what we mean by “imprecatory.” The Webster’s Dictionary definition for “imprecate” is “to call down evil upon” or “to curse.” When we are referring to imprecatory psalms (verses, really) in the Bible, we mean “when the believer calls upon God to render punishment on perpetrators of evil, cruelty, or destruction.” The evildoer’s crimes and cruelty can no longer go unpunished, but the one committing these heinous, sinful acts is too powerful to be restrained by human means. Therefore, the believer cries out to the Lord, the One who is all-powerful, to observe the shocking injustice and to stop or to destroy or to punish the wicked one.

THE IMPRECATORY PASSAGES

We have talked about these imprecatory passages long enough, and now it is time to take a look at some of them. As we look at these, I want to consider the context of the verses; that is, what prompts the psalmist’s cry to the Lord, as well as the content of the cry.

Two passages stand out as the most obvious of imprecatory psalms, Psalm 69 and 109.

Psalm 69:22-28

22 May their table before them become a snare;
And when they are in peace, may it become a trap.
23 May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see,
And make their loins shake continually.
24 Pour out Your indignation on them,
And may Your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be desolate;
May none dwell in their tents.
26 For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten,
And they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded.
27 Add iniquity to their iniquity,
And may they not come into Your righteousness.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
And may they not be recorded with the righteous.

CONTEXT. In this psalm of David, the author is lamenting his oppression by his enemies. The literal context, then, is one of distress from attack and affliction by David’s enemies, and David is pouring out his complaint before the Lord and asking for His intercession.

But this psalm is much deeper than that. This is an overtly Messianic psalm and is about the suffering of the Lord Jesus during His passion in Gethsemane and then His agony on the cross. The foreshadows of Calvary are obvious, for in this psalm we can hear the groans of our Savior as He prepared to bear the wrath of God on our behalf. The psalmist prophetically laments the greatest injustice in human history as by Jesus’ wounds we are healed.  

But there is even more than that because this psalm is also about the persecuted church that, as the body of Christ, suffers the world’s hatred as the witnesses of Christ on the earth. Faithful believers are “hated without cause” (69:4; John 15:25). They are reproached for Jesus’ sake (“reproach” – 69:7, 9, 10, 19, 20). Dishonor, pain, shame, distress, and affliction (“afflicted”) are the words of the psalmist, again picturing the suffering church as they endure the reviling of the world. So, the context of the psalm is suffering, and the lamentations of Christ and then of His church as they fill up His sufferings (Colossians 1:24).

Although these sufferings are God-ordained, they are, nevertheless, evil and deserve to be punished by God. These are wicked acts of injustice, and they demand a just recompense. Therefore, the psalmist calls on the LORD to act and to punish the wicked NOW.

CONTENT. David calls on the LORD to bring specific curses on these wicked men. First, he asks for physical punishment. Let their food be poison and let all peace be taken from them (22). Cause them to go blind and make their legs lose their strength and shake (23). “God, pour out Your indignation and anger upon them for their evil (24).” Let there be strife in their house and may they have no children (25). In the midst of the imprecation, the psalmist speaks explicitly of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (~300 years before Isaiah wrote his prophecy) and reminds the LORD of the crimes of the wicked (26). The curses conclude with spiritual, condemnatory judgments upon these evil men. May their iniquities be multiplied and never forgiven (27) and may they be blotted out of the book of life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 20:15) so that they will never be recorded as righteous. The effect of David’s imprecation is to ask the LORD to condemn these evil men to eternal punishment.

APPLICATION. The psalms are given to us as poetic theology and describe for the believer how they can speak to and pray to their God. How, then, is the believer to apply this psalm? It seems to me that the nature of Psalm 69 limits its application to those situations where the believer, as a member of the body of Christ, is suffering or enduring affliction because they are a follower of Jesus. In other words, the injustice being experienced comes only because a person identifies with Jesus. (See Matt. 5:10-12; 10:16-22; 24:9; John 15:18-21; 1 Pet. 4:12-14, 16, 19.) So, the believer would turn to this psalm when they are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Then the believer would cry out with the psalmist for justice from the Lord. Persecution of the righteous is still wrong, and it is still appropriate to cry out to the Lord that He would bring justice to His people and recompence to the evildoer.

But also, the suffering believer would pray through this psalm for perseverance through the suffering, that he would endure as his Savior endured His hour of suffering. The believer would remember that the Lord has ordained all things and that his attitude should be, “Not my will, but Your will be done,” whatever that will is.

Psalm 69 would encourage the believer that part of the calling to Jesus is a call to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41; Phil. 1:29-30). The psalm, then, reminds the believer of the privilege it is to suffer for Jesus’ name and, therefore, to suffer well, to suffer as a Christian should suffer.

ONE QUESTION. One of the issues with these imprecatory psalms, these passages that invoke cursing upon the evildoer, is that they seem to conflict with specific teaching in the New Testament about how the believer is to view their enemies. This is the topic that I want to address in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 3/14/2022                   #502

The Discipline of the Lord – Part 5 (Hebrews 12:5-11)

THE PASSAGE – HEBREWS 12:5-11

INTRODUCTION. Hebrews 12:5-11 is the classic passage in the Bible about “the discipline of the Lord.” This is the fifth and final post in a series of studies covering this section of Scripture, and this article will draw the series to a conclusion. In the last two posts in this series (February 21 and 23), we had worked to discover the exact nature of this “discipline of the Lord.” Now we are going to apply what we have learned and understand how we are to respond when the Lord brings His discipline into the life of the child He loves.

WHAT IS THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD?

What did we discover in our previous posts about the nature of the discipline of the Lord? Although the author of Hebrews does not speak in this passage of suffering, I think the best way for the believer to understand the Lord’s discipline is to see that the Lord is bringing the perfect amount of affliction and yes, even suffering into the disciple’s life for the purpose of bringing about the disciple’s greater holiness. We experience this as suffering and pain and affliction, for these are the human labels we attach to this anguish, but from the Lord’s perspective He is bringing His sanctifying discipline onto the child He loves. The Lord is demonstrating His love to the disciple of Jesus through the means of His purifying affliction.

EXTRAORDINARY MEANS OF SANCTIFICATION

Why does the Lord choose to use suffering to produce sanctification? He does this because of His immense grace to us. The Lord has given to His children many means for growing in holiness. He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit who allows us to understand His Word. He has given us the Bible so that we can be renewed in the spirit of our minds and can know what it is to hunger and thirst for righteousness. He has given us communion with Him through prayer. He has given us His church, where we can worship Him with other believers and disciple one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds. These ordinary means of grace allow the believer to steadily grow in practical holiness and to increase in usefulness to the Master.

But the Lord is so personal with His children that, when He perceives an obstacle to His child’s holiness that is resistant to the ordinary means of sanctification, He crafts extraordinary means which the stubborn obstacle cannot resist. This is “the discipline of the Lord.” This discipline often feels like suffering and affliction, but it is the Lord’s appointed means of purifying us with hyssop so that the stubborn, entrenched unholiness can be cut out of our life.

AMAZING GRACE

Consider the grace of this discipline of the Lord. First, the Lord is so concerned about His child’s greater holiness that He is attentive to when there is a stubborn unholiness that must be addressed. The Lord then crafts the perfect discipline for this specific unholiness. He custom designs the discipline so that it is painful enough to purge away the unwanted unholiness but is not so painful that it crushes the disciple’s spirit. The Lord Himself then brings the discipline into the life of the believer so that the believer can share His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

THE HUMAN RESPONSE AND RESPONSIBILITY

How should we respond to the discipline of the Lord? We have already found much instruction in our study about how we are to respond, but before we review those responses, I wanted to make an observation from my own life. We have said that the Lord brings His discipline into our life to address an obstacle to holiness that He perceives. So, He knows the reason He is bringing His discipline, and what the intended result of the discipline is. But the disciple who is experiencing the affliction of the discipline of the Lord usually does not. When I have experienced the discipline of the Lord, I only perceived that the Lord was bringing suffering into my life, but I did not know the purpose of His discipline. By faith, I believed that the suffering I was experiencing was from the Lord as His discipline and was sent from heaven for the purpose of my greater holiness. This is the typical experience of the disciple, that they are aware of the suffering but do not know the specific reasons why or the details of the intended result. Even when the affliction is over, and the suffering has past, rarely does the disciple know the “whys” of the discipline of the Lord. But the Lord does. The disciple is called to trust the Lord and persevere through the affliction until the Lord determines that His intended greater holiness has been achieved.

We can review Hebrews 12:5-11 to remind ourselves of how we are to respond to His discipline. When we perceive that the Lord is bringing His discipline into our life, we are not to faint (12:5). We saw in post #493 (2/23/2022) what this meant: “We resolve to endure. Endurance and perseverance mark out our course because it is the enduring of the discipline that brings greater holiness and the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10, 11). To reinforce this point, we see that Hebrews 12:7 calls us to endure: “It is for discipline that you endure.” By faith, we are also to patiently “be subject to the Father of spirits” (12:9) and allow His extraordinary work to have its intended result. Finally, we are to be trained by His discipline (12:11) so that we will “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

SUMMARY OF THE STUDY

This study of Hebrews 12:5-11 and “the discipline of the Lord” has yielded a solid understanding of the nature of the discipline of the Lord and of how the disciple of Jesus can respond when they perceive that the Lord is bring His extraordinary means of sanctification into the disciple’s life.

SDG                 rmb                 3/3/2022                     #496

The Discipline of the Lord – Part 4 (Hebrews 12:5-11)

THE PASSAGE – HEBREWS 12:5-11

INTRODUCTION. Hebrews 12:5-11 is the classic passage in the Bible about “the discipline of the Lord.” This is the fourth post in a series of studies covering this section of Scripture. We have been seeking to understand concretely what this discipline of the Lord is, but I wanted to take a brief aside to explore two ways we can incorrectly respond to the discipline of the Lord. We will be looking at Hebrews 12:5-6.

and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

TWO WARNINGS

The Lord brings His discipline to His children so that the children can share His holiness (12:10) and so that they can yield the fruit of righteousness (12:11). Therefore, the discipline of the Lord is a display of the Lord’s grace toward those who have placed their faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus. But because of the distorting effects of the fall and because of incomplete sanctification in the disciple, the child of God can misunderstand and misinterpret the Lord’s discipline. For this reason, the author of Hebrews issues two warnings about wrong responses.

Warning #1: “Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord.”

What does it mean to “regard lightly”? This means to respond in a way that ignores or despises the magnitude of the gesture. In this case, the Lord of the universe, by His providence, has ordained that His sanctifying, loving discipline is to be applied to one of His children at this specific time in human history. Imagine the immensity of this gesture! Imagine the condescension of the One bringing the discipline! The Lord has perceived in this specific disciple something that is hindering the disciple’s holiness. There is an obstacle to sanctification that the Lord not only sees, but that also moves the Lord to action. Now the Lord is going to bring the perfect discipline to bear on this disciple’s life so that the disciple will bear more of the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Such a spectacular gesture deserves a spectacular response. But to respond requires that the disciple perceive that the Lord is bringing His discipline. For this reason, every disciple should be alert for the presence of the discipline of the Lord in their life (ACTION ITEM). Then, once the disciple senses that the Lord is bringing His discipline to bear on his life, he needs to “lean into” the discipline so that it will have its full effect (ACTION ITEM). Give thanks to the Lord for His gracious care for you in sending His “scourging” discipline (ACTION ITEM). The opposite of “regard lightly” would be “make much of,” so the disciple should recognize this form of the Lord’s grace and praise Him loudly for His good instruction (ACTION ITEM). Taking these actions will help you avoid “regarding lightly” the discipline of the Lord.

Warning #2:Nor faint when you are reproved by Him.”

The first warning cautioned the disciple not to regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, but this second warning tells us not to make too much of the Lord’s reproof. What I mean is this, that the Lord’s discipline is a perfect discipline. Like He sends His word to accomplish all that He intends and desires (see Isaiah 55:11), so the Lord brings His precise discipline to accomplish His precise ends. We know that His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3), and we can be assured that His discipline is likewise not onerous. The purpose of the Lord’s discipline is, by applying heat and affliction, to burn off the dross of remaining ungodliness and leave the disciple more conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). As Job said when he was undergoing the Lord’s severe discipline, “He (the LORD) knows the way I take, and when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

Again, the Lord’s discipline is sent at the exact time needed to affect the change He desires. Although Paul was speaking of the persecution he faced because he faithfully proclaimed the gospel, the idea is similar with the Lord’s discipline: “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing” (2 Cor. 4:8). The Lord brings enough affliction to affect change and to spur greater holiness, but not so much that it crushes the spirit and brings despair.

The discipline of the Lord comes with heat and affliction, and there can be a response of “shrinking back” (Hebrews 10:38-39) and a temptation to faint under the stress. This warning #2 comes as an urgent exhortation to those who do not expect the Lord to test them and who therefore can feel the temptation to quit or to surrender to relieve the stress of the Lord’s discipline.

What is the right response when we are experiencing the affliction and the heat of the Lord’s discipline? Rather than faint, we resolve to endure (ACTION ITEM). Endurance and perseverance mark out our course because it is the enduring of the discipline that brings greater holiness and the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10, 11). This is key: It is the enduring of the discipline and the persevering through the pain that brings the spiritual fruit. The Lord sends His perfect discipline, but if the disciple faints or takes shortcuts, then even the perfect discipline of the Lord will not have its intended results.

SUMMARY. When the Lord chooses to bring His discipline into the life of the believer, the believer is not to regard lightly this discipline, but is to receive it as a gift from his perfect heavenly Father and is to allow the discipline to work its full work. Even when the discipline of the Lord feels withering, the believer is not to faint, but is to continue with an attitude of endurance and perseverance.

SDG                 rmb                 2/23/2022                   #493

The Discipline of the Lord – Part 3 (Hebrews 12:5-11)

THE PASSAGE – HEBREWS 12:5-11

INTRODUCTION. Hebrews 12:5-11 is the classic passage in the Bible about “the discipline of the Lord.” This is the third post in a series of studies covering this section of Scripture, and we are now seeking to understand concretely what this discipline of the Lord is. We have found out what it does, but now we are seeking to discover what form it takes when the Lord administers His discipline on us, His children. In the last post we looked carefully at the passage itself to see what the passage taught us about the nature of this “discipline.” Now we are going to turn to dictionary meanings of the Greek words to see if we can gain more definition from them.

THE GREEK WORDS FOR “DISCIPLINE”

For this part of our study, we will look at the Greek noun for “discipline” and the Greek verb for “to discipline.”

First, the noun.

παιδεία (paideia)

1) the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment) It also includes the training and care of the body; 2) whatever in adults also cultivates the soul, esp. by correcting mistakes and curbing passions. 2a) instruction which aims at increasing virtue; 2b) chastisement, chastening, (of the evils with which God visits men for their amendment) 

EXAMINATION. As we examine these definitions, meaning 1) applies to children and so can be ignored. Meaning 2) brings us better results, for the author of Hebrews is certainly speaking to and about adults in our study passage. “Whatever cultivates the soul by correcting mistakes and curbing passions.” This seems to strike pretty close to the target. So, a possible definition might be, “Discipline cultivates the soul by correcting (moral) mistakes and curbing (fleshly) passions.”

Going farther, meaning 2a) says “discipline is instruction that increases virtue.” Meaning 2b) may be the best definition of all. My own rendering of this meaning would be “God bringing (“visiting”) difficulties and trials (“evils”) upon His children for the purpose of chastening.”

Here, then, are the definitions of “discipline.”

“Discipline cultivates the soul by correcting (moral) mistakes and curbing (fleshly) passions.”

“Discipline is instruction that increases virtue.”

“God bringing (“visiting”) difficulties and trials (“evils”) upon His children for the purpose of chastening.”

Blending these together, I would propose this as a good definition:

The discipline of the Lord is when God brings difficulties and afflictions into the life of His child for the purpose of correcting behavioral mistakes and curbing fleshly passions.

Now we want to take a look at the Greek verb for “to discipline.”

παιδεύω (paidyoo-o)
1) to train children – 1a) to be instructed or taught or learn; 1b) to cause one to learn; 2) to chastise; 2a) to chastise or castigate with words, to correct; 2a1) of those who are moulding the character of others by reproof and admonition; 2b) of God – 2b1) to chasten by the affliction of evils and calamities; 2c) to chastise with blows, to scourge; 2c1) of a father punishing his son; 2c2) of a judge ordering one to be scourged 

EXAMINATION. Definition 1) involves the training of children and so does not apply to the context of Hebrews 12:5-11. Under definition 2) we move immediately to 2b) because this talks about the chastising of God (close parallel to the “discipline of the Lord”). (Notice that the three other definitions under 2b) do not fit the context of Heb. 12:5-11, because God does not administer chastisement either by blows or by a scourge, He does not punish us, and He is not a judge ordering someone to be scourged.) Drilling down more into 2b1), we could render this definition as,

The Lord disciplines His children by bringing into their lives the affliction of evils and calamities.

Our work has yielded two definitions in which the Lord brings difficulties, afflictions, and calamities into the life of His child for the purpose of driving out remaining unrighteousness and increasing the child’s holiness. The Lord brings pain and affliction into His child’s life so that the child can be buffed and honed into an evident godliness. The discipline of the Lord is the Lord’s intentional shaping and sanctifying of His children through the means of painful affliction.

We will refine our study still more in the next post and see how others have understood this concept of “the discipline of the Lord.”

SDG                 rmb                 2/21/2022                   #492

Learning to lament: a basic discipleship tool

INTRODUCTION. This post begins a (planned) series of articles on the subject of lamenting. “Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7), so the disciple of the Lord Jesus is wise to search the Scriptures and prepare themselves to lament when the weight of the world begins to crush their spirit.

This morning I had just finished my regular phone call with my friend, Dan. I had related to him some of the burdens that were heavy on me, and as I ended the call, I began to reflect more on the sorrows and the disappointments that were currently on my radar screen. And so, my mind turned to the subject of lamenting, and I began to pour my heart out to the Lord.

THE GRACE OF GOD IN THE LAMENT

Ours is a broken world. This is not a profound statement to anyone who has lived two or three decades and who has reflected at all on life. Our world is broken and we ourselves are broken, and the evidence for this brokenness increases daily. The follower of Jesus has a ready explanation for the fractures in the world. A Christian worldview acknowledges that, when Adam sinned and ate the forbidden fruit and rebelled against the Lord God, sin entered the world, and the “very good” creation was immediately and entirely polluted by sin. Death and sweat and pain and failure and malice and conflict and disappointment and fear rushed into the world through the hole ripped by sin, and the world has continued to accumulate sin and the effects of sin ever since. So, the Christian explains the evil and pain in the world as the consequences of sin entering the world when man rebelled against God.

But even though man has rebelled against God, and even though man’s “heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9); even though “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), God is gracious toward mankind. “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). Man has willfully rebelled against the Lord of the universe, yet God has responded with grace in many different ways. One of the ways that God has responded with grace is by giving believers the gift of the lament.

This may seem like an unusual way to refer to lamentation. How can a lament be a gift of God’s grace? After all, isn’t a lament a cry to God, a prayer to God basically complaining about the difficulty and the sorrow of this life in His world? No, this is an overly simple view of a lament. In fact, in a lament the Lord of the universe gives His creature the privilege of calling out to Him and of pouring out his emotions to his God. The Lord is aware of man’s weakness and his inability. “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). And knowing that man is fearful and frail, our God has given us the lament so that we can confess our fears and failures and frailty to Him and feel the strong arms of His comfort and consolation. “The LORD is with me like a dread champion” (Jeremiah 20:11). But His presence does not only give us confidence in combat, but in lament, His presence surrounds us with compassion and comfort. (See 2 Cor. 1:3-5.)

God’s grace is manifested in the lament by giving the child of God a God-approved means of expressing to the Lord emotions of sorrow and loss and discouragement and disappointment with the knowledge that the Lord is fully engaged in the communication. The child of God lifts up a lament and pours out his emotions and sorrows, and God hears and empathizes. You see, there are two participants in the lament. The disciple of Jesus lifts his cry to the Lord, and the Lord actively hears and actively receives the disciple’s cry. The child of God is not complaining to no one. He is not trying to vent his emotions to no one, like some psychological trick. No! Rather, the child of God cries out to his Abba Father of the burdens of life. Knowing that the God who permits the lament is the God who hears the lament and who feels the emotions of His child’s lament, gives great emotional power to the lament.

In Psalm 6, David is in the midst of a lament. We see the telltale words “How long?” in verse 3. So, David pours out his complaint to the LORD, knowing that the LORD hears his cry. And then, toward the end of the psalm, the answer comes.

Depart from me, all you who do iniquity,
For the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my supplication,
The LORD receives my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed;
They shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed.

“The LORD has heard, the Lord has heard, the LORD receives my prayer.” Here we see the beauty and the grace of the lament as the LORD hears His child. And in the same way that the Lord heard David’s lament, so the Lord will hear the lament of any of His children. The believer has committed his life to follow the Lord Jesus, God’s Son, through this vale of tears, and the Lord has graciously granted the believer the blessing of the lament that allows the believer to cry out to his God and persevere through this world until the Lord calls him home.

SDG                 rmb                 2/18/2022                   #490

The Discipline of the Lord – Part 1 (Hebrews 12:5-11)

THE PASSAGE – HEBREWS 12:5-11

Hebrews 12:5-11 is the classic passage in the Bible about “the discipline of the Lord.” In this post, we will give an overview of these verses and will make several comments before explaining how to understand and apply this passage. The two key words are “discipline” (both the noun and the verb) and “endure.”

and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. – Hebrews 12:5-11

The author of Hebrews begins by making clear (12:5-6, a quote from Proverbs 3:11-12) the universality of this “discipline of the Lord.” The exhortation is addressed to all those who are considered as ‘sons.’ (Obviously, this is not limited to the male children of the Lord. Of course, this includes all the children of the Lord, meaning all those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ.) So, all the children of the Lord are not to regard the Lord’s discipline lightly. The writer goes on to make clear that the discipline of the Lord comes universally to all “whom the Lord loves” and that the Lord “scourges every son (child) whom He receives.” Therefore, if you are loved by the Lord and if the Lord has received you into His household based on your faith in His Son, then you can expect to experience His discipline.

“It is for discipline that you endure” (12:7a). “Discipline” is used here as a noun and “endure” is a verb. Discipline describes the positive outcome of endurance. To endure means to willingly experience pain, stress, difficulty, or suffering because there is something valuable to be gained by the experience. And so, the child of God endures the Lord’s discipline.

The author then draws a parallel between the discipline we received from our earthly fathers and the discipline that all the children of the Lord receive from the Lord (12:7b-10). Every responsible earthly father diligently trains his children using whatever means he has at his disposal. Thus, all legitimate children receive their father’s discipline (training). We subjected ourselves to our earthly father’s imperfect discipline, so should we not subject ourselves to our heavenly Father’s perfect discipline, especially since the outcome of God’s training is that we “share in His holiness” (12:10)?

From 12:11, we learn that “discipline seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful.” Once again it is clear that the author intends for “discipline” to be understood as a painful experience that the disciple (“trainee”) willingly endures because the one bringing the “discipline” can be trusted to use the pain and the suffering and the trial of the discipline to produce a greater good. In this verse, we observe that those who have been trained by the discipline of the Lord obtain “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

SUMMARY OF THE TEACHING OF THIS PASSAGE.

All the children of the Lord are going to receive “the discipline of the Lord” as evidence that they are, indeed, the Lord’s legitimate children. Discipline is to be endured because the pain of the Lord’s discipline produces spiritual fruit. As we subjected ourselves to our earthly father’s imperfect discipline, so now we subject ourselves to our heavenly Father’s perfect discipline, especially since the outcome of God’s training is that we “share in His holiness” (12:10). The disciple who will endure the pain and suffering of “the discipline of the Lord” and be trained it will obtain “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

BUT WHAT EXACTLY IS “DISCIPLINE”?

In this post, we have established a basic interpretation of this passage, but there is still work to do to see how this interpretation works itself out in life. What I mean is that we understand what the discipline of the Lord does, but we have not yet made clear what the discipline of the Lord is. How do we recognize when we ourselves are experiencing this discipline? What prompts the Lord to bring His discipline into our life? What circumstances cause me to experience this discipline? Is this discipline sent as retribution for my misbehavior? Is the discipline like punishment? Is the discipline a good thing or is it a bad thing? What should be my response if I sense that the Lord has brought discipline into my life? These are some of the questions we will tackle in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 2/16/2022                   #488