“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
Our verse begins with a truth so obvious and universal that no serious objection to it could come from any quarter—“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous.” Who could honestly object? Who has not experienced chastisement of one form or another? Who could not render credible testimony to the grievous nature of chastisement? No one rightly enjoys the chastisement itself whether it is lovingly or hatefully administered, though the latter does add to its grievousness.
A reasonable question would be: Why state a truth so obvious to any reader? One reason we find is the contrast made in the passage. Here the chastening from God is set apart from all other chastisements. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6). In the fact that He chastens, He is like many others, but in the nature of His discipline, He is different from all others.
We have all been chastened by our father or some other authority over us, but all of those chastenings cannot be said to have immediately been for our good. “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure” (Hebrews 12:10). However good or ill intentioned, man’s discipline does not always effect good in the recipient. It is easy for man to take the rod, be too severe, and do great harm rather than good. It may fulfill their design to inflict pain but it is not for the good of the chastened. It is also easy for man to neglect the rod or be too soft and also do great harm, although the harm is different from the physical pain of severity.
However, God is neither too soft nor too severe with His discipline. God’s chastisement is ever tempered by His design, which is expressly “our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). Joseph came under such discipline and rightly discerned the hand of God from the hand of man. He said to his brothers, “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).
You may be surprised that I would allude to Joseph for he suffered wrongfully at the hands of his brothers and how could that be the chastening of God? First, note that I am not attempting a full exposition of the doctrine of God’s chastening. Secondly, we must realize that God’s chastening is not punitive only but also instructive as the Greek word paideia suggests. That word is a broad word that means training, including both correction and instruction. It is used such in Ephesians 6:4 and there rendered ‘nurture’. Regardless of the form chastisement takes, God always designs and administers it for our good.
Here we find a reason for the obvious statement of our text—That we might rightly discern and acknowledge God in our afflictions. In affliction, some are like Pharaoh and ask, “Who is the LORD” (Exodus 5:2). Others complain against Him terribly exclaiming, “Why am I suffering so? I have done nothing to deserve it!” Our response should be more in line with the godly Joseph who said, “God meant it unto good;” or like Job who said, “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21); or even as Eli who confessed, “It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good” (1 Samuel 3:18).
Finally, the verse provides us with another important contrast. Scripture does not conceal the fact that God’s chastening does involve grief. In this, it is not entirely different, nor entirely the same as other chastening. However, the contrast is seen between the temporary nature of the grief compared to the lasting fruit of His discipline. “Nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Our temporal displeasure, discomfort, or pain gives way to the lasting “fruit of righteousness” of our sanctification in Christ. And, that sanctification works to our final glorification in Him. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).