What Good Fathers Give Their Children (Hebrews 12:3-13)

Indeed, you seem to have forgotten the proverb directed to you as children:My child, do not treat as trivial the instruction/chastening/correction that comes from the Lord, or despair and lose heart when He steps in to correct you; For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He corrects each one He takes as His own[1], (for this is a means of good to our souls, if we make proper use of it[2].)

Endure hardship as God’s discipline: submit to his authority, humble yourselves under his hand, and pray for his blessing.[3]Rejoice that He is treating you as His children, for what child doesn’t experience discipline from a parent? But if you are not experiencing the correction that all true children receive, then it may be that you are not His children after all. Remember, when our human parents disciplined us (like an Olympic trainer trains his athletes), we respected them. As the rabbis say, "Love which is not joined with reproof is not genuine."[4]

If that was true of our fleshly father, shouldn’t we respect and live under the correction of our spiritual Father even more?  Our parents corrected us for a time as seemed good to them, but God only corrects us to our good so that we may share in His holiness. When punishment is happening, it never seems pleasant, only painful. Later, though, it yields the fruit of righteousness to be enjoyed in peace after the conflict to everyone who has been trained by it.[5]

Don’t be the boxer who is “out on their feet”; lift up your feeble, dangling hands[6]and brace your weakened knees.  Make straight paths (“wheel tracks”) with/for your feet so that the lame among you won’t be put out of joint, but will heal.[7]

Let’s talk about fathers a little bit.Not all of you have had good experiences with your fathers, and no one in here has had or has been a perfect father. I don’t know what kind of emotions arise in you when you hear a passage like this. The idea of comparing your dad’s discipline with God’s discipline is a risky comparison.

Just keep in mind: God is the Father we wish our fathers were.Being a father is a high calling; God knows children associate their earthly fathers with their heavenly one. Dads, if that doesn’t scare and challenge us at the same time, we aren’t listening.  

We have to step into the world and the family of a perfect father to understand this passage.  Perfect fathers want what is best for their children: holiness, righteousness and maturity. These best endsare accomplished through the best meanspossible; at times, this necessarily includes hardship and trials.  

·     My dad disciplined me. God knows he had good reason to do so.

·     My dad made me do chores. I hated chickens for a long time.

·     My dad put boundaries around my music and my books.

·     My dad set a curfew and took half my paycheck until I was 18.

·     My dad let me know when I was full of myself. 

My dad didn’t give me the words “I love you” until he was older, but I have good memories of his fatherly strength and kindness - and his discipline. He went out of his way to take care of me and be present in the best way he knew how. But he wasn’t afraid to make me grow up because it was his job to make a boy a man. I didn’t always understand. Because he wasn’t perfect, I had reason to be confused sometimes. But he was my steward; he would give an answer to God some day. 

I just finished a book called The Coddling Of The American Mind, about what happens when we raise kids to never hurt, never ache, never fail, never be challenged, never not have what they want. The author’s physical analogy has to do with making our immune system stronger. This requires an exposure to a range of manageable challenges for kids in order for them to get strong. The authors call this “threats in small doses.”It’s the way vaccines work. It’s why kids playing in the dirt or growing up with pets is a good idea, or why kids who are introduced to small doses of peanuts when they are babies are far less likely to have peanut allergies as adults. (Note: consult your doctor!) 

The “Hygiene Hypothesis” explains why allergies go up as nations get wealthier and cleaner. Basically, we begin to overreact to substances that aren’t normally threatening because we’ve never been given the “threat in small doses.” 

This book takes that physical analogy and applies it to emotional, relational or intellectual issues. We need “threats in small doses” so we are ready for the threats in large doses. Chief Justice Roberts gave the following speech at his son’s middle school graduation:

Last week we talked about how micro-persecutions prepare us for macro ones. This week, it’s about rebuke, discipline or correction. They may not feel micro, but they are never in doses more than we can handle. And, they will always be for our good, to mature us.[8]

 “If we only knew how bad we are, we would welcome chastening because this is God’s way of getting rid of sin and its habits. But chastening is resented because we cannot believe that we have done anything worthy of it.” (John Sanderson)

 Oh, but we have. We need God to help us grow up by any means possible, and that may include challenges in doses for our long-term good.[9]

Whom He loves, He loves so much that He will not let them abide in the lower parts of their nature. He will rout them out; He will drive them up. Whom He loves He means to make more of. He means to ennoble them.  - H. W. Beecher, father of Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin)

Lawns which we would keep in the best condition are very frequently mown; the grass has scarcely any respite from the scythe. Out in the meadows there is no such repeated cutting, they are mown but once or twice in the year. Even thus the nearer we are to God, and the more regard He has for us, the more frequent will be our adversities. To be very dear to God, involves no small degree of chastisement. (Charles Spurgeon)

 It is God’s plan to mow the lawn of His children, to prune us, purify us as gold refined in fire. A few things to note on this topic.

Discipline is going to happen to children of God.Corrie Ten Boom once said, “It hurts when God has to pry things out of our hand!“ True, but it’s a sign that God is invested in your glorification. If you have poison in your hand, known or unknown, a good Father will pry it out.

The chastening of God is not expected to be a pleasant or delightful experience, but "grievous," its purpose being to "exercise" the believer by forcing him to adapt to… painful, sorrowful, or discouraging circumstances; and its purpose being the ennoblement of spiritual life [and] the strengthening of character... The most wonderful people on earth are those who have passed through the chastening experiences of life, whose faith, love, and understanding and sympathy are grounded in the true love of God and man; and whose lives, as a result, have been expanded and beautified.”

When we endure hardships and trials, it is actually a sign that God is invested in our glorification. As Jesus pointed out, God is pruning us to bear fruit (John 15).

Hardship is not necessarily a sign of God’s wrath.Bryan Chapell says, “Since God’s justice has been fully satisfied, the remaining purposes of His discipline are to help those dear to Him to know more of the riches of His grace, and to grow more like Him.”Well put. Divine discipline is correction, not vengeance. It is intended to benefit rather than punish the wanderer. Jesus took God’s wrath on the cross. When we sin, we will reap what we sow in a very practical sense because that’s how God designed the universe to work. However, God’s spiritually judgmental wrath is not descending on you if you are a child of God. 

There are movements in Christianity that teach that you can gauge how God loves you or how pleasing you are to God based on how prosperous, healthy or comfortable you are – or aren’t. That’s just not biblically supportable.God disciplines and prunes His children.God is investing in you, not distancing Himself from you. God’s goal is your righteous maturity, not your comfort, and he loves you enough to refine you as gold through fire.    

It’s going to look different for different people.Don’t judge someone else’s “thorn in the flesh” that is the means by which God leads them to see the immensity of his grace (#theApostlePaul). 

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

I don’t know what it is for you. Illness? Financial hardship? Depression? Loneliness? Family of origin issues? PTSD? Anger? I don’t know. If these things are lingering with you, God is at minimumallowing this. God also plans to use this to mature you as His child. That doesn’t make what happened to you automatically good, and it doesn’t automatically mean God deliberately sent it. It simply means that a sovereign, good, loving Father has at minimumallowed you, his child, to walk through that fire. It will not be without good fruit  - if you allow that what happened to push you closer to your Father. 

“He gives to each of us just our own trial, what, by His grace, will most amend us, what will bring us most to Himself, what will most draw out the good which He has implanted in us, or burn out the evil which would most estrange or ruin us. (E. B.Pusey, D. D.)

Our example matters.Make straight paths (“wheel tracks”) with/for your feet so that the lame among you won’t be put out of joint, but will heal.[10] The “straight paths we follow/make” are the kind of paths the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ made for us through their obedience, suffering, and final glorification. Parents, there is no doubt we model life for our kids, right? In the same way, we model life in church for others. We are being watched, and the watchers are learning. This is our opportunity to shine – or, perhaps more accurately, for Christ to shine through us. 

·     What is more powerful than joy in the midst of sickness? 

·     What is more compelling than peace in the midst of financial storm? 

·     What is more promising than hope when everything we look at threatens us with despair? 

·     What is more fascinating than seeing the cycle of the repentance and forgiveness play out in real time right in front of us?

·     What is more amazing than real, agape love toward even the most unlovable?

I would like to close with a prayer not my own. 

“Oh Lord, don’t give me what I deserve, but give me what I need. Don’t remove the discipline, but discipline me in kindness and grace. Let not the rod be a sword, but let it be the stern hand of a loving Father that wants to turn me from my rebellious ways and make me more like Yourself. I bring none of my goodness to you, but plead on behalf of my littleness. I want the blessing of Your rebuke, [not] the billows of Your anger. I trust You as my Father. Please correct me, change me and restore our relationship.”  -  Randy Smith


Recommended songs: “If You Want Me To,” by Ginny Owens; “Though You Slay Me,” by Shane and Shane

[1]Proverbs 3:11Proverbs 3:12,

[2]Adam Clarke

[3]Adam Clarke


[5]“Neither correction, restraint, regulations, nor discipline are pleasant. but it is by these means that obedient children, scholars, and great people are made. And it is by God's discipline that Christians are made. He who does not bear the yoke of Christ is good for nothing to others, and never gains rest to his own soul.” - AC

[6]Isaiah 35:3.

[7]“… but rather through the animating example given by the whole body, may he cured of his wavering, and briskly advance with the rest.” (Meyer’s NT Commentary)

[8]“Afflictions have many objects, or produce many happy effects. That referred to here is, that they are means of reclaiming the wandering and erring children of God, and are proofs of his paternal care and love.’ (Barnes’ Notes On The Bible)

[9]This is a fantastic compilation of quotes from Christians about the role of chastisement and discipline in the life of the Christian. “Quotes for Topic: God-discipline.”https://gracequotes.org/topic/god-discipline/

[10]“ “but rather through the animating example given by the whole body, may he cured of his wavering, and briskly advance with the rest.” (Meyer’s NT Commentary)