I hope you’ve been as blessed as I have looking at these chapters from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure. After reviewing general considerations, fear and faith, feelings, and trials, this week we’re going to look at Chapters 17 and 18, God’s Chastening and In God’s Gymnasium.
The key text for both chapters comes from Hebrews 12:
Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.Hebrews 12:11
Lloyd-Jones begins the chapter with the striking (but much needed) statement that God’s primary concern for our lives is not our happiness but our holiness.
Like foolish children we feel that our heavenly Father is unkind to us and we pity ourselves and feel sorry for ourselves and feel that we are being dealt with harshly. That, of course, leads to depression and it is all due to our failure to realize God’s glorious purposes with respect to us.p 235
God accomplishes His purpose for us in two ways: first, through the positive instruction of His Word; then, when we don’t heed that instruction, through the “negative” correction and restoration of chastisement.
We see this pattern taught and modeled for us all throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. Rather than object to or complain about God’s discipline, however, we ought to be grateful it proves our identity as God’s children and His love for us.
What is chastening?
[Chastisement] means to train. . . We rather tend to confuse it with the word punishment. It includes correction, but it also includes instruction; it includes rebuke, indeed it may include a good deal of punishment, but the essential thing is, and the essential object of chastisement is, to train and develop the child so as to produce a grown person.p 238
How does God chasten?
One way God chastens us is through circumstances. Specifically, these circumstances might include material or financial loss, poor health, persecution, and even death.
Another way God chastises us is through what seems to be a withdrawal of His presence. The books of Hosea and Job speak of this experience, and many Christians can testify of seasons when God seems distant.
Any one or combination of these methods “are again but parts of God’s way of chastising His children, part of His great process of training and preparing us for the grand end and object He has in view for us” (p 241).
Why does God chasten?
To answer this question, Lloyd-Jones looks to the earlier verses of Hebrews 12:
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.Hebrews 12:5-10
The short answer? Love. God chastens us because He loves us, and in this love He wants only good for us. This good is our sanctification, our becoming like Christ, and He’ll do whatever it takes–even if it hurts us–to bring us to this ultimate good.
As Lloyd-Jones points out, other translations render the phrase “If you endure chastening” as “It is for your chastening you endure.” In other words, what we are enduring is for our chastening, for our growth, for our spiritual training and sanctification. For our good.
In God’s Gymnasium
After dedicating a chapter to the principles of God’s chastisement, Lloyd-Jones presents a sequel chapter on the application of God’s chastisement. He begins by making the point that chastisement–and ultimately sanctification–is not a passive process.
The mere fact that we are chastised does not mean that, of necessity, we are going to benefit by it. The [Hebrews] writer’s argument is that it is only as we understand this teaching concerning chastisement, and apply it to ourselves properly and truly, that we shall derive any benefit from it.p 248
After all, John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” How does this sanctification take place? By the application of God’s Word to our lives. (I don’t know about you, but this was a lightbulb moment for me!)
Lloyd-Jones goes on to address a wrong way to look at chastisement and some wrong ways to respond to chastisement. While we’ve already seen how God often uses circumstances to chastise us, we can’t fall into the incorrect belief that everything we suffer comes from God for our chastisement. Bad things happen to unbelievers as well as believers, so we can’t assume that every negative event in our lives is an element of God’s correction.
What are some wrong ways of responding to chastisement? Here’s where it gets dicey and personal:
1. We despise it
Lloyd-Jones uses the word despise not in the sense of hating or scorning something but in the sense of not regarding something’s value. (Webster’s Dictionary includes the definition “to regard as unworthy of one’s notice or consideration.”) A wrong response to God’s chastisement is when we don’t take it seriously, don’t pay attention to it, or don’t allow it to affect us.
2. We faint
This happens when we get discouraged, when we feel hopeless, when we want to give up or actually give up. This despair often includes complaining and questioning God. The Hebrew believers, Lloyd-Jones writes, were in this camp–no doubt they had expected life to be peachy keen after salvation and instead found themselves reeling from one hardship after another. The writer sent them this epistle to encourage them not to give up under God’s chastening.
3. We get bitter
While this response is most typically found in unbelievers, in response to hardships they experience, it can be found among believers too. If we’re not careful, we can become so self-centered and hard-hearted in our trials that we blame God, shake our fist at Him, and shut Him–and others who love us–out of our lives completely. This is a dangerous place to be and is the reason the Hebrews writer warns against “any root of bitterness” in verse 15.
If this is how we don’t respond to chastening, how do we respond?
1. We behave like adults
Lloyd-Jones writes that some of us remain spiritual children, throwing temper tantrums and whining that our Daddy doesn’t love us and life isn’t fair because we misunderstand the pain we’re feeling. Instead, we need to be the sons (and daughters) the Hebrews writer mentions in verse 5: grown-up men and women who understand what is happening and can respond maturely.
2. We remember Scripture
[W]e can take it that every time anything of a trying nature happens to us in this life and world we are never just to look at the thing in and of itself. As Christians we are to take everything and put it immediately into the context of the Bible.p 252
3. We follow the logic of Scripture
As Lloyd-Jones writes, the word “speaks” in verse 5–“the exhortation that speaks to you”–is better translated “reasons.” The beautiful thing is that God’s Word doesn’t just give us general comfort, it gives us an argument, a logical explanation that begs us to work it out, follow it, and apply it.
What is this argument? “The great argument is that it is God Who is doing this, and God is doing it to you because you are His child” (p 253). And when we work out this logic to its conclusion in our lives, in our days, in our moments of pain, we see that God’s Word brings us needed comfort not just through our heart (emotions) but also–and more importantly–through our mind (reason).
4. We submit
What does the writer of Hebrews say in verse 11? That God’s chastening “yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (emphasis added). God’s chastening only does us good if we submit to the process.
Lloyd-Jones concludes the chapter by unpacking the imagery in the word “trained.” This word means to put into a gym (gymnasium) and originates from a root word that means “being stripped naked.”(Keep in mind the first century AD context and what you’ve learned about the Greeks.)
Why naked? First, so the athletes could train without being hindered by clothing. Second, so the instructor could examine the athlete’s body for any weaknesses or deficiencies and plan corrective or strengthening exercises accordingly.
In the same way, when we’re being chastised by God, it’s like going to the gym and taking off our clothes (it’s a private gym, okay?) so that God, the Instructor, can help us develop the true from of Christ. Our routine might be general exercises to get into shape (spiritual fitness training) or, what seems to be the suggestion of this passage, specific exercises to strengthen weak joints (spiritual physical therapy).
God . . . is as it were putting you into that spiritual gymnasium. He has you stripped, He is examining you, He knows exactly what you need. Now all you have to do is to submit to Him and do exactly what He tells you. Listen to the Instructor, go through the exercises, and if you do so it will give you “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”p 255
Three last words of encouragement from Lloyd-Jones to those of us in the spiritual gym, to keep us going past the burn in our muscles and the sweat on our faces and the exhaustion begging us to stop:
- Remember that everything now is only preparation for eternity.
- Remember that without holiness we cannot see God (vs 14).
- Remember Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (vs 2).
Do you have a correct, biblical understanding of God’s chastening? How are you responding to your season in the valley? Are you applying His Word, doing the exercises He’s given you, and not giving up in His plan for your sanctification?