Hebrews 12: 5 - 11
Hosea 14: 8 - 9
Since Lord’s day, I have been very interested in this scripture in Hebrews, beloved, because it shows how God is bringing up a family; He has been doing that since the day of Pentecost. The largest part of the family is already with the Lord, but while we are here in this scene we need discipline. Every parent knows that in ruling a household discipline has got to be exercised. This chapter is very interesting and we have not to be afraid of its teaching, but we should learn how to conduct ourselves in the house of God; it describes the features that are proper to persons who belong to the household of God. It is more than citizens together - it relates to members of the household of God, which places a very wonderful dignity upon us. As you sit there and I stand here, let us consider the blessedness of being in God’s house. Fellow-citizens are the saints - I suppose that suggests where you belong to. You might ask someone, ‘Where do you come from?’ and they would say, ‘I come from Aberdeen, or Grangemouth’, or wherever it might be. Well, you come from heaven; you are a fellow citizen of the saints; that relates to the assembly. But then you are a member of the household of God which is a slightly more intimate thing. You know your way about the house and do not need directions - you know where to go and how to behave. But we know from our natural experience as parents how children ought to be brought up, and how they ought to be disciplined. Being so easily distracted by changing pleasures, they need discipline because, as we all do, children like their own way; and when they do not get it they may create a fuss, screaming or stamping their feet or something else that manifests the flesh. We have been through such things ourselves, but what is in mind here is the school of God to which we go, so as to be able to conduct ourselves appropriately and learn. We should know how to live in God’s house. What is in mind in the discipline is that it results in our being partakers of His holiness. It is the quality itself that is meant: if you follow the footnote; it is not exactly the characteristics that come out, it is the quality, it is the substantiality of the thing in a person. Members of the household of God, as grown up and able to move in the house in a way that reflects what is proper to it, show forth the features of Him who has called them into His marvellous light - that is a wonderful thing. And so the building goes on according to Ephesians 2: 21. Let us be encouraged, beloved, if things are not just going the way we think that they should, because God knows how things are going to work out, and He is directing things, it may be even in a providential way, so as to secure His ends. That is why we come under His hand in discipline and training in order that we may come into the enjoyment of God’s house in a real and full way.
So where I began reading it says, “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives. Ye endure for chastening, God conducts himself towards you as towards sons”. God never had any lower level in mind. We may accept a lower level at times, perhaps at many times, but that is not true of God. He conducts Himself towards you as towards a son, and you are a very special son in this family because you are a firstborn son, “the assembly of the firstborn who are registered in heaven”, v 23. Think of that: you are registered in heaven; you are in the divine register as firstborn. As firstborn, of course, you get the double portion. Think of the wealth that is yours, that belongs to you and has been conferred upon you! Hence the need for this chastening, this discipline and this education that comes through God’s ways with us. It may not exactly be some terrible thing that comes upon us; I think God uses the ordinary events of everyday life to bring in discipline, it may be providentially, but everything is under the hand of God. So let us be encouraged and submit ourselves to God and to what He is doing, and seek help in His presence as to why one thing is happening and another not happening, and thus we will grow in our knowledge of God. It goes on to say, “Moreover we have had the fathers of our flesh as chasteners, and we reverenced them; shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live?”. “Father of spirits” is in contrast to what is natural, our natural fathers. Think of the greatness of God! It is our spirits that are being formed - our bodies will be changed later when the Lord comes, but at the moment our spirits are being formed so that they become increasingly like the spirit of Christ. “For they indeed chastened for a few days, as seemed good to them”; that was just to keep children in order - your father would have done that, and it is right that it should be done. It is out of order or unseemly when children are rowdy, undisciplined and cannot behave properly. That kind of thing cannot be allowed in God’s house. If persons cannot behave themselves it is a manifestation of self-will and results from not getting the gain from, and not being concerned about, the discipline. He says, “But no chastening at the time seems to be matter of joy, but of grief” - well, we do not like it, we all know that - “but afterwards yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those exercised by it”.
Think of that, beloved; it is a matter of taking on change. Instead of being in inward upheaval you find peace in your soul, peace with God, peace with the brethren, “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those exercised by it”. I had in mind to say something about Arabia, but I do not know if the Lord in His wisdom would have me say it. I suppose it is the case in all our histories; Paul went to Arabia and was there for three years. Going there involves a change of circumstances; morally you do not know the language, you do not know the people and you feel you are just on your own, a stranger. It is in God’s ordering if that is your situation, because you find in yourself elements that want to link on with whatever the Arabians do, and that is the flesh working in you. It is like going through the exercises of Romans 7. You younger brethren, do you know about the deliverance that is spoken of in Romans 7? Do you realise that there is a law in your members that is warring against the law of God? You need to be delivered from that law because it is much more powerful than you are. You may have the light of things, and may have the light of the truth, but you do not have the power to walk in it. It can be a very prolonged and serious and most uncomfortable exercise and yet it is necessary to come to deliverance. Paul says, “who shall deliver me out of this body of death?”; then he says, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord”, Rom 7: 24-25. You begin to realise that Jesus has not only died for your sins, but He has died to deliver you from yourself. As you go through life you will find that what scripture calls the ‘old man’ or ‘the flesh’ is always popping up and wants to intrude itself and become central, but once you are delivered you have power to keep it in its place. You come to understand that whatever may happen, or whatever situation comes up, self always wants to be promoted and to take some glory, but that there is power in the Holy Spirit to put self out of sight so that it no longer has a place.
I referred to Ephraim in Hosea because, whilst he relates to Israel and Judah in their recovery in the day to come, I think that we find in him a person who has got the gain of the discipline: “Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?”. At one time God said of Ephraim, “Ephraim is joined to idols: leave him alone”, chap 4: 17. It is a solemn thing to be left alone. God says, ‘Well, if that is the way you want go, go - I will have nothing more to do with you, but I will meet up with you’. It says later on that “Ephraim is a cake not turned”, chap 7: 8. It is a very peculiar expression; one side looks all right, but the other is just a soggy mess: it is not cooked. Then it says, “grey hairs are here and there upon him, and he knoweth it not”, v 9. What does that mean? It means that life was beginning to ebb away from him. An old person of course, has grey hairs, but that is not exactly what it means here. It means rather that he is out of touch with the power of life in Christ. I hope there is nobody like that here. Grey hairs come upon you, you are less vital, and your locality is not what it used to be. All that was true of Ephraim and Israel, so much so that at the moment they have become apostate, but in this section they are recovered. God says in verse 2, “Take with you words, and turn to Jehovah; say unto him ...”. Beloved, how gracious God is: He puts words into their mouths and this is what they say, “Forgive all iniquity, and receive us graciously”. Think of God telling you what to say, to tell that you are repentant and are recovered and that the power of life is beginning to work. “Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? (I answer him, and I will observe him.)”. Think of that: He is looking to see how you are getting on. God is extremely interested in you, beloved, and He has conducted Himself towards you as towards a son, so as to be in Christ. Ephraim says, “I am like a green fir-tree”; there are no grey hairs now. There is a power and a vitality of life, and God says, “From me is thy fruit found”. So he is back in touch with God.
Beloved, I think these scriptures are wonderful. There is a great area of divine activity in operation amongst the saints: God is working by the Spirit, using providence, using circumstances, to further His own work. It is a wonderful thing, and as we are exercised about the discipline we reap the peaceful fruit of righteousness. May it be so for His Name’s sake.
24th December 2013