As a Father Disciplines his Son, Hebrews 12:5
Do you ever feel like you're being punished for no reason? Do you ever think that God is disciplining you, but you can't figure out what you've done wrong? Maybe you haven't done anything wrong and God loves you enough to work through painful circumstances to help you grow up. Let's look at the word "discipline."
A single word in one language rarely has an exact counterpart in another language, which is one reason translation can be so challenging. There is perhaps no other word that epitomizes this as much as παιδεία, generally translated “discipline.”
The author of Hebrews has been encouraging his people to persevere during this time of trial and persecution. In the first verse in the paragraph he writes, “And have you forgotten the word of encouragement that speaks to you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose heart when corrected by him.’”
“Discipline” in English in this type of context carries the connotation of being disciplined for having done something wrong, and therefore it carries the notion of punishment. The KJV uses “chastening.” At first glance, this may seem right in Hebrews. After all, the people were considering abandoning their faith in order to avoid persecution.
But “discipline” and παιδεία do not share the same range of meaning. Thankfully.
The standard Greek dictionary (BDAG) gives this full definition. “1. the act of providing guidance for responsible living, upbringing, training, instruction, in our lit. chiefly as it is attained by discipline, correction.” The second definition is, “2. the state of being brought up properly, training.”
παιδεία occurs six times in the New Testament. Four in our passage (12:5, 7, 8, 11), and in Eph 6:4 (“And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline [παιδείᾳ] and admonition of the Lord”) and 2 Tim 3:16 (“All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correcting, for training [παιδείαν] in righteousness”).
The overall historical context of the word’s use is apparently the proverbial wisdom of a Father raising up his son. For example, Prov 3:11 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline (παιδείας) or be weary of his reproof.” In other words, there is no necessary indication in the word that the child has done something wrong, morally or any other way.
Context would make it clear if the child had done something wrong and needed to be disciplined in the sense of “chastised.” The related verb παιδεύω can mean to teach in general. Paul was educated by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Moses was educated in the wisdom of Egypt (Acts 7:22). But criminals can be punished, as Pilate offered to do to Jesus in order to placate the Jewish leaders (Luke 23:22).
It is therefore important that the author of Hebrews makes it clear that the discipline was a sign that they were God’s legitimate children (Heb 12:7) and it was to their benefit, “so that we may share his holy character” (Heb 12:10).”
When difficult times come upon us, God is at work in the midst of the struggle and pain as any loving father would, not necessarily punishing his children but “disciplining” us so that we learn and grow. Yes, sometimes we need to be chastised. Other times we just need to be shaped and molded and directed. The presence of pain does not necessarily indicate the presence of sin. Certainly, the book of Job has removed that disgusting notion from the thinking of any responsible Christian.
Sometimes παιδεία is painful because we have done something wrong and our loving heavenly Father would not dream of allowing us to live in our sin. At other times παιδεία is painful because we need to learn and grow, but not because we have done anything wrong.
Please don’t read the negative part of “discipline” into παιδεία as if it is always there. Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn’t. But God is our loving Father who treats us as his true children and that means he cares enough to use the painful situations of life to change us.
And so he stands there watching, sorrowful for the pain in our lives, and yet loving us enough to walk with us through the pain. And in all that, we are confirmed to be his children.