GOD DISCIPLINES THOSE HE LOVES, EVEN US.
"I HAVE LOVED YOU WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE; I HAVE DRAWN YOU WITH UNFAILING KINDNESS." — JEREMIAH 31:3B
I’ll never forget when my three-year-old daughter yanked her little hand free of mine and dashed across the grocery store parking lot, even in spite of my cries for her to stop. Almost nothing is scarier than watching your precious girl’s curls bounce up and down as she darts in and out of parked cars.
Thank God she was fine.
Once I caught up with her, I felt relief course through my body. I pulled her close, choking back tears. I knew, because of my deep love for her, I had to immediately discipline her. Her little mind and heart had to be formed in that moment so that she would never run into that kind of danger again. Her toddler rebellion of fleeing the embrace and voice of protection had to be corrected for her good. My love for her compelled me to rebuke her, to guard her life in every future parking lot.
As a parent, I can see the connection between love and discipline.
But as a child, or when I’m on the receiving end of discipline, it doesn’t often feel like love. We tend to think about love and discipline as opposites of one another—you receive one or the other from someone, but not both. And especially in this cultural moment, we think love must only feel good. If it doesn’t feel good, we reason, it’s not love.
In the book of Jeremiah, though, we see the co-mingling of the two. Yes, God says to his people Israel, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3b), but he says this in the very midst of a painful rebuke. Israel has wandered away from her Father, and it’s because of his love for his people that he restores them back to him through discipline.
The Bible says, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6). It says God’s discipline is a sign that we are truly his sons and daughters (v. 8) and that his discipline is for our good (v. 10). We may view love and discipline as opposites, but God says discipline flows from love—that it’s for our good. Just as I rebuked my young daughter out of love and for her good, so the Lord corrects you and me out of his love and for our good.
Depending on how you were raised, the idea of discipline might bring with it trauma and fear. It’s true—human parents fall short, sin against their children, and some tragically mistreat their little ones. That’s not discipline, though. That’s abuse. And the Lord does not tolerate abuse (Matthew 18:6, 10; Ephesians 6:4). If you were mistreated, friend, know that the Lord sees you and he will deal justly with the one who harmed you (Romans 12:19). (For more on the difference between discipline and abuse, read this article by Jennifer Greenberg.)
While our earthly fathers may sin, our Father in heaven does not and cannot sin. He is merciful, kind, and perfect, and he disciplines his children that we might “share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). While discipline is unpleasant for sure, God carries it out because “it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Our God is after our good, our holiness, our righteousness, our peace! He loves us, and he wants the very best for us.
If you’re like most people, when you endure suffering or pain, you wonder, What did I do to deserve this?
It’s helpful in these instances to know there is a difference between the Lord’s punishment and his discipline. We know from God’s Word that our sin earns us death, but we also know that we who are in Christ Jesus have been given the free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). So while all of us deserve punishment, through Jesus we instead receive eternal life and his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). It’s the most wonderful and most scandalous exchange of all time: our sin for Jesus’s perfection. So then, the punishment that you and I have earned has already been paid. As Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). There is no condemnation for us who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). If you are a follower of Jesus, you can be sure that your punishment has been paid—but as a beloved child you will, at times, be disciplined by your Father.
Certainly not all suffering is discipline. Some suffering is simply the result of living in a fallen world. We experience pain for a number of reasons. But sometimes the pain is discipline—and you can know when that is. The Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God are all gifts given to you and me, that we might grow in holiness, righteousness, and peace. To identify sin in our lives, we can search the Bible, ask the Holy Spirit for conviction, and ask the believers around us to call us out when needed. Our sin, and therefore the Lord’s discipline, need not be a mystery.
I know I am like my young daughter more often than I like to admit.
I yank free of my Father’s protective embrace and run from him even when I hear his voice calling me back. I run toward gossip, slander, deceit, anger, impatience, and more. I dart between obstacles, headlong toward sin, thinking the counterfeit freedom will satisfy.
It’s precisely because God loves me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3b), precisely because he is good, that he chases after me and disciplines me. He rebukes my fleeing, forming my heart to be obedient, to be more like him. In his pursuit of me, though it can feel unpleasant at the time, he is after my holiness and ultimately my peace.
This month, through the words of the prophet Jeremiah, we remember that God’s love for us is everlasting, unfailing, and kind. And that love leads to his discipline, drawing us back to himself. God is for you and me. His discipline is for our good.
Thanks for reading,
Meet Jen Oshman
Jen Oshman has been in women's ministry for over two decades on three continents. She’s the author of Enough about Me and Cultural Counterfeits, she hosts a weekly podcast about cultural events and trends called All Things, and she is the mother of four daughters. Jen's family currently resides in Colorado, where they planted Redemption Parker. Find out more about Jen here.
ON THE PODCAST
Do You Believe You Have to Earn God's Love? // Natalie Abbott & Vera Schmitz
We’re so glad you’re joining Natalie Abbott and Vera Schmitz, sisters and co-founders of Dwell Differently, as they talk about Jeremiah 31:3b today. Listen in to hear their ideal podcast walk out song, what happens when we look to people for the love that only God can give, and the truly good news about how God’s love is different—and far better—than the love we experience anywhere else. What would your life look like today if you really believed that God’s love is everlasting and his kindness is unfailing? God’s love for you is even in the midst of your mess, and we pray that your understanding of his love for you would grow as we memorize the Bible together!