We can often misunderstand the chastisement of the Lord because of past wounds and unrighteous discipline we have experienced throughout life, but chastisement is necessary to bring us back onto the path of righteousness. Chastisement is different to trials and tribulations, which we also must go through as Christians. Trials and tribulations are an everyday part of our Christian walk (Matt 13:21). They are meant to test and prove us; for us to either overcome and go to the next level in our walk with God, or for us to fall and see the areas that we are not growing in so we press on even harder. Chastisement, on the other hand, is the discipline that the Lord brings upon us when we go off the path. In His mercy, God chastises us for us to turn back to Him.
Apostle Paul explains to the Hebrews, that God chastises those whom He loves:
“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.”
(Heb 12:5-8) [emphasis added]
Paul encourages us to persevere through the chastening of the Lord, and if we are not chastened, God does not consider us sons. We see the same attitude towards chastening throughout all Scripture. From Moses in the Old Testament:
“You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you. “Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.”
Also in Job: “Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.”
And right up to the time of Jesus’ second return in the Book of Revelation, Jesus to the church in Laodicea says:
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines chastening as
“to correct by punishment or suffering : discipline”. (1)
In Hebrew, chastening means “to make a change in direction through instruction or chastisement.” (2)
According to the Complete Word Study Dictionary, “wisdom presents the disciplined one as blessed, even though the process is painful.” (3)
Clearly, chastening is not just speaking of a gentle, whisper-in-our-ear correction; it is painful. The age-old analogy about correction and the child with the hot stove does not go astray here. If a child wants to touch the hot stove and their parent tells them no, but the child persists, wisdom will allow the child to touch the hot stove to receive a burn and therefore the child will learn for themselves an even greater lesson. Because of the pain they endure, the child will learn not to touch it again. Sometimes pain is the only way for us to learn to not seek that old path in our life.
The Early Church understood the necessity and benefit of God’s chastening. St Clement, a late first-century Early Church Father wrote the following:
“We must accept correction, dear friends. No one should resent it. Warnings we give each other are good and thoroughly beneficial. For they bind us to God’s will. This is what the holy Word says about it: “The Lord has disciplined me severely and has not given me up to death. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and punishes every son he accepts.” … Do not refuse the Almighty’s warning. For he inflicts pain and then makes us all well again. He smites, but his hands heal.” (4)
St Clement says here that God inflicts pain on us, but then He heals us. Notice how God is the One inflicting the pain, not Satan? It is God’s desire that none should perish (2 Pe 3:9), so He uses pain to turn us from our sins, because like with a child touching a hot stove, pain is a very effective way of correcting. Obviously, it is up to us if we heed the chastening and turn back to truth. God does not forever continue chastening us if we continue to rebel, there is a limit, as Origen, first-second century Early Church Father describes:
Herein, therefore, “God is jealous”: if he asks and desires that your soul cling to him, if he saves you from sin, if he reproves, if he chastises, if he is displeased, if he is angry and adopts, as it were, a certain jealousy towards you, recognize that there is hope of salvation for you. But if you do not recover your senses when you have been chastised, if you are not corrected when you have been reproved, if you despise when you are beaten, know that if you go on continually sinning his jealousy will depart from you and that which is said to Jerusalem by the prophet Ezechiel will be said to you: “Therefore my jealousy will depart from you and I will no longer be angry with you.” Behold the mercy and piety of the good God. When he wishes to be merciful he says that he is displeased and angry as he says through Jeremias: “You will be chastised, Jerusalem, with pain and a scourge, lest my soul depart from you.” If you understand these words it is the voice of God having compassion when he is angry, when he is jealous, when he brings pains and beatings. “For he scourges every son whom he receives.”Do you wish to hear, however, the terrible voice of God when he is displeased? Hear what he says through the prophet. When he had enumerated many abominable things which the people had committed he adds these words also: “And for this reason I will not visit your daughters when they fornicate nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery.” This is terrible! This is the end when we are no longer reproached for sins, when we offend and are no longer corrected. For then, when we have exceeded the measure of sinning “the jealous God” turns his jealousy away from us, as he said above, “For my jealousy will be removed from you and I will no longer be angry over you.” I have said these things about the statement, “God is jealous.” (5)
According to Origen, chastisement is God’s righteous jealousy and righteous anger for our souls, and there is still hope for our salvation if we are being chastised. God’s jealousy is not like our defiled jealousy and anger that leads to pain and rejection, death and destruction; His is righteous. However, if we do not heed the ‘message’ when we are disciplined by the Lord, and continue in our path of destruction, God’s righteous jealousy departs from us and we will ultimately be led to a place of a seared conscience (1 Ti 4:1-2). Origen says that when we are no longer corrected, it is the end of us, meaning we no longer have a hope for salvation.
In another place, Origen wrote:
“I choose that while I am in this world the Lord visit my sins and reform my transgressions here . . . For this reason, when we are reproached, when we are chastised by the Lord we ought not to be ungrateful. Let us understand that we are reproached in the present age that we may attain rest in the future, as also the Apostle says, “When, however, we are chastised by the Lord we are being reproached that we might not be condemned with this world.” It was for this reason that blessed Job also willingly accepted all his sufferings and said, “If we have received good things from the hand of the Lord, shall we not also endure evil things?” “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away, as it pleased the Lord so it is done.” (6)
Origen is saying that the chastisement of God in this present life is a requirement for us to enter the Kingdom of God and into eternal rest. However, he makes it clear that it is our choice whether we accept or reject the correction.
It is God’s mercy to bring chastisement upon us, through pain and suffering, when we are going astray. It is His mercy for us to feel the pain of persisting in our sin, so we desire to return to Him. God’s righteous jealousy and anger brings discipline and correction because of a care for our soul, but if we do not choose to receive the correction of the Lord, it will not continue un-ending, it will ultimately become an eternal separation from God. May we now see God’s chastisement in a different light than we previously did and be grateful for His multitude of mercy and love for us, even asking for the correction conducive to the salvation of our soul.
- “Chasten.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chasten. Accessed 1 Aug. 2021.
- Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible: ‘chasten’ (H3256)
- Complete Word Study Dictionary: ‘chasten’ (H3256)
- St Clement, The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Ch LVI [emphasis added]
- Origen, Exodus Homily VIII, Ch 5 [emphasis added]
- Origen, Exodus Homily VIII, Ch 6 [emphasis added]
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010.