Have you ever seen a child run away from his parent’s discipline? When I was a little kid growing up in the 1970s, just about everyone employed the old fashioned whoopin’. Kids could expect the belt, a paddle or a switch to lay some corrective exclamations upon their backside when an offense was bad enough. I remember when teachers in public schools would gladly apply the “board of education to the seat of learning,” and I received my share of paddlings in the hallway. And yikes, belligerent kids straightened up in their seats when the pops echoed up and down the halls.
In those days, I remember kids who would run away from their parents when it came time to receive such discipline. One boy in particular, a kid that lived across the street from me, used to flee the belt and run away. He’d come flying out of his house with his mother or father in close pursuit. I always wondered what that kid was thinking. He was either going to be caught and the spanking would be much worse, or he’d not be able to come home to a place to live. I remember how foolish it was to think I could run away from my parents like that boy did. That’s the thinking of a seven year old kid.
Yet some grown-up Christians who ought to know better do the same thing. They run from God’s discipline like children.
Lessons from Jonah
In our church, we have been enjoying a very convicting sermon series from the book of Jonah. Besides the grand themes of salvation, the foreshadowing of Christ, and God’s work in redemptive history, the short book of Jonah teaches us much about living a life in Christ that is pleasing to God.
If you haven’t visited this minor prophet lately, recall that Jonah belonged to that honored position of one who speaks for God. He had prophesied in the King’s court (2 Kings 14:25), he knew God well. Later in his life, God gave Jonah a simple task: go preach against the evils of Ninevah. Jonah didn’t want to, he rebelled and ran away on a ship to thwart God’s plans. Jonah’s rebellion points to signs of a spiritual neglect, because men simply don’t wake up one day and rebel in such a spectacular fashion. So Jonah fled on a boat. But God pursued. Jonah disobeyed, God chased him down.
Jonah was jolted out of his spiritual slumber and confessed his guilt, and as a result, the sailors tossed him overboard and gave him up for dead. God appointed a fish, one of the more famous of the Old Testament miracles, to swallow Jonah. And for three days and nights, while under the rod of reproof, God’s work in Jonah’s heart wrought an amazing change. That’s the summary of the story that brings us to the point of this article. God wrought change in Jonah through the rod of discipline.
The nature of that change was that Jonah came to understand a little more clearly what God’s mercy and grace really meant. His refusal to go to Ninevah to evangelize the wicked city showed that Jonah had little comprehension of the Ninevite’s lost condition, nor did he have an ounce of compassion or sympathy for the perishing people of that Gentile city. At first, he was hardened in heart and not very useful in God’s hands. But now, broken, humbled and contrite, this man Jonah understands the immense and abounding mercy and grace of God, because he has now experienced it first hand. He has now seen God spare a sinner of due justice, because – like King David learned from his dear friend Nathan– he was the evil man. Like Job said in the last chapter of the book bearing his name, when God touched His life in so immense a way, he declared:
“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.” (Job 42:5)
Jonah now has experienced much mercy and much grace. He has firsthand knowledge of Paul’s words in Romans 5:20 that “where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.” Ultimately, God’s discipline wrought good fruit that brought many to repentance.
So a very important lesson for our day is found in this story of Jonah. This is a lesson we would do well to learn, to treasure and to re-learn very frequently.
It is this:
The pursuit of wayward saints by the faithful Father, and the breaking of sinners by the corrective hand of God, is an immeasurably good grace that God gives to His precious children.
I so desperately long for God’s people to believe this truth. Embracing this truth quickly and earnestly would spare our families and our churches from much of the agony and destruction caused by sin.
In our Christian lives, God’s discipline most frequently comes very lightly; we do not usually have to suffer the jolting trauma of being sent through severe chastisement like Jonah did. If we are humble Christians with hearts inclined toward the Lord, and if we have not drifted from our Lord like Jonah, then God’s discipline can be as simple as a trusted friend or fellow believer confronting us about our sin. (Proverbs 27:6)
Our reaction to that confrontation tells much about the state of our heart. Do you welcome your brother when he confronts you? Do you see the calling out of sin as God’s grace manifest to you? Do you view confrontation as a sign of the Father’s love for you? The one who sees his brother in this good light is going to profit greatly.
But, if confrontation about your sin makes you angry, resentful, or bitter toward the one who confronts, you are on dangerous ground. If you see your confronter as an adversary or a foe, your perspective is warped. The believer who is close to God and not spiritually adrift sees the faithful confrontation from a friend as God’s tool for good. He does not flee discipline, he doesn’t hide behind others, he doesn’t attack his brethren.
Fruit of Discipline
Jonah came to see it so. He was blinded at first, but by the scourging and chastisement in the fish, he came to see the abounding grace of God through discipline. And it was that grace that made Jonah fit to go to Ninevah.
Dear friends, when you discover yourself confronted by someone who loves you enough to risk it all to come to you, do not turn them away. Do not call them enemies. Do not pretend like they are trying to tear you down. Do not act like they are your adversaries. Recognize the calling out of sin for what it is – it is not an indictment but a gracious plea from our patient God for you to repent and experience cleansing. It’s an act of faithful loving kindness from your Father who shepherds you when a brother or sister comes with a sin to you. It is not the time to get upset at the messenger. It is not the time to refuse to own your sin and hide behind excuses. It is not the time to reject the message or turn on your faithful friend, or you may as well go find a ship heading for Tarshish and wait for the storm of severe chastening.
If you run away from the gentle rebukes of a friend sent by God, you will eventually get caught. God is not resisted forever. Like the child who runs away from a spanking, the fleeing Christian will eventually encounter a “tempestuous storm” (Jonah 1:4)
Instead, when someone makes themselves vulnerable, when someone is loving and caring enough to confront you in your sin, realize they are taking a great risk. They are doing extremely difficult things. They are acting in deep love. They have likely already shed many tears and spent many grieving, excruciating hours in prayer. You must realize that God is moving in His church to function according to His design, and your brother or sister who loves you enough to come to you about sin is honoring Jesus Christ when they confront you in your sin.
We must receive them as if they were bearing a message from God Himself, because they just might be doing that very thing.
You know Hebrews 12:6: “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is true, and it is grace and mercy abounding to you, child. If Jonah, David, Joseph, Paul, Peter, and you and I were not loved of God, then we would be left to our own way. We would go undisciplined in our sin, we would be left untouched by Almighty God, and that is the scariest place I can think.
Let us learn this lesson very well and let us live by it. Receive your brother, listen to those who wish to confront you in sin, and praise God for loving you enough to do so.