Bitter Thorns of Discipline

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, April 5, 2016 0 comments

by Bill Seng

“Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.” ~Judges 2:3

In the second chapter of Judges, the Israelites made a poor decision to disobey God. At the time it seemed like the best option. It seemed more convenient to make treaties with the people of the land and to allow them to continue worship their gods at the existing altars of those nations. What they considered to be mutually beneficial for themselves and the people they were to conquer, God saw to be a clear sign of disobedience. As a result, God decided to put them through a time of tribulation to teach them why it would have been better to fully obey his command although it sounded inconvenient.

How often we fail to fulfill our end of God’s promises to us? When things are difficult and we fear we might not have the strength to accomplish the work God has set before us, we call out to him that he might help us. Too often, when he hears our cries and responds in our favor, we immediately forget how God put his hand upon our work and we start to live life the way that seems most convenient to us, instead of upholding God’s high standards. This is a dreadful place to be, but the apostle Paul shows us a better way to endure God’s discipline. Before getting into that, let me make a clear distinction between the circumstances.

Israel’s discipline was brought on by disobedience; the apostle Paul’s discipline was brought upon him in the midst of a rigorously obedient lifestyle. Paul’s sole desire was to live life fully approved by God as a genuine minister of the Gospel. He was familiar with doing things that seemed inconvenient for the sake of obtaining a greater prize in heaven. Nonetheless, the intention of both Israel’s discipline and Paul’s was the same: to bring them closer to God through suffering. And how might either situation, Israel’s or Paul’s, bring the respective party closer in relationship to God?

After Paul pleaded with God three times to take away this thorn that was in his flesh, God responded in a manner that revealed the purpose of his suffering. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” As we wrapped up Judges chapter one last week, we read about how Israel was not as victorious in conquering the Promised Land. They failed to defeat certain foes, made treaties with certain enemies, and allowed their places for pagan worship to remain standing and operational. When they had trusted in God’s faithfulness, and they trampled the places of their enemies and no one was left standing in their path. It appears that they had forgotten why they had success under Joshua’s leadership. Instead of attributing it to God’s power, they attributed it to their own strengths and abilities. It was here that they began to stumble. When good situations go south, it becomes evident that it was only by God’s grace that we ever saw any sort of success.

Paul understood what God was telling him and revealed it following the instruction he received: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10). When we become too confident in our own abilities, God will put obstacles in our path to redirect our focus to him. Solomon wrote, “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12). In one manner or another we all display a degree of disobedience, in which case we ought to be proud of God’s power despite our weaknesses. When the odds seem the least in our favor is when God’s power is most fully and undeniably manifest. Under such hardships we cannot help but to give God the glory when we start to experience success and prosperity, because we know that nothing we could have done would have saved us from whatever ill consequences should have befallen us. In all things, let us remember the words of Hannah (mother of Samuel the prophet):

The Lord brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
 he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor
For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;
upon them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his saints,
but the wicked will be silenced in darkness.
It is not by strength that one prevails.
~1 Samuel 2:6-9

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