Why God Disciplines
People tend to avoid topics that make us feel uncomfortable. Even if those topics are true. I have noticed this pattern in the church as well. God’s word consistently expresses the news that God is just. Evil will not go unpunished. And the Lord disciplines those he loves.
Even though we know that God loves us, talking about his discipline and justice can be awkward. When have you seen a group of preschoolers talking about the benefits and divine purpose of time-out?
But if we will be disciplined in this life, and if God does use justice for good purposes in this world, then we would be wise to learn what those purposes are!
Zephaniah is going to be dead-honest about coming disasters for people who rejected God’s grace. And as he unfolds the future for those nations, he uncovers for us the mysteries of God’s purpose in discipline.
Here are four reasons why God disciplines.
Restore what is Just
Restore what is Just
“A story which Christian apologists have told for years involves the French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778). The story purports that Voltaire, in his voluminous writings against Christianity and the Bible, predicted in 1776, “One hundred years from my day, there will not be a Bible on earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity-seeker.” As the story alleges, within fifty years after his death, in an ironic twist of Providence, the very house in which he once lived and wrote was used by the Evangelical Society of Geneva as a storehouse for Bibles and Gospel tracts and the printing presses he used to print his irreverent works was used to print Bibles.” - Crossexamined.org
Voltaire through baseless arguments and taunting sought to discredit the people of God. Ironically, God used his home as a base for gospel ministry.
God will defend his own. He will restore what is just. And that is exactly what happens at the beginning of the passage.
4 For Gaza will be abandoned,
and Ashkelon will become a ruin.
Ashdod will be driven out at noon,
and Ekron will be uprooted.
5 Woe, inhabitants of the seacoast,
nation of the Cherethites!,
The word of the Lord is against you,
Canaan, land of the Philistines:
I will destroy you until there is no one left.
6 The seacoast will become pasturelands
with caves for shepherds and pens for sheep.
Through dramatic description God explains that the neighbors of the people are God were going to be completely destroyed. So wiped out that their land was going to become unrecognizable. Land and houses that once belonged to kings and the wealthy were going to become the possession of another. Why?
7 The coastland will belong
to the remnant of the house of Judah;
they will find pasture there.
They will lie down in the evening
among the houses of Ashkelon,
for the Lord their God will return to them
and restore their fortunes.
8 I have heard the taunting of Moab
and the insults of the Ammonites,
who have taunted my people
and threatened their territory.
God will not allow for those who are genuinely following him to be mistreated forever. He will come to their defense.
The foreign countries were proud towards God’s people. They bullied them. They looked down on them. So God was going to turn their pride upside down. He was going to give the land to those who followed God with faithfulness- the remnant.
No matter how corrupt society becomes God always keeps and protects a “remnant”. A group of people who are good despite the evil that surrounds them. Noah’s family survived the great flood. David outlasted Saul’s house. Daniel endured exile.
If you will trust and love God, you can be a part of his “remnant” no matter how bad things become around you.
Are your friends full of despair and hopelessness? Through God’s power you can have hope.
Is your school full of evil prompted by selfishness and pride? Through God’s spirit you can be selfless and humble.
Some of you are already living a counter-culture life of Christianity. I want you to know that no matter how badly you are treated. In the end, God will restore all things for your good.
God also disciplines to…
Starve what is Evil
Starve what is Evil
One understated benefits of discipline is that it shows us what we are missing. This in-turn gives us a desire to change so that we too might experience the freedom that comes when we do what is right.
I experienced this as a child in time-out during playground time. The desire to share in the smiles and laughter of my friends was more motivating than any frown from my teachers.
Through discipline, God shows the rebellious that they are missing out.
In her awarding winning work, “Confronting Christianity” Rebecca Mclaughlin outlines some of the most basic blessing of belonging to faith, “Research suggests that those who regularly attend services are more optimistic, have lower rates of depression, are less likely to commit suicide, have a greater purpose in life, are less likely to divorce, and are more self-controlled.”
Through joy and goodness, evil becomes weak and unappealing. This is God’s end-goal even when he is declaring justice. Check it out...
9 Therefore, as I live—this is the declaration of the Lord of Armies,
the God of Israel—
Moab will be like Sodom
and the Ammonites like Gomorrah:
a place overgrown with weeds,
a salt pit, and a perpetual wasteland.
The remnant of my people will plunder them;
the remainder of my nation will dispossess them.
10 This is what they get for their pride,
because they have taunted and acted arrogantly
against the people of the Lord of Armies.
11 The Lord will be terrifying to them
when he starves all the gods of the earth.
Then all the distant coasts and islands of the nations
will bow in worship to him,
each in its own place.
God is honest with the people that following false gods of their own creations will lead to ruin, waste, and decay. Out of love, God wants to deliver people from these horrible results. That is why he says that he will “starve the gods”.
In ancient cultures, and modern day, people would offer food offerings to idols. But ultimately what strengthens the power of false gods is not the food on plates, but the devotion of hearts.
Pain in your friend group is fed by gossip and jealousy.
Destruction of unity is fed by selfish leaders.
Human trafficking is fed by pornography use.
Corrupt wealth is fed by drug and alcohol abuse.
What feeds the modern false gods? The devotion of human hearts.
By re-establishing the hearts enjoyment of God’s love, God starves what is evil in this world.
Let’s be a people who starve what is evil through enjoying what is good! What if local drug dealers have to get honorable work, because our love for God is more appealing than any offer of high? What if local parties are poorly attended, because we prefer the unity of our Christian community? What if racial tension falls apart, because we are a people who stick together as family because we have the same heavenly father?
Are you becoming uncomfortable with some of your old patterns? Do escapes of the past not bring the same joy? Those internal feelings may be signs that God is starving what is broken to fill you up with what is satisfying.
The next reason God disciplines is to…
Humble what is Proud
Humble what is Proud
One of the most shivering stories about the proud being humbled is the poem, Ozymandias by Percy Shelley,
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
If we find security in our own power and strength, stumbling is nearer than we expect. Pride comes before the fall.
If you act as though you are the only one who matters, you will soon discover that nothing you do matter.s
12 You Cushites will also be slain by my sword.
13 He will also stretch out his hand against the north
and destroy Assyria;
he will make Nineveh a desolate ruin,
dry as the desert.
14 Herds will lie down in the middle of it,
every kind of wild animal.
Both eagle owls and herons
will roost in the capitals of its pillars.
Their calls will sound from the window,
but devastation will be on the threshold,
for he will expose the cedar work.
15 This is the jubilant city
that lives in security,
that says to herself:
I exist, and there is no one else.
What a desolation she has become,
a place for wild animals to lie down!
Everyone who passes by her
scoffs and shakes his fist.
This passage is honest that those who are proud towards God can have temporary success and happiness. In fact, these people thought they were the only one’s who mattered. But over time, all that mattered to them became meaningless. Their city that they were so proud of became the home to wild animals and birds.
Being young uniquely opens up your life to the temptation of pride. The temptation of thinking that you are all that matters.
When you are young, you are able to appear successful based upon someone else's wealth and hard work.
When you are young, parents are more likely to shift their schedules to support your needs.
When you are young, you are only expected by society to be responsible for yourself.
And don’t get me started on social media.
These realities don’t necessitate pride, but they do encourage pride.
Here is a simple solution, adopt the opposite perspective of this people group. Think to yourself- there is a God and there are others to love. I need help from both God and others. And I have help to give to others!
CS Lewis once wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.”
God disciplines us to teach us humility. And finally, God disciplines us to...
Convict what is Callous
Convict what is Callous
So far in this passage, God has addressed countries that do not worship him. He warns those in the west not to taunt his people. He tells those in the east and south that their evil ways will be starved. He promises to humble those in the north. Every direction of the compass is covered, but there is still one more group that he plans to discipline, his own people.
3 Woe to the city that is rebellious, and defiled,
the oppressive city!
Judah thought that they were just passive victims, but there were oppressive villains in the group.
2 She has not obeyed;
she has not accepted discipline.
She has not trusted in the Lord;
she has not drawn near to her God.
Often God’s people are proud of the good that we do. We go to church. We read our bibles. We care for the poor and sick. We pray.
However, Judah was guilty for what they didn’t do. God was available, but they weren’t interested. God was seeking them but they were callous. And God holds the leaders accountable.
3 The princes within her are roaring lions;
her judges are wolves of the night,
which leave nothing for the morning.
4 Her prophets are reckless—
Her priests profane the sanctuary;
they do violence to instruction.
5 The righteous Lord is in her;
he does no wrong.
He applies his justice morning by morning;
he does not fail at dawn,
yet the one who does wrong knows no shame.
Even though God did nothing wrong to them, they rejected God and did not care for his people. People who were entrusted with protecting were dangerous. Those who were supposed to give justice were greedy with selfishness. Even profits and priests were reckless and profane.
This was the result…
6 I have cut off nations;
their corner towers are destroyed.
I have laid waste their streets,
with no one to pass through.
Their cities lie devastated,
without a person, without an inhabitant.
7 I said: You will certainly fear me
and accept correction.
Then her dwelling place
would not be cut off
based on all that I had allocated to her.
However, they became more corrupt
in all their actions.
8 Therefore, wait for me—
this is the Lord’s declaration—
until the day I rise up for plunder.
For my decision is to gather nations,
to assemble kingdoms,
in order to pour out my indignation on them,
all my burning anger;
for the whole earth will be consumed
by the fire of my jealousy.
What could have stopped this terrifying end? Humbly accepting correction.
The nation of Judah had the advantage of God’s patience. They saw what happens to people who constantly reject God’s goodness all around them. Instead of making them humble to change, it made them callous and careless. All of this could have been avoided if they accepted discipline.
In college, I was entrusted with a teaching opportunity that would give me a degree of spiritual authority over my peers. During that season, I had a sin that was easily entangling me and making me blind to my own pride. One of my closest friends confronted me about my sin and asked me to temporarily step down from teaching. Though I had to humble myself to step down, I felt called to follow. Accepting that discipline was one of the wisest things I could have done. A few years later, that same office trusted me enough to hire me full time.
Here are two ways for you to live out this week’s passage:
Surround yourself with people who love you enough to be honest with you.
Humbly accept the discipline of God, knowing that it is the quickest path to freedom and restoration.