Read This Week’s Passage: Hebrews 10:19–13:21

The Divine Covenant’s Disciplinary Protocol

Commentaries on the biblical covenants often skirt, or treat lightly, a major component of the divine covenant because it is so often misunderstood. They largely ignore the covenant blessings for faithfulness to the covenant (Lev. 26:1–13) and the curses for unfaithfulness (Lev. 26:14–45; see also Deut. 28:1–68).

It’s critical to understand that the curses for unfaithfulness to the covenant were not the threatenings of a power-hungry, angry God, but rather the warnings of a loving Parent provided to children prone to self-destructive ways. They describe on the one hand the natural consequences of life without divine protection that unfaithfulness forfeits, and on the other hand the promise of a carefully managed disciplinary protocol of divine interventions as may be needed to save them from utter self-destruction. This is how the discipline component was explained and understood in the Sinai covenant (Deut. 8:5).

The Greek word paideia is correctly translated “discipline” by most translations in five of its six New Testament uses, four of them in this lesson’s inScribe passage, Hebrews 12:5–11. Hebrews contains its own disciplinary warning passages, which must be understood in a covenantal context (2:1–4; 3:5, 6; 4:11–13; 6:4–8; 10:26–31; 12:25–29; other New Testament passages contain further warnings). This lesson examines the often ignored disciplinary component of the divine covenant.

The first New Testament occurrence of paideia, “discipline,” encourages fathers to “not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, NASB, emphasis supplied). This implies that if fathers “discipline” as God does, it will not “provoke . . . children to anger.”

The second and only other New Testament use of paideia outside of Hebrews 12:5–11 is 2 Tim. 3:16. This is a key text for understanding how God disciplines and for understanding the New Testament use of paideia in general: “All Scripture is . . . profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training [paideia] in righteousness” (NASB). In this text, the divine, covenantal disciplinary protocol is outlined: (1) it starts with “teaching” (through daily meditation on Scripture, godly mentors, and so on) concerning the right way, the safe and productive life path; (2) if this teaching is ignored or disregarded, “reproof” becomes necessary to gently but firmly guide the one who is loved back to safe paths; (3) if the reproof is ignored or disregarded, then “correction,” often painful and initially unwelcome, is provided as a more intense warning of even more severe trouble ahead, especially long term, if the present course of carelessness and disobedience is pursued; and finally, (4) assuming the previous, and appropriately needed, combination of steps in the disciplinary protocol were successful, the recipient has been or can now be “trained” (paideia), fully disciplined, to become “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17, NKJV).

Keep this four-step, divine disciplinary protocol in mind as we examine the beautiful, magnificent way it works in our lives as God’s covenant partners.