Psalm 71

In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of evil and cruel men. For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you. I have become like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long.

Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone. For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together. They say, “God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.” Be not far from me, O God; come quickly, O my God, to help me.

May my accusers perish in shame; may those who want to harm me be covered with scorn and disgrace. But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure.

I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone. Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.

Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you? Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again. I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.

My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I, whom you have redeemed. My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion.

Although there’s no Biblical precedent for such ideas, some believers expect that since they’ve come to the Lord, they should never experience difficulty again. Others assume that if a believer is going through turmoil, it must be because of some punishment the Lord is dishing out, and therefore he’s getting what he deserves.

As for the first, the operative verse is John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I don’t believe the Lord was speaking only to His disciples here, but through them to us. The world we live in is an evil place, under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19) No believer is automatically immune from accident or illness, injustice or persecution. What we are promised is that we can be healed from our infirmities (Isaiah 53:4-5), that Jesus is continuously interceding for us to help us through difficult times (Romans 8:34), and that if things get too bad He’ll show us the way out (1 Cor. 10:13).

For example, it would have been an easy thing for the Lord to have protected Paul from the beatings he took in almost every city he visited, and as we’re told in 2 Cor. 12 Paul repeatedly asked for just that. But the Lord knew that by supernaturally healing Paul after each beating, his testimony would be that much more powerful, and so He said, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9) and healed him each time he was injured. For Paul that settled the issue, and he was at peace with it.

And as for the second, we can’t be punished for past sins because if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor, 5:17) Concerning the present and future ones, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21) Having paid the price for all our sins, past, present and future, God now views us as being as righteous as He is. When we sin, we simply confess and He Who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) It’s as if we’ve never sinned.

But in quoting Proverbs 3:11-12 the writer of Hebrews said, the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. (Hebr. 12:6) Is this in conflict with the 2nd Corinthians passages? I believe Paul authored both letters, so if there is a conflict it either means Paul changed his mind or was talking about two different things.

Turns out it’s the latter. In 2nd Corinthians 5 Paul was addressing the security of our salvation. After you’re saved, there’s no sin you can commit that will disqualify you, because the cross permits God to see you now as you will be after He’s perfected you, as sinless as He is, no longer subject to punishment. In Hebrews 12 he’s talking about the Holy Spirit working to improve the quality of your life here on Earth.

The primary meaning of the Greek word translated discipline here is “to train”, and it’s from a root that means “child.” It refers to the education of children. The word translated punish also describes a father training his children, and while in the Bible it’s most often used to describe the brutal beating Jesus took at the hands of the Roman soldiers, there’s no Biblical basis for comparing that to the training of our children. More likely, the Holy Spirit chose the word to show us that this too was a case of a Father chastising His Son, intended to teach by example the kind of punishment we deserve for our sins against God.

In any case, the conclusion of the statement is found in verse 11. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebr. 12:11)

In both John’s gospel and the Letter to the Hebrews the Lord’s stated purpose is to bring peace to the believer’s heart. Jesus promised us the peace that comes from knowing that “this too shall pass,” and that we’ll emerge victoriously because our Lord has overcome the evil of this world. The Letter to the Hebrews shows that the training we receive at the hands of the Lord is also meant to bring us peace.

Between these two promises we’ve covered both the coincidental hardships we endure and the specific training the Lord provides, and the intended result in both cases is peace. If you’re going through a difficult time, pray for the peace that was promised you. If you know someone else who is, pray that they’ll find their peace. Above all, follow Paul’s advice to the Philippians. Be fearful of nothing, pray about everything, and be thankful for anything. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)