Psalm 39 & Hebrews 12:7-11


This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on November 17, 2013.  To listen to the audio, just click on this link – ps 39.

Psalms(38-39-40) are connected together to create a picture of Confession – Discipline – and Restoration.  Psalm 38 is a psalm of confession that is left unresolved.  Psalm 39 is a psalm showing a man struggling under discipline, again unresolved.  Psalm 40 is a psalm of restoration and joy.

Developing a Theology of Discipline:  God forgives!  And yet, what we mean by that forgiveness is often confused.  God forgives freely and graciously accepts us as children (Jn.1:12).  God does not treat us as our sins deserve (Ps.103:10).  However, should we understand God’s forgiveness as a way of ignoring our sins?  God promises to “remember our sins no more” (Is.43:25, Heb.8:12), not to rehearse them or bring them to his memory to hold them against us.  Yet the scriptures also speak about God’s discipline as a loving Father – unwilling to pass over our sin without addressing our need for correction (which would be dysfunctional).

This morning we want to look mostly at psalm 39 which portrays the child (David) under discipline.  The Psalm describes for us David’s impatience under discipline, while at the same time affirming God’s patience with foolishness, – his constant love – and his mysterious timing.

We Can Be Impatient and Distrusting of God in the Face of Discipline.

Our Prayers and Thoughts are About Quick Relief:  The attitude in David’s confession of sin in Ps.38 should sound familiar to us because it is the attitude with which we often confess our sin… O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath… My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear… Come quickly to help me, O Lord my savior. (vs.1, 4, 22).  David wants his sin to be forgiven and he doesn’t want to face discipline.  He wants quick relief.

But quick relief is not what God wants for David.  Whatever sin David has committed is a serious matter and he is in need of discipline.  Psalm 39 portrays David under the discipline of God, struggling and impatient and still looking for the quick resolution.

Our Reaction to Discipline is Often Desperate:

  • He Tries to Make it Go AwayI said, ‘I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin: I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.  Whatever David has done has brought him into conflict with wicked, slanderous men (38:17-20).  He decides to muzzle himself (what you would do with a wild, biting animal) and keep his mouth shut (e.g. not to fight with them, but to be silent), in the hopes that things will calm down.
  • He Becomes  Angry at God –  vs.2-4 –But when I was silent and still not even saying anything good, my anguish increased and my heart grew hot within me.  As I meditated the fire burned…  David finds that his enemies continue to speak against him and  he starts smoldering towards his enemies – but as the Psalm goes on to show, his real anger is at God, who is not delivering him, but allowing him to continue to experience their slander.
  • He Questions the Meaning of Life – vs.5-6 – … then I spoke… Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days.  Let me know how fleeting is my life… man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:  he bustles about, but only in vain.  He heaps up his wealth not knowing who will get it.  This is the same David who has written so many praise psalms, but here he sounds more like the author of Ecclesiastes.  He characterizes God as the one who gives us a few days to scramble around trying to live in a meaningless, fallen world.
  • He Questions His Own Faith –  vs.7 – But now, Lord, what do I look for?  My hope is in you.  In essence, David says, What have I been hoping to gain by trusting you?  What should I have been hoping for?  His faith no longer seems to “work” – (his unspoken contract with God).
  • He Pleads Desperately for Relief –  vs.8-13 – There is a process of descent in David’s pleading – from hope – save me from all my transgressions…”  – to begging “Remove your scourge from me… Hear my prayer, O God…”  – and finally to despair, “Look away from me that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more.   As the Psalm ends, David is actually asking God to turn away from him and leave him in peace.

God is Patient and Committed to the Process of Discipline.

Endure Hardship as Discipline: Endure hardship as discipline;

We have all gone through times of hardship, due, in part, to our sin, and in part to the sin of others.  David’s sin was not the only reason he was suffering hardship, his enemies had used his sin as an occasion to attack him, (Ps.38:12, 16, 19-20).  But Hebrews 12:7 says something profound here – It does not say, endure hardship if you discover that God is disciplining you.  In fact, Hebrews does not answer the question which we want to ask – “How do we know when we are being disciplined?”   Rather we are called to interpret hardship as discipline/ training – to endure, stand up under, hardship and think of it as discipline – to  understand hardship in a new way.

Believe That God is Treating You as His Child:  God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

In the face of the experience of hardship, how can we possibly believe that God is treating us as children (sons)?   The  core of this understanding is the fact that Jesus became the punished one in our place – that the waywardness of our sin was placed on him at the cross.  This changes the way we tend to look at hardship – particularly when we are, in part, responsible for the difficulties we are going through.  We tend to think of suffering on some level, as rejection.  However, our hardships have been reframed in Jesus, and the author of Hebrews is calling us to believe…

  1.  that our difficulties have a purpose – regardless of why we are suffering them – which is training and discipline, and
  2.  that God is treating us as his children, because of Jesus, and that what he will bring about, out of our hardship, is towards the blessing of our soul.

Believe That God is Making You Holy:  …but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.   The purpose of discipline is, specifically to make us holy.  And yet, here again, we are called to believe what we cannot easily see.  The truth is that discipline rarely leads us to a clear specific action to take – although sometimes it does.  However, more often, discipline and hardship cause us to question and to examine the motivations of the heart.  We see attitudes in ourselves and the way our attitudes have played out in our actions and words.  The examination of our attitudes, words, actions, of situations that have arisen from them, become an experience from which we learn, often painful lessons, and out of which we live – thinking differently and making different choices.  This seems to be, most often, the process of discipline.

In this disciplinary process we see the wisdom of God.  Holiness and obedience are much more likely to be lived out of our experiences of discipline than out of mere knowledge.  I know that I should not promise things I cannot guarantee, but I am much more likely to restrain myself from easy promises once I have experienced the anger or disappointment of those to whom I broke my promise.


Receive God’s Gifts of Discipline.

Wait and Discern:  I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.  He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God…; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.  (Ps.40:1-3).

David tells us that he waited patiently – although, clearly, this does not mean without struggle.  Nevertheless, there are three rewards worth noting that come out of his experience of discipline.

  • Repentance – He is Brought Up Out of the Pit Pit:  First, David is delivered.  This does not just mean that his enemies are leaving him alone – the miry pit is a reference to the enslavement of sin.  David is saying that God has exposed the sin in his heart and given him the grace of repentance.
  • Wisdom – He is Given a Rock to Make his Footsteps Firm:  Second, David has been given, through discipline, new understanding and trust – a rock – which is producing new behavior – Firm Footsteps.  David has, in some way, been made holy, learning to live out of his experience of discipline.
  • Testimony – He has a New Song:  Thirdly, David celebrates this new grace in his life.  He has literally written a song about it – but we should recognize that there is real value in this kind of testimony – in rehearsing what God has done for us through discipline.

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