Hebrews 12:4—11

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:4)

The power of sin is universal because when you boil it down, sin—any sin—is in opposition to God and God’s will. Because the struggle against sin is universal, every believer anywhere in the world will struggle against it’s power. That struggle, however common, is not easy to bear.

This verse gives us a tiny glimpse into the lives of the recipients of this letter. The Greek word translated “struggle” carries on the picture of athletic games begun in verses 1–3,  but not a footrace in this case. Here the writer has in mind a boxing match, where the combatants are bloodied and bruised. We aren’t told what sin or sins these readers are struggling against. Some scholars believe they are struggling against the sin of apostasy; the temptation to surrender their faith for an easier life. Others see the everyday struggle against everyday sins. Whatever he had in mind, the author writes that as hard a time as they think they are having, their struggle was nothing like what those in chapter 11 faced!

Make no mistake about it: the struggle against sin is a form of suffering, especially if we take the view that these people were being tempted to give up their faith or were struggling with their faith. However, the Hebrews had fallen into the same trap we all fall into when we face any kind of suffering as it relates to our faith: Scripture enjoins suffering to Sonship.

1. A Biblical Philosophy, verses 5—11

And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons… (vs. 5a)

Whenever we encounter adverse circumstances in life, we tend to forget important portions of Scripture. These first century believers knew the Word in a way that puts modern believers to shame! They not only had access to the Old Testament, but as Hebrew Christians, they much of it memorized. Still, verses that should have given them comfort and encouragement were forgotten.

The word of encouragement, which is actually a quote from Proverbs 3:11, 12, was written to “sons.” In other words, what the author is about to write about is for God’s children only. The great temptation is to see problems and suffering as things that alienate us from God, but the following verses indicate the exact opposite is true: the hand of God can be seen in those times.

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (vs. 5b, 6)

This is a hard lesson to learn, but an essential one. Believers need to see and feel God’s presence in their difficulties. This was something Job seemed to understand:

Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (Job 2:10)

The word “discipline” comes from a Greek word that has reference to discipline, training and instruction. God practices what He has instructed earthly fathers to do:

He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24)

That, of course, goes against the last 50 years of pedagogy, which has eliminated the “rod” and produced a generation that knows very little of what loving discipline looks like. Of godly discipline, we are admonished “not to make light of it,” a phrase that means we should not neglect or avoid it. When we do that, we forfeit its benefits.

This notion of our heavenly Father disciplining us, His children, is not a new one. Jesus taught exactly the same thing using a vineyard metaphor in John 15. In this parable, Jesus is the true vine and God the Father is the gardener. The teaching of the parable simple:

He [God, the gardener] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:2)

Pruning, like discipline, may not seem like a fun activity, but when the Gardener has finished His pruning, the vine has been thinned out and only healthy branches left. But at the end of the next growing season, the gardener reaps an abundant harvest.

This is precisely what happened to Job. Job was plunged into crippling grief when God allowed Satan to take from him all that was precious to him. Job lost his children and all of his earthly possessions. Even his wife urged Job to just “curse God and die,” so miserable had he become. And yet, in the end, Job’s faith was victorious:

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. (Job 19:25)

And God would ultimately bless Job beyond his wildest imaginings:

After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. (Job 42:10)

Job had been pruned. It wasn’t pleasant for him. But because he maintained his integrity, his faith triumphed and he was blessed. It might have felt like it, but God never abandoned Job. When God allows us to go through times of trial and struggle, it’s not an expression of God’s displeasure but of His extreme favor. God doesn’t discipline strangers! God disciplines those He loves: His children. It’s better to be disciplined by God than pampered by the Devil.

These verses exhort the reader to take seriously God’s discipline and not to lose heart in the face of God’s rebuke.

Our response

Endure hardship as discipline; 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 children at all. (vs. 7, 8)

What a privilege it is to be treated by God as one of His children! The author asks a rhetorical question about being disciplined by our earthly father to hit home his point that God, our heavenly Father is intimately involved in our lives; in our development as Christians.

The real power of verse 7 is the emphatic position of the words in the Greek. “As discipline” is what the writer wants us to remember. Any struggle or suffering we may endure is NOT to be seen as misery, or an accident, but rather AS DISCIPLINE. In other words, when seemingly bad things happen to us, we need to understand that God IS using them to teach us important lessons.

The implication is that if a Christian never has any struggles, something is wrong. Too much prosperity and too easy a time in life could be a bad sign! This flies in the face of modern preaching which stresses “health, wealth, and prosperity.” Truth be told, God is interested in our souls and our character, not just in making sure we have a good time on earth.

The reverses and adversities of life are either SENT by God or ALLOWED by God because of their value as disciplinary tools. There is not a single believer who does NOT need discipline. Therefore, we need to be fearless in the face of adversity, embrace it, and learn something from it.

2. A parental philosophy, 12:9—11

Discipline is an essential part of good parenting; everybody recognizes this except for college professors and social workers. An undisciplined child grows up into a troubled adult, morally and ethically unstable. But if our parents practised good discipline, then we reap the rewards as adults. Now, while we were young we certainly didn’t see any value in our parent’s discipline. We probably viewed them as overbearing or old fuddy duddies. But, as the old saying goes, the older we got the wiser our parents became. As Christians, a mark of maturity is how we view God’s discipline: do we shrink from God in the face of it? Or do we submit to God?

Moreover, we have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!

Verse 10 moves from comparison to contrast:

Our parents disciplines us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.

The idea here is two-fold. Our earthly parents discipline us while we are children. Eventually, though, we grow into adults, move away from home and beyond their discipline. But God never stops disciplining us; He is never finished with us. God works in us for a lifetime.

We all make mistakes, even our parents. But God never makes a mistake. He always disciplines us for our good. He never goes “over the top” or “comes up short” in discipline. The precise purpose of God’s discipline is finally spelled out: so that we may share in God’s holiness. What does that mean? We will never be able to share God’s natural attributes because we are only human, and He is divine. However, through His work in us, we may be like Him in holiness. Holiness is a moral quality only possible through grace on the basis of fellowship with God.

3. A wonderful result, 12:11

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.

God wants us to develop a character of holiness, and He uses discipline as a to achieve that aim. However, the aim of that tool is not always obvious to us. And sometimes it’s hard to see any good coming from our struggles. Whenever discipline pops up and smacks us on the head, it causes pain. We don’t jump up and down in joy and happiness when the hard times come. In fact, most of time we can’t see any rhyme or reason at all! We don’t look forward to God’s correction. Discipline comes in many forms: suspension of privileges, loss of freedom, loss of loved ones, serious illness or injury, unemployment, or persecution. When those things enter our lives, our initial reaction is not usually one of joy. But James gives us this piece of advice:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers,whenever you face trials of many kinds. (James 1:2)

The message of Hebrews is the same. The suffering we encounter may be painful, but it will end, and after it has ended, we will see real results: we will reap a harvest of righteousness and peace. In other words, our reward for keeping the faith will be a right, stronger relationship with God and we will be at peace with ourselves.

Here’s the rub: the only Christians who receive these blessings are “those who have been trained [by discipline].” Those who find ways to avoid God’s discipline will never be blessed with righteousness and peace. It is only those who willingly submit to God’s will in their lives who will be so blessed.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd


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