It's always fascinated me how people can look at the same events and circumstances and see totally different things. Two people can see the same event, and yet interpret it in two different ways.
The first time that this was really made clear to me was when, as a youth pastor, I left 7 teenagers at Kings Dominion. Let me give you a little back ground. In order for the teens to be able to go, they had to have a permission slip signed by their parents. The permission slip said something to the effect of, "The buses will leave Kings Dominion at 8:00 o'clock. Any teen not on the bus at that time will be left behind." And the parents had to sign it. Well, at 8:00 that night we took a head count, and 7 teens were missing, we knew exactly who they were. So I gave the order to roll the buses, and we left the teens and headed for home. It was a long ride back. When we got home, I began to call their parents to notify them that I had left their children at Kings Dominion. I called the church kid's parents first, thinking they'd be more understanding. The first parent chewed me out royally, the second did the same. When I reminded them of the permission slip that they had signed, they said, "We didn't think you meant that". So I proceeded to call the other parents, most of which were unsaved. As I began apologizing to the third parent, he stopped me and said, "It's about time!" I said, "Excuse me", he said, "It's about time that someone did what they said they'd do." He said, "I signed that slip, and if my kid wasn't back on time, he deserved to be left." I was surprised, but I agreed with him. Well, the next day it hit the fan. The first two parents that I called wanted me fired. They were mad as fire that I had left their "babies" two hours from home (both of the boys were 17 years old). Of course, it wasn't their kid's fault. That morning one of the Mothers called me. She was a single parent, and she said I want to thank you, my son went to Kings Dominion a boy, but he came back a man. Thanks for the valuable lesson you taught him. Two parents wanted me fired and two of them thought I was a hero, for doing the same exact thing. It was all a matter of their perspective. To some I was a sick individual who tried to hurt their babies, to others I was a man of integrity who taught their teens a valuable lesson. By the way, this opened the door for me to minister to one of these parents. And three of the teens called me to apologize, one called me at 3:00 O' clock in the morning when they got in from Kings Dominion.
The same event, and some loved me, and some hated me. What made the difference? Perspective! It was all in how they viewed the situation. I've told you many times that how we think affects how we act. Our perspective is very important. And no more so than when it comes to the subject of suffering. To many suffering is a sign of a cruel God who enjoys seeing people suffer, or the result of a God who is helpless to do anything to relieve his people's afflictions. But to the person of faith, suffering and affliction are seen as the hand and purpose of an Almighty and loving God. It's all a matter of perspective.
These Hebrew believers were losing heart in the midst of suffering and were tempted to abandon the Christian race, because of the affliction which they were enduring.
The problem which our author seeks to remedy in this passage is very clear. Undoubtedly, there was a wrong perspective that was greatly affecting these believers. They thought that the absence of affliction and suffering was a sign of God's special favor, and conversely the presence of affliction was evidence of His anger. When, actually, the exact opposite is true. Affliction is clear proof of God's fatherly love.
To correct their thinking, our author points them to two important facts. The first is found in:
Hebrews 12:4 (NKJV) You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.
Regardless of how severe their affliction has been, they needed to realize that they had not yet been called upon to give their lives. Despite all they had suffered, they were still alive. They had not suffered as much as those heroes in chapter 11, or anywhere near the suffering that our Lord went through.
His second point is found in verses 5-11. They had failed to remember and apply the teaching of the Old Testament in Proverbs 3 concerning affliction and suffering as being the discipline of a loving God.
So, our author wants to first of all focus their attention upon the relative lightness of their persecution. And secondly, to draw their attention to the teaching of the Old Testament concerning the nature and purpose of suffering.
Let's begin by looking at his first point in:
Hebrews 12:4 (NKJV) You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.
The athletic metaphor that was introduced in verse 1 is here continued, but the scene has shifted to the boxing ring. The word "striving" is from the Greek word antagonizomai, which means: "to fight agonizingly against". It speaks of a terrific fight. Sin is personified as an opponent to which these Christians had been fighting. The sin is the temptation to abandon Christianity because of the persecution. Even though they have incurred numerous cuts and bruises in their fight with sin, they have never the less not been knocked out:
Hebrews 10:33-34 (NKJV) partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.
They had suffered greatly, but as yet they had not been martyred. The words "not yet" show that there was a real danger that things could get much worse. That's not something that you want to hear when you're going through a trial.
There is something of an implicit rebuke in this statement. He seems somewhat surprised that these believers would give up the race so quickly because of persecution. It's as if he's saying, "Look people, you're still alive, unlike many of those mentioned in chapter 11:35-37 who died for their faith, and above that, remember the Lord Jesus."
Note the connection between verses 3 & 4:
Hebrews 12:3-4 (NKJV) For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.
Vs.3... - "Consider Him"... Vs.4 - Christ did, He gave His life for you.
Secondly and foremost in our authors mind was that apparently these believers had forgotten the teaching of the Old Testament concerning suffering. And this is his point in verses 5-10:
Hebrews 12:5 (NKJV) And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
The exhortation to which our author refers was uttered over a thousand years before their time, and yet he says that it was addressed to them. And notice that he does not say, "Which was spoken," but..."Which speaks to you"... - present tense. The Scriptures are a living Word in which God speaks to men in every generation. God, Himself, speaks directly to us through His Word- with what reverence should we approach Bible reading.
He says to them.. "You have forgotten"... - We are so prone to forget, and forgetfulness causes a lot of unnecessary problems and heartaches. We are warned about forgetting in:
Deuteronomy 6:12 (NKJV) "then beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
Psalms 106:13 (NKJV) They soon forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel,
2 Peter 1:12 (NKJV) For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth.
We need to constantly be reminded of the things that we already know, because we so quickly forget. Do you find this true in your life? I do. This is why when you see another believer struggling, you should encourage them with the Scriptures. Sure they may know that particular Scripture, but they may need to be reminded.
Our author wanted to remind them of the words of wisdom in Proverbs 3:11 & 12, so they would be able to view their troubles in the proper perspective.
Proverbs 3:11-12 (NKJV) My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; 12 For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.
The message of these verses is very clear. People, you have forgotten that whatever you suffer because of the gospel is a sign not of God's neglect of you, but a sign of His love for you. Do you think of suffering as a sign of love? Not usually. Listen to what Paul said about suffering:
Philippians 1:29 (NKJV) For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
..."It has been granted"... - is the Greek verb charizomai, which comes from charis,which means: "grace." So charizomai is grace. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says, "Charizomai primarily denotes to show favor or kindness as in Galatians 3:18; to give freely, bestow graciously." Paul says that suffering is a grace gift from God.
It is in the act of discipline that a father's love is made manifest to his children. He wants them to understand that the discipline that they are enduring is the mark not of a harsh and heartless father but rather of a loving father.
It is ridiculous for a believer to say, "Why, if I am God's child, does He allow me to suffer?" People, it is precisely because we are God's children that we suffer. It is not in spite of his fatherhood, but because of His fatherhood that He disciplines us and brings burdens to bear upon our lives. Thus, suffering is a ground for thanksgiving. This is what James teaches:
James 1:2 (NKJV) My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
The key word in Hebrews 12:5-11 is "chastening", used both as a noun and a verb. It comes from the Greek piadeia, which in turn comes from pias, which means: "child" and denotes the training of a child. The word is a broad term, signifying whatever parents and teachers do to train, correct, cultivate, and educate children in order to help them develop and mature as they ought. It is used 9 times in these 8 verses.
I think that when most of us think of chastening, we think of discipline as the result of sin, but this is not always the case. Many times the Lord brings trials and difficulties into our lives, not because we have sinned, but He wants to mature us - just as we would with our children.
Let's look at three purposes for chastisement:
EDUCATION: God's discipline educates us for better service and better living. Prosperity has a way of making us feel self-satisfied and independent, while problems often make us more aware of our need for the Lord. We see this in the story of Job:
Job 1:1 (NKJV) There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.
This was God's view of Job. Yet God allowed him to suffer greatly:
Job 1:14-19 (NKJV) and a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 "when the Sabeans raided them and took them away; indeed they have killed the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you!" 16 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; and I alone have escaped to tell you!" 17 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three bands, raided the camels and took them away, yes, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you!" 18 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, 19 "and suddenly a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; and I alone have escaped to tell you!"
Have you ever suffered anything that even comes close to this? Job went through this horrible suffering, and his response was worship:
Job 1:20-22 (NKJV) Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD." 22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.
Job 2:7-10 (NKJV) So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes. 9 Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!" 10 But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job's suffering was not because of sin. It was sent to educate him further in the ways and character of God. What Job learned through his trials was not the reason for them, but that God is supremely great and marvelous, and he was depraved:
Job 42:1-6 (NKJV) Then Job answered the LORD and said: 2 "I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. 3 You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4 Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, 'I will question you, and you shall answer Me.' 5 "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. 6 Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes."
Through his great and seemingly unending suffering, Job had been given a magnificent view of God and a clear view of himself. Sometimes God disciplines us to educate us.
PREVENTION: Sometimes God disciplines in order to prevent sin. Just as we put restrictions and limits on our children to protect them from harm, so does God with us.
If Paul was anything, he was self-disciplined. He was also genuinely humble, always careful to give the Lord credit for anything good that he did. Yet, the Scripture tells us that God disciplined him to keep him from sin:
2 Corinthians 12:1-7 (NKJV) It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago; whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows; such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man; whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows; 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. 6 For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
Paul was disciplined not because he was proud, but to keep him from becoming proud.
Our sicknesses, problems, set backs, sufferings may be God's way of keeping us from sin, or they may be just to educate us and mature us. But they could be as a result of our sin.
PUNITIVE: David was disciplined because of his sin with Bathsheba and the resulting murder of her husband. Through the prophet Nathan, God told David that because of his sin:
2 Samuel 12:10 (NKJV) 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.'
God had a purpose in the discipline, He wasn't just punishing David, but teaching him not to sin and helping him to grow and mature.
God disciplined believers at Corinth because of their sin:
1 Corinthians 11:27-30 (NKJV) Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
This is also very likely the case in:
James 5:13-16 (NKJV) Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
So, we must remember that chastisement of the Lord that manifests itself in suffering, affliction, and persecution is sometimes the result of sin, and sometimes is not, but it is always a result of love. So, let's be careful in our pronouncing a judgement concerning others. Let's not conclude when we see a fellow believer suffering that he is being taken to task because of his sins. Don't be one of Job's comforters.
"My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him" - two reactions are warned against here in regard to chastening.
..."Despise not"... is from the Greek word oligoreo, which is used only here, it signifies: "to have little esteem of, not to value any thing according to its worth and use." We are not to take God's discipline lightly, which we could do by complaining. Very often when something happens to us, we murmur and complain like the Israelites of old. Or we can despise it by carelessness, by accepting no message from it at all. You simply become a fatalist and say, "Well, I'm having trouble, everybody has trouble".
When chastening comes, we need to examine our lives to see if we're in sin:
Job 6:24 (NKJV) "Teach me, and I will hold my tongue; Cause me to understand wherein I have erred.
Job 10:2 (NKJV) I will say to God, 'Do not condemn me; Show me why You contend with me.
This is the attitude we should have whenever we come under discipline.
The writer of Hebrews tells his readers to not "be discouraged". Some people become so overcome by their problems that they give up. To grumble, complain, take lightly, or quit when we are burdened in this life is to act in ignorance of God's ways of ministering to His children.
Hebrews 12:6 (NKJV) For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives."
This verse is found in slightly different form in no less than five books of the Bible. We saw it in Proverbs 3:12, and our text in Hebrews, and it is also found in:
Job 5:17 (NKJV) "Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.
Psalms 94:12 (NKJV) Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O LORD, And teach out of Your law,
Revelation 3:19 (NKJV) "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.
God repeats it so often so we won't forget and lose the comfort of realizing that Divine Chastening proceeds from love.
Notice that He ..."scourges every son"... - We are not alone in the experience of suffering. If we realize that others suffer, also, we will not be prone to overestimate our trials.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV) No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Your suffering is not unique. Also realize that others have suffered greatly and emerged victorious. If God brought them through, He can bring you through, also.
The word "scourges" means: "to skin alive with a whip", indicating to us that God's discipline can sometimes be severe, but remember it's an act of love.
Hebrews 12:7 (NKJV) If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?
This literally reads, "If you hold up under discipline, God is treating you as sons". The adversities you encounter are blessings in disguise, for behind your difficulties stands a loving Father who is giving you what is best.
Hebrews 12:8 (NKJV) But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.
In light of verse 6, this must refer to an unsaved person:
Hebrews 12:6 (GWT) The Lord disciplines everyone he loves. He severely disciplines everyone he accepts as his child."
From this verse we could deduce that to not be disciplined is to not be loved, and to not be loved is to not be a child of God.
Romans 8:39 (NKJV) nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Greek word here translated "illegitimate" in Hebrews 12:8 is the Greek word nothos. Nothos is an illegitimate child and under Roman law they had no right of inheritance.
Verse 9 &10 draw the analogy with earthly child-training:
Hebrews 12:9 (NKJV) Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?
It is the disciplined child who respects his parents. Even while they are growing up, children instinctively know that a parent who disciplines fairly is a parent who loves and cares.
Proverbs 13:24 (NKJV) He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.
The point here is, we gave our earthly fathers respect when they disciplined us, how much more should we respect the discipline of our heavenly father?
He goes on to say, "...shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? To be subject to the Father who is the source of all life is indeed to live - we experience life in a vital and fruitful way.
Hebrews 12:10 (NKJV) For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.
Our earthly fathers may sometimes have been mistaken in their estimate of the discipline that we needed; our heavenly Father, in the perfection of His wisdom and love, can be relied upon never to impose any discipline on us that is not for our good. The supreme good that He has in view for His sons is that they should share His holiness, practically. Holy living is what is in view.
Affliction is necessary for holiness, C.S. Lewis put it this way in his book The Problem with Pain, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world"
Hebrews 12:11 (NKJV) Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Temporarily grievous, chastening leads to peace and righteousness. But we must respond to it, we must allow it to train us. The word "exercised" is gymnazo, literally it means: "to train, as for an athletic contest". In other words, chastening is a training process by which we get in shape spiritually. Its end result is the development of righteousness. To give up and break training because the way is hard is to lose our reward.
Believers, it is imperative that we keep the proper perspective on discipline, discipline is not a sign of God's disfavor, it is a sign of His love. Because He loves you, He disciplines you, He wants you to share His holiness.
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