Pastor David B. Curtis

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A Biblical Perspective on Suffering

Hebrews 12:5-11

Delivered 10/28/2007

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 background. 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 boys were 17 years old). Of course it wasn't their kid's fault. That morning one of the mothers, who was a single parent, called me, 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 man of integrity, 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 he got in from Kings Dominion.

In another interesting church event, a homeless man came into the church looking for a place to stay. When I offered to take him to the Union Mission, he told me he could not go there because he needed a private room. I told him if he wanted our help, he would have to go to the Mission. He responded by saying, "I thought you Christians were supposed to be loving." I said, "We are, but we're not suckers." Up to this point he was very quiet and stared at the floor, but now he looked right at me, eyes on fire and began to curse me out as he banged his finger on my chest. He then stormed out of my office and into the auditorium where the choir was practicing--the whole time yelling obscenities. I didn't know what he was capable of so I went after him, I grabbed him in a cross-face and put him on the ground where I held him until the police arrived.

That night and for several days following, I had several folks thank me for taking care of the problem, and several others question how I could treat this man so badly.

The same event in both cases, 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 effects how we act. Our perspective is very important, and no more so than when it comes to the subject of pain and 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.

Rabbi Kushner, in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, says, "God wants the righteous to live peaceful, happy lives, but sometimes even He can't bring that about. It is too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming their innocent victims." Kushner goes on to say, "If God is both powerful and good, why is there so much suffering, so much pain, so much heartache in the world? God is either good and not all powerful, or He is powerful and not all good. You can't have it both ways."

It seems that the majority of the church has bought into this lie. I think, in an attempt to shield God from accusations that he is not loving, we make Him impotent in the face of suffering. We think it is better to comfort the afflicted with the idea that God is full of sympathy, wishing the suffering would just go away, but unable to make it happen. Pain and suffering can often cause believers to question the goodness of God. Have you ever asked the question, "If God loves me, why am I suffering?" This is especially true in our day because of the prosperity Gospel.

I think if I asked you what you thought about the health/wealth prosperity Gospel, you would all say that it is WRONG! But I would dare say that you all have bought into it more than you know. We may think that it is wrong as a doctrine, but we like the idea. We like the idea of an easy pain-free life. I would even go so far as to say that when we experience great pain, we tend to think that God has forsaken us. Subconsciously, if not out right, we have bought into the teaching of Zig Ziglar. He is a success/motivation speaker who is widely read and accepted by many Christians and pastors, He says this, "As you accept yourself, you will see yourself as a person who truly deserves the good things in life." I would dare say that most believers believe that; they think they deserve the good things in life. Most believers think they deserve certain things from God. The word "deserve" means: "to be worthy." I think that most of the church believes that they are worthy of God's grace and goodness. We think that God owes us.

In a Time poll, a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous. Thanks to Osteen's 4 million­selling book, Your Best Life Now, this belief has swept beyond its Pentecostal base into more buttoned-down evangelical churches.

As Christians, we are blessed. Because of your faith in Christ, you know that your sins are forgiven. Your trust in the death of Jesus Christ for your sins gives you the assurance that you will go to heaven when your days here are over. But have you noticed that you are not blessed with having to never go through the same pain and difficulties that unbelievers face? Christians still have bad marriages. Have you ever gone through financial difficulties? Have you ever lost a job? Christians still experience physical suffering. Christians get sick and have accidents just like everyone else. Becoming a Christian does not mean that you will never lose your job. Becoming a Christian does not make you immune to cancer or tornadoes or financial failure.

We need to understand this truth: The pain and suffering of life are inevitable even for believers in Christ, because there are people who would have you believe that there is something wrong with you if you are a Christian who is experiencing great pain. They claim that poor health and poverty and every other pain of life occurs because you don't have enough faith. The fact is, everyone will experience pain, it doesn't matter who you are.

Nearly two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The art of life is the avoiding of pain." When we first hear that statement, it appears to be true. None of us deliberately looks for pain as we go about our daily life; all of us do our best to avoid pain, but pain is an important part of our spiritual development.

In our experience of life, there are many times when we have chosen not to avoid the pain. For an example, look at the matter of child birth; certainly there have been great advancements in medicine to protect the mother, but there is still a certain amount of pain in child birth. Every woman knows that child birth will be painful, yet women still get pregnant.

Think of the pain and sorrow that a mother and father experience as they seek to raise their child. Someone has said that when children are little, they step on your feet; but when they are older, they step on your heart! I have met many dedicated Christian parents whose hearts have been broken because of a wayward child who failed to heed their instruction and example. If everybody really lived to avoid pain, nobody would get married and raise a family; yet people do it all the time.

But to the person familiar with the Scriptures as a whole and not just isolated verses, suffering and affliction are seen as the hand and purpose of an almighty and loving God. It's all a matter of perspective.

In our text for this morning, the Hebrew believers were losing heart in the midst of suffering and were tempted to abandon the Christian race because of the affliction that 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 effecting 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 the Scripture. In verses 5-11 of Hebrews chapter 12, the author tells them that they had failed to remember and apply the teaching of the Scriptures in Proverbs 3 concerning affliction and suffering as being the discipline of a loving God.

Foremost in our authors mind was that apparently these believers had forgotten the teaching of the Scriptures concerning suffering. And this is his point in verses 5-10:

and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; (Hebrews 12:5 NASB)

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 addressed," but "which is addressed 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 diligence 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:

then watch yourself, lest you forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:12 NASB)
They quickly forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel, (Psalms 106:13 NASB)
Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. (2 Peter 1:12 NASB)

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 of it.

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:

My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD, Or loathe His reproof, 12 For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father, the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:11-12 NASB)

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:

For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, (Philippians 1:29 NASB)

"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. Does that fit your theology? If not, you are out of sync with the Scriptures.

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:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, (James 1:2 NASB)

Back to our text:

and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; (Hebrews 12:5 NASB)

The key word in Hebrews 12:5-11 is "discipline"; 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 discipline, we think of it as the result of sin, but this is not always the case. Many times the Lord brings suffering and difficulties into our lives not because we have sinned, but to mature us; just as we would with our children.

Let's look at three purposes for discipline:

1. 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 God's warning to the Israelites:

"Beware lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them,13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 8:11-14 NASB)

God warned them that prosperity could make them feel independent, and it did.

We also see that discipline is for education in the story of Job:

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil. (Job 1:1 NASB)

This was God's view of Job. Yet God allowed him to suffer greatly:

that a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and took them. They also slew 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 and made a raid on the camels and took them and slew 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 your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, 19 and behold, 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 died; and I alone have escaped to tell you." (Job 1:14-19 NASB)

Have you ever suffered anything that even comes close to this? Job went through this horrible suffering, and his response was worship:

Then Job arose and 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 I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." 22 Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. (Job 1:20-22 NASB)

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:

Then Job answered the LORD, and said, 2 "I know that Thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted. 3 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' "Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." 4 'Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask Thee, and do Thou instruct me.' 5 "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees Thee; 6 Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:1-6 NASB)

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.

Before we leave Job, let me show you one more verse that is very important:

And it came about after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. (Job 42:7 NASB)

God's wrath was kindled against them, because they had misrepresented Him. What they had said about God was not true. Think about this!

In line with our sufferings being used to educate us look at:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NASB)

Our suffering helps us to develop our capacity and sympathy in comforting others.

Often God sends suffering to give us an opportunity to minister to one another. How can I help those in need, unless God causes someone to be in need? In the midst of the suffering of others, we must see an opportunity to minister in His name.

God uses suffering in your life for the benefit of others when you encourage other people who are going through life's problems. And you can approach someone who is going through a difficult time, and tell them, "I went through the same thing you're going through today. It was the worst experience of my life, and I hurt inside for a long time. But let me tell you how my faith in Jesus Christ helped me get through."

2. PREVENTION: Sometimes God brings suffering into our lives, disciplines us, 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:

Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on 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 out of the body I do not know, God knows-- such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know how such a man-- whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows-- 4 was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. 5 On behalf of such a man will I boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. 6 For if I do wish to boast I shall not be foolish, for I shall be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one may credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me. 7 And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me-- to keep me from exalting myself! (2 Corinthians 12:1-7 NASB)

Paul was disciplined, not because he was proud, but to keep him from becoming proud.

Suffering weans us from the sin of self-reliance:

indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; (2 Corinthians 1:9 NASB)

Many men and women have testified that God taught them this lesson, that they are dependant upon Him, by taking away all the things they had mistakenly depended on. Much of the pain we experience is to bring about continued dependence on the grace and power of God. Suffering is designed to cause us to walk by God's ability, power, and provision; rather than by our own. It causes us to turn from our resources to His resources.

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.

3. 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:

'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.' (2 Samuel 12:10 NASB)

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:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the 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, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30 NASB)

This is also very likely the case in:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. 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 offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5:13-16 NASB)

So we must remember that discipline 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.

and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; (Hebrews 12:5 NASB)

Two reactions are warned against here in regard to discipline:

1. "Do not regard lightly" 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 regard it lightly 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:

"Teach me, and I will be silent; And show me how I have erred. (Job 6:24 NASB)
"I will say to God, 'Do not condemn me; Let me know why Thou dost contend with me. (Job 10:2 NASB)

This is the attitude we should have whenever we come under discipline.

2. "Don't faint" ­ 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:

FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." (Hebrews 12:6 NASB)

Off the subject of suffering, what does this verse teach us about God's love? It teaches us that He does not love everybody. He only disciplines whom He loves is meaningless if He loves everybody.

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:

"Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. (Job 5:17 NASB)
Blessed is the man whom Thou dost chasten, O LORD, And dost teach out of Thy law; (Psalms 94:12 NASB)
'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent. (Revelation 3:19 NASB)

God repeats it so often so we won't forget and lose the comfort of realizing that Divine discipline proceeds from love.

Notice that He "SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." 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:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB)

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:

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:7 NASB)

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:

But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:8 NASB)

In light of verse 6, this must refer to an unsaved person. To not be disciplined is to not be loved, and to not be loved is to not be a child of God.

The Greek word here translated "illegitimate" 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:

Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? (Hebrews 12:9 NASB)

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:

He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (Proverbs 13:24 NASB)

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 subject to the Father of spirits, and live?" To be subject to the Father who is the source of all life is indeed to live­we experience life in a vital and fruitful way.

For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. (Hebrews 12:10 NASB)

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."

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11 NASB)

Temporarily, grievous chastening leads to peace and righteousness. But we must respond to it, we must allow it to train us. The word "trained" is gymnazo, literally it means: "to train, as for an athletic contest." In other words, discipline is a training process by which we get in shape spiritually. Its end result is the development of righteousness.

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.

Media #387

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