Sufferings that Strengthen

Posted: August 30, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 12:5-17, “Sufferings That Strengthen”

“This is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you.” How many of us ever heard that phrase? How many ever believed it at the time? 🙂 Yet when we get older & have children of our own, we may find ourselves actually repeating the same words & meaning them because they are true. No one likes spankings: neither the kids nor the parents (or sometimes, nor our neighbors!) So why do we give them (or whatever form of discipline you use)? Ultimately, it’s because we love our children. We want them to mature & learn right behavior – and many times firm discipline is necessary for the process to take place.

If it’s so obvious with our own children, then why is it so hard for us to understand with God? The very moment some of us experience a bad day (I’ve been there), we cry out: “WHY God?! I thought You loved me & would protect me from these things!!” If there is one thing every single born-again believer in Jesus Christ can be assured of in the midst of their sufferings, it is that God DOES indeed love you. And He loves you enough to sometimes allow you to get spankings – and sometimes to suffer for reasons we don’t understand yet. But because God does love us so much, we can leave ourselves in His trustworthy hands as He molds us into the image of His Son.

Keep our context in mind: Jesus has been proclaimed & proven to be better than any angel, any prophet, any property, any priest, any covenant, and any sacrifice that was ever shown in the Old Testament. He is superior to all & He perfectly fulfills every promise ever given by God, so the Jewish believers (and us) have been challenged to hold fast to our faith just like the many Old Testament saints who have gone before us. From the moment we are saved, we are placed into a long-distance marathon of faith where we need to fix our eyes on Jesus as our motivation and example – despite any shame or suffering that pops up along the way.

Ended with the encouragement that the Christians who were able to read this may have suffered, but they hadn’t suffered till the point of death. The author is going to transition a bit here – showing how God uses suffering…

Hebrews 12:5-17 (NKJV)
5 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; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”

A. OT reference – Proverbs 3:11-12… (LXX) Hebrew text a bit different: Proverbs 3:11-12 (11) 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. [] We tend to think of discipline as being “bad” – something given when a child displeases his/her father. Let’s correct that idea: discipline is given by a father who delights in his child. True, discipline is often (not always) brought about by some form of disobedience, but a parent who delights in his/her child loves them enough to bring rebuke when it is needed.
__a. Sometimes it’s not always due to disobedience. (Contextually, those who had been persecuted hadn’t done anything wrong…to the contrary, because of their obedience to Christ Jesus, these Christians suffered!) Gk “chastening” = “child-rearing.” The idea runs the gamut from everything dealing with spankings due to disobedience all the way to simply teaching & instructing a child in the things of life. For believers, sometimes God allows us to suffer as a part of the process of making us more Christ-like – to help us continue to conform to the image of Christ. [Example: Job] Job hadn’t done a single thing wrong! Why did he suffer? Because God in His sovereign love & wisdom allowed Job to suffer – and in the end, Job learned so much of God’s holiness, he couldn’t even question God in the slightest.
__b. God wants us to be more like Jesus! And because Jesus suffered, sometimes that’s what we are going to endure as well. Paul lost everything when he gave his life to the Lord Jesus in repentance…he suffered in innumerable ways But it was worth it: Philippians 3:10-11 (10) that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, (11) if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. [] … Are you enduring suffering right now? If you’re a Christian, than you can rejoice! Why? Because God will USE that suffering for His glory & to help you fellowship even more with your Lord & Savior…

B. The Lord will discipline us. It may take many different forms, but we can be assured He’s going to do it to His children. Chasten = “child-rearing” (noted already)… Rebuke = “convict/admonish” (as in the conviction of the Holy Spirit)… Scourge = “whip/beat” (as in a spanking. We are not to spare the rod with our own children, and God neither spares us.) Keep in mind that even when God does “scourge” us in some way, to be in the hands of our Father is certainly more desirable than being left alone to the world. (David’s sin with the census – 1 Chr 21:13)
__a. Keep in mind there’s a difference between the discipline of the Lord & the wrath of God. A born-again Christian will never experience the wrath of God because that’s exactly what Jesus took on at the Cross on our behalf (1 Thess 5:9). When God allows us to suffer (as harsh as that suffering may be), it is nothing compared to His righteous wrath! Praise God for Jesus!

C. What are we to do with God’s chastening? Receive it! Don’t be discouraged by it… Don’t faint or become despondent under the weight of God’s hand – don’t think that God’s stopped loving you (on the contrary!). Also – don’t despise it (count it as worthless) by thinking God can’t or won’t use it in your life. As believers, we can be sure that God will use all things to work together for good (Rom 8:28)! … Too often we treat God’s working with us according to our circumstances. If we’re having an easy time, God is blessing us. If we’re having trials, then it’s all due to the devil. Not necessarily… Sometimes our trials are due directly to God; it may be His chastening to help us mature and grow in our character…
__a. What about the really bad stuff? Can’t we be assured that at least that stuff is of the devil? Again, not necessarily. Just ask Job.

7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?

A. Verse 6 tells us that God chastens us out of His love for us. Verse 7 tells us to what extent God does love us: as His own children – as His sons.
B. We see this same thing in our own parenting…

8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.

A. It’s not those who are chastened of God that have to worry (we’re not to despise it); it’s those who aren’t disciplined by Him! If you’re always getting away with sin, never experiencing any conviction of the Holy Spirit because of rebellious actions, etc., be concerned! Take the time to examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith. Some people think, “God really blessed me! Can you believe how much I got away with? I just got off with a slap on a wrist. Let’s go do it again!” Are you sure that was a blessing from God? Or simply an indication that you don’t belong to Him? God’s children are chastened by Him in some form… A true Christian is grieved by his/her sin because that is why Christ suffered & died.

B. Question: does it matter what kind of children we are? ‘So what if we’re legitimate or illegitimate, we’re all children of God, right?’ In the sense that we’re all created by God, yes that’s true. But legitimacy comes into play in regards to an inheritance. Culturally, it was common for men to have a wife for child-bearing, and one (or several) mistresses/concubines on the side. Any children that the concubines bore were provided for by the father, but they weren’t properly considered members of the family – they were illegitimate. Thus they had no right to receive anything as an inheritance from his father; it’s the legitimate children that get the privilege. You bet it matters what kind of sons we are in the sight of God! Through the work of Jesus Christ, we are legitimate children! We’ve been adopted by God as His own legitimate sons & we all receive the privilege of being co-heirs with Christ throughout all eternity! …

9 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? 10 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.

A. Argument from the lesser to the greater – contrasts the fathers of the flesh with the “Father of spirits.” The discipline of parents is good & done for the good of their children… And children (most of the time) know to respect their parents (much more so after they become parents themselves!). Family discipline doesn’t always work perfectly, but it’s the best we can do. Not so with God; His discipline is always perfect!

B. God chastens us for our own good. … Specifically, “that we may be partakers of His holiness.” One way in which we share in the holiness of God is through His loving discipline towards us. Those trials that we hate to go through are the very things God uses to shape our character more & more like Christ.

11 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.

A. I haven’t yet met the child who is happy to be grounded, or welcomes the spanking, but it is still necessary. Why? There is a benefit of discipline: the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” After the chastening is complete & we’re experiencing peace, hopefully we’ve learned our lesson. As when a child calms down after having their mouth washed with soap, they’ve hopefully learned not to use filthy language.

12 Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.

A. Nice poetic way of putting it – probably in reference to Isaiah 35:3, where it says almost the exact same thing. Trials can beat us down or strengthen us. Go back to the analogy of the race: athletes grow stronger by actually breaking down their bodies… [resistance training] This is exactly what Paul found out regarding his thorn in the flesh… 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (9) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [] It’s when we have no strength in & of our ourselves that we’re forced to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. Too often, we think that we’ll go to Jesus when everything else fails – that’s the exact opposite of what should happen! Jesus should be our 1st response, the 2nd response, the 3rd response, etc. 🙂

B. Basically, the author is saying, “Buck up! Get back into the race! You didn’t let sin or weights ensnare you from running; don’t let suffering keep you from the race either!”

14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:

A. Continues on with the same thought. As we’re enduring the race, as we’re strengthening our hands & knees, once practical way of doing this is to “pursue peace.” As we’re fixing our eyes on Christ in our race, one of the characteristics we’re trying to run after & ‘catch up to’ is peace. This implies effort – and thus to the best of our ability (being empowered by the Spirit) we’re to try to live at peace with those around us.
__a. With whom? With all people. Even the people who persecute us? Yes! Keep in mind that this is one of the primary contexts of this passage, from vs. 4… The Jewish believers of the 1st century were being persecuted for their faith among their former brethren & many had been tempted to cast their faith aside to go back to the old ways of doing things. Now that they had been convinced to hold firm to Jesus above everything else, they were not only to be prepared to endure suffering from other people (passive response); they were to actively pursue peace with them as well…

B. “Pursue…holiness”: Just as peace was something to chase after in our race of faith, so is holiness. This is NOT the idea of being able to achieve a state of “sinless perfection.” The person who claims to be without sin is deceiving themselves (1 John 1:8). The only time we will be forever & completely without sin is when we stand before the Lord Jesus… So what IS this saying? Simply that we’re to pursue ongoing holiness. As we’re being continually sanctified (set apart/made holy) by the Lord, we’re to actively pursue the things that go along with being sanctified. I.e. we don’t engage in sinful lusts, we don’t follow after temptations – but we do seek the Lord, we do worship Him…
__a. Why is holiness so important? Because without it, “no one will see the Lord.” The NT agrees fully on this point. In Galatians 5, Paul writes up a long list of sins that are grouped as “the works of the flesh” & summarizes it by saying, “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21). Those sins were the things we used to do; not the things that we as born-again believers ought to be doing. That is not to say that we are saved by our actions or our own good deeds (we’re not!) – but a good indicator of whether or not we belong to Christ is whether or not we’re following after Christ & His holiness.
__b. Praise God that Jesus makes us holy! Ultimately, the ONLY way we will see the Lord is because we’ve been clothed in His righteousness. (2 Cor 5:21)

15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;

A. Watch out! What happens when someone despises the discipline of God & isn’t strengthened for the race? What happens when professed Christians reject peace & holiness? Three warnings here – 2 in vs. 15.

B. “lest anyone fall short of the grace of God…”: Not that God ever withholds grace from those who come to Him through Jesus Christ (He gives it freely & abundantly!). Rather, this refers to those who started running the race & dropped off along the way. Like those in the Parable of the Sower who received the word, but had no root & withered – these are people who professed Jesus, but were not firmly rooted in Him. Thus trials & sufferings come along & they give up altogether.

C. “lest any root of bitterness” spring up: It’s often been said that trials either make us better or bitter. For those who despise God’s sovereignty & goodness (and thus His discipline), suffering can definitely leave them embittered. Why ought the Church to watch out for it? Because bitterness can be contagious: “many become defiled.” Especially if the trials we go through are caused by another person! The one who is hurt & bitter starts backbiting to another who passes it on to another, etc…
__a. So what do you do if you’re the person that’s been hurt? How do you stop from being embittered? How can God use that for His glory in shaping you to be more like Christ? Go back to vs. 14: “pursue peace with all people.” If you’ve been wronged against (even by someone within the church), the best thing is to be reconciled to them & forgive them as Christ forgave us. When we don’t, the person we hurt is ourselves.

D. 3rd warning: beware of the fornicator or profane – see vs. 16…

16 lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. 17 For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.

A. OT context: Genesis 27. Esau sold his birthright for some lentil stew… Jacob deceived Isaac & Esau wept with “an exceeding great and bitter cry” (Gen 27:34) when he figured out what happened… (And to think that some people believe that Biblical families were never dysfunctional! 🙂 )

B. How does Esau apply? Esau despised his trials (and thus discipline of the Lord), and the result was he didn’t value what had been given to him (his birthright)… We don’t know for sure that he was a fornicator (though he was definitely a polygamist), but he was certainly profane in that he had absolutely no value for the things of the Lord (as seen through his birthright). Afterward Isaac confirmed the blessing to Jacob, he could ever accept the result & continued in bitterness to the point of wanting to kill his own brother…

C. Is Scripture saying that Esau had no opportunity to repent from his sin? That he was past the point of repentance if he would truly humble himself before God & his father & turn away from his profane ways? No…simply that his tears came too late. The consequences of his actions were set & there was no opportunity to reverse it. Of course it’s worth noting that Esau simply did NOT repent. He was sorry (no doubt!), but it was a worldly sorrow & not a Godly sorrow… (2 Cor 7:10) Even in his sorrow, Esau demonstrates he didn’t value the things of God because he didn’t understand what he had lost. His sorrow was over the earthly blessings Jacob had tricked him out of; not over the covenant with God he had so casually thrown away.
__a. Esau is a good example of what NOT to be. We want to value the things of God! Whether unfettered blessing, or loving discipline, we want to receive what God gives us for the purposes He wants to do in us.

So what do you do with trials? How do you handle suffering? Do we fall into the trap of thinking, “If it’s good, it’s from God. If it’s bad, it’s from the devil.”? The truth of the matter for every born-again believer in Jesus Christ is: if we’re going through it, God is allowing us to go through it. God will use whatever it is He allows us to go through for His glory & to make us into the men & women He wants us to be.

That’s not to say that we don’t come under attack by the enemy. That’s not to say that trials are not truly trials. That’s not to say suffering isn’t painful. But we can be assured that God uses ALL of these things for His purposes in our lives. God (in His wisdom) uses suffering. Don’t allow suffering to stop you; let is strengthen you! … Especially when the trials we face are the chastening & discipline of the Lord! Those who receive God’s discipline are strengthened; those who reject it are embittered. May we be the ones who receive it & allow those things to produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness in our lives that God desires to bring forth.

  1. Most of my persecutions has also been in the evangelical churches it seems..

  2. timburns says:

    NonC –
    I’m sorry for your experiences in past churches. I’d encourage you (along with the author of Hebrews) to fix your eyes upon Jesus Christ and seek Him alone despite the hurt of the past.

    Blessings to you.

  3. shinie says:

    trust and obey.

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