SEVEN HELPS FOR TIMES OF TESTING – Hebrews 12:3-11
Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on February 8, 2017 under PM Bible Study |
PM Home Bible Study Group;February 8, 2017
Theme: The writer of Hebrews sets before his readers some counsel for going through times of trial.
(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).
What a fascinating New Testament letter the Book of Hebrews is! It is deep in theology; and it teaches us much about the superiority of our Lord Jesus Christ over the Old Covenant that God had established with Israel through Moses. Indeed, that Old Covenant was meant to highlight the greater need for the more sufficient ministry of Christ as the Mediator of a newer and better covenant.
The writer of Hebrews was seeking to stress these great theological truths to his Jewish Christian brothers and sisters. But he was doing so for them while they were living in a very difficult context. They were undergoing severe persecution and cultural and social rejection for their faith in Jesus. Some of them were even tempted to give up and return to the former rituals and religious ceremonies under the Old Covenant (even though that Old Covenant was no longer in effect). And so; after all of the great theological truths that have been presented to his readers, he now seeks to exhort them with a series of practical appeals.
We encountered this first great ‘practical appeal’ in Hebrews 12:1-2. That passage looked back to the great heroes of faith that he wrote about in Chapter 11; and in it, he exhorted his readers to be encouraged by the example of those great heroes—the greatest Hero of all being our Lord Jesus Himself:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).
And from there, the writer goes on to give very practical counsel to help his believing friends endure through the times of trial that they were undergoing.
It seems very clear that the things the writer said—under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—speak specifically to the matter of enduring persecution for the faith. But there is definitely a sense in which the things he says have application to all kinds of suffering that God may allow His people to undergo.
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In Hebrews 12:3-11, the writer encourages believers who are in a time of testing to …
I. CONSIDER JESUS (v. 3).
In verse 3—after that wonderful exhortation to run the race while keeping our eyes on Christ—he writes; “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” Obviously, the writer is thinking of the things that they were suffering from hostile opponents to the faith. Jesus Himself also suffered such hostility from sinners against Himself; and He even warned that if we follow Him, we would also suffer for our connection to Him (John 15:18-25; see also 2 Timothy 3:12). But just as He endured to the end, we too will endure if we stop in those times of trial and ‘consider’ (think carefully about and ponder) Him and His endurance.
What would happen to us in our times of testing if we did this more often? What would happen if, whenever we found ourselves looking at ourselves or at the things we suffered, we trained those thoughts toward Jesus, and intentionally considered and meditated on the things that He did in similar trials? Wouldn’t it be that we would soon find that our souls were strengthened, and our spirits lifted in encouragement? Isaiah 40:30-31 tells us;
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:30-31).
This obviously does not take away the trials themselves. But may it be that, in the midst of them, we discipline ourselves to read what the Scriptures tell us about Him and ‘consider’ Jesus and the examples He set for us. He is not simply a mere ‘thought’ to us, after all; but is truly with us in our trials. And by the strength He provides, we can learn to imitate Him in the midst of those trials.
II. KEEP PERSPECTIVE (v. 4).
At first glance, this next piece of counsel seems a little harsh and insensitive. But upon reflection, it is truly encouraging. The writer tells his readers, “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” At the time we’re undergoing it, any trial seems terrible. But if we truly remember our Savior—and keep our own time of suffering in perspective against His own—then we realize that He suffered and agonized far more for us. Hebrews 12:2 says that He suffered the cross “for the joy that was set before Him”; and that joy is us—our being redeemed and glorified and with Him forever. He gave His all for us—even to the point of shedding His blood on the cross. In whatever we suffer for Him, it is certainly not as great as what He suffered for us.
And consider even more that if indeed we must suffer the cost of our own life for our Savior—even to the point of bloodshed—it is never anything more than He willingly suffered for us. It is a privilege to suffer a little for Him who so suffered so much more for us. Of the early disciples in the Book of Acts, we’re told that they departed from times of persecution “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). May God help us, in our times of suffering, to keep those times in perspective in the view of all that Jesus lovingly suffered for us.
III. REMEMBER LOVE (vv. 5-6).
In times of trial, it’s hard not to question God’s love and wonder, “God; why are you doing this to me?” And the writer of Hebrews counsels us, at such times, to remember something that we may have forgotten. He quotes from Proverbs 3:11-12 and writes;
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;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives” (vv. 5-6).
It’s easy to forget, at such times, that the Father in heaven never brings the wrath of His just judgment for sin upon His children. What we suffer in Christ is never ‘judicial judgment’; because Jesus has already taken that judgment fully upon Himself for us on the cross. Rather, what we experience is ‘fatherly discipline’. It is always given in love—never in wrath; and is designed to train us and teach us to grow up in maturity and be more like Jesus. If we would remember the Father’s love in the times of trial, we would be more inclined to do as good Pastor James exhorts us to do:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4).
May the Holy Spirit help us, in our times of testing, to keep a clear mind and ‘remember’ the Father’s love.
IV. FEEL HONORED (vv. 7-8).
Along with remembering that love, we should also feel greatly honored. In the previous passage, the writer said that we shouldn’t be discouraged by the chastening of the Lord, because He lovingly disciplines every child that He receives. And if we experience such discipline, it’s a very good sign that we belong to Him. The writer says, “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.” Our experience of the Father’s discipline means that—as far as He is concerned—we truly belong to Him.
Have you ever been to a gathering where there were lots of families and lots of children—and seen a father have to get up and discipline a child? Chances are, you can tell which child belongs to which father by which children it is that the father disciplines. By contrast, perhaps you have also seen a man get up at such a time and try to paddle some other father’s child; and have then seen that child’s real father get up and fiercely deal with that out-of-line man! A good father doesn’t put up with someone else disciplining his own children. That’s his job—and he wont give that job to someone else. But if someone else’s children are acting up, we are usually very hesitant to discipline them; because they aren’t ours. Likewise, if God chastens us, we should feel very, very honored. In chastening us, God is declaring that we belong to Him. After all, He doesn’t ‘lovingly discipline’ someone else’s kids!
V. PAY RESPECT (v. 9).
The writer goes on to say something that most of us know from experience: “Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect.” (I don’t know about you; but when I read that, I say to myself, “Amen to that! Woe had it been to me if I didn’t!”) When Dad spoke, we submitted—with a measure of healthy reverence! And it wasn’t always ‘fear-based’. If we were thinking right, we remember the commandment, “Honor your father and your mother …” It was from our parents that we learned to respect authority. And fathers were also taught in the Bible to lovingly but faithfully use that authority. It may not seem ‘politically correct’ to quote it today; but Proverbs 23:13 says, “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.” (You might read that and think that it means that, no matter how a child will howl about it, don’t worry—he isn’t going to ‘die’ no matter how much he protests that he will. But it’s better, I believe to see this as saying that faithful discipline will prevent a child from going down the road of sin and death later. The next verse says, “You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell.”)
In an argument from the lessor to the greater, the writer of Hebrews then asks, “Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” A good earthly father ‘in the flesh’ disciplines His children in order to lead them—as best he knows how—to the path of life. How much more does our heavenly Father—who, by contrast, is the Father of spirits—discipline us in a way that leads us to even greater paths of life? And if, as we matured, we learned to show respect to the fleshly kind of father for this, shouldn’t we show even greater respect to the heavenly Father for it now?
VI. EXPECT PROFIT (v. 10)./
The writer goes on to encourage us to recognize that our heavenly Father has a good purpose in the loving discipline that He brings our way. It is always for our good and for His glory. The writer speaks of our earthly fathers and says, “For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them …”; and let’s admit that they did so imperfectly. Often they misunderstood, or they applied discipline in an inappropriate way. All of us, who had brothers or sisters, experienced those times when we got paddled for something that we didn’t do but got blamed for; and conversely, we’ve also had those times when our brother or sister got punished for what we managed to get away with. Our earthly fathers—if they are good fathers—do their best. But they still do it all imperfectly; and not always unto good results. And sad to say, some fathers have disciplined their children so imperfectly, and so harshly, and with such bad motives, that they ‘disciplined’ them into bitterness.
But this is not true of our heavenly Father. Earthly father’s discipline imperfectly; “but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.” All that our heavenly Father allows to come into our lives is sovereignly guided by Him with perfect love and wisdom—and always with the result of our being conformed to the image of His beloved Son Jesus. As it says in Romans 8:28-30;
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).
As Jesus has taught us, our Father is the heavenly ‘vinedresser’. He carefully prunes every branch that abides in Jesus “that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2). In the heavenly Father’s loving discipline, then, we can always expect an eternally profitable result.
VII. LOOK AHEAD (v. 11).
In light of that good profitable expectation, we can look ahead, in times of trial, to the thing that God will produce in our lives through it. The writer says, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful …” And indeed, this is true! Otherwise, chastening wouldn’t be of any value. But “nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” “Peaceable fruit” may speak of the fact that we see, in time, what God is doing through our time of trial to produce true righteousness in us; and as we mature in our trust in Him, we cease contesting with it—stop fussing against it—and rest with peaceful contentedness in His good will.
The apostle Paul once wrote of the suffering and trials that he and the other apostles endured for the cause of Christ. And yet, he affirmed the victory that was secured for him by the fact that the same Jesus for which he suffered was raised from the dead. This led him to declare:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
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May it be that we pay careful attention to these great ‘helps’ that the writer of Hebrews gives us for our times of God’s loving discipline—and by them, endure to the eternal good that our Father produces in us through them.