Image via WikipediaHere is my second Sunday School lesson. This week on Hebrews 12:3-11. This one was much harder to prepare. It is probably even harder to understand that suffering is ultimately appointed by God.
Vs. 3 -- When you look at this verse, you see that if we should see all that Jesus had accomplished, that we should not grow weary or fainthearted. This is part of what it means again when Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him in Matt. 16:24. Jesus example should give us the strength to go on.
“Consider Him” - Who is it that we are to consider? Jesus. The word here literally means to contemplate. We are to mediate on Jesus and what He went through. The writer here is setting us up for the verses in 4-11. How does he set us up?
John Calvin sums it up this way, "He enforces his exhortation by comparing Christ with us; for if the Son of God, whom it behaves all to adore, willingly underwent such severe conflicts, who of us should dare to refuse to submit with him to the same? For this one thought alone ought to be sufficient to conquer all temptations, that is, when we know that we are companions or associates of the Son of God, and that he, who was so far above us, willingly came down to our condition, in order that he might animate us by his own example; yea, it is thus that we gather courage, which would otherwise melt away, and turn as it were into despair."
Jesus endured (persevered) against the hostility from sinners. In fact, we've been set up for these hard texts for several weeks again. We were told about the sufferings of the Old Testament saints. We are told that they have not received the promises yet, but are waiting for us to complete the race they have already run. Only one has completed it perfectly and that is the person of Jesus. We are told in verse 2 that He is the founder and completer of our faith, and that He endured (persevered) the cross with JOY! Now in verse 3, we are to consider (contemplate, meditate) on Him. Why? It is for us to not lose heart and grow weary in the Christian life. Too often, we lose heart so often and feel we cannot go on. How many times do you think Jesus felt like losing heart and growing weary? Yet, He persevered until the end against the hostility of sinners. Jesus Christ is our perfect example of endurance, of perseverance. Not only that, He did it with Joy, with gladness, with a calm delight.
Vs. 4 – There are two ways to go with this verse. One is that we struggle against the sin in our lives and the other is the sinners who come against us. I believe it's a both and. We must have both. We must resist all the ways of the evil one, but we have not been martyred yet. The believers in this passage have not been martyred yet.
“In your struggle against sin” - This word for struggle comes from the root for “antagonize”. So, what are we to do? We are to antagonize against sin. Fight sin, beat sin, kill sin, destroy sin! What verses did I use last week from Romans? Romans 6 is the chief passage for why we are not slaves of sin.
“Not yet resisted to the point of death” -- We are to fight against sin to the point of death. In a way, the author is reminding us that it's not as bad as it could be. In other words, it could be worse. Hebrews 10:32-39. There will be times of sorrow, but if we consider Him who endured perfectly, we can make it.
Here in America, do we even know what suffering to the point of death means? Believers in Turkey do. Believers in China do. Believers in India do. Believers in Indonesia do. I could go on and on. Tell Derek and Yoshi Johnson that there is no suffering. Tell that to Tab and Robin Hunter. Tell that to Troy and Beth Hamilton and all of our other folks over there, who suffer through cold winters without much heat, and hot summers with no air conditioning. There is hostility there. Derek and Yoshi just found that out after only 10 months. There are pastors, churches, whole denominations who preach that believers are not meant to suffer. We are not meant to struggle against sin. We are not meant to suffer as Christ did, because He did it all for us. What Christ did, was to take our sin and free us from sin, but that does not mean we are sinless and will not have trials and tribulations.
Matthew 24: 9-10, 13, Matt. 10: 38-39, Matt. 16:24, Colossians 1:24
Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily and follow him. Who ever doesn't is in danger of Hell. This isn't some pretty little ornament you may wear around your neck. This is an ugly, splintered, piece of wood with blood stains on it from all the deaths that have gone on before. Paul himself said that he was rejoicing in his sufferings. I don't have time to go into all of the meanings of Colossians 1:24, but the point is that Paul was suffering. For a better understanding of this verse, go to DesiringGod.org and look up Piper's sermon on this passage. Now we come to the author of all this suffering. This is where it gets hard. Many will say that suffering does not come from God. Why would a loving God allow people to suffer?
Verses 5-11 tell us where the suffering comes from and why? It comes from God the Father. That's hard to take, but many Christians like to deny this truth. Where did the suffering of Job come from? Did it really come from Satan? Sure Satan caused it, but who allowed Satan to cause it? God has authority even over Satan. It's not that we are being punished for sin, for that cannot be due to the death and resurrection of Christ, but we can be disciplined, as we shall see.
As we look at these verses, we shall see that this suffering that we experience is not punishment, but is discipline for our good.
Verses 5-6 are quoted from Proverbs 3:11-12.
The author here is reminding the readers to not forgot that the Lord is the one who appoints the suffering as discipline. It is extremely important to keep in mind that we are not punished. As I said before, we cannot be punished for the sins that Jesus took upon himself, but we can be disciplined or chastised.
Charles Spurgeon says, “Punishment can never happen to a child of God in the judicial sense, he can never be brought before God as his Judge, as charged with guilt, because that guilt was long ago transferred to the shoulders of Christ, and the punishment was exacted at the hands of his surety. But yet, while the sin cannot be punished, while the Christian cannot be condemned, he can be chastised, while he shall never be arraigned before God's bar as a criminal, and punished for his guilt, yet he now stands in a new relationship—that of a child to his parent: and as a son he may be chastised on account of sin. Folly is bound up in the heart of all God's children, and the rod of the Father must bring that folly out of them. “
As you see, we are not punished, but disciplined. It's the same as when we discipline our own children, those of us that have them. We do not want them to go astray, so we lovingly instruct them in the way they should go.
Proverbs 22:6 tells us to train up the child in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it.
Ephesians 6:4 says for fathers not to provoke their children to anger, but to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord
Proverbs 22:15, 23:13, 29:15 all have to do with disciplining a child so as to steer them right.
That is what God does for us. He lovingly trains and corrects us to keep us on the right path. This verse says that God loves us. At the time we are being disciplined, we are not sure if we like it, are we? Is it not painful to be disciplined? It is, but if the heart behind the discipline is one of love, then we should appreciate the discipline and recognize that it comes from God, who always loves us.
The author takes this further in verse 7 by saying that it is because of discipline that we must endure (persevere). What father does not discipline their children? I have already touched on this, but the next verse goes a step further here.
Vs. 8 – If we are not disciplined, then we are not truly children of God. If we do not discipline our own children, then perhaps they should not be our children, correct. I don't want to go too much further with this, but the analogy is that God only lovingly corrects His children. If he is not correcting us, then we do not belong to Him. All of God's children go through discipline and sufferings.
I Peter 5:9 says that the brotherhood throughout the world is experiencing sufferings. Every Christian will personally experience some kind of suffering. Whether that is cancer, loss of job, death in family, etc., it will and can happen. More often, it will most likely be at the hands of sinners. We live in a sinful world. People will talk bad about us, make up stuff about us, persecute us, hate us, etc. All of it is appointed by God. If it is not happening to you, perhaps you're making a great difference where you're at, or you work in a Christian environment such as I do (although that's not saying much sometimes), or you are not one of God's children. Perhaps you could be in a good spell right now, but when the suffering comes, are you going to fall away, or endure. If we see it as God's discipline, we can endure. All the punishment of sin fell on Jesus. He endured all things. This is why we are to consider Him.
Calvin says, “He reasons from the common practice of men, that it is by no means right or meet that God’s children should be exempt from the discipline of the cross; for if no one is to be found among us, at least no prudent man and of a sound judgment, who does not correct his children — for without discipline they cannot be led to a right conduct — how much less will God neglect so necessary a remedy, who is the best and the wisest Father?If any one raises an objection, and says that corrections of this kind cease among men as soon as children arrive at manhood: to this I answer, that as long as we live we are with regard to God no more than children, and that this is the reason why the rod should ever be applied to our backs. Hence the Apostle justly infers, that all who seek exemption from the cross do as it were withdraw themselves from the number of his children.
It hence follows that the benefit of adoption is not valued by us as it ought to be, and that the grace of God is wholly rejected when we seek to withdraw ourselves from his scourges; and this is what all they do who bear not their afflictions with patience. But why does he call those who refuse correction bastards rather than aliens? Even because he was addressing those who were members of the Church, and were on this account the children of God. He therefore intimates that the profession of Christ would be false and deceitful if they withdrew themselves from the discipline of the Father, and that they would thus become bastards, and be no more children.”
In other words, it is dangerous ground to walk on to shrink from the discipline administered by God. If is a false profession of Christ that one makes if one withdraws from suffering and discipline. It is a cross that is to be picked up daily if we are to follow Christ. If not, then we cannot call ourselves God's children.
Vs. 9-11 goes on to explain the purpose of the discipline. That purpose is to achieve God's holiness. We become much better off by going through discipline, rather than running away from it. God is not going to chastise us beyond what we are able. There are three reasons given here for our discipline:
Our good: How many of us had parents that told us they were spanking us for our own good? Now, how many of us have told our children, the same thing? Discipline, hopefully, will keep our children out of jail. It will keep our children from driving recklessly, making bad decisions, etc. If not, those bad things that happen, if the children themselves become saved, should be seen as discipline. It's not that our children will not do those things, but we make every effort to ensure that they stay out of those things, through discipline. We do not see the good at the time, but God promises us that it is for our good. What is the good? This is the second reason given for our discipline.
To partake in His holiness: not to become perfectly holy as he is, as the Wesleyan tradition says, but to progress on the road to sanctification. John Calvin emphasizes this, “Moreover when God’s chastisements are said to be profitable to make men partners of his holiness, this is not to be so taken as though they made us really holy, but that they are helps to sanctify us, for by them the Lord exercises us in the work of mortifying the flesh.”
It was interesting reading A. W. Pink on this passage. He wrote his commentary in the very early 20th century, and was complaining about the lack of preaching on Divine Chastisement as he called these verses. He says that the majority of the preachers were men-pleasers and preached to popular opinion. Apparently not many preachers listened to him, because they're still preaching the same message today. If the preachers studied this passage, they would see these reasons as all good. Here's the third reason:
Discipline yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness: This should be an encouragement to all of us going through suffering. It may be painful, but at the end we know we came out okay. God is disciplining us and training us in righteousness to make us better servants of His. We cannot and should know what it means to not suffer. We are called to suffering. We are trained by God to do His will. We cannot butt heads with God's will. It is there. To butt heads with it, is only to cause more pain. Remember Pastor Rob's illustration with the bow saw. If we grab hold the blade and go against the will, only more pain will happen. We must let go, and let God. Let me leave you with two quotes on suffering and giving our all to God.
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." -- Jim Elliot
"Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer