Our spiritual journey with Jesus requires endurance. The writer of Hebrews has written this sermon so that these Christians would not give up or grow weary. In Hebrews 12 he has told them that they are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses which should compel us to lay aside the weights we are carrying in this life and the sin that clings so closely to us. Our focus is to be placed on Jesus who suffered as he did so that we would not give up. Now the writer is going to speak to us about how to look at our difficulties and suffering. The author is helping us look at our trials, hardships, and suffering in a different way so that we will have the endurance needed to run this spiritual race. Let us read Hebrews 12:3-13.
How To Look At Trials (12:4-11)
Struggling Against Sin.
In verse 3 the author tells us to consider the hostility that Jesus faced. We noted in last week’s lesson that we are to consider the suffering of Jesus so that we will not give up. Look at verse 4 and notice that our encouragement is that we have not suffered to the same degree as Jesus in our struggle against sin. Our first encouragement is, that as we keep our eyes on Jesus, we see that life could be worse. We could have to endure as Jesus did, to the point of death. The author says, “You have not yet resisted to the point os shedding your blood.” Of course, you will notice the word “yet.” Dying for Christ is absolutely possible. But take courage. You have not had to do that yet. We need to have a mentality that we may have to suffer much for Christ. Our struggle against sin can be very difficult and very costly. Our stand for Jesus can bring us to dying for him.
But I want us to focus on the words in verse 4 that read “struggle against sin.” Hardships are going to happen to us because we are struggling against sin. The Christian life is a struggle against sin. We need to hear this and accept this. No one said the Christian life was easy, a point that was made in chapters 10 and 11. Life is going to be hard because you are fighting sin. You are struggling against it. Now it is important to consider that if we are not struggling against sin, then there is something wrong. We are doing something wrong because Satan is always going to find a new area of attack on our faith. As we grow in our faith and become transformed in the image of Christ, we are going to have new attacks happen. Satan is never going to let us freely walk into spiritual maturity. We will always fight against sin. It may not be the same sins but we are going to keep wrestling with the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (cf. Ephesians 6:12). So our first encouragement is to recognize that we have not suffered to the degree that Jesus has suffered.
Treated As Children.
The second encouragement in this paragraph is found in verses 5-11, which says that you are being treated as children and God is your father. The author quotes from Proverbs 3:11-12 where Solomon is speaking to his son about how to look at the discipline of the Lord. The message of the quotation is to not lose heart when experiencing God’s discipline. God disciplines the one he loves. The writer of Hebrews uses this as his point also. Endure hardship and suffering as the discipline of the Lord. God is treating you as his children and children are always disciplined by their father.
Now we need to stop here because this scripture has been greatly misunderstood and removed from its greater context. When we speak about discipline our first inclination is to think about punishing for disobedience. It is this default thinking that has caused a deep misunderstanding regarding this text. The primary definition for this Greek word translated “discipline” is “the act of providing guidance for responsible living, upbringing, training, instruction, in our literature chiefly as it is attained by discipline, correction” (BDAG Lexicon). The second definition is similar, “the state of being brought up properly, training” (BDAG Lexicon). Mounce simplifies this as “the education, training up, nurture of children, instruction, discipline, correction, chastisement.” It is the same Greek word used in Ephesians 6:4 telling father to not provoke their children to anger, but to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. It is the same Greek word in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for training in righteousness. The word “training” is that same Greek word. What I am wanting us to see is that when we read that God is disciplining us as his children, do not think that this is saying he is punishing us for our sins.
Please think about how such a definition does not work with the greater context. Has the message of the book of Hebrews been that these Christians have wandering away from the Lord and that they are suffering as punishment for their sins? This is not at all the teaching. Rather, the message has been that they are suffering because they are Christians. They are struggling against sin. They are enduring for the sake of Christ. They have been insulted, imprisoned, and lost property for serving the Lord (Hebrews 10:32-35). Is the author now telling these Christians that the Lord is punishing them? Far from it!
So what is the message? The message is that we will look at our trials and our suffering as the teaching, training, and instruction from the Lord. How many times do the scriptures declare to us that God is teaching us, transforming us, and refining us through suffering and trials? Paul, James, and Peter all taught this in the New Testament. Notice how this fits beautifully with what the writer of Hebrews declares. Our fathers all corrected us, taught us, trained us, and instructed us and we respected them for it. How much more is this true regarding our heavenly Father and that we should learn and submit to it (12:9)! He is the Father of spirits. He is training our souls through trials and through our struggles. The Lord is training us for our good so that we may share in his holiness. Our suffering has a purpose. Our suffering has a goal. This is so important to hear so that we can have encouragement in our difficulties. God is allowing the trials and suffering we are experiencing as training and instruction for our souls so that we can be with him and share in his holiness.
Notice that this is the conclusion drawn in verse 11. Our discipline through suffering and trials is not pleasant. No trials are pleasant. No difficulties are enjoyable. It is painful. But it is to yield the fruit of righteousness if we allow ourselves to be trained by it. This is how God works on our hearts. This is how God transforms us. This is how God brings us to the holiness of living and righteous lives that we are supposed to have before him. Trials are for our holiness. Trials and suffering are changing us for the good if we submit to it and allow it to do its work. Please think about your past sufferings and trials and note if you have been dramatically changed by them. Then consider if you have allowed those trials to change you for righteousness and holiness. That is what is supposed to happen. That is God’s intention toward each of us. We must receive this correction because our hearts are corrupt and we do not know how to go (cf. Ephesians 4:17-18; Proverbs 14:12). All children need correction. If we are genuinely God’s children then we should expect God to treat us as a wise father.
What To Do With This New View (12:12-14)
With this point of view regarding our suffering given to us, what should we do? First, get up and get strong (12:12). Notice that the author uses boxing imagery for this picture. The hands have dropped and the knees have buckled. I want us to appreciate this image because there are so many times when we feel like this. Who has not felt that their hands have dropped and their knees have buckled? You may feel that way right now. You have to get up. You cannot stay on the ground in your trials and sufferings. Pick up your hands and strengthen your legs. Straighten up and continue the fight.
Second, make straight paths for your feet. Verse 13 furthers the image of the drooping hands and buckled knees by picturing that our feet have become lame. This is just a picture of brokenness. It is a picture of being beat down by suffering and pressed down from the struggle against sin. But we need to do something so that we can have healing rather than being put out of joint. Do not surrender to your discouragement. Further, make straight paths your feet. In other words, clear out the obstacles that are in your way. This connects us back to the first couple verses of this chapter where we were encouraged to lay aside all the weights we are carrying. This is another perspective. Look at the obstacles in your spiritual path and remove them. Get them out of your way so that your lame feet will not trip further and become out of joint. Remove the obstacles so your feet can experience healing. It is like walking in your child’s room and you keep stepping on Legos. Your feet are hurt. Clear the path so that your feet can receive healing. We need to clear out the spiritual obstacles on our path. Life has hit us hard. God is here for us. Look around and consider what obstacles can be removed and how to make the path straight for the Lord.
Third, strive for peace. Do not be a fighter. Do not be a person who causes problems. Jesus told us that the blessed ones are those who are peacemakers. We are to be peacemakers on the job, in the home, in the church, and in the world. Do not be a fighter. Do not quarrel with others. Do not be difficult. Sometimes our suffering comes from our own foolish decisions. We are the troublemakers rather than the peacemaker. Strive for peace, especially when hit with trials.
Fourth, strive for holiness because without holiness we are not going to see God. In the midst of our suffering, we need aim for a holy life. Experiencing trials does not mean that we now get a pass from striving for a holy life. Trials can often bring out the worst in people. God wants our trials to bring out our holiness. Trials should bring out our humility, not our arrogance. Trials should bring out our tranquility, not our hostility. Strive for holiness, especially in times of difficulty, because we need holiness if we are going to see the Lord.
We need a faith that is disciplined. God uses the struggle with sin, the trials of life, and the difficulties of following Jesus as the means to instruct us so that we can share in his holiness. What are you doing with your trials? What have your trials done to you? Have you submitted to the Lord’s teaching in these trials and struggles? Are his teachings through trials bringing you closer to holiness? Look at your difficulties as God’s teachings and then let God have his way with you as he teaches you to be in his image.