This is going to be a hard lesson but I hope you will take God’s teachings to heart as we go through this portion of scripture. In the first two verses of chapter 12, the writer of Hebrews taught us to fix our eyes on Jesus. We need to look to him as our leader of faith. We are to follow the example of the cloud of witnesses that have walked the path of faith before us by laying aside every weight that is slowing us down from righteousness and get rid of the sin that clings so closely to us. The writer now returns to the theme of the sermon which is to encourage these Christians to not give up.
Compare Your Life To Jesus (3-4)
Previously we were told to fix our eyes on Jesus. Now the writer asks for some reflection. “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:3). Think about what Jesus endured. Think about what Jesus suffered. Particularly, think about the hostility Jesus endured from sinners. Think about his mistreatment that he endured from his own creation. Why should we think about the suffering of Jesus and how he endured mistreatment? The writer says we are think about this so that we do not grow weary or discouraged. The instructions that follow are to encourage us to not give up or grow weary.
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point shedding your blood. This seems to be asking Christians to compare their lives to what Jesus endured. Our fight against sin has not been to the extent that Jesus fought. We have not had to go as far as Jesus had to go. Our suffering has not been to the degree that Jesus’ suffered. We know this, but often forget this important point. Jesus ended up suffering all the way to the point of death, and so did many of the heroes of faith recorded in chapter 11. We should not feel sorry for ourselves when we suffer. Nor should we grow weary or give up when we are considering the life of Jesus and the cloud of witnesses. It is easy for us to give up. It is human nature for us to become discouraged and want to throw in the towel. You are fighting Satan and you are engaged in a war against sin. But your battle has not reached the degree that Jesus endured.
The Discipline of God (5-11)
The writer continues by reminding his audience that they have been called children of God. But in being called children of God does not exclude us from difficult times and suffering. Being a child does not mean that everything is going to go smoothly in life. Don’t forgot the exhortation given. The writer then quotes from Proverbs 3:11-12 — “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (ESV)
Do not take the Lord’s teaching lightly. Who said that life was going to be easy? Who said that as God’s children we would not need some discipline and correction along the way? Hardship should be looked at as God’s method of training and discipline. The parent loves the child by correcting and disciplining. In fact, this text certainly enforces God’s view of parents using physical pain as a means of disciplining children. The NASB and NKJV read, “…and he scourges every son whom he receives.” The picture is that the Lord disciplines and whips us in this life. We have an adage that is falling out of our language about being “whipped into shaped.” God is whipping us into shape because he is our Father and we are his children. Notice verse 7 — with these hardships God is treating us as his children. “For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” This was an obvious answer in days past that every father disciplines his child. But that unfortunately is not true anymore and now we have to prove that physical discipline is not only acceptable to God, but commanded by God.
So what are we being taught here? God allows bad things, hard things, and difficult things to happen to us to teach us, reprove us, discipline us, and whip us into shape. God spanks us! The atheist says there is no God because bad things happen. God says, “What kind of father would I be to you if I gave you the easy life?” Every child needs correcting. Every child needs hardships to learn. We are not sheltered and neither should our children be sheltered from consequences and mistakes. We learn from pain. We change because of hardships. In fact, notice in verse 8 that God declares that we are illegitimate children if we are left without discipline. God says that that it is neglect and child abuse if he does not discipline us as children. No discipline, no whipping, and no reproof shows that you are not my child and I do not love you.
Notice verse 9. Our earthly fathers disciplined us. What was our response? Today, psychologists tell us that if we whip our children into shape that they will be more violent, that they will hate you, that they will abuse other people, and so forth. What does God says? We learned respect. We respected our parents because they were teaching us, training us, and getting our lives ready for the world. Notice the rest of verse 9 — should we not expect God to do the same and we respect him for it?
Verse 10 — Our parents disciplined us for a short time to the best of their ability. The implication is that our parents made mistakes. Some did not discipline properly. Some were too lenient. Some were too strict. Some disciplined in selfish ways rather than according to God’s plan. But God disciplines for our own good. We suffer it is for our own good, “…that we may share his holiness.” God is molding our character to be holy. If we never suffered and we were not whipped into shape, we would never change. We think that we are adults and that we are through with being corrected. “No one can tell me what to do!” God will still correct you. The shepherds of the church will still correct you. The evangelist will still correct you. We need correction and hardships come to bring those changes about.
Thus, verse 11 tells us that all discipline is painful. These times of correction are not fun. But these difficulties are bringing about the fruit of righteousness in our lives. But only if we allow ourselves to be trained by the difficulties. We cannot give up. We cannot quit. We cannot decide not to learn God’s lessons. Life is hard so that we will bear fruit if we allow ourselves to be changed by the things we experience.
Get Strong! (12-17)
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (12:12-13; ESV)
Be strong! Get a grip! Stop whining! Pull yourself together! Put things in order and prepare for your journey of faith. Don’t get out of joint but put your trust in God! Have faith! Stay with God and be healed. Quit falling apart under the weight of suffering. In our struggle against sin we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding of blood.
Then notice verse 14 — Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Remember what the writer of Hebrews taught in 11:6, “It is impossible to please God without faith.” Notice this other impossibility — No one will see the Lord without holiness. We have to act different! We are not going to make if we act like everyone else who falls apart in difficult times. We are called to be holy, that is, different and set apart for God’s service. We are being disciplined so that we can be holy. We are being whipped into shape so that we can be set apart for God, for without this holiness we are not going to see God. To put it another way, without God’s correction, reproof, discipline, and whipping us into shape, we are not going to see the Lord.
Let God change you! Let him change you by being peaceable with everyone. Don’t be a quarreler! Don’t be a fighter! Don’t be argumentative! Seek reconciliation, not fighting. Seek peace in relationships, not strife.
Verse 15 tells us that we need to let God’s correction change our hearts, ridding us of bitterness. Cut out the root of bitterness in your life. Get rid of the animosity you have that is causing you to hold a grudge against another. Be forgiving, not bitter. Notice the warning of verse 15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” Don’t lose your grace by not allowing yourself to be trained and molded by God’s correction. How do we fail to obtain the grace of God? The writer is going to conclude with the example of Esau.
…that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (12:16-17; ESV)
What does Esau have to do with not giving up and accepting God’s discipline? What did Esau do? Remember what took place in Genesis with his brother Jacob. Esau went hunting and came back very hungry. Jacob had made a stew but would not give it to Esau without him giving his birthright to Jacob. Now, the birthright was an important. He would receive the double portion of the inheritance from his father. He gave up his inheritance for the stew that Jacob had made. This should bring the point of the writer of Hebrews into focus.
Esau traded the spiritually and eternally important for something that was only physically and temporarily important. He did not see the importance of his birthright. Genesis says that Esau despised his birthright. This is the teaching lesson to us. We are suffering. We are going through hardships and difficulties. Just because you are going through hardships, do not trade away your eternal inheritance with the Lord just for temporary comfort and pleasure now. That is exactly what Esau did and he was rejected by God and did not receive the blessing either. The blessing went to his brother, Jacob, instead.
Are you going to throw away your eternal reward because you are suffering? You have not suffered to the point of shedding blood like Jesus? Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Be strong! Look through the suffering and see the eternal reward. Don’t trade away God’s blessings and God’s inheritance for a few crumbs of this physical world.