Hebrews was written to Christians who were suffering persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ. As a result, some were leaving Christ and falling away from grace. In Hebrews 11 the writer reminds them of the heroes and heroines of faith from the Old Testament who suffered persecution and trials. In chapter 12 he uses their example to encourage the Hebrews to keep their faith as Christians and to keep their eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-4). In the verses that follow he helps them to understand what God is doing with their trials and it will help us to understand what God is doing with the coronavirus pandemic and the trials we face, today.
God chastens those whom He loves (vv. 5-6).
He begins by reminding them of something that was taught long ago in the Old Testament Scriptures: “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). The persecution they endured was viewed as a form of discipline from the Lord. It did not mean that God did not love them. No! It was because He loved them. His love chastens, rebukes, and scourges every one of His children. God does not want us to despise it nor to become discouraged by it, but to see how much He loves us.
So often in our trials as in this pandemic we are like little children who do not understand what our parents are doing. All we know is that it hurts, and we want it to stop. Later in life we realize that it was for our own good and how much they really loved us. But that is a hard comparison for us to make. I mean how do you compare a spanking, taking away a toy, a grounding, or a time out, with a deadly virus wreaking all kinds of havoc on the world and bringing so much sorrow, fear and despair to our hearts? We do not understand it any more than children understand what they must suffer. Yet, it is just another way that we come to realize how much God really loves us.
God deals with you as with sons (vv. 7-8).
“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” (vv. 7-8).
God wants to be as a father to us. All fathers should recognize the importance of disciplining their children (cf. Proverbs 13:24 “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”; 19:18 “Chasten your son while there is hope, And do not set your heart on his destruction.”; 23:13 “Do not withhold correction from a child, For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.”). Those who think that bad things should never happen to good people forget that none of us are good (Rom. 3:10, 23). Only God is good (Luke 18:19). We are all sinners in need of correction, rebuke, discipline, and chastening. That is what makes us better, stronger children of God. It produces patience that helps us to grow up spiritually and become mature Christians, so James tells us to count it all joy (cf. James 1:2-4).
God corrects us for our profit (vv. 9-10).
“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? 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” (vv. 9-10).
One thing that discipline teaches us is respect. I learned this from my father when I was very young. I feared His belt and was quick to obey His voice. That lesson helped me to respect others like my teachers, my principals, the police, and my elders. It also made it easier to learn respect for God. This is certainly something we need more of in our world and in the church, today. One lesson we must all learn from this pandemic is to fear God, to revere God, to respect God.
I will also tell you that my father was not a perfect disciplinarian. He made mistakes, and so did I when trying to discipline my children. But we both wanted the best for them. That is what God wants for us. He wants what is best for us. When I was a child there was a show called “Father Knows Best” but we do not always know. We sometimes fail our children but God, our Father, does know what is best for us. His discipline is always for our good, to benefit us. His goal is to help us to become holy as He is holy.
Holiness is another lesson that we must learn. The coronavirus is an awful plague that has attacked our world, but it is a mere symptom of the real problem that we have in this world – sin! The pandemic is just another reminder of how bad sin really is and what it will do to us. Sin will destroy our very soul and separate us from God forever. To be holy is to be separate from sin so that we can have fellowship with God.
God’s chastening is painful for the present but afterward it will yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness (v. 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” (v. 11).
I can still remember the sting of my father’s belt. It hurt! But I’m happy now that I got those whippings because they trained me to listen and obey those in authority. That has not inhibited my life. It has helped me to learn, to grow, to be a better person. And, I don’t always understand why God would have me or somebody I love or anybody else suffer and die but I know that what is happening to us, to our families and to our world will produce “the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it”.
The peaceable fruit of righteousness is not just having peace because you are doing what is right and saving yourself from a lot of trouble, but it is having peace because you are right with God. My father’s training kept me out of a lot of trouble but what really gave me peace was being right with him. And that is ultimately what God’s discipline is about – that we are right with Him.
When it comes down to it, that is all that really matters. All the hurt, pain, sorrow, misery, heartache, and death will someday pass but will you have received God’s discipline? Are you right with God? Do not turn away from Him, don’t rebel against Him but learn to listen to Him, learn to obey Him so that you can know and have the peace that comes from being made right with Him.
A Threefold Plan Of Action (vv. 12-14).
The Hebrew writer concludes with these words to God’s people: “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (vv. 12-13).
Here is a threefold action plan for us to put in place not only to bring healing but also to bring us to the Lord: 1) Strengthen those who are discouraged and weak. When you make efforts to encourage others it will strengthen you, too. 2) Make whatever changes you need to make to get right with God. If you are not going in the right direction, if your life is out of joint spiritually, straighten it out and get back on the right path that leads to life. 3) Pursue peace and holiness (cf. Jam. 3:17-18). Let me illustrate that word translated “pursue” which literally means to hunt something down. When I was a child, I remember some of us kids on the long front porch of my grandmother’s house out in the country. There was an old dog all sprawled out on the porch. It looked like he was asleep. For the longest time he was not moving but just lying there. But as soon as a little rabbit came up into the yard he jumped to his feet, lit off the porch and ran like a cheetah after that rabbit. That is what it means to pursue peace and holiness -- hunt it down like a dog on a rabbit. Do not just sit there on the porch (or on your couch). Go after it.
See the Lord for who He really is – the One who loves you!
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
That is the faith that is necessary for us to see the Lord. When you believe Him, you trust Him, you obey Him then you will come to know Him. You will realize just how much He has loved you all along and still loves you and always will love you. You will see Him for who He really is – the One who loves you!
If anyone ever understood this, it was the apostle Paul. He was a blasphemer, persecutor, and murderer of the church of Christ until he saw Jesus for who He really was – the One who loved him! He took this personally. He was cleansed from his sins when he called on the Lord in baptism (Acts 22:16). The persecutor became a preacher of Christ and His love. He explained how Christ changed him and why (Galatians 2:20). He was crucified with Christ and then lived by faith because Christ loved HIM and gave Himself for HIM. Have you been crucified with Christ? Is Christ your life? He loves YOU! He gave Himself for YOU!
Robert Dodson is the Preaching Minister for the Northwest Church of Christ.
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