February 24, 2019
So apparently someone hacked the Hub this week and sent you all emails, purportedly from me, asking for money – Google Play cards – whatever those are. Listen, if you ever get an email from me and I’m asking for anything besides your date of birth, your social security number and your mother’s maiden name, it’s not me. So sorry that happened – the perils of living in a digital age.
Several years ago, I was taken in – here at Alliance. Someone called the church, asked for me, said they were the Thompsons – an African-American family who had just started coming to church. They were driving through a town in West Virginia when their car broke down, and Pastor, this community is not friendly to African-Americans. We’re scared, can you send some money, right away, for the car repair? I did – $300, much to my embarrassment. And yet, God knows my heart, knows I abhor racism and love the people of His church. Scammed? Sure. Naïve? Probably. Proving my love for Christ and His people, regardless of race? I hope so.
I suppose that would be considered a first world problem. But I’m not confident it would be classified as persecution. And yet, we do live in a broken world, don’t we? I mean, who would break into a church database, pretend to be a pastor, and try to scam the people of the church? Can you imagine standing before God for that one? Listen, when you robbed the 7-11, that was one thing, but the church? We have a special place reserved for you.
It got me thinking – perhaps it is a way for the evil one to attack the church. To discourage the church. I am aware of at least one person who, trying to do good, sent money. You know, to help someone in need. Taken in, for love of people.
So does that mean we become more wary, more careful? Perhaps. Less sacrificial, less giving? I hope not. This person or persons targeted the church of Jesus Christ because they know Christians are giving people. So, in that sense, it would be taking advantage of us because we’re Christians. Gullible, naïve, easily manipulated? Not necessarily. We are followers of Christ, who Himself gave. Everything. For love of His people. I don’t think I’m stretching things here. If the evil one can take our money, it is a small, albeit, meaningless victory.
We are in the book of Hebrews. And the author is writing to this group of largely Jewish believers in Jesus who were facing opposition, persecution because of their faith. What form does such opposition take today – especially in our culture? I would suggest it is any form of loss or suffering because we are followers of Jesus. In what other ways is the evil one – or his evil followers – attacking you such that you wonder whether this Christian life is worth it? I want you to think about that a minute. I’ve become a follower of Jesus and my finances, my relationships, my personal health is still a mess. And so maybe Christianity doesn’t mean we’ll live a trial-free life. Maybe it’s ridicule. Maybe loss of respect. Overlooked for a job or promotion because of your faith. Mistreated because you wrote a paper with Christian ideals. Dismissed because of your integrity. Someone left you because you follow Jesus. There are all kinds of ways the evil one attacks.
Consider Job. He lost his fortune – because of his righteousness and an attack of the evil one. Think about that – he lost His wealth – his animals and assets, because He was righteous, not because He was unrighteous. He lost his family – this is hard to wrap our minds around – all his children and grandchildren – can you imagine – because of his faithfulness. He lost his health. The respect of his wife. Were it not for the book of Job, we, like his friends, may think it was God’s punishment because of some hidden sin. But it wasn’t. And yet, it was allowed by God – all of it. Why? Does God not care? Asleep? Too busy? Quite the opposite. You see, there are three ways we typically view trials – even in the form of opposition and persecution – that need to change:
First, we have a tendency to think God doesn’t care. Or maybe, He doesn’t know. The opposite is actually true – He does care, and so trials come as a result of His care. How? Hold on.
Second, we think trials come perhaps because we’ve done something wrong – we’re being punished. That may be true, right? I Corinthians 11 – some of you are sick, some of died because of your neglect of personal holiness. But it may not be. Sometimes the question, Lord, why are you doing this to me may be a right question, if asked rightly? Is it possible God allows trials for other purposes besides punishment?
Third, we think that God is not in control. Well, we may not say it quite like that – but we say it like this: this is an evil attack, and God is helpless to do anything about it. Oh, we don’t say that either? So if God cares, and God knows, and God is in control – and let me just throw in an extra one – if God is good, is it possible He has something else in mind for our trails? If God our Father is good and holy and sovereign and something bad happens, is it possible God is still good and holy and sovereign? Or must we think Him untrustworthy? Can He still be trusted in the midst of trials and loss and pain? Even silly ones like losing $300 trying to care? Even bigger ones like loss or suffering or even death because of faith?
Read the text with me today – it’s found in Hebrews 12:4-11.
Now, many of us know this passage, don’t we? We’ve quoted it for years – God brings discipline in our lives to train us, to teach us, to mature us. It’s proof we are His children – God disciplines those He loves – and those who are not His children – He doesn’t discipline them. So discipline is proof we belong to God, right?
That’s true. But now, we are forced to look at the passage in its context. This book is written to Jewish believers facing severe opposition – persecution. The author has just encouraged them with the great Hall of Faith. Look to them – they, too, faced opposition. Some even martyrdom. Be encouraged then, and run with endurance the race set before you. Lay aside every encumbrance, anything that would distract you in the race. Lay aside every sin that so easily entangles. Run with endurance – keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus – the author and perfecter of faith. Don’t miss this next point – who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, the most painful and shameful of deaths – endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself. They opposed Him to the death – but we understand His opposition, to death, had a purpose. Namely, our redemption. So that’s good, right? As you run your race with endurance, fix your eyes on Jesus who endured – to death – consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. When? When you face such hostility from sinners.
That, brothers and sisters, is the context. God had a purpose in the suffering of His Son – it was for your salvation and His glory. Is it possible He has purpose in your suffering as well? Not that He doesn’t care – quite the opposite. Not necessarily that you’re in sin. Not necessarily that He’s not in control – He is, and He’s good.
The author seeks to encourage us today, with the truth that persecution, opposition, trials, attacks of the evil one – God allows, for the purpose of our discipline, our teaching, our training, for our good, so that we may share in His holiness and produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness. That’s the context….Look at the outline:
- The Current Extent of your Suffering/Discipline (4)
- The Biblical Basis of your Suffering/Discipline (5-6)
- The Earthly Example of your Suffering/Discipline (7-9)
- The Purpose of your Suffering/Discipline (10-11)
Notice how each point has Suffering and Discipline together – as if, interchangeable. That is my argument – and the author’s point. Our suffering is not because God doesn’t care; it may not be because of sin; it is not because God’s not in control. The truth is, God disciplines us, sometimes with suffering, because He cares – more, He loves us; not necessarily because of sin, but to mature us; and He allows it precisely because He is in control and it is for our good and for His glory.
Look at verse 4 to see the current extent of their suffering. He has just said at the end of chapter 11, many were tortured – tied to a rack and beaten to death. Some were stoned, some were sawn in two, others were put to death with the sword. Now, since we’re surrounded by such a great cloud of witness – the word came to mean martyrs – let us run our races with endurance, fixing our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross. He suffered to the point of death, even death on a cross. Consider Him so that you don’t grow weary and lose heart.
You see, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. You haven’t faced martyrdom, like Him…but notice, he says yet. This is why I’ve suggested martyrdom seems to be right around the corner. They had faced persecution from Jewish authorities opposing Christianity – from Roman authorities. And now it seems they might face martyrdom – death – just like Jesus. And they did – for centuries now. So consider Him so that you do not give up.
Now, He says you have not yet faced death in your striving against sin. Whose sin? Putting that with the previous verse which speaks of Jesus facing the hostility of sinners, most agree, the sin here is of those opposing our faith. Attacking us – in many different ways. Being used by the evil one to bring suffering and pain and loss.
Further, point 2, you have forgotten the exhortation – the word is paraklasis – the same word used of the Holy Spirit by Jesus in the Farewell Discourse. It speaks of exhortation, encouragement, comfort. You’ve forgotten a passage of Scripture that addresses you as sons – and daughters by the way – that should be encouraging and comforting you at this time. It’s found in Proverbs 3, and he quotes it.
My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the LORD, [wait – discipline of the Lord – I thought we were talking about suffering for your faith? He just mentioned Jesus facing the cross – that was from the LORD – who killed Jesus? Who indeed – since Isaiah 53 says it was God’s will to crush Him – for our benefit. Do not regard lightly the discipline of the LORD] nor faint when you are reproved by Him. For those whom the LORD loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.
Again, is the author actually suggesting the trials of persecution and opposition are actually ultimately coming from the hand of the Lord? It sure seems like it. And he actually says it is discipline not because of indifference, because He doesn’t care, but because He loves us.
But why? If this is true, why does God discipline His children, why does He reprove us? Well, point 3, first the author argues from the lesser to the greater. It is for discipline that you endure. The word discipline has the word child in it, and speaks of rearing or training or disciplining a child. It is for training, for being raised up, matured that you endure discipline from your heavenly Father. In doing so, God deals with you as sons and daughters. And he asks a question – what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
Now that question loses a little punch in our culture. We’ve somehow come to think if we love our children, we won’t discipline them so they can grow up to become unruly, undisciplined, self-focused adults. No, discipline is the result of love. It’s for our good. What child is not disciplined by an earthly father? At least one who loves him or her.
You need to understand – then the authority of the father was ultimate – and it was his responsibility to discipline, train, mature his children. In fact, verse 8 says if you are not disciplined, then you are illegitimate children. You see, then there were legitimate children of the father’s marriage to his wife, and illegitimate children as result of affairs and the like. Those children were not heirs, and the biological father had no training responsibilities. And that proved you were illegitimate – unloved, uncared for. That’s a sad commentary, but the author is using a cultural norm to make a point. If you are disciplined, you are a loved heir. If not, you aren’t.
Now, notice verse 9 – we had earthly fathers to discipline – this was a primary responsibility. The beginning of verse 10 says they trained us for a short time – while we were children is the idea. That wasn’t very long – it may have seemed so at the time, but in the grand scheme of our lives, it was a short time. So also, in the grand scheme of eternity, our earthly lives are just a drop in the bucket. Well, it our earthly father’s responsibility to prepare us for adulthood.
And they did so as seemed best to them. That’s an interesting phrase – it does open the possibility – actually the truth that sometimes their discipline wasn’t best. But they did as seemed best to them. I remember one time, my father and I were goofing around – I was 14 – I can remember because of where we lived. He was chasing me, and I got to our car parked out front. You know how that is – even if you’re slower, you can keep away from someone running around and around the car – which we did for a little while. He stopped, and picked up a rock – like part of the curb. And he said, you better stop, or I’ll throw this at you. I didn’t know what to do. My dad didn’t lie. So I stopped – he tackled me, we wrestled a bit. I asked him, would you have really thrown that boulder at me? His answer, I said I would. Dude – dad, are you kidding me?
Then I remembered his father, my grandfather. I’d heard the stories how he disciplined my dad. When in trouble, he’d make dad go outside and get hickory switch. Then he’d beat him with it. Not recommending that – I just remembered the story. In fact, he told me the one time he got out of a whipping. Grandpa told him to get switch, and he apparently brought in a little twig. Grandpa said, go get a switch or it’ll be worse. It made Dad mad, so he went out and picked out a small tree. He pulled it up by the roots – drug it in, roots and dirt and all. Grandpa started laughing and dad got out of the whipping.
They did as they thought best – even though sometimes, it wasn’t good. But the purpose was discipline – child training – maturing. And as a result, we respected them for it, verse 9 says. Maybe not at the time, but eventually. They took on whining, sniveling little children, and grew us up – presumably to be productive members of society. Here’s the lesser to greater argument – shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits – likely our human spirits – and live? The Father of spirits speaks or our eternity. This life now – a drop in the bucket. Be subject to Him, to live. Here, and in eternity. How?
Our last point – verses 10 and 11. While our earthly fathers disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them – to grow us to adulthood – a longer time – our heavenly Father, disciplines us for our good – for a much longer time. Our earthly fathers, as seemed best. Our heavenly Father, perfectly, as is best – and for our good. Did you know the oft-quoted Romans 8:28 is in the context of suffering? Look at it:
16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,
17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
Because we live in a broken world, in broken bodies – and things don’t work right. He goes on to talk about the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us when we’re suffering and praying. Then he says the familiar 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Meaning, God our Father even works our suffering, our trials, our challenges, even persecutions and opposition for our good. For our training. For discipline to grow us up. How is that good? The end of verses 10 and 11. First, verse 10, He disciplines us for our good, so that – here’s the purpose – so that we may share in His holiness. God’s purpose in training us is so that we might become more holy. After all, both the Old and New Testaments say, be holy, even as God is holy. Set apart to righteousness. To goodness. So that we lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles.
Verse 11 says all discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful. That was true as earthly children – no one really enjoyed the spankings, the time out, the discipline – do your homework, eat your peas, make your bed, do your chores – but we’re thankful for it, because after having been trained by it, we became the people we are.
Further, God’s discipline – in the context – sufferings, opposition, even persecution, attacks of the evil one, pain, loss, sorrow – those who have trained by it – God’s gracious hand of discipline in our lives – afterward, it yields fruit – namely, the peaceful fruit of righteousness. God is training us to be holy and righteous.
Show me someone who has had a silver spoon in their mouths their whole lives – no challenges, no discipline – and I’ll you someone who’s difficult be around. But show me someone who has faced suffering, and trials, and grown by them, I’ll show you someone who is humble, and who can encourage us, empathize with us, care for us, when we face similar trials. He’s growing us up. He’s maturing us. He’s making us like His Son.
So there are a few ways you can face suffering. You can put on a Stoic face, and just endure it. Don’t like it, but it is what it is – I’ll just grin and bear it. One author said this is a way disdain it. Not necessarily best. You won’t grow that way.
Or you can be dismayed by it. You can allow it to depress you, discourage you, defeat you, to anger you. You can blame it solely on the evil one, as if God has forgotten. You can decide to no longer trust God – after all, why, if He loves us, would He allow our suffering – more than that, actually bring our suffering? You can quit – like these readers were considering doing.
Or, you can be encouraged by the trials of suffering. How? Knowing that God allows them not because He cannot be trusted – quite the opposite. He is working in your life for your good – to make you more like Him. To help you grow in holiness. And then, you can face such trials with joy. The words of James suddenly make sense, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
Is it possible that what you’re going through is eternally for your good? God is growing you up, maturing you, to live rightly – now and in the life to come. Endure, brothers and sisters, and together, we will be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.