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Strengthen Yourselves

Hebrews  12

It is a curious thing. Many Christians seem to have the feeling that if they are true Christians, they would never suffer anything. This takes God much too lightly – for God has ordained that suffering be used as his method of discipline. In what follows, we must understand that our worship of, and service to God must be undertaken as serious matters.

God’s Discipline

We begin with a thought about earlier times.

Why is “bastard” used as an insult?

Think about it. Even in our day – when it is extremely common for a child to have no idea who his father might be – we still consider “bastard” an insult. It is still used as such, though it has long since lost its connection to illegitimate children. We might therefore ask why our ancestors did consider it such an insult.

The answer is relatively simple: if a child was a bastard child, his father would take no interest in him. Therefore, such a child was never disciplined by his father. Modern psychology and radical feminism hold that this would be an advantage. Our ancestors were not so gullible. They could actually see the difference between a man who had fatherly discipline and one who did not. A common theme of fiction in the 19th century was the illegitimate child who learned discipline (for example, by going to sea) and profited from it.

Paul uses the same idea in this passage:

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,

and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,

6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves,

and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.ӣ

7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

God’s discipline

We do object to the word “discipline.” It has become a synonym for “punishment” in our time. But recall that discipline and disciple have the same root. Indeed, we may not like discipline, but we praise a disciplined athlete.

The concept shown here is simply this: if God disciplines you, then you must be one of his children. The difference, of course, is that God is preparing you for greater things.

Paul here points out two things to the Hebrews which still apply to us today:

  • Our discipline is light discipline. Have any of us ever been beaten to the point of bloodshed, just because we are Christians?
  • The hard discipline comes when blood flows, or even when it is necessary to give your life for the church.
Discipline and trouble

It’s difficult to tell the difference sometimes. How do we know that our suffering is for our good? Sometimes, we cannot tell until the suffering is over.

  • There is often a sense of relief when the suffering ends. (When the dentist finally says, “Sit up and rinse your mouth out with this.”) When you get that feeling, chances are excellent you have just finished some of God’s discipline.
  • Always, though, there is profit to the suffering. I don’t go to the dentist to suffer pain; I go to get my teeth fixed. I do it voluntarily. So it is that we should submit to the discipline of God.

Strengthen Yourselves

12Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13“Make level paths for your feet,”£ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.

There is a curious thought here, for most of us. If we are told to strengthen ourselves physically, we think of exercise equipment. Paul uses a different metaphor here: removing obstacles. The picture is that of a man who is lame, walking down a path. Remove the obstacles in the path and the injury will heal. Leave them, and the injury will be renewed.

Surely you can see how this applies. What makes us weak, if not sin? So, therefore, we should make every effort to get rid of sin in our lives so that we may heal quickly. But how do we do that?

  • Live in peace. Note that the phrasing is “make every effort.” It takes two to live in peace. But at the very least we should see to it that we are the ones who wish to remain in peace.
  • Be holy. It is an anathema to modern Americans, for it says, “be different.” But different you must be. You must be one who is set apart for God.
  • Let no one miss the grace of God. By word or by deed, do not let anyone of your acquaintance miss God’s grace. Let your life so show his glory that the world wants to know why. Speak to those who do not know this grace. Try to reach all you can for Christ.
  • No bitter root. The expression is a graphic one. The bitterness of quarreling and fighting is known to us all. To call it a root is to show how deeply such things are held in the human character. It is this, then, that not only causes trouble for us – we can easily see that – but also defiles many. How? Think about the last family argument you had. Things were said which can often poison a relationship for years. What does this do to your character?
  • Not sexually immoral. It is sad to relate, but this point still needs to be made explicitly. The bulk of those who call themselves Christians consider fornication to be “natural” and therefore irresistible. Adultery is now “an affair” and greatly praised in our magazines and movies. It is impolite to suggest that this recent discovery of sex is anything other than liberation from Puritanism. I am impolite.
  • Godless. The example given, Esau, makes it clear. It means one for whom the church, God Himself, are simply pawns on the chessboard of life, to be sacrificed for a momentary advantage. Such a cynic will be treated as he deserves.

Do not refuse him

18You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.”£ 21The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”£

22But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”£ 27The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29for our “God is a consuming fire.”£


Think: comparison

I’m not sure why, but the “comparison and contrast” method of exhortation has gone out of style lately. It bears examination as a technique, for its roots in logic are sound.

The syllogism is simple: If A is mild and B is strong, then the results expected from A should be seen in B – but much more so. Paul’s comparison here is just such.

He first considers how the Law was given to the children of Israel. It was a frightening sight. It caused trembling and fear in the people. They were afraid to go near that mountain. When Moses came down, they would speak only to him – not to the awesome God he represented.

Now, the grace we have through Jesus Christ is much, much greater than the Law. Therefore – since the Law provoked fear and trembling – how much more awestruck should we be in our new covenant?

Logically, this is fine. But we need a practical way to implement it.

Do not refuse him

Paul now points out the obvious: if we really wish to lose in this, there is a sure method. Simply refuse to listen to what Christ says.

  • As the blessings of the covenant are greater, so the penalties are greater for those who abandon it.
  • The character of God has not changed; he is still “a consuming fire.” Are you jealous for your wife? How much more is God jealous for his people?
  • Remember, the Day of Wrath is still coming. God has yet to close his books.
The Eternal Kingdom

Paul ends with the positive thought: though the punishment is far greater for failure, the rewards of success are also much greater. By the unshakeable purposes of God, we shall receive an unshakeable, eternal kingdom.

Considering all this, what should we do?

  • First, be thankful. You are greatly blessed; give thanks for it.
  • Worship reverently. Our God is an awesome God.

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