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Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 12:4-7

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“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.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s reading discussed the faith that Moses displayed. The rest of Hebrews 11 described the travails and trials other persons in the Old Testament endured; despite them, they never faltered in their faith.

In Hebrews 12, the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, takes that steadfastness in faith from the Old Testament and encourages the Hebrew converts to apply it to their own Christian journey.

These are the first three verses (emphases outside of the subtitles mine):

Jesus, Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Do Not Grow Weary

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

This chapter, John MacArthur says, is dedicated to the new converts who have been persecuted by their families and friends. Their joy and confidence in Christ is faltering. Some regret the choice they made:

the primary target of these words, as we shall look at them, is to the saved who are going through some terrible trials, some real sufferings, some tribulation, some anguish, some affliction. Unless they think that this is something bad within Christianity, and unless they begin in their minds to disqualify Christianity on the basis of trouble and say, “Well, I thought Christianity was a happy thing; I thought there was supposed to be joy; I thought there was supposed to be peace; I thought God was supposed to take care of us and supply our needs and give us answers for our questions, and smooth a way, and etcetera, etcetera. Now I’ve got all this trouble and worse than I had before. I’ve got everybody I used to love hating me.”

That holds true today, doesn’t it? A convert among agnostics or atheists is sure to lose some of his family and friends during his Christian journey.

That can also happen when one formally changes denomination.

However, we have to weigh our tribulations in these circumstances against what God’s people endured in the Old Testament. Granted, some Christians are being physically persecuted and put to death. However, millions of others are not. Therefore, we need to keep a perspective on personal trials and tribulations when they are not that severe.

MacArthur elaborates, revisiting the second half of Hebrews 11:

11:37, “They were stoned; they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy): they wandered in deserts, in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” The Holy Spirit has already shown them the great heroes of the faith. Great men and great women, of years past, lived amidst terrible suffering, terrible affliction, excruciating pain, and faced it victoriously because they faced it – watch this – with the right attitude. With the right attitude.

Now, having shown this at the end of chapter 11, that there were some who faced it with the right attitude, He then calls upon the Hebrews to do the same. And He says to them in verse 1 of chapter 12, “Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” – in other words, so many people to testify of the victory of faith over adversity – “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Listen we have enough people to prove to us that faith endures, that faith is victorious, that suffering may come, and suffering may go, but there’s still victory. We have enough witnesses to confirm that; let’s get in the race and let’s run it with the same endurance that they ran it with.

And then He gives the key to running it the right way. Verse 2, “Looking unto Jesus.” Looking unto Jesus.

The author reiterates this by telling them they were not in danger at that point of ‘shedding blood’ for their faith (verse 4). MacArthur says this means they needed to look at the example of Jesus:

Verse 3 and 4, “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be weary and faint in your minds.” You think you’ve got troubles, look at Jesus. “You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” None of you have died for the sins of the world yet. None of you know what it is to be absolutely pure, pristine to the very core, without a possibility of defilement, and then to have poured out on you all the sins of all the ages. You don’t know anything about that. Don’t cry about your troubles; look at Jesus. He endured, and His was victory.

And so, already, you see, He begins to move into the subject of suffering and how to handle it. Jesus suffered far beyond what we will ever suffer, and He endured. And you and I can endure as the Old Testament saints did, as we look at Jesus. Every Christian needs to remember that life is a marathon. The Christian life is a marathon, and there are obstacles all along the course. It’s like the 3,000-meter steeplechase. There are water hazards, and there are hurdles, and we have to go over. It’s not just flat ground. And we must face it, and we must run it with endurance.

Then the author addresses the subject of divine discipline (verses 5 and 6), citing Job 5:17

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves;
    therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.

Psalm 94:12

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
    and whom you teach out of your law,

… and Psalm 119:67:

Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep your word.

The author then says that God disciplines us because we are His children (verse 7). If He did not discipline us, it would show that He does not love us as His own.

MacArthur explains that discipline — ‘chastisement’ in some translations — does not mean punishment, but, rather, refinement:

Now, to begin with, we’ve got to understand some introductory things. Here we go. There is a word that repeats itself in the passage. It is the word “chastening,” “chastising,” “chastisement.” You see, chastening in verse 5; you see chastening in verse 6 – chasteneth in verse 6; chastening in verse 7; chastisement in verse 8; chastened in verse 10; chastening in verse 11. You get the idea that’s an important word. You’re right.

What does the word “chastening” mean? Well, most people think it means God’s browbeating us or punishing us for sin. That’s not what it means at all. The word “chastening” comes from a Greek word, a Greek verb – really, the noun form is paideia, and paideia has to do with children. It is the word that means to train and educate your children. Get that. The word should not really be translated chastisement; it should be translated discipline. Discipline. I think the New American Standard does translate it discipline. But the word means simply a very broad term; it speaks of whatever – now watch this – of whatever adults use toward their children to cultivate their souls, to correct their mistakes, to curb their passions that they might mature in the most positive, effective, mature, disciplined way. It is a very broad word. It speaks of instruction that will increase virtue. It’s not just punishment. That – if it was only punishment, it would be a different word. It is – it is instruction through discipline. It does not have only the idea of punishment in it. Punishment is part of discipline, isn’t it? But that’s not all of it. But it has the idea of corrective measures and preventative measures that bring up a child in the right path. And the word is used repeatedly to speak of a parent working with his children.

So, what we’re talking about tonight is not God punishing the Christian; it is God disciplining the Christian into maturity. And so, we’ve entitled our study, “The Discipline of God.” And the figure changes here in chapter 12 from a race to a family: a loving Father disciplining his beloved children. And the obstacles in the race are now the disciplines of the Father training His children.

Did we — will we — ever suffer as God’s only begotten Son Jesus did? No, never. He endured the greatest suffering in the world — for our sins. He took our punishment for us.

Therefore, we will never have to endure that same pain, the same torture or the same humiliation. That isn’t to say that people aren’t dying viciously in attacks on their homes or churches or in prisons under dictatorial regimes, but it will never match what Jesus endured for His father for our sakes.

MacArthur explains:

Christ has already borne the full punishment of God. Right? And God will never exact double payment for the same sins. So, the punishment end is finished in terms of punishment as regards guilt for sin. John said, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” He completely bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Neither the justice of God nor the love of God would ever permit God to exact payment for what Christ has already paid in full. Okay? So, in no way does a Christian suffer the punishment that redeems him from sin. That’s already been done.

However, God will bring corrective action our way because we are His children. He wants to direct us from sin to holiness:

Now, mark this, friends. Mark this, and mark it well, the difference between that kind of punishment – listen – and discipline lies not in the nature of the pain, but in the purpose of the pain. You see? In other words, the suffering of an unbeliever and the suffering of a believer may not be too much different. Both can get cancer. Both can have loved ones that die. Both can lose their jobs. But in one sense, a man is being punished for his sins; in the other sense, he is being disciplined by God. The pain may be the same, the purpose is different.

In punishment, God is the judge; in discipline, He is the Father. In punishment, the object is His enemy; in discipline, the object is His child. In punishment, the goal is condemnation; in discipline, the goal is holiness.

I know. It’s hard to grasp. However, think of it as God driving us away from sin, something that could only be relieved through blood sacrifice. That is how much God hates sin.

Matthew Henry has a more encouraging explanation, even though he wrote it centuries before we were born. He tells us of the objective of the author of Hebrews, which was to strive against sin:

1. He owns that they had suffered much, they had been striving to an agony against sin. Here, (1.) The cause of the conflict was sin, and to be engaged against sin is to fight in a good cause, for sin is the worst enemy both to God and man. Our spiritual warfare is both honourable and necessary; for we are only defending ourselves against that which would destroy us, if it should get the victory over us; we fight for ourselves, for our lives, and therefore ought to be patient and resolute. (2.) Every Christian is enlisted under Christ’s banner, to strive against sin, against sinful doctrines, sinful practices, and sinful habits and customs, both in himself and in others.

2. He puts them in mind that they might have suffered more, that they had not suffered as much as others; for they had not yet resisted unto blood, they had not been called to martyrdom as yet, though they knew not how soon they might be. Learn here, (1.) Our Lord Jesus, the captain of our salvation, does not call his people out to the hardest trials at first, but wisely trains them up by less sufferings to be prepared for greater. He will not put new wine into weak vessels, he is the gentle shepherd, who will not overdrive the young ones of the flock. (2.) It becomes Christians to take notice of the gentleness of Christ in accommodating their trial to their strength. They should not magnify their afflictions, but should take notice of the mercy that is mixed with them, and should pity those who are called to the fiery trials to resist to blood; not to shed the blood of their enemies, but to seal their testimony with their own blood. (3.) Christians should be ashamed to faint under less trials, when they see others bear up under greater, and do not know how soon they may meet with greater themselves. If we have run with the footmen and they have wearied us, how shall we contend with horses? If we be wearied in a land of peace, what shall we do in the swellings of Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5.

II. He argues from the peculiar and gracious nature of those sufferings that befall the people of God. Though their enemies and persecutors may be the instruments of inflicting such sufferings on them, yet they are divine chastisements; their heavenly Father has his hand in all, and his wise end to serve by all; of this he has given them due notice, and they should not forget it, Hebrews 12:5.

If this is still difficult to grasp, think of it as training in sport or in the military. What does the coach or the drill sergeant ask his subordinates to do? Try harder, work harder, get rid of the flaws. Be a better athlete. Be a better soldier. Put up with gradually increased training and, through it, become a professional athlete or a professional soldier.

What are the objectives of training? Perseverance and endurance. We want to win sports matches or athletic competitions. We want to win battles so that we win a war.

Discipline from God works along the same lines. He wants us to be with Him at the end of our Christian race. He’s training us to endure, to persevere — and to be victorious.

The subject continues next week, but if we keep these thoughts in mind, next week’s verses will be easier to understand.

Next time — Hebrews 12:8-11

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