Volume 11, Issue 1: Exegetica
As With Sons - Hebrews 12:3-11
The Hebrew Christians received this letter having already experienced persecution from unbelievers, "a great struggle with sufferings" (Heb. 10:32). Throughout these chapters, the author encourages them to hold on to their confidence, to endure trials like these, in the firm belief that God will work out all things, even persecutions at the hand of unbelievers, for the good of His chosen ones.
But is the Lord really that sovereign? Does He control even sin and wickedness in such a way that He brings good out of it? Indeed He does. He brought the greatest good in human history, the salvation of His people, out of the most horrid evil in history, the crucifixion of His only Son. It is in fact the example of Christ's sufferings on the cross by which the author encourages his readers in the midst of their trials: "For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls" (Heb. 12:3). The word for "hostility" is antilogia ("contradiction" in the AV), which emphasizes the verbal abuse heaped upon Him as he hung on that tree. Knowing that in the sovereign plan of God Jesus endured such abuse for our good keeps us from becoming weary and discouraged.
The good that He brings out of our sufferings is twofold. First, He compensates the sufferings of this world with the rewards of the next. "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake," Christ taught. "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven" (Matt. 5:11, 12 NKJV). Rewards are set aside for us in heaven when we receive from unbelievers the same sort of antilogia that Christ received. Our situation is not that of the "men of this world whose reward is in this life" (Ps. 17:14 NIV). Rather, we are to be like Moses, who esteemed "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward" (Heb. 11:26 NKJV). God gives the reward of heaven (and what a great reward that will be!) to His children who suffer on earth, even to those who "have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin" (Heb. 12:4 NKJV). The readers of this epistle had not yet been put to death by the sinners against whom they were striving. But in the face of death they were told to consider the One who promised, "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne" (Rev. 3:21 NKJV).
Second, He gives in this life the fruit of godly discipline to those who suffer in His name. "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.' 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" (Heb. 12:5-8 NKJV). Hardships in this life should not alarm us. We are to endure hardship without complaint, recognizing God's sovereignty over every part of life. In fact the opposite is true: if we do not suffer the chastisement of God, then we have cause to be alarmed whether we are His sons, for all His sons have become partakers of His chastening. Remember against whom Jesus pronounces His woes: the rich, the well-fed, the happy, the popular. If you are among the poor, the hungry, the sad, and the hated, then rejoice, for you are in the good company of the prophets and the children of God.
"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" (Heb. 12:9-10 NKJV). The discipline which human fathers give their sons, though required by God, is not always given for the right motives, but "as seemed best to them." We are not infallible. At times our discipline may not give the result we intend; it may even work against our child's best interests. But the Father of spirits is infallible, and His discipline is, without fail, for our profit. The chastening of our heavenly Father results in holiness, a chastening by which we are led to mortify our flesh to the sanctification of our spirits.
Note that our task while suffering the chastisement of God is not to second guess His work in us, but simply to be subject to Him and live. If you are undergoing trials, avoid the temptation to divine the sin for which you are being chastened. You are not a prophet. Instead, simply trust Him through the trial, "casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you."
"Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:11 NKJV). Chastening, in order to be true chastening, must be painful. But the pain is only for the present, and it results in good for eternity. For this is the good which the Father gives to His children whom He chastens: the fruit of righteousness in this life, and the reward of heaven in the next.