None of us have endured the sort of hostility that Christ endured, not even one. He is an example par excellence that we “may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3). Keep running the race. He did, so we should.
Hostility and difficulty prove the grace we’ve received; joyful responses are not natural but supernatural. Struggles also train us to grow up in Christ. The author of Hebrews has a lot to say about this training and, in particular, about the goodness of God’s discipline.
God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:7)
A son left to his own, says Solomon, is hated (Proverbs 13:24). A loved son is a corrected son.
We have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not must more be subject to the Father of Spirits and live? (Hebrews 12:9)
God the Father knows best. Really. He knows where we need to be in life and how to help us get there.
He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. (Hebrews 12:10)
He’s imparting His own nature, sharing it with us.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
God does not deny that there are painful parts. Sometimes learning and growing hurts. But He does tells why He’s doing it.
He loves us as His children. He sent His Son to die for us. Because Jesus died for us, He will correct us and consecrate us for His family. For Christians, discipline is a feature, not a bug.
I have never met a runner convinced that he would race faster if only he could carry a heavier bag. Runners run better by dropping weight, not by picking it up, just as a Trans Am loaded down with a year’s worth of college accumulation doesn’t get better gas mileage. Switching illustration fields, rose bushes never trimmed never bloom as much as they could.
Often we ignore these realities in our souls. We stubbornly cling to beloved burdens and sin that makes running that much harder.
We pile on worldly mindsets and wonder why we can’t get up to spiritual speed. We defend every branch of interest we have, even the dead ends and judge the emptiness of our branches as a sign that spring just hasn’t arrived.
God does not accept or make excuses for our fruitlessness. He calls us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” so that we can “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). He calls us “put off [our] old self, which belongs to [our] former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22). And “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). If God didn’t love us, then He would let us hold on to things that keep us from true life and more fruit. Let us not despise His correction but receive it for our good as sons.
We should take the Lord’s Table seriously because the Lord Himself does. He “fences” His Table, He protects it from abuse, not always at the table itself, but afterward, which does cause much effect. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. … Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1 Corinthians 11:27, 29–30, ESV)
Some sins, here a disrespect of communion, do lead to suffering, sickness, and “sleep” in a casket. “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (verse 28). Check the system before you take off so the wheels don’t fall off down the road.
But this exhortation by Paul is no scare tactic. It’s not meant to make us panic, to consume us with pre-trip checklists so that we never get out of the driveway. The exhortation protects us from failure to take our sin and His sacrifice seriously. When we do that, we can enjoy the meal.
His sacrifice was for sin, on behalf of sinners. The bread and the cup represent His body and blood given for sake of our forgiveness and our cleansing. By His wounds we are healed. We don’t heal ourselves before we come to this table. Only Christ can make anyone well and that’s why we exult in Him, not in our examination.
The disciples demonstrated their ignorance when they assumed an invariable connection between the man born blind and a specific sin in John 9. Not all human pain can be interpreted as punishment for a particular sin. We, like the first disciples, need to think before we speak so knowingly about the causes of someone else’s effects.
Does that mean that no suffering can be traced to a specific sin? Obviously not. If a sixteen year old asked me to sign the cast over his broken arm that he got in the car wreck following the police chase after he robbed Starbucks, and he says that he just doesn’t know God’s purposes in his pain, the one making wrong assumptions is the one holding out the Sharpie.
But is that the type of situation when we can draw a connection between sin and suffering? Hebrews 12 tells us that God disciplines those that He loves. He disciplines His children, and when? When they sin. He perfects His kids with many means, including suffering, just as He did with His Son (Hebrews 2:10), and His Son never sinned. There are times for us when the pain means Stop it. Some of His children may need deeper wounds to get the message.
How will you know if a particular pain is discipline for your sin or if the pain is initiated by God to display His glory? We do not have a foolproof test, but there is one thing that is very helpful: a clear conscience.
Granted, a clear conscience could be wrong because it is misinformed or deceived. A clear conscience goes a long way, not all the way. It’s helpful, not inerrant. Nevertheless, if you are carrying sin around in your heart, refusing to confess it, kill it, and make it right with your victim, then you will have a hard time rationalizing away your troubles to something other than the Father’s training.