A CONSISTENT LIFE

 

Week of August 31, 2008

 

Bible Verses:Hebrews 12:1-15.

 

Biblical Truth: Believers can be more consistent in their Christian walk when they remove the hindrances of sin, accept Godís discipline, and put their faith into action.

 

Remove Hindrances: Heb. 12:1-4.

 

[1]Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. [3]For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. [4]You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;[NASU]

 

[1]These verses develop the metaphor of an athletic contest in a stadium or arena. It offers encouragement for Christian perseverance in faith and obedience toward the prescribed goal. The cloud of witnesses refers to the heroes of the faith presented in chapter 11. Their example of being consistent in their faith acts as an encouragement to us as we run the race. Run with endurance the race evoke thoughts of tense exertion, maximum effort, and a constantly renewed concentration of energy on the attainment of the goal. The exhortation to run with endurance identifies the race not as a contest of speed but of stamina. Lay aside every encumbrance covers anything that would interfere with responsible commitment to Christ. Christians are to divest themselves of every association or concern that would limit their ability to live the Christian life to the honor of God. The writer warns his audience to guard against sin in any form because it will distract them, causing them to look away when they should be fixing their gaze upon Jesus. Christian faith finds its essential expression in persevering devotion to Christ and in a lifestyle that reflects consecration to the service of God. The writer calls for a display of endurance through faith. There must be firm resolve not to drop out of the contest but to exert every effort to cross the finish line despite hardship, exhaustion, and pain. Because the race has been set before us, we can be assured that it will bring us to the desired goal.

 

[2]The appeal in this verse is for a concentrated attention that turns away from all distractions, with eyes only for the person of Jesus. Jesus is positioned at the finish line; like a runner, the Christian must intently focus on the goal of Jesus. Author implies priority or preeminence in the exercise of faith precisely because of Jesus' supremacy in bringing faith to complete realization and giving it a perfect basis through His suffering. The joy that was set before Him is the completion of the work of reconciliation He had come to perform for our eternal benefit and to the glory of the Fatherís name, thus bringing to fruition all the purposes of Godís creation and all the promises of His covenant. His joy, which is indeed the fullness of joy [Ps. 16:11], is the joy also of His elect; for it is His will that His own joy should dwell in them so that their joy, like His, may be full, and it was His prayer that they might have His joy fulfilled in themselves [Jn. 15:11; 17:13]. It was for this joy with which His victory was to be crowned that Jesus endured the cross. But the cross is the gateway to joy, His joy and ours; for Jesus, who endured the cross, despising its shame, is now seated at the right hand of throne of God. The description of the Son as being now seated signifies the completion of the work of purification, conveying the notion of rest after the fulfillment of a mission. But more that that, His position at the right hand of God indicates that His is the place of highest honor, that He is not merely on a seat but on a throne, and that He is not just sitting but ruling. This is the seal of the divine acceptance of His work of purification, for He now is received back to the height from which He descended for our redemption. He who humbled himself for our sakes is now supremely honored. This theme recurs throughout Hebrews [1:3; 2:9; 4:14; 5:5,8; 6:19; 7:26; 8:1; 9:12,24,28; 10:12; 13:20], and has momentous consequences for the believer who has been raised up and seated with Him in the heavenly places [Eph. 2:6].

 

[3]After an enthusiastic start, the Hebrew Christians are now showing signs of growing weary and fainthearted. Their perseverance is faltering. Some are even tempted to give up the struggle altogether but to do so would demonstrate that they are not of the true line of those who by faith surmount every opposition and victoriously endure to the end. More seriously still, it means that they are taking their eyes off Jesus, who is supremely their source of strength and inspiration and who is waiting to welcome them at the end of the course with a crown of righteousness [2 Tim. 4:7-8]. They are urged, accordingly, to consider Him, that is, to make a careful reckoning by comparing Him and the extremity of His suffering with themselves and the limited extent of their suffering. The link between verses 1-3, where the focus is upon Jesus' endurance of redemptive suffering, and verses 4-13, where Christians are called to endure disciplinary sufferings, is the appeal to not grow weary and lose heart.

 

[4]This verse begins a new paragraph in which the writer will clarify the meaning and purpose of disciplinary sufferings in the life of the new people of God. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood can be understood figuratively to mean, "you still have not done your utmost." The expression is drawn from the games, in which the most dangerous contest was the armed boxing match. Boxing was the supreme test of the pentathlon, and bloody wounds were commonplace. The writer's intention is to say that the community had not yet given the fullest measure in their struggle against sin. The personification of sin as an enemy who must be overcome, even by bloodshed, suggests a striking contrast between their affliction and that of Christ who shed His blood on the cross for their redemption.

 

Accept Discipline: Heb. 12:5-11.

 

[5]and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; [6]FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." [7]It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8]But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9]Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? [10]For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. [11]All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. [NASU]

 

[5-6]In verses 5-11 the writer seeks to justify the experience of hostility and abuse that the community has encountered because they identified themselves with Christ. He fully recognized that suffering has the ability to disturb faith or to provoke uncertainty and despair. The sufferings of the community were actually disciplinary in character and expressed the love that God has for His children. Properly understood, the sufferings were a means of training them for the life of committed obedience appropriate to members of God's family. The biblical concept of discipline combines the nuances of training, instruction, and firm guidance with those of reproof, correction, and punishment. The proper framework for understanding the character of divine discipline is the covenant, which binds God and His children together in a familial relationship. Adversity and hardships are to be understood as firm correction attesting God's love for His child. When regarded rightly, they provide assurance that God is maturing His children through responsible, corrective love. The essentially negative theme of painful suffering is subsumed in the positive notions of love and sonship. The citation of Prov. 3:11-12 in verses 5b-6 summons the members of the community to persevere in faith in view of the encouragement extended to them through the testimony of Scripture. They are to recognize in the hardships and abuse they experience an intervention of the fatherly love of God for His children.

 

[7-8]Chastening signifies the suffering that may have to be endured because of fidelity to God. Three considerations based on the concept of divine discipline are given: the necessity of paternal discipline [7-8], the appropriate response to discipline [9], and the benefits that result from nurture through discipline [10-11]. Endurance of disciplinary sufferings is an essential aspect of Christian experience. Bearing their trials with patient and trusting endurance will have the effect of demonstrating their sonship and will strengthen their resolve to persevere further. God's imposition of corrective discipline is both intentional and necessary.

 

[9-11]In verses 9-11 the writer develops the parallel and contrast between paternal and divine discipline in terms of its character, intention, and results. Paternal discipline was necessary to teach us due respect. The idea of correcting through discipline is prominent. Father of spirits is the transcendent God to whom the heavenly world is also subject. As the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, God's right to discipline us and to demand our devotion proceeds from the highest authority. Submission to divine discipline is integrally related to the enjoyment of eternal salvation. In distinction from paternal discipline, God's discipline is determined by His perfect wisdom and is motivated by an intrinsic concern for our welfare. The goal of divine discipline is to bring God's children to spiritual maturity and to prepare them to share in His holiness. The stress is placed not on human endeavor but upon the fact that God bestows as a gift a share in His holiness through divine discipline. The clear implication is that it is impossible to share in God's holiness apart from the correction administered through disciplinary sufferings. The concept of correction through discipline is thus related to the formation of godly character. The period of discipline is followed by a period of joy, which in this instance is linked to the immediate enjoyment of peace and righteousness and the ultimate enjoyment of God's character and presence.

 

Put Faith into Action: Heb. 12:12-15.

 

[12]Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, [13]and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. [14]Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. [15]See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;[NASU]

 

[12-13]The practical logic of the argument that has preceded is now applied to the readers in a prolonged and diversified exhortation, which continues virtually to the end of the epistle. Present trials are the way to the greatest prize. The man who accepts discipline at the hand of God as something designed by his heavenly Father for his good will cease to feel resentful and rebellious. He has stilled and quieted his soul, which thus provides fertile soil for the cultivation of a righteous life, responsive to the will of God. The expression hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble seems to have been somewhat of an idiom or stereotype. It gives the picture of the person who is thoroughly exhausted and discouraged. The note of concern and responsibility for others seems to be implicit in the admonition. The prospect of healing for the weakest of their number adds a word of encouragement to the clear directive to the community.

 

[14-15] True holiness is inward and private, between a man and his God, and the good deeds which are its fruit are performed as secretly as possible as an expression of loving concern and with an aversion for all fanfare and publicity. This kind of holiness, which reflects the pure goodness of God, springs from single-minded love of God, not from love of human applause, and is consistent with a longing to see the Lord, who is all-holy, not with a lust to be seen by men. Holiness is the essential requirement if we are to be admitted to His holy presence.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.††††††††† How does sin entangle us? What distinction do you think the author is making between encumbrance and sin? List the three ways we are to run the race. How do each of these enable us to not grow weary and lose heart as we run the race? What do you think the author means by set before us? What are the implications of this for our daily lives?

 

2.††††††††† What does it mean to fix our eyes upon Jesus? What have you discovered that helps you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus? What joy was set before Christ? What joy is set before you that can motivate you to endure and persevere? [see 2 Cor 4:17; Phil 3:20-21].

 

3.††††††††† In verses 5-9, what relationship is the author emphasizing? Why is this important for what he is saying? Why shouldn't we be discouraged when the Lord rebukes or disciplines us? List reasons Godís discipline is beneficial to you. How do you know when and how God is disciplining you? What is the goal of His discipline?

 

4.††††††††† What different forms does God's discipline take in the life of a believer (Ps 32:3-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10)? What should our attitude be during the training process?

 

 

References:

The Book of Hebrews, Philip Hughes, Eerdmans.

Hebrews 9-13, William Lane, Word Books.

Hebrews, Leon Morris, EBC, Zondervan.