Difficulty as Discipline
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 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.” Hebrews 12.3-5
We all encounter difficulties in life. Sometimes it is as simple as a funky sleep schedule; sometimes it is as difficult as unceasing chronic pain or illness. Other times we are emotionally exhausted and feel as though we have nothing else to give. It is easy for us in any of these trials to want to give up. We don’t want to fight against our sin anymore; we don’t want to continue to go to a doctor; we don’t want to keep coming to nights without getting any sleep. We don’t want to remember the loss we feel like we just experienced.
The point is this though: these difficulties in our life are not just willy nilly happenstances. As Christians, we must acknowledge that many of the things we consider difficulties whether physical or emotional, are part of God’s work in our lives. Consider the church that the book of Hebrews was written to. It was not in a good position. In fact most of the early church endured great and various trials. Some lost family members; some were rejected by their family; most endured pretty bad medical issues we can’t even imagine; gathering together as the church was a time where divisions in the church family were brought to mind. The list could go on.
What was the church’s response? What was each church member’s response to the times of difficulty? Sometimes it seems like the church was divided even in the apostolic age. The church at Corinth seems to have been in great disarray when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to it. When James wrote his letter to the churches, he addressed similar divisions where the church seems to have favored the rich at the expense of the poor. Many of the other churches were enduring hardships of various kinds: these hardships are characteristic of human hardships in every age. Technology hasn’t taken away our trials though it often masks them. The author of Hebrews challenges the church to consider Christ. Look to the example and work of Christ, and find hope.
Specifically near the end of his book, in chapter 12, the author of Hebrews brings up the topic of discipline. In chapter 11, he’s already recounted lives others have lived by faith: especially those in the midst of trials. Now in chapter 12, he says, ‘therefore since we have been surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses… let us run with endurance the race set before us.’ He doesn’t say, let us find ways to avoid all trials, but rather, let us run with endurance. And then he draws our attention back to Christ: ‘looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector 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.’ So in our difficulties, the church is called to look to Christ, and we do this in part because he suffered for joy that was set before him. Now, we do not look on him from our own effort alone. Notice how Jesus began our faith. We do not just work harder to believe. Faith is a gift of God and is a work of Jesus Christ. So springing from such a faith and looking to Jesus, we then work ourselves, running the race with endurance.
What does this look like? One thing of great importance to the author of Hebrews is how the church responds to trials and to God’s discipline which is often seen through those trials. Do the trials and discipline drive us to sin? Do we recognize those temptations that cling so closely to us? Often discipline can embitter and trials can blind us to the truth. Michael Allen in his book Sanctification says, ‘Indeed, endurance amidst suffering proves to be an arena for discipline unto holiness not because pain is so bad but precisely because pain tempts one to sin.’ The author of Hebrews says, In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.’ Have we endured the pain to the same extent as Christ our Lord? The answer is no! But even as the pain tempts us to sin, we can find that the pain and discipline is able to be sanctifying. In fact it is often sanctifying because it is not just random pain but intentional discipline of our Father.
So Hebrews is calling us to view our trials in light of Jesus’ work and to seek to run the race with endurance: thus when we encounter pain, we should fight against sin. When we face various trials, we should battle against any temptation. Whenyou are not experiencing these things, prepare your heart to be content in the work of Jesus who began the good work in you so that when trials do come we walk by faith and confidence of our position in Christ.