God our Father. 12:4-11
In the passage before us, the author of Hebrews writes concerning God's fatherly training of his children.
v4-5a. The author of Hebrews points out to his readers that the troubles they are presently undergoing are not to the point of death, as was the case for many of the great ones of faith, particularly Christ. His readers, as God's sons in Christ, have forgotten the encouragement to be found in scripture. They should see their present troubles as an expression of God's fatherly love, purifying, strengthening, straightening, .... training them for their future service in eternity.
v5b-6. Our author then quotes Proverbs 3:11ff and directs his readers to its teaching.
"Don't short-sell the difficulties of life,
and don't be crushed by them either,
for the Lord builds-up those he loves,
and shapes-up everyone in his family."
v7-8. A true son will always be treated differently to an illegitimate child, so the training (the word "discipline" is misleading) will always be harder for a child of God. Our author has already made this point regarding Jesus. Even Christ, God's one and only son, "learned obedience by the things which he suffered."
v9-10. The idea that the troubles of life serve to teach the disciple is further developed. We willingly accept the training of our earthly father and respect him for it. We do this, even though this training is imperfect. Our heavenly Father similarly trains those whom he loves, yet he does it in perfection. God's training shapes us toward holiness. As we individually seek to apply the Word of God to our lives, by grace through faith, in interaction with the rough-and-tumble of life, so we are shaped for eternity, prepared for the divinity that is ours in Christ. "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."
v11. Finally, our author points out that the child of God, who accepts life's troubles as training from the hand of a loving God, ceases to feel resentful. Such a person becomes open to God's word and thus open to the cultivation of righteousness, of Christ-likeness. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn of thy statutes", Psalm 119:67.
The problem of pain
"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains." C.S. Lewis, "The Problem of Pain."
Believers have never found it easy to deal with pain. The question constantly on our lips is, "if God is a loving God, why does he allow this trouble to come upon me?" Why is there pain?
The problem becomes more acute when we are affected by an abundant life theology - health and happiness in Christ. How often have we heard the line "believe in Jesus and all your troubles will be washed away"? There is no promise in the scriptures which teaches that believers are somehow protected from life's troubles. Neither is there a promise that believers will be showered with life's pleasures. God uses the troubles of life to shape us toward eternity. Affliction serves to sanctify us; troubles prepare us for our rule with Christ in eternity. As we seek to apply Biblical truth within the troubles of this age, we are changed, moulded and prepared for the coming age.
So, life shapes us, particularly when it is unpleasant. The believer who recognizes God's training in affliction becomes open to the will of God, rather than bitter, resentful and morose. Such training serves "for our good, that we may share in His holiness", v10. So therefore, brothers and sisters, "endure hardship as training; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not trained by his father? If you are not being trained, then you are illegitimate children and not true sons", v7-8
So, the point of our passage is simple enough. At this very moment we find ourselves struggling against sin and the infernal interference of dark powers. Circumstances from without are constantly pressing in on us. Yet, we have not suffered to the point of "shedding blood"; our suffering cannot be compared to Christ's. And we understand that this divine training serves a positive end, "it repays those who are trained by it with the happy harvest of a good life", William Barclay.
1. Affliction is sometimes viewed as divine "disciplining", a chastisement for sin, recurrent or otherwise. Discuss the idea of divine chastisement for the eradication of sin in the life of a believer.
2. What other purpose could affliction have in the life of a Christian if not a form of divine scourging?
3. Would it be right for a Christian to see all affliction in the terms of training?
4. Discuss the notion that God directly manages the troubles of life.
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