The bulk of the letter written to Hebrew Christians is about why following Christ is superior to following the law of Moses, even if it means suffering because of one’s faith in Christ. In chapter 12, however, the inspired writer pointed to why the suffering itself was actually a good thing. Quoting from the book of Proverbs, he wrote,
My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.
The suffering that these Christians were undergoing served a purpose. It was so that the could be disciplined, i.e., set in their proper path. They were undergoing these trials because they were sons of God through their faith in Christ, and their loving Father wanted them to be trained up in the way that they should go, for their ultimate good: that they could share His holiness. The writer argues that had such things as they had faced not happened and had they not been set in the way of the Lord, they would have been nothing more than illegitimate offspring, rather than legal inheritors of God’s promise.
There are times when being a child of God is easy. It’s easy when no one is pressuring us to sin, or when the temptation isn’t all that enticing. It’s easy when we have people all around us who sincerely desire for us to be with God for eternity. But then there are times when being a child of God is hard. When no one wants us to serve Him. When the temptations that face us tug at us, either because of who it is presenting the temptation or our history with it (for instance, an addiction). While the easy times aren’t without value, some of the most significant training we get in the way of the Lord comes with the hardship. The moment of hardship can be a defining moment for us, because it is then when the choice we make whether to follow Christ costs something, and sticks with us.
The Hebrew Christians were facing such a moment. Choosing to continue to follow Christ would likely cost them. It would mean continuing and perhaps increased persecution and trial. But the decision made in that moment would set them in a path for good or for evil for quite some time to come. The writer noted that in that 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” (12.11). The hardship endured now would yield fruit later.
In facing this hardship, the writer of Hebrews offered his readers (and us today) words of admonition by which we may be successful and share in God’s holiness.
Mend what is broken. Athletes (and especially their managers and coaches) understand that is nearly impossible to perform at peak capacity when injured, and so will take time to properly rehabilitate an injury. Similarly, military strategists will seek to fortify any weak points in their defenses. We see this idea play out over and over again in our lives, but yet we will often try to endure spiritual struggles while spiritually crippled. We want to fight Satan by our own strength. We don’t rely on the word of God. We don’t evaluate our own spiritual weaknesses and take steps to strengthen them. That is a recipe for spiritual disaster. We need to be honest with ourselves, evaluate our needs, and work to improve them so that we are better able to face the hardships before us.
Look out for others. The writer said, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” We will ultimately give an answer for ourselves, but we aren’t in this fight by ourselves. There are others fighting side-by-side with us, and we need to look out for them, because we want them to overcome hardship the same as us. It is easy for us to become discouraged—to become bitter—in the fight. If that “root of bitterness” springs up, one casualty of war may have a ripple effect and cause many to fall short of God’s grace.
Don’t let short-term fixes jeopardize long-term success. We are reminded of Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal because he was hungry. His desire for a short-term fix ultimately ruined his long-term success. There was no way for him to get back the birthright, and he was unable to inherit the blessing. These Christians could have yielded to the hardship and gone back to the law of Moses, but at what cost? There are decisions that we could make that would certainly make our lives easier as opposed to standing firm for the Lord, but what would that compromise result in later on?
Remember the goal. Hebrews 12 began with the example of Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” The writer of Hebrews reminds us that ultimately, we have something set before us: the city of the living God. We must remember that goal every day, and remember that an eternity with God outweighs all the hardship it might take to get us, and remember that it might be the hardship that helps us get there when we overcome it.