Read below or watch at here (Sermon begins at 25:38.)
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 6:11)
Let me remind you of the danger prolonged hardship presents and the five things we need to know to endure it well. The danger in hardship is (verse 3) that “you will … grow weary and lose heart.” Another way of putting that, which is faithful to the Greek text, is: “lest you become soul-sick and fall apart.”
Falling apart is the danger. There are five things we need to know to avoid it. 1) We need to know that hardship is inescapable. We will go through it – everyone does. Even Jesus the Son of God did.
2) We need to know that, while we don’t have a choice about whether we will go through hardship, we do have a choice about how we will go through hardship. (The how is what we are looking at today.)
3) We need to know that God knows. He knows what’s out there ahead of us and he knows what’s in here inside of us. He knows what we can handle (better than we do) and will keep us from any trial that we cannot, with his help, handle.
4) God will not waste our suffering. It will only be wasted if we waste it. He will use it to change us for the better and enable us to share in his holiness. Holiness is the state in which people flourish.
5) And this is a summary of all the rest: God intends to bring good to us through hardship, whatever it may be. That does not mean that hardship is good. It means that God is. So good, in fact, that nothing can prevent him from bringing good to his people.
When we know these five things, we are ready to do the five things that keep us from falling apart and avoid doing the five things that contribute to falling apart.
The first thing to do, which comes from verse 2, is to look at Jesus. If you want to know how to do a thing, find someone who has done it. If you want to replace the O2 sensor on your Ford F-150, get on YouTube and watch the professional at 1A Auto; don’t watch me. He’s done it. He knows how. Jesus knows how to endure hardship. He’s done it. Watch him.
One way to watch him is to read the Gospel accounts of his life. You can watch Jesus endure misunderstanding and see how he handles it. You can watch Jesus deal with false accusations, manipulative people, the violation of his rights, and physical exhaustion. You can see what he does with bickering, misguided friends, and flattering, devious enemies. I spend some time each day looking at Jesus in the gospels. It is one way I “fix my eyes on Jesus.”
But don’t just watch him: think through what you see him doing. Watching him won’t help much unless you think about what you see and imitate it. That’s the second thing we can do to endure hardship in a healthy way: Consider carefully how Jesus dealt with hardship. After we have looked at him (verse 2), we “consider him” (verse 3). The word the NIV translates as “consider” is a Greek compound, comprised of a root meaning “to reason” and a prefix meaning either “up” or “again.” We say, “Lighten up,” or “Toughen up!” or “Man up!” Our author says, “Reason up!”
If we are going to get through hardship well, we are going to need to think about what to do and we will learn that by watching Jesus. He’s the master. We reason up; that is, from a higher point of view, from Jesus’s.
I mentioned that prefix can also mean “again.” If it has that sense here, then the idea is for us to go back to Jesus’s life again and again, repeatedly thinking about what he did. We think through our response to hardship in the light of Jesus’s response to it. If we don’t know how Jesus responded to being misunderstood, misjudged, demeaned, and rejected, we need to find out. It is right there in our New Testaments.
Third thing to do (this is huge): Make up your mind in advance that you will not give up but that you will endure hardship as training. Verse 1 has already spoken about perseverance (“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”) and verse 7 tells us to “Endure hardship as discipline.”
Get something out of the hardship you are going through; don’t let it be for nothing. Determine not to waste it. God won’t; you mustn’t either. Use it as discipline. You are going to endure it anyway; why not turn it to your advantage?
What areas in your life need to be trained and strengthened? Perhaps your “patience muscle” is weak. You are always reacting. Or perhaps your understanding and appreciation for others is so feeble as to be missing. Perhaps you need to develop courage, compassion, or faith. Those things can be strengthened, just like your biceps, triceps, and abs. Perhaps you want to be able to forgive someone, but the spiritual muscles needed are incapable of the heavy lifting forgiveness requires.
Hardship is the gym where those spiritual muscles are developed. Since you are going to the gym anyway, why not ask God for help? He’s the Ultimate Trainer. He can help you use your current hardship as strength training so that you will be able to do things in the future that are now beyond your ability.
(By the way, the Greek word from which we get our word “gym” or “gymnasium” appears in this text. It is in verse 11, and the NIV translates it as “have been trained.” Everyone goes to the gym – experiences hardship – whether they want to or not. Why not get some good out of it?)
So, the third thing to do is to turn hardship into a gym for training yourself in Christlikeness. The Jesus-follower is not a Marvel Superhero, who is born awesome or is suddenly transformed into a powerhouse. We were not born again awesome or with superpowers already developed. We need to train. Training, as Craig Gross put it, “is boring. But …training is everything.” Use hardship for training.
The fourth thing to do is: “make level paths for your feet” (12:13). I ran across a paraphrase of verses 12 and 13 that might help us wrap our minds around this: “So, look: now is the time to get tough. Straighten up! Have a workable plan and stick to it. Otherwise, when you get tired, you’ll stumble off the path, dislocate something, and need to be healed.”
“Make level paths for your feet” is a quotation from Proverbs 4. Our paraphrase puts it: “Have a workable plan and stick to it.” Don’t make following Jesus harder than it needs to be. Too many people do. They don’t make level paths. They don’t have a workable plan. Quite frankly, they don’t have any plan.
They only read the Bible when the urge hits them, which is not very often. They only pray when they need something. They have no definite plan for joining the church to worship on Sundays. If they got to bed early enough, and the kids are behaving, and the lawn is mowed, and their favorite speaker is in the pulpit, they might go. They have no plan for serving God – haven’t even thought about how their gifts fit into the work of the church.
These folks have not made level paths for themselves. When they hit the steep, rocky places in life (as they certainly will), they will lose their balance, get knocked off their feet, and end up disjointed. That is the meaning of the word translated “disabled” in verse 13 and it is a very painful condition. That’s what happens when we do not make plans for following Jesus.
One more thing we can do when things get tough, then will look at the things we must not do. The fifth thing to do in hardship is to get along with others. This is verse 14: “Make every effort” – literally, “pursue” or “hound” – “peace with all men…” When we’re going through some painful trial, particularly a prolonged, never-seeming-to-end trial, we can start taking out our frustration and hurt on others and not even realize it. Prolonged trial is a tinderbox and it only takes one spark to cause relationships to go up in smoke. During times of hardship especially, peacemaking must be a priority.
If we do these five things, we are much more likely to endure hardship well. But there are also five things we must not do. The first comes from verse 5: We must not forget God and what he has said. The Hebrews, our author asserts, “have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses [them] as sons.”
When hardship has stressed us out, we are more likely to forget what we ought to remember and to remember what we ought to forget. We remember our rights but forget our responsibilities. We remember other people’s sins but forget our own. Worst of all, we forget about God. The Bible is stuffed full of appeals for us to remember God and warnings about what will happen if we don’t.
Think back to the last time you were in a really hard place (unrelenting temptation, relational upheaval, physical illness, or emotional distress). How long did it take you to remember God and his word? The better we get at going through hardship, the more quickly we remember God. Or you could say, the more quickly we remember God, the better we get at going through hardship.
The Greek word translated “forgotten” in verse 5 is used only here in the entire Bible. The lexicon defines it as “to forget completely” or “to not remember at all.” The recipients of this letter had known – probably memorized – this word of encouragement. But the stress of the in-your-face trial they were going through had driven it from the minds. That is a precarious place to be in. We must not forget what God has said to us.
A second thing we must not do (in that same word of encouragement from Proverbs) is to “make light of the Lord’s discipline” (Hebrews 12:5). Now what does that mean? How do people make light of the Lord’s discipline?
We make light of the Lord’s discipline when we ignore our conscience. After a shocking fall from grace, a prominent national figure admitted: “God sent me 1,000 hints that he didn’t want me to keep doing what I was doing. But I didn’t listen…” That’s making light of the Lord’s discipline.
We also make light of the Lord’s training when we blame others for our troubles. If, instead of saying to our Trainer, “Help me use this pain to share in Christ’s sufferings and in the power of his resurrection,” we say, “It’s not my fault. It’s his fault. It’s not fair,” we will miss the opportunity to train. We will make light of the Lord’s discipline.
Another way we do that is by sidestepping the Lord’s discipline theologically. This is what happens when we excuse sin by saying: “Salvation is by grace, not works. It’s not what I do, it what Christ did, that matters!” Of course! But if we are using the doctrine of grace as an excuse to continue sinning we are committing the worst kind of heresy. St. Paul himself bristled at the suggestion. It is theological malpractice to use the justification Christ won for us by his perfect obedience to justify our ongoing disobedience.
One more way we make light of the Lord’s discipline. In this case, we don’t ignore it. We acknowledge God in the trial and promise to obey him. But when the difficulty is resolved, our promise is dissolved, and we go right back to thinking and acting in the same old ways.
We must not make light of the Lord’s discipline. That is the second thing not to do. The third thing (also in verse 5) is, in some respects, the opposite of making light of the Lord’s discipline. We must not lose heart at his rebuke. Remember what we learned last week. To lose heart is to come apart at the seams. We must not fall apart when God reveals sin in our lives or calls us to change. Some people do just that. They tell themselves, “I can do it. I’m no good at this. I’m such a failure. It’s just impossible.”
Jesus’s people must avoid both errors. We mustn’t fall apart, as if God despises us (he does not). Nor must we belittle his discipline, as though we despise him (we dare not). Instead, we need to remind ourselves that God disciplines those he loves because he loves them and wants them to be glorious.
A fourth thing we must not do (verse 15) is miss the grace of God. In Christ there is grace for every insult, misunderstanding, and difference of opinion; for every illness, financial setback, and loss. We mustn’t miss that grace for ourselves and we must help others obtain it for themselves.
There is a promise implicit in this instruction – a promise that God’s grace will be there when we need it. Has someone taken advantage of you? God is offering you his grace to deal with it. Has someone insulted, ignored, or manipulated you? You can handle it with the grace God is offering right now. Is uncertainty stressing you out? God’s grace is sufficient, and it is yours to receive.
The danger here is that we will so focus on the injustice done that we will miss the grace extended. We take offence because we’ve been slighted, then turn around and slight God who is offering us his grace! If we ignore that offer, there will be a price to pay; there will be hell to pay. A bitter root, planted and fertilized in the soil of hell, will grow up and it will “cause trouble and defile many.”
The “trouble” of verse 15 is the opposite of the peace of verse 14. If we miss the grace of God, trouble will roll through our families and churches and defile many. That is the opposite of the holiness of verse 10. People will be polluted – that’s what that word means. Entire families can become toxic. If heaven had a Toxic Substances and Disease Registry like the U.S. government does, some families and even churches would be on it. It is our responsibility not to miss the grace of God. If we do, people will be contaminated and bitterness will become epidemic.
The fifth and final thing we must not (verse 16) do: we must not be godless. This might need some clarification. A godless person can be friendly, fun, witty, even cultured. We can enjoy thoroughly enjoy his company. But, like Esau, he will make choices without regard for God or for spiritual consequences. God is simply absent from his mind. That pretty much describes how our society operates.
But remember! “Godless” does not mean “worthless.” Godless people are not God-forsaken people. He loves and values them and we can too, but we dare not imitate them.
I have met – this may sound like an oxymoron – more than a few godless Christians. Though they would never admit it, they have taken on the mindset of the culture around them, which operates on the assumption that God is alright, as long as he does not get in the way of some pleasure or pursuit. Our attitude should be precisely the opposite: this pleasure or pursuit is alright, as long as it does not get in the way of my love for God and my obedience to him.
We’ve been talking about what needs to be done and what, most assuredly, needs not to be done, but I want to close with what we will be like if we follow these biblical instructions. When hardship comes, we will hurt like everyone else, but we will heal and bring healing like Jesus. That is because we have used the hardship to enter the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, been made conformable to his death, and have experienced the power of his resurrection.
You might not recognize the name Brian Doerkson but you’ve likely sung his worship songs. Brian is a well-known songwriter and worship leader. We’ve sung his songs at Lockwood. When he and his wife learned that their son would be physically, intellectually, and emotionally stunted by a genetic disorder, the news hit them like a truck. They nearly lost heart.
Brian said to God, “I quit.” He didn’t think he could go on leading people in worship. But when his soul got quiet enough to hear God, he heard God say to him: “Will you trust me? Will you go even with your broken heart?”
Because Brian said yes, he learned that people are not helped by our triumphs nearly as much as they are by our tragedies – when we use those tragedies to enter into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, are made like him in his death, and experience his resurrection power in our lives.
Brian learned that “People are just longing to hear [others] speak of how they have walked through the deepest valleys.” Through people like Brian – people like us, if we will endure hardship well – God heals the world in small ways just as, through his suffering Son, he will heal the world completely.
 Craig Gross, Go Small (Thomas Nelson, 2014), pp. 6-9
 Jack Abramoff in Time Magazine, “Notebook,” (2-6-06)