Agonizomai: Heb 12 - 04-07 - Christ - Dispenser of Discipline to Disciples

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Heb 12 - 04-07 - Christ - Dispenser of Discipline to Disciples

Heb 12 - 04-07 - Christ - Dispenser of Discipline to Disciples

Heb 12:4-7 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 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. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

The writer has focused thus far on the struggle against sin in the world - that sin which resists and rebels against the truth, and which slanders, persecutes and even murders those who hold it fast, and who exhort others to come to a knowledge of it. But even the sin in the world is to be resisted only through looking to Jesus, and not by natural human means. Our ways do not work.

But God works in manifold ways. He accomplishes many things simultaneously in one circumstance. Thus, the persecutions and ridicule and resistance of the world, when they bring suffering to us, come to us through the loving hands of a sovereign Saviour, and are worked together for our good. Our meagre efforts, our inadequate and blind bumblings are the means by which God makes Christ known in the darkness yet, at the same time, our failures and successes - our rejection or acceptance - our sufferings and our joys - are all used to train us to bring forth the peaceful fruit of righteousness, if we persevere. God sanctifies his people even as he uses them. Nobody in the church is a Saint, but they are all saints.

The Hebrew saints had persevered thus far. They had passed the first flush of deliverance and wandered in the wilderness - they had entered the land of promise and engaged the foe; all these things were done in the Spirit, just as their forefathers had also lived the typology of the Christian journey out in history. But some were wavering. They had come thus far and would they now turn back? Not if they remembered their history.

To be disheartened is human. To allow that natural tendency to become the sort of despair that turns away from Christ altogether is sin. It is sin because it is unbelief. And the (final) fruit of unbelief is damnation. Sooner or later all sin feeds unbelief because it is born of unbelief. And while we are walking in the Spirit (believing) it is impossible to sin. The problem is that we don’t walk in the Spirit perfectly. We not only fail in what we do know, but we fall short because of ignorance and because we must grow in grace.

And this brings the writer to the Hebrews to the question of discipline. Instead of being disheartened and discouraged by their troubles they ought to be encouraged! Their difficulties are evidence of God’s discipline, if they will believe - if they will remember their faith and place it rightly, which is in God and not in themselves or their faith.

Long out of fashion in our society, but well understood by the people of the first century, is the idea of disciplining children. It was accepted not as abuse, but as an expression of love. Discipline could take many forms, up to and including corporal punishment, but it was administered (ideally) for the ultimate good of the child. The writer to the Hebrews uses this figure to bring forth the marvellous truth that discipline proves sonship. {Pr 3:12,Re 3:19} This is good news, but it is counter-intuitive. The rebellious, natural principle in us, even as believers, balks at being disciplined. We don’t always see, right off the bat, that it is for our good. But the saint believes all things are working together for good to them. So discipline is received and endured and finally welcomed and embraced through faith. And this thinking applies equally to the human agent who is the dispenser of our discipline.

Along with all this is the necessity of understanding that the struggle against sin is more than the struggle against personal sin, but it is never less. God has chosen to leave at work in us a sin principle which is to be overcome through faith. Not only are the world and the devil inveterate and hateful enemies of the saints for Christ’s sake, but the sin principle at work in the flesh of believers is simultaneously warring against the spirit. This is ongoing. It never stops until the death of the body.

And we might begin to think how well we do if, while resisting the world we also manage to curb our lusts. Fools that we are! If we think that we stand we have deceived ourselves. We can only stand in weakness - that weakness which leans upon the God who is able to make us stand. Looking to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith...

The battle against inward sin is personal, but not always private. It can’t be. Firstly our sin always affects others. It bears fruit. Secondly, no child of God is an island unto himself, but a vital member of the mystical body of Christ. If one suffers then all suffer. If one member is drowning then all suffer loss. Thus, with the wisdom that only God can bring, we are to bear one another’s burdens, to lift up the wavering (as the writer does here), to admonish the wandering, to discipline the disobedient - in all things praying in the Spirit for the health of the body and of those individuals who make it up.

This does not mean that we must tell every person our deepest and darkest secret sins. God forbid that there should be “gossip by public prayer meeting” because we pray in public for what others have confided in us in private. But there is a need for honesty in the church. When people ask on a Sunday morning, "How are you?" it ought to be more than a custom. It ought to be born of a sincere caring for the state of that soul (body, mind and spirit) and not a trite greeting and the means of avoiding any serious involvement in their lives.

Conversely, when we are suffering and struggling, God has appointed means in the church by which we are to be comforted and uplifted, encouraged and guided. At some point we must be honest with people so that they can seek from God how to minister to us. So we mustn’t miss the fact that God uses means in the church, as well as in the world by His general providence, to purge us and to scourge us - so that we may become better sons.


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