The Reasons for Suffering
5and ye have forgotten the exhortation which reasoneth with you as with sons, My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord, Nor faint when thou art reproved of him; 6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, And scourgeth every son whom he receiveth (KJV).
It is inappropriate to assume that every injurious trauma that happens to us is godly correction. There are three sources of harm that can come to us in this life.
- Evil entered the world at the Fall and the corruption associated with it is a general cause for disease, weather disasters, war and the like. These are not our fault.
- Mistakes we make are also causes that harm us, such as accidents. These are not necessarily our fault either, but accidents happen, and some of them cause us harm.
- Willful sin that we knowingly commit against God will bring God’s correction if we are truly a child of His, that is a born-again believer.
This third reason for God’s correction for coming into our lives is the focus of this section of the letter to the Hebrews. The apostle explains correction as a normal experience of believers.
It is so important to realize this, and we must view it as a loving correction or refinement that is evidence of Divine love. Our Lord disciplines us as His children because, like a loving father, He wants us to stay away from practices that will bring harm to us that also stop us from moving to maturity. Sometimes He must bring trauma into our lives to alter our path if He views it as leading to destruction:
11 My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; Neither be weary of his correction: 12 For whom the Lordloveth he correcteth; Even as a father the son in whom he delighteth (KJV).
7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live (KJV)?
The apostle applies the lesson from Proverbs to the readers of Hebrews. In the American Standard Version translation, it read “It is for chastening that you endure”. The effectiveness of the discipline God gives us depends upon how we receive it. This is moral training. The word “chasten” means “moral training,” or as Proverbs 22:6 says, “to train up a child”. “Chastening” is also punishment for the sake of correction, and is a corrective measure used by God. If you do not admit your sin when the punishment comes, you will not receive its benefit. Now Paul provides the principle behind this, which is “for what son is there whom his father chastens not?”
Having established this principle, he next presents a two-pronged argument.Verse 8 starts with the first step in the argument, which says if they are never disciplined, it will show them to be illegitimate and prove they are not true sons. However, since they have all become “partakers”of sonship because of this chastisement, they must receive this punishment. This is the bonafide evidence that they are sons. For this reason, the chastening should be accepted and incorporated in their day-to-day living. That means to realize its effects and alter their thoughts and behavior to accommodate God’s correction. But if chastening is absent, it shows they are illegitimate, and they are not God’s children. An illegitimate child does not have the rights of an heir to the father’s fortune, and deprives him of his father’s care. Under Jewish law, to be illegitimate meant three things: no right of inheritance, no right to marry into Jewish society, and no right to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
Verse 9 presents the second aspect of the argument, and refers to a human father’s discipline. In spite of that discipline, we learn to give our human fathers reverence and respect. The application of the illustration is “and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?”Since the believers were willing to subject themselves to human fathers, how much more should they be willing to subject themselves to their Heavenly Father and, therefore, exercise patient endurance by voluntary submission? Undisciplined children, or children who refuse it, will not enjoy a relationship with their human fathers or God the Father.
The object of their submission is “the Father of spirits”, which emphasizes Him as the Creator and also refers to the immaterial part of man. It is the immaterial part of man that continues to live after physical death. The result is that they shall “live”. One product of divine discipline is the abundant life now enjoyed in fellowship with God the Father while the believer is still on earth. When we live forever, we can look forward to eternity with our Heavenly Father knowing His will and love for us as corrected sons.
Earthly Fathers are Imperfect
10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness (KJV).
Sometimes our earthly fathers administered the discipline inappropriately or not at all. Most did the best they could do for the time they had responsibility for our growth and development. Their efforts are contrasted with our Heavenly Father’s discipline. It is always right, perfect and designed to be good for us. We will also share in His holiness:
28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn amongst many brethren (KJV).
Discipline is not generally enjoyed, but if it is received with the proper attitude it brings great reward. “Partakers of his holiness”is a reference to our sanctification or growth in becoming more Christ-like. This leads to the spiritual maturity and completeness that God would have us attain. We then become more like Him, or in His image.
11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby (KJV).
In verse 11 we are told“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous,but grievous”. These words anticipate our objection to being corrected because of the grief and sorrow that comes with correction. The immediate question we ask ourselves is how could this be for profit and advantage? The apostle anticipates our reaction by affirming that no affliction “seemeth”to be joyous. No discipline seems pleasant at the time. While corrections initially does not seem to be an occasion for joy, in the end they really are. There is a delayed acceptance and later on however it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. When we view correction by faith, we realize it as tokens of the love of God and Christ, and are evidence of our sonship to each of them.
This verse ends the apostle’s argument about sufferings and afflictions and how they should be borne. He also to the Corinthians states that the good derived from them is vastly better than their pain:
II Corinthians 4:17–18
17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (KJV).
If we did not receive earthly correction as His sons we would suffer more than any of us can imagine in eternity. To be disassociated from God in eternity is perpetual pain and suffering which is far greater than the temporary pain associated with correction here. We must always have in mind our goal of eternal life and the Messianic Kingdom, not temporary discomfort here including God’s chastisement. All is temporary here, but eternity is permanent. We must endure here to receive the wonderful benefits of Heaven. This is what the apostle calls “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” in verse 11 above.
One might also refer to it as a “harvest of righteousness”. Another of God’s dealings here are likened to a farmer with his corn (Isaiah 28:23–29), or as a farmer pruning his vine so that it may bear fruit (John 15:2). This harvest produces two kinds of fruit. First, the removal of sin, by putting it to death. The second part of the harvest is increased righteousness and holiness for the “crop”, which is the believers.
Notice verse 11 says the harvest produced is the “fruitof righteousness”,not righteousness itself. Neither our actions nor our suffering is the reason for our righteousness, but they promote it in us and increase its fruit and strength. Our righteousness is imputed at the point of justification (Romans 10:4; II Corinthians 5:21). So, the apostle says that God would increase in them the harvest of righteousness “unto them which are exercised thereby”, orthose to whom God loves as sons to correct. The promised “peace” is one of both inward tranquility and contentment.
Do Not Give Up
12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; 13 and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed (KJV).
In verse 12, “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees” is anexhortation directed toward parts of the body that are involved in coordinated activity like athletics. The hands, the knees, and the feet are named because it is through these body parts that we exert all our strength to prevail in an athletic competition. But first we must observe the defect they possess, then second, the remedy for this defect and finally what both of the defect and remedy mean spiritually.
“Hands which hang down” is a reference to us becoming tired of what they we are doing and give up. “Feeble knees”a picture of fear and hopelessness. This imagery is used elsewhere in the Old testament by Nahum: “Hearts melt, knees give way” (Nahum 2:10), and in Psalms: “my knees give way from fasting”(Psalm 109:24). Both the descriptions of the hands and the knees depict one who is ready to give up and abandon all hope of achieving success. The same ailment is afflicting different parts of the body, so the apostle prescribes the same remedy for them both, which is to use all our spiritual strength in our Christian race to the end.
In verse 13, we are told to “make straight tracks for the feet.” This is a path that leaves a track that may be followed. Obeying God is called “walking with Him,” and these paths are the “paths of the righteous.” The apostle continues with his metaphor about running. Those who obey make level pathsfor their feet, but those who are defective here are called “lame”. This is not a ridicule of one who is lame, but a description of the effect of lameness that causes them to make slow progress, and in a race, they would be ready to stop altogether. So, lameness here is an mental ailment different from external hindrances, but points to an inner sickness of wanting to faint away from the race and let weariness stop us from striving. It is an attitude toward correction that needs to be healed.
14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 15 looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled (KJV).
There is a radical difference in nature between the born-again on the narrow way to Heaven and those following the broad road to Hell. The character and conduct of the genuine believers make a stark contrast to non-believers. In fact, non-believers are incited to act with a self-pleasing disposition and in flesh-indulging ways to defy believers. The children of the Devil have no love for the children of God, and they delight in doing whatever they can to annoy and aggravate us. Nothing gives them more pleasure than to see success in their efforts to tempt us to compromise, or stir us up unto angry retaliation. Therefore, it is a code of conduct for allbelievers, in any age and in any country, to strive earnestly to live in peace with all men. That does not mean we will. It means to try. We must avoid those who would antagonize us into anger at all cost. However, when confronted with anger and physical attack we must defend ourselves as we attempt to escape the situation.
Verse 14 starts out with Christians being told to“Follow peace with all men”.Its implication is clear: by nature, men are fractious, wrathful, revengeful creatures. It is because of this contentious, envious, revengeful, spirit which is in us living as the old man, that we need to be reminded to try and “Follow peace with all men”.Further, it is the duty of Christians to be at peace among ourselves, to be on their guard against all alienation of affection towards each other. Paul’s words here seem to be a reference to the world around them. They are to “follow peace with allmen.’”
We must carefully abstain from injuring anyone, and must do everything but sin in order to prevent a quarrel. Do not merely be easygoing when one irritates you, but go out of your way to be gracious unto those who oppose. Do not be so ready to “stand up for your rights,” but yieldeverything except truth and the requirements of holiness. We cannot successfully “pursue peace” if we are prideful, pridealways stirs up strife. We cannot “pursue peace” if we are filled with envy because we then see faults where they do not exist, and cause trouble.
Verse 15 tells us there must be constant spiritual oversight by each one over his life and his attitudes. There is a danger if we fail to keep on the lookout as to where we are spiritually. Falling short means “a moral separation.” It is more than a simple defect. It is the failure on the part of the children of God to apprehend or appropriate grace when something negative comes into their lives. Believers stumble in their spiritual lives because they fail to appropriate the grace that is available. The failure to appropriate grace is the first step downward for it means a failure to progress upward.
The second step downward is positive infidelity: “lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby the many be defiled”. When the apostle refers to a “root of bitterness”, he deals both with the root and with the product, which is bitterness. The failure to appropriate grace during a time of suffering or trial leads to bitterness resulting from the suffering. Bitterness will eventually result in the defilement of many others. In a plant this is how the root manifests itself. Bitterness in the heart leads to murmuring with the tongue, and murmuring with the tongue means murmuring against other people. Others are defiled by the readers’ murmuring, and the murmuring is caused by the “root of bitterness”. This phrase is also found in Deuteronomy 29:18: “lest there should be among you a root that bears gall and wormwood”. It is used of Israelites pursuing idolatry and they have become a root that produces poison. People with a “root of bitterness”cause divisions and split churches. They defile others by talking against the leaders of the church. The first step affects only the individual, but the second step begins to affect others as well. They fail to have peace with all men.
Daniel E. Woodhead