Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 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.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (New International Version)
Missed expectations often result in discouragement, even depression.
If we expect God to continually bless us with unending positive circumstances, we will, sooner or later, be confused and/or frustrated when life goes sideways.
The ancient Jewish Christians, for whom today’s New Testament lesson was addressed, faced opposition. Not only did they encounter the hardship of being Jews living in a Gentile world, but they also had to experience the difficulty of being Christians in a Jewish community.
Its one thing to put up with adversity for a few days or weeks. It is quite another thing altogether to deal with hard circumstances day after day, week after week, month after month, even year after year.
Where is God in all this negativity? When are the earthly blessings going to come? What the heck is going on here? Why are my prayers bouncing off the church ceiling?
Over time, the believers began to lose their joy. They started getting discouraged. The Jewish Christians, after beginning well in their faith, gradually slid into misinterpreting their circumstances as God being mean to them. Things got so bad, they even entertained the notion of returning to Judaism and leaving Christianity behind.
Their faith was shrinking.
However, their plight was very much seen by God. In fact, God was the One orchestrating the situations, as difficult as they were.
It is not our lack of resources, the disrespect, or the difficult people around us who are the problem. The issue is our interpretation of those events and persons.
The author of Hebrews invited the struggling believers to take a different interpretation of their hardship: They were experiencing divine discipline.
We are all responsible for our own children. As parents, we discipline them (ideally) for their own good. We know it will hurt temporarily. Yet, in the long run, the discipline will work out.
In fact, we understand this with all kinds of things. Everyday, people submit themselves to getting cut open, poked, prodded, and tested by doctors, surgeons, and healthcare workers because we know there needs to be temporary pain for permanent healing to occur.
It is the rare child who grows up without any discipline and becomes a productive citizen of society. It is the exceptional person who knows nothing of medical interventions for health and healing. And so, it is extremely unlikely that a Christian will experience holiness, righteousness, and live wisely in the world apart from some gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, and mind-bending circumstances for which they neither saw coming, nor ever asked for.
So, when the divine baseball bat whacks us upside the head, how will we interpret it?
Discipline is education by correction. God is the Father, treating us as family, as children who need to learn the ways of grace. God is the Divine Coach, exhorting us to work, run the laps, put in the reps, and reach beyond what we think we can do – knowing all along what our true capabilities are.
Godliness comes through discipline, training, and plain old fashioned hard work. Unless there is the suffering which comes through trials to our faith, Christianity is only a theory.
Before I suffered, I took the wrong way,
but now I do what you say.
You are good and you do good.
Teach me your statutes!
The arrogant cover me with their lies,
but I guard your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are unfeeling, like blubber,
but I rejoice in your Instruction.
My suffering was good for me,
because through it I learned your statutes. (Psalm 119:67-71, CEB)
The appropriate response to difficult and adverse circumstances is to view them as God’s gracious guidance and correction. Rightly interpreting our life events gives us renewed resolve for the Christian marathon.
Endurance and perseverance are needed. Keeping good running form, consistent spiritual exercise, and maintaining liturgical rhythms, all help us face the adversity with energy, focus, and strength.
Christianity isn’t a matter of doing more. It is a way of life – a continuous evaluation of beliefs and thinking, addressing the shadows of the heart, and listening to the compassion deep in our gut.
Don’t give up. Keep going.
Be safe. Be strong. Be smart. Be spiritual. We are all in this together.
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us; for all the pain and insults you have borne for us. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly day by day. Amen.