Exhortation to Endure Chastening
Hebrews 12
 
 

The Race that is Set before us: Christ the Object and Example of Faith (12:1-3)

CHAPTER 12
Let “us” also therefore, having so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, laying aside every weight, and sin which so easily entangles us, run with endurance the race that lies before us, v.1 Laying Aside Weights and Sin in Order to Run with Endurance. The list of Old Testament saints in ch.11 is referred to in ch.12 as a “great cloud of witnesses”. The Christian pathway is likened to an endurance race. The witnesses are those who have finished the race before us. Although they lived in a different day, yet the race is the same in many respects. The main difference is what we have in v.2; we look to Jesus. They are not witnesses in the sense of watching us run, but in the sense that they witness the path of faith in general. It is not a 100-meter dash; rather, it is a long-distance race. It will require patience or endurance to complete the race successfully. Yet there are two things mentioned in v.1 that can hinder us in running the Christian race: weights and sin. Weights are those things are are not positively sin, but can be a hindrance to our running the race of faith. They are like “the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines” (Song. 2:15). One weight that is often a hindrance to young men is following professional sports. It consumes hours of their free time, fills their mind with interesting and exciting things, thereby displaces time and interest in the things of God. This is just one example; there are many more. A weight for one person may not necessarily be a weight for another. Sin on the other hand is positively wrong. There are certain types of sin that each one of us are more prone to, and therefore they can be considered “besetting sins”. However, that isn’t exactly what this verse refers to. Certainly, every kind of sin needs to be laid aside, but specifically here it is simply “sin”; i.e. the general issue of sin, which so easily besets us. It is so easy to choose not to believe God, and rather to act in self will. Acting in self-will always leads us off the path of faith.
 
2 looking stedfastly on Jesus the leader and completer of faith: who, in view of the joy lying before him, endured the cross, having despised the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. v.2 Focus on Jesus, Who Ran Perfectly. It is hard to run with endurance without a goal in view. The Christian has an object in the race; and that is Christ Himself! We are to remain looking “stedfastly on Jesus”, and if we do, our feet will remain in the path. The thought of “looking” is really “looking off” to Jesus, in contrast with the cloud of witnesses. We are not to look to them, because – faithful as they were in life – they are not sufficient to be the believer’s object. Only Christ can be our goal. Christ is not only the object, He is also the perfect example of one who ran well the endurance race. He is called “the leader and completer of faith”. Christ had an object before Him as well; “the joy that was set before Him”. Having that joy before Him, Jesus was willing to suffer intensely on earth, because He knew what lay ahead. What was the joy that lay before Him? The highest joy was perhaps that of bringing glory to His Father (John 4:34). There was also the joy purchasing the inheritance (Matt. 13:44), that He might redeem His people and gain a bride. But, having “endured the cross” and having “despised the shame”, Jesus did indeed reach the finish line. He has finished His race, and “is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”. One day our race will be done as well. But Jesus, having crossed the finish line ahead of us, now turns to help is in our race. Four times in Hebrews we have Christ seated in heaven: Heb. 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, and 12:2. In the first three cases, it is connected with Christ’s work, which we have no part in. But we can follow Him in this fourth instance: in the sense that He has finished the race of faith ahead of us, and we are following behind.
 
3 For consider well him who endured so great contradiction from sinners against himself, that ye be not weary, fainting in your minds. v.3 Consider Jesus Who Suffered Greatly Yet Persevered. The Spirit of God returns again to the suffering of Christ, and His endurance through it, as an encouragement to us. The race is going to be difficult, and we will surely suffer. But it is a help to “consider well Him”, that we might be encouraged by the supreme example of faith. Particularly the “great contradiction from sinners against himself” is brought before us. The word ‘contradiction’ means to speak (‘diction’) against (‘contra’) someone. This refers to the wicked speech that was constantly directed toward the Savior. Examples would be what the Jews falsely accused the Lord of in John 8, or the insults hurled against Him while hanging on the cross. Why is this aspect of the Lord’s sufferings presented to us as an example? Perhaps because it is an aspect of suffering that is hard to take. Can you imagine being taunted and insulted your whole life long, without just cause? These verbal attacks only intensified toward the end of our Lord’s public ministry. In the final days, the Lord experienced a sense of being surrounded by enemies – bulls (Jewish enemies) and dogs (Gentile enemies) – who were gaping upon Him “with their mouths” (Psa. 22:11-13, 16). Words can hurt, and the Lord’s enemies used them. In perfect contrast the these hard speeches, the Lord never retaliated. During His trials, the Lord was led from one judgment hall to another. Isaiah 53:7-8 speaks of His perfect harmlessness during those trials, as He was led from place to place; “he opened not his mouth”. Jesus never gave in to the taunting and mocking; and neither should we.
 

The Lord’s Chastening and Our Response to it (12:4-11)

4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, wrestling against sin. v.4 Our Natural Unwillingness to Suffer. In contrast to what the Lord suffered, we have barely suffered at all. He resisted evil to the point of death. We “have not yet resisted unto blood”. We are naturally unwilling to suffer, and this can be problematic in the race that is set before us. We don’t like to suffer, but we need to, especially when it comes to “wrestling against sin”. This verse is not teaching that we should fight against sin with the energy of the flesh. Rather, it is showing that, if we are going to live a holy life, it will require us denying the lusts of the flesh, which is unpleasant to the old nature within us.
 
5 And ye have quite forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when reproved by him; 6 for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.” [Prov. 3:11-12] 7 Ye endure for chastening, God conducts himself towards you as towards sons; for who is the son that the father chastens not? 8 But if ye are without chastening, of which all have been made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. vv.5-8 God’s Motive in Chastening. Not only do we tend to be unwilling to suffer in denying our flesh, but we also tend to shy away from the chastening of the Lord. The writer quotes from the early chapters of Proverbs, which the Hebrew believers ought to have been very familiar with, although they had forgotten it, where “my son” is addressed repeatedly. It is a term of affection. It is also very individual; God has an individual tuition for each one of us. The quotation from Proverbs reveals that the Lord chastens those whom He loves! Chastening is not a sign that God doesn’t like us, but rather that He loves us! In fact, it goes on to say that if we aren’t chastened by the Lord (which he carefully adds “of which all have been made partakers” because is common to every believer), then we really do not have God as our Father; “then are ye bastards, and not sons”. The point is simply this: chastening is inseparable from the father-child relationship. We are to remember that God chastens us because He loves us, and because we are His sons.
 
Two Common Mistakes Regarding Chastening. The quotation from Proverbs 3 further reveals two attitudes which we must avoid in order to profit from the chastening of the Lord. On one extreme we can “despise” the chastening of the Lord, and on the other extreme we could “faint” when we are reproved by Him. To despise the chastening of the Lord is to ignore that it is taking place, or discount it as unimportant. To faint under His chastening is to become depressed or discouraged by it. The proper response to chastening is in v.11; to “be exercised by it”. To only way to profit from chastening is to be exercised by it; to really get from it the lesson the Lord is trying to teach us. Tom Knapp used the following illustration: a duck simply lets the rain roll off its back, the chicken flaps its wings and squawks when it gets wet, but the robin endures the rain… and then it sings.
 
The Devil’s Role. One way of despising the chastening of the Lord is to attribute the Lord’s chastening as the Devil’s opposition. It is true that the Devil can oppose the believer, and try to hinder the work of God. We need to be sensitive as to the mind of God in our service. But when it comes to circumstances allowed in our lives, we must remember that God is in control, and the Devil is only His instrument. Job could have despised his chastening by attributing it to the Devil, but he didn’t. It was from the Lord.
 
Reasons for Chastening or Discipline. There are a number of reasons for chastening in the believer's life. Chastening does not always come into our lives because of some sin we have committed. It is important to see that. Job and his three friends had a very limited understanding of God's ways, and all fell into error in their thoughts about God relative to Job's suffering. Bruce Anstey has nicely organized these reasons under four English words that begin with 'P'.
  1. Punitive. To punish the believer when positive sin is committed. The goal is to correct the believer, and if refused, it could lead to one being taken in death (Heb. 12:6; 9-10; 1 Cor. 11:32).
  2. Purgative. To remove unnecessary hindrances from a believer's life. The goal is to make the believer more fruitful, and more radiant (John 15:1-2; Psa. 139:2-3).1
  3. Preventative. To keep a believer from doing something he would have otherwise done; to preserve us from spiritual harm (Rom. 8:28; 2 Cor. 4:11; 12:7-9; Job 33:17-19).
  4. Preparative. To prepare a believer for a new phase of life or field of ministry, such as being a help to others who are suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-6; Heb. 2:17-18).
9 Moreover we have had the fathers of our flesh as chasteners, and we reverenced them; shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they indeed chastened for a few days, as seemed good to them; but he for profit, in order to the partaking of his holiness. vv.9-10 God’s Object in Chastening. God is called “the Father of spirits”. God doesn’t just deal with our behavior. He deals with our attitude. Parents should strive for the same with their children.
 
11 But no chastening at the time seems to be matter of joy, but of grief; but afterwards yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those exercised by it. v.11 How Chastening Works. 
 

How We can Successfully Run the Race (12:12-17)

12 Wherefore lift up the hands that hang down, and the failing knees; v.12 Take Courage.
 
13 and make straight paths for your feet, that that which is lame be not turned aside; but that rather it may be healed. v.13 Have Consistency and Singleness.
 
14 Pursue peace with all, and holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord: v.14 Maintain Right Relationships with God and Man. 
 
Holiness. The word 'holy' is used in scripture in two different ways. It can refer to the character of a nature, or to an objective state. In the first sense, holiness is the character of God's own nature. It is the love of good and the hatred of evil. As we have in Psalm 45, speaking of the Messiah, “Thou hast loved righteousness and hast hated lawlessness”. God is light, and His nature is "holy, holy, holy" (Rev. 4:8). The believer is also said to be “light in the Lord”, because we have divine life, although we are not Divine. The reason we do not always experience the holiness of the divine nature within us is because we have also a fallen, evil nature as well. Paul’s teaching on deliverance explains that by walking in the Spirit, we have deliverance from the fallen nature. But holiness is also used in another sense, referring to an objective state. For example, a sacrifice in the Old Testament was said to be “holy unto the Lord”, because it was sanctified or separated to the Lord. This aspect answers to sanctification. There is an inward character, but there is also a outward condition. By positional sanctification the believer is made holy in an absolute sense. The is also practical sanctification, which is a process. The holy nature and the holy walk are connected. If a person does not have the inward character (new birth) it will be impossible to stay clean practically. Holiness is important, because God cannot have communion with evil; "holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). Holiness cannot be attained by following a legal standard, such as the law of Moses. Believers already have the holy life of Christ, and practical holiness is a matter of walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).
 
15 watching lest there be any one who lacks the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and many be defiled by it; 16 lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one meal sold his birthright; 17 for ye know that also afterwards, desiring to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, (for he found no place for repentance) although he sought it earnestly with tears. vv.15-17 Have Concern for One Another in the Path. A sense of God’s grace is the strongest antidote to defilement. Esau despised the birthright (sold it for pottage) and later was denied the blessing. Yes Jacob connived to take the blessing, but here it is viewed as something God refused to give Esau, because he had despised the birthright. Esau was bitter that God had chosen Jacob. His bitterness was carried out in the lives of his descendants for generations. We see it in Obadiah, where the bitterness is exposed, condemned, and judgment pronounced. In a typical sense, for one morsel of meat (their place and nation), the Jews sold their birthright (crucified their Messiah).
 

(The Choice Between Two Approaches to God) (12:18-29)

The Mount Sinai Contrasted with Mount Zion (12:18-24)

18 For ye have not come to the mount that might be touched and was all on fire, and to obscurity, and darkness, and tempest, 19 and trumpet’s sound, and voice of words; which they that heard, excusing themselves, declined the word being addressed to them any more: 20 (for they were not able to bear what was enjoined: And if a beast should touch the mountain, it shall be stoned; 21 and, so fearful was the sight, Moses said, I am exceedingly afraid and full of trembling;) 22 but ye have come to mount Zion; and to the city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem; and to myriads of angels, v.22 “heavenly Jerusalem” – Rev. 21 tells us that in Revelation the “holy city, Jerusalem” is “the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” i.e., the church. But here in Heb. 12, the “assembly of the firstborn”, i.e., the church, is distinguished from the “heavenly Jerusalem.” This is not the church. Rather, it is the heavenly home of the redeemed saints of the O.T. and now. see Heb. 11:10, 16.
 
23 the universal gathering; and to the assembly of the firstborn who are registered in heaven; and to God, judge of all; and to the spirits of just men made perfect; 24 and to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant; and to the blood of sprinkling, speaking better than Abel. 

Warning: Do Not refuse Him that Speaks From Heaven (12:25-29)

25 See that ye refuse not him that speaks. For if those did not escape who had refused him who uttered the oracles on earth, much more we who turn away from him who does so from heaven: 26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, saying, Yet once will “I” shake not only the earth, but also the heaven. 27 But this Yet once, signifies the removing of what is shaken, as being made, that what is not shaken may remain. 28 Wherefore let us, receiving a kingdom not to be shaken, have grace, by which let us serve God acceptably with reverence and fear. 29 For also our God is a consuming fire. 
    

Footnotes

  1. Sometimes the Father prunes the productive branches more than the unproductive because He wants them to produce even more.
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