Hebrews 12:5-8… And have you forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
The Hebrews audience needed encouragement. They had endured many sufferings, had been made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and had endured the seizure of their property (Heb. 10:32-34). Also, they had been chastised for their conversion from Judaism to Christianity, and they had been shunned by their own families. But in spite of all this, they had not yet suffered to the point of death (12:4) like their faithful brothers before them (cf. 11:1-40).
Now instead of just leaving this audience with the idea that being a faithful believer in Christ is an intense struggle, the writer informs them that their sufferings were merely part of God’s loving discipline. God actually shows His love and interest in His children through discipline. The writer quoted from Proverbs 3:11-12 asking them, “Have you forgotten this?” Apparently they had because they mistook their earthly misfortunes and persecutions for God’s abandonment when in reality their misfortunes and sufferings were clear signs of God’s love and favor toward them. The quote from Proverbs was a reminder to them not to take God’s discipline lightly, for He disciplines those He loves. He even “scourges” (to beat with a whip) “the ones He receives” – showing that He does not receive just anyone, only His true children.
The term “discipline” comes from a Greek root that means “child,” so the term itself pertains to the training of a child. It concerns the education of children in order to develop and mature them as adults. Children without discipline grow up to adulthood as selfish tyrants. It takes a loving parent to spank and discipline their children in order to mature them. Children inherently know that parents who refuse to discipline them don’t really love them. But those who are disciplined appropriately by their parents grow into mature adults because they are loved.
The author was demonstrating to his audience from their own circumstances that God indeed loved them as sons. Their sufferings were reminders that God had not abandoned them, so they needn’t abandon Him. Satan strives, both then and now, to convince Christians that life’s problems prove that God does not love, but the opposite is true. God’s Word rebukes believers in sin, and life’s trials mold them into mature Christians just like a loving father molds his son into a man. The “scourges” of God are often meant to keep His children reminded of His love.
The frightening passage is v. 8 which speaks of those who are not disciplined by God. They are called “illegitimate” – a term that means “bastard; born out of wedlock.” The clear implication is that those not disciplined by God through perilous trial, are simply not His. And if they’re not God’s children, they can only be Satan’s (cf. Matt. 13:38; John 8:44; 1 John 3:10).
Food for Thought
Some professed believers in Christ sin willfully and rebelliously but never seem to suffer for such. Likewise many pastors today refuse to preach the gospel message, opting instead for positive thinking and tradition over truth, yet they continue to grow in wealth and numbers without God’s discipline. There’s a simple conclusion as to why, and it’s because God does not consider them His children (12:8). So if you know someone who lives the good life while you struggle daily with God through trials, consider the likelihood that they’re illegitimate children.
Hebrews 12:9-11… Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Children are commanded to obey their parents in the Bible (Eph. 6:4), and parents are commanded to discipline their children as godly parents raising godly children. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Prov. 13:24). “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you discipline him with the rod he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from death” (Prov. 23:13-14). Parents discipline their children because they love both them and God. As a result of proper discipline, the children learn to respect their parents as they mature.
The writer, after making this obvious truism, says, “Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live?” If an adult can look back on his childhood and respect his parents for disciplining him accordingly as a beloved son, then a Christian should be able to recognize God’s discipline as love. For an earthly father merely loves his fleshly son through his sinful nature, but the “Father of spirits” (contrasting earthly parents with the spiritual Father) loves far beyond what an earthly and sinful father is capable of loving. So if a sinful father can love his son through discipline, how much more so the Almighty God His children? “Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb. 12:9) The implication here is that, if we do not submit, we might not live. This may very well be anther allusion to Heb. 6:4-8 and 10:26-27 where falling away from Christ entails eternal damnation with no chance to repent.
A father who loves his son will warn his son, will discipline his son, and will test his son to mature him into a man. That kind of discipline is temporary because childhood is temporary, but fathers who care enough for their children are appreciated for their efforts for a lifetime. Now God’s discipline takes a giant leap beyond what temporary earthly discipline accomplishes. God disciplines His children to bring about their holiness, and holiness emerges from suffering and tribulations. God is no sadist, for He does not take pleasure in disciplining His children any more so than a father enjoys spanking his children. Chastening a child is desirable neither for the son nor the father, but its benefits are valuable. Those benefits for children include learning right from wrong, respect for authority, and most notably they learn about Christ and his salvation.
Truly, discipline is not something anyone enjoys while either dishing it out or taking it in. As v. 11 teaches, it is scarcely enjoyable and mostly sorrowful. But the benefits are like a field producing crops at harvest time: “it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” God’s discipline, though at times painful, produces righteousness in His children simply because He loves them.
Food for Thought
Someone once said in reference to discipline: “And so what do I say? I say let the rains of disappointment come, if they water the plants of spiritual grace. Let the winds of adversity blow, if they serve to root more securely the trees that God has planted. I say, let the sun of prosperity be eclipsed, if that brings me closer to the true light of life. Welcome, sweet discipline, discipline designed for my joy, discipline designed to make me what God wants me to be.” Boom! That statement can only come from a true child of God who truly wants to be molded to God’s will.
Hebrews 12:12-13… Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
The image of the race comes back into view in vv. 12-13, and the writer urges his audience to persevere. In a marathon footrace the first thing that tends to tire are the arms, for they keep pace with the legs and pull them through each stride. The position and motion of the arms are vital, for after the arms tire and begin to droop, the knees grow feeble, and the runner can easily start to inadvertently drift into the opposing runner’s lane causing a collision and an eventual injury to one or both runners. But once the fatigue sets in the experienced runner knows to shun all thoughts of being tired and focus in on the goal of the race – the finish line.
This is the metaphor for the Christian life, and it is the author’s way of setting the tone for the application of his message in Hebrews. Now that his audience had been instructed about Christ (Heb. 1-11) and encouraged that their trials were actually God’s discipline for His true children (12:1-11), it was now time to get tough and obvious with the application. All compassion aside, the writer now makes the bold move toward a strong exhortation for decisive action on the part of the Hebrews audience. Teaching doctrine is designed to change one’s thinking, but without any action doctrine means little. Truth that is known but not obeyed does not bless, it curses! Doctrinal teaching must lead to holy behavior, for it’s one thing to know that Christ is Lord, but it’s another thing altogether to submit to him as Lord and prove genuine.
The author is saying, “Now that you know who Christ is and what the Christian race is, get off your duff and start running!” The audience had been in the race and had grown weary, but after having been reminded of who Christ is and his superiority over all else, they now had the wherewithal to gain the strength they needed for their arms which would strengthen their knees which would in turn keep them in their own lane looking to the finish line. The kicker here is that the audience (and all modern day Christians) was not told to strengthen “their hands” and “their knees” but “the hands… the knees.” What he was telling them was to avoid concentrating on themselves and look to help everyone else. THE hands and THE knees would entail the entire body of Christians who all work together, not against each other. The Christian race isn’t an individual contest but a corporate effort whereby Christians help one another to finish the race.
Those feeble Christians had strayed into the lanes of others, as it were, and caused them to stumble. The word for “paths” in v. 13 refers to the tracks left by the wheels of a cart which other travelers would follow. So strong Christians who were focused on Christ were encouraged to “make straight paths” in the sense of being solid role models for their feeble brothers in Christ who had been robbed of their will to finish due to fatigue. These weaker runners are dubbed “the limb which is lame.” They desperately needed stronger runners to come alongside them so that they would not be “put out of joint, but rather be healed.” This group of “lame” people are those who identified themselves with the church of Christ but who were not true Christians at all. They were in danger of apostatizing (falling away), needing to decide whom they were going to serve.
Food for Thought
Biblical doctrine is beautiful and essential to becoming a Christian. But without careful obedience it is ultimately worthless. We are running a race, so it’s no wonder we get tired and want to stop for a while. What will those weak Christians and would-be believers think of us and our Christ if we just sit on our doctrine? The time is now to run, focus on Christ, and persevere.
Hebrews 12:14-15… Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.
The verb “pursue” is a present imperative verb which means that Christians are to regularly and daily chase after something, and that something is “peace with all men.” Of course this is not a command for unbelievers, for only true Christians can pursue such. Unbelievers are dead in their trespasses and are unable to seek God (Rom. 3:10-12). Only those who possess the Holy Spirit have the ability to please God. But why would the writer exhort Christians, who already have the peace of Christ, to pursue it with others? The answer is that Christians, positionally, have eternal peace and righteousness in Christ, but our actions don’t always reflect our position in Christ. Christians must pursue, strive after, and struggle to progress in holiness, although having been made holy by Christ was birthed at the moment of belief in Christ. The pursuit of peace is about loving others, for as the Apostle Paul said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). Christians must strive for peace.
The command to continually pursue peace is also a command to continually pursue “the sanctification.” The Greek word is the same one often translated “holiness.” The pursuit of peace is a pursuit of holiness, and it is a life spent in hot pursuit of a pure and obedient life set apart to glorify God. So it seems that pursuing peace with all men is the direct path to a daily pursuit of one’s daily sanctification. “The sanctification” is the growth required of true Christians; it’s the fruit that true Christians bear because only true believers are even able to seek God obediently.
Holiness is essential for one to “see the Lord.” And the way to evangelize Christ is for Christians to pursue peace with all men. This is what attracts unbelievers! Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Being sanctified daily after coming to know Christ is what evangelism is all about, for when unbelievers see believers pursuing peace and holiness they are attracted to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 15 says, “See to it” – a single Greek participle (episkopeo) which means “to oversee.” (The noun form, episkopos, is where “bishop/overseer” are derived). Christians are to oversee each other, helping one another grow in holiness. This doesn’t set them against each other to judge but to hold one other accountable to proper Christian behavior. The oversight also entails seeing that no one comes short of the grace of God. This means that true Christians also have the responsibility to influence and interact with those within the church who have deluded themselves into thinking they’re Christians when they’re really not. As Christians are able, they are to keep those among them from falling short of God’s grace and becoming apostate.
Another aspect of Christians overseeing the church of Jesus Christ is to be aware of the “root of bitterness.” This attitude is indicative of false Christians who identify with God’s people by coming to church but who spread spiritual poison by causing trouble. No wonder Christians are to oversee their brothers and sisters in Christ, for even true believers can fall out of the race, as it were, by being defiled by those who bring trouble into Christ’s body of believers.
Food for Thought
The Christian life is both a proactive and reactive life. It is one of vigilance – looking for and being alert for those who want anything but peace. So live in peace with each other, and do not tolerate troublemakers, believing or unbelieving, in your midst. They can defile a church in one hour, and we are not to tolerate them any more so than Christ would (cf. Rev. 2:14-16, 20).
Hebrews 12:15-17... that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it with tears.
Hebrews 12:15 teaches that it is the responsibility of all church members to look out for each other and monitor ungodly behavior. They are to make sure, insofar as they are able, that unbelievers in their midst do not fall short of God’s grace – that people among them do not receive God’s grace in vain (2 Cor. 6:1). Christian behavior involves deeds in keeping with peaceful relations, growing in holiness, and keeping an eye on those with divisive attitudes.
Two other sinful practices the church must look for are sexual sins and godless people. The Greek word for “immoral” persons in v. 16 is “pornos” from whence pornography derives. In the Bible this word predominately refers to any sexual sin, but it can be used as a metaphor for idolatry. The context of 12:16, however, does not call for any interpretation other than the literal, and because sexual sins do indeed find their way into the church it too must not be tolerated. Many a church has fallen by the wayside as a result of sexual sin in the midst.
The responsibility of looking out for “godless” people in 12:16 cites Esau as its example. Esau was the twin brother of Jacob and the son of Isaac and Rebekah. He serves as an example in the OT of one who fell short of the grace of God (12:15), for he sold his birthright as the firstborn of the twins to Jacob for a meal because he was ravenously hungry (Genesis 25:27-34; 27:30-45). The Greek word for “godless” means “unhallowed; profane.” It speaks of a common worldly person who lives for himself and not God. This word accurately describes Esau because he lived for the moment, despising his future blessing for a single meal. This is in stark contrast to all the heroes of the faith in Heb. 11 who lived for the future and ignored the pains and trials of the moment. It’s also opposite of Jesus who despised the cross for the joy set before him.
In v. 17 the writer appealed to the common knowledge of his audience that Esau later regretted his decision to sell his birthright. He later realized his error in judgment, and even though he “desired to inherit the blessing” reserved for the firstborn son, what he had done could not be undone. And even though he sought this blessing with tears he was rejected because there was no place for repentance. Now this could be taken two different ways. On one hand, it could be said that what Esau did was like a person losing his/her virginity. Once it’s gone it can never be regained. So though God forgives, the sin itself has lifelong ramifications. For Esau, he lost his birthright and could never regain it. But his sin was certainly forgivable through God’s grace.
More accurately, Esau was simply a “godless” person who desired God’s blessing but not God. Notice he didn’t regret his actions until it was time to receive the blessing. He did not repent until that time. He willfully despised his God-given birthright for a single meal, and though he was later sorry for this, he was only sorry because of the consequences of his actions. There will be many in the fires of hell who are like Esau (cf. Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26). They will cry with regret over the consequences of their sins, but they will find no place for repentance.
Food for Thought
Christians have many things to look out for. Many among us are actually godless and live double lives being involved in sexual immorality behind closed doors. They’re like Esau who was a down to earth fellow who liked to hunt, fish, and talk it up with his father. But they are godless people living for lesser things. Their sins are not to be tolerated in Christ’s church, for the church is to be a place of peacefulness and holiness – bereft of willful sin and rebellion.
I. Doctrinal Reasons Christians Struggle (12:5-11)
A. Those Whom God Loves He Disciplines (12:5-8)
1. Discipline comes from “child”
2. Our hardships are God’s discipline (Proverbs 3:11-12)
3. Those God loves he chastens and scourges
4. God’s discipline equates to love
5. Those without discipline are not loved
6. Satan’s deceives us about God’s love
B. Punishment – David’s loss of a child
C. Prevention – Paul’s thorn in the flesh
D. Education – Job’s suffering to teach all of mankind
E. Developing faith – Abraham’s commission to kill Isaac
F. Discipline Results in Holiness (12:9-11)
1. Children must obey (Eph. 6:4)
2. Parents must discipline: (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14).
3. If we do not submit, we might not live (10:26-27)
4. Discipline results in well-trained Christians.
5. Discipline “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
II. Applications From Discipline Doctrine (12:12-17)
A. Get back in the race!
1. Strengthen the body
2. Be at peace with all (cf. John 13:35).
3. “See to it” – oversee each other
a. Falling short of God’s grace
b. Keeping root of bitterness out
B. Remember Esau (Gen. 25:27-34; 27:38)
1. Watch for immoral people
2. Watch for godless people; living for the moment
3. He desired God’s blessing but not God
4. Sorry about consequences but not his sin
· We must not regard discipline lightly (complaining, criticizing, not seeing God in it)
· Quote: “And so what do I say? I say let the rains of disappointment come, if they water the plants of spiritual grace. Let the winds of adversity blow, if they serve to root more securely the trees that God has planted. I say, let the sun of prosperity be eclipsed, if that brings me closer to the true light of life. Welcome, sweet discipline, discipline designed for my joy, discipline designed to make me what God wants me to be.”
καὶ ἐκλέλησθε τῆς παρακλήσεως, ἥτις ὑμῖν ὡς υἱοῖς διαλέγεται· υἱέ μου, μὴ ὀλιγώρει παιδείας κυρίου μηδὲ ἐκλύου ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ ἐλεγχόμενος· 6 ὃν γὰρ ἀγαπᾷ κύριος παιδεύει, μαστιγοῖ δὲ πάντα υἱὸν ὃν παραδέχεται. 7 εἰς παιδείαν ὑπομένετε, ὡς υἱοῖς ὑμῖν προσφέρεται ὁ θεός. τίς γὰρ υἱὸς ὃν οὐ παιδεύει πατήρ; 8 εἰ δὲ χωρίς ἐστε παιδείας ἧς μέτοχοι γεγόνασιν πάντες, ἄρα νόθοι καὶ οὐχ υἱοί ἐστε. 9 εἶτα τοὺς μὲν τῆς σαρκὸς ἡμῶν πατέρας εἴχομεν παιδευτὰς καὶ ἐνετρεπόμεθα· οὐ πολὺ [δὲ] μᾶλλον ὑποταγησόμεθα τῷ πατρὶ τῶν πνευμάτων καὶ ζήσομεν; 10 οἱ μὲν γὰρ πρὸς ὀλίγας ἡμέρας κατὰ τὸ δοκοῦν αὐτοῖς ἐπαίδευον, ὁ δὲ ἐπὶ τὸ συμφέρον εἰς τὸ μεταλαβεῖν τῆς ἁγιότητος αὐτοῦ. 11 πᾶσα δὲ παιδεία πρὸς μὲν τὸ παρὸν οὐ δοκεῖ χαρᾶς εἶναι ἀλλὰ λύπης, ὕστερον δὲ καρπὸν εἰρηνικὸν τοῖς διʼ αὐτῆς γεγυμνασμένοις ἀποδίδωσιν δικαιοσύνης. 12 Διὸ τὰς παρειμένας χεῖρας καὶ τὰ παραλελυμένα γόνατα ἀνορθώσατε, 13 καὶ τροχιὰς ὀρθὰς ποιεῖτε τοῖς ποσὶν ὑμῶν, ἵνα μὴ τὸ χωλὸν ἐκτραπῇ, ἰαθῇ δὲ μᾶλλον. 14 Εἰρήνην διώκετε μετὰ πάντων καὶ τὸν ἁγιασμόν, οὗ χωρὶς οὐδεὶς ὄψεται τὸν κύριον, 15 ἐπισκοποῦντες μή τις ὑστερῶν ἀπὸ τῆς χάριτος τοῦ θεοῦ, μή τις ῥίζα πικρίας ἄνω φύουσα ἐνοχλῇ καὶ διʼ αὐτῆς μιανθῶσιν πολλοί, 16 μή τις πόρνος ἢ βέβηλος ὡς Ἠσαῦ, ὃς ἀντὶ βρώσεως μιᾶς ἀπέδετο τὰ πρωτοτόκια ἑαυτοῦ. 17 ἴστε γὰρ ὅτι καὶ μετέπειτα θέλων κληρονομῆσαι τὴν εὐλογίαν ἀπεδοκιμάσθη, μετανοίας γὰρ τόπον οὐχ εὗρεν καίπερ μετὰ δακρύων ἐκζητήσας αὐτήν.