Dark Brewed: Hebrews – Part 5
Like a good dark brew (of either coffee or beer), this portion of the book of Hebrews delivers the kind of “kick in the pants” that is always appreciated when the pressures and temptations of this life have got us feeling like compromise is the only option. This was the situation of Jewish (i.e. Hebrew) Christians living in the first century – the original audience of the letter. Scholars believe it to have been written sometime in the early to mid-sixties—the same time as the Neronic persecution. Per the edict of Caesar, all those claiming to be Christian w/in the Roman empire were open game to be tortured or killed. As a result, great temptation was placed upon the covenant community to temporarily turn away from the Faith – or at least hide their Faith, until things got better. For the Jewish Christians, that meant going back to their former religion (Judaism). In their minds, this was both an acceptable alternative to Christianity and an accessible safe-haven from the raging Roman storm. The author of Hebrews however knew that such compromise was not only eternally dangerous, but largely due to wrong perspective. In other words, how these Jewish Christians were interpreting their Faith and current situation was very different from the view or vantage point of God. It is here then that the author expects us to feel the jolt back to reality. If you are beginning to feel like the Christian life is too hard, or that the preservation of God’s people will (at times) require a little “letting off the gas”, now is the time to take a sip of the following dark-brewed truths:
1. Countless saints have run the Christian race w/faithful endurance until the end (1).
The overwhelming evidence (“so great cloud of witnesses”) proves we can do it (“run w/endurance the race set before us”) if we
put away ghetto thinking (“lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely”) (Deu 30:11)
2. Jesus is the One Who establishes the standard/definition of faithful endurance expected of us (2-4).
Contrary to the ignorant opinions of so many claiming to be Christians today, Jesus did not come to earth to run w/faithful endurance so that we would not have to (or might use Him as our excuse as to why God should let us into heaven). Instead, the author of Hebrews reveals Him to be our example. IOW: we are to be continually “looking to Jesus” (or His life) as the definition of such faithfulness – and more importantly, what God is expecting of us if we are to be identified as those winning our Christian race.
As such, when asking the question, “Am I being faithful?”. It is not others in the church we are to be comparing ourselves to – but (again), Jesus. Are we imitating His life by the way we respond to the situations in our life?
3. One of the biggest reasons we fail to faithfully endure is b/c we have the wrong perspective on trials.
Oftentimes our reaction to trials is to view such things as possessing no value or benefit to our lives. As such, we do everything we can to alleviate the difficulties we face – believing that the less challenges we have to deal w/(or stand in resistance to), the better or more fulfilling our lives will be. This by the way, is also the propaganda promoted by popular psychology. This (we are told) is especially true when it comes to matters of right and wrong. It is both unnecessary and unhealthy to be burdened by challenges which are moral in nature (e.g. Sexual identity, orientation or activity are no longer to be considered as moral categories. Resisting certain desires for moral reasons only promotes poor mental health -even the possibility of physical harm; “I would rather love my son as a girl than mourn his suicide”). This mindset however is not unique to the pagan- psychologized culture we live in. It has seeped into the (so-called) churches of our country as well. Though at first it may not seem like it, they (too) preach that the pressure associated w/moral trials (i.e. temptation to sin) is not something God expects us to faithfully endure/resist. Think about it: The bona-fide position of the Evangelical Church is that what we do has no bearing our eternal standing/state w/God – we are eternally secure in faith alone (e.g. “He will never stop loving us – no matter how many times we fail” – Pro 24:16 and 2Ti 2:13 = Evangelicals interpret these as God’s commitment to save us no matter how unfaithful we become.). Since that is the case, then the pressure or pain afforded to us by our resistance to the sin solicited thru the various situations we end up in, is completely unnecessary and unhealthy. Why put ourselves through such pain if it really doesn’t eternally matter what we choose to do anyway? Likewise, why would God choose for us to faithfully endure thru anything that (in the end) has no real value/bearing on our relationship w/Him? If (once more) our eternal place/position w/Him is secure, then how we respond to the trials of life is more a matter of our own comfort than anything else. As such, the Evangelical church inevitably ends up in the same camp as those in the world – avoidance of difficulty at all costs, comfort over doing the right thing. Some Evangelicals go so far as to say that at times it is necessary to give in to the pressures to sin, so that we can “experience afresh the grace of God” or that there are times when sin is the only option (e.g. women have to step up and be pastors in those places where the men refuse to do it otherwise people won’t hear the gospel). Such a view/perspective on trials was completely foreign to the author of Hebrews. According to him, trials – or more importantly, our successful response to them, is incredibly vital to our Christian growth and salvation. Consider:
3.1. Trials are God’s disciplinary tool for training us in the kind of righteousness needed to get to heaven (5, 11).
3.2. Trials are an expression of God’s love to us as His children (6-7).
3.3. To reject such trials (thru unfaithfulness) is (therefore) a rejection God’s love for you and your place as His child (8).
“Lack of discipline in a family would actually be an indication of abandonment by a father”-W.L. Craig (Hebrews, A.C.T.C., p. 164)
3.4. What that looks like PART 1 (practical examples):
3.4.1. Not doubting God’s love when trials come into our life; 3.4.2. Not doubting God’s law when temptation comes into our flesh; 3.4.3. Realizing that responses are eternal not experiences; 3.4.4. Remembering trial/temptation reveals your true self.
3.5. The value/benefit of our Spiritual Father’s discipline/training (thru trials) far outweighs that of our earthly father’s (discipline).
(9) “Besides this (i.e. Furthermore – or adding to what has already been said), we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us (Literally, “earthly fathers we have had as instructors/trainers”) and we respected them.” = In addition to his former appeal, that all loving fathers discipline their children, the author now makes a similar appeal to the fact that such discipline (or training) is one of the reasons we later (as adults) respected them. IOW: We appreciate what they did – understanding its value to our current success in navigating thru the many challenges of this life (e.g. Doing the hard, physical labor of push-mowing our several-acre property every week w/o hearing “thanks” – or getting a reward for it doing it since it was my duty as a member of my household and in being a good neighbor. The benefit/value is that I don’t need praise to be productive – only purpose – and life is filled w/plenty such situations where praise will/should not be given for your work. Being trained to find motivation in purpose versus praise is oftentimes the difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots” – or even the Christian who perseveres vs. the one who does not – Joh 12:43; Luk 8:11-15 = The “good soil” doesn’t need the praise of others or the pleasures of reward to keep going. Rather, it is duty/purpose that motivates it to persevering in righteousness; see also Luk 17:7-10). “Shall we not much more (then) be subject to (i.e. submit to the discipline/training thru trials of) the Father of spirits (or to the Spiritual Father) = Like a bear locked in a honey closet, the author seizes on the opportunity afforded by his previous statement – most especially the conclusion established by it. IOW: If we are glad we submitted to our earthly father’s training/discipline seeing its great benefit/value in our lives, how “much more” should we (then) submit (or “be subject to”) the training of our Spiritual Father and (in even greater capacity) find value/benefit in our lives – both now and for eternity?! This (no doubt) is what the author is referring to when he says and live?”. His words are similar to that of Jesus in (Luk 11:13 – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give you…”). The value/benefit of God’s training (thru trials) far outweighs any we have received from our earthly fathers. And that not only b/c the love He possesses for us is better than that of our earthly fathers, but also due to the fact that He is completely wise and good. Though our earthly fathers may have intended what they did in disciplining us to be good (or thought it to be wise), that is not always the case. There are times when what a parent thinks best (good or wise) for their child is actually harmful (e.g. enrolling them in a “Christian school” or sending them to a “Christian” college or VBS or AWANA). This (however) is never the case w/God – which means that our view on trials should be to view them as training that is absolutely good and wise; training that God knows we need (for heavenly –or even earthly fitness) and therefore will always (100% of time) be profitable unto that end. This (then) is again why the author is exhorting us to subject ourselves all the more to God when in these situations; to make sure that if there is ever a time when we respond righteously or endure through something in a way that is pleasing to God, it is when trials come. Not only b/c of the benefit/value to be gained through such good and wise training (i.e. we shall truly “live”!), but also b/c of its necessary antithesis (i.e. if don’t we shall die!). Both we can be certain were in the author’s mind when writing this (i.e. live or die based on how we respond to the trials God brings into our lives) based on the point made in the next verse.
3.6. Trials remove the tyranny of the urgent w/holiness.
(10) “For they disciplined us for as short time (i.e. while we were under their roof as children) as seemed best to them, but He (God) disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” = Sharing in God’s holiness (i.e. being holy as He is holy – Lev 11:44) is (according to the author) the ultimate goal to the discipline (or training thru trials) God brings into our lives. This (IOW) is what makes us fit for heaven (Or verse 9 – to “live”, or verses 6-8, to be identified as His “sons”/children or verses 5 and 11, to earn the title of Righteous/Faithful). And likewise (then), to not be holy is what it means to miss heaven – or be counted “not worthy” – hence why the author speaks of such holy training/discipline as “for our good”. That phrase carried the same inference in the first century as it does today – that w/o the thing connected to that phrase, things would continue or become very bad for us. It communicates the necessity of something happening in relation to our person w/o which, we could/would be in danger (e.g. “It is for our good that we have laws demanding we wear our seatbelts”). Regarding the issue of holiness, the author of Hebrews removes all question that failure would indeed be a dangerous position (See verse 14 – “See the Lord” = Be w/Him in heaven). That being said, what is important not to miss in our consideration of holiness is the meaning of the term itself. The word “holy” (or holiness) refers to being dedicated to pleasing God as our priority over all other things (1Co 7:32-34). How then trials train us to be holy = By introducing us to the tyranny of the urgent. If we are going to truly possess pleasing God as our priority, then it will defeating/overcoming the killer of all priorities – the tyranny of the urgent. It is no surprise (then) to find the Apostle Peter dealing w/this very issue after establishing our priority to please God/holiness (1Pe 1:13-17 w/4:1-2 = Like Jesus, those who can respond righteously when under trials are those who are “done w/sin” – i.e. who are holy/possess pleasing God as their priority. As a means of further appreciation for what Peter says, consider the full chronological context of 4:1-2: 1:13-17 = call to be holy; 3:13-22 = We – like Jesus and Noah, are to set apart Christ as holy/demonstrate “good behavior” while under the baptism of trials. Our baptism is therefore an appeal to God for a “good/holy conscience” and a promise to “good/holy behavior” in the midst of our own trials in the future. IOW: the conquering of trials thru holy/God pleasing/righteous responses/faithful endurance encompasses the entire spectrum of the Christian life. It is our priority).
3.7. Trials are designed to encourage us toward complete repentance.
(11)…(12) “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees” = An ancient figure of speech w/reference to encouragement. In its positive form (as it is here), its message is therefore, “Be encouraged about your current difficult situation” (2Chr 15:7; Job 4:1-4; Isa 35:3-4; Zep 3:16-17; Heb 11:34). Such encouragement (however) is meant for more than just emotional comfort. It is designed also to motivate us in the direction of repentance. This the author makes clear by the addition of (13) “and make straight paths for your feet” = Like its predecessor, this phrase also has former precedent in Scripture. It refers to the act of correcting/changing former behavior such that it now conforms to God’s Law (Isa 40:3-5; Luk 3:4). The author’s intention is therefore to communicate complete repentance (i.e. a repentance that includes more than confession and contrition. There is also change in behavior. This BTW is always the biblical definition of repentance vs. worldly repentance – 2Co 7:8-11 = Notice, only bib. repentance saves). In this respect (then) the author of Hebrews ties up any possible loose ends left by those whose past is littered w/poor/sinful responses to their former trials. Based on his prior instruction, the Hebrews of his original audience fell into this camp. The same could be said for many today (i.e. our repentance is not complete). The path forward (then) means two things: 1) going back and making those wrong responses to trials – right, thru confession, contrition and 2) committing to and actually changing how we respond to trials in the future (Both are p/u’d in events of Luk 18:19-30). Remember, our current trials are designed w/this (also) as their message/to encourage us in that direction! If (however) we remain unwise to see this, the author’s final point should provide the extra push.
3.8. Things will become more broken in our lives until we learn to respond to trials in a righteous way.
“(13) “make straight paths for your feet so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather healed.” = A final motivating reason for responding to God’s training/discipline thru trials is (here) revealed. And that is the fact that what is broken (or “lame”) in our life – the very things God is attempting to fix, shore up (or “heal”) through the training/discipline of trials will deteriorate even further in their broken state (i.e. they wb “put out of joint”) if we continue to respond in unrepentance and unrightousness (i.e. not making “straight paths for our feet”). The path of the person not learning to faithfully endure/respond righteously to trials is therefore sad and painful. It goes from brokenness to more brokenness – and ends (eventually) in God choosing to never again call us His child (Verse 8).
So then, in the words of Jesus, “for those who have ears, hear (or listen)!” Trials cannot be avoided as bad/evil, treated as unnecessary or the times when we consistently fail to be faithful/righteous. They must instead be viewed as the good and incredibly necessary training of our loving Spiritual Father Who brings such pain for the purpose of great earthly and heavenly gain. This the author of Hebrews has made abundantly clear.
3.9. What this looks like PART 2 (final practical examples):
3.9.1. Truly looking forward to better benefits of our better Dad’s training; 3.9.2. Taking inventory of our prior and present repentance; 3.9.3. Realizing pain w/o gain means more pain.
 In the 1960s, Charles Hummel published a little booklet called The Tyranny Of The Urgent. In it, Hummel proposes that life is a regular battle between those things we deem as important or priority and those things sensed as urgent due to a present difficult situation. Far too often, he argues, the urgent usurps, wins – or takes priority over, our true priorities.