When we are suffering, it is easy to feel sorry for ourselves. We can begin to think that God does not care about us. We can harbor doubts about whether or not God really loves us.
The author of the book of Hebrews is writing to a group of people who are beginning to face persecution. Some are questioning whether or not to leave the faith and return to Judaism. He writes his letter to encourage them to remain faithful. In Hebrews 12:4-11, he tries to put their suffering into perspective. He explains that trials come from the hand of a loving God who uses them to produce greater spiritual growth in our lives. He wants his readers to remember four things when they face trials.
When you find yourself in the middle of a trial, remember that …
It’s not as bad as it could be (4). The Christian life can be a struggle. We try to avoid persecution from sinful people. But we also have to avoid sinful situations where we might be tempted to compromise our faith. Regardless of how challenging our opposition, it hasn’t yet cost us our lives. While the readers of Hebrews might be aware of those who were martyred, that type of persecution hasn’t yet come to them.
Scripture gives us a different perspective about trials (5). Apparently, the readers of Hebrews had forgotten the encouragement found in Proverbs 3:11-12. On the one hand, we should not treat God’s discipline lightly. We might do this by developing calloused hearts, by complaining, by questioning God, or by becoming indifferent. On the other hand, we should not give up and throw in the towel. We need to remember that God uses trials to cause us to grow.
God’s discipline demonstrates we are one of his children (6-8). Rather than being proof that God doesn’t love us, his discipline actually demonstrates how much he cares for us. It proves we have a relationship with him. God can and will use both positive and negative methods, both discipline and punishment. Punishment focuses on past misdeeds while discipline focuses on future correct deeds. Punishment aims to punish wrongdoing and produce remorse and repentance. Discipline aims to train us for maturity and will result in a sense of security and belonging. Because we belong to God, he is actively involved in our spiritual growth.
God’s discipline has positive results (9-11). While no one enjoys discipline, we can take comfort that it results in a deeper, more abundant life and we can share in God’s holiness and righteousness. Though painful and challenging, it is worth it in the end.
Dr. Tom Constable tells the story about some birds that built a nest in his garage. “During some spring seasons, I used to notice that birds were building a nest in my garage. When I saw that, I moved the nest outside. It would not be safe for the birds to live in the garage, since their access to the outdoors would be greatly limited by the closed door. I am sure that they did not appreciate my moving their nest from it secure place indoors. But I had to do it for their welfare. Likewise, God sometimes moves our nests from comfortable places to locations that are better for us in the long run.”
A loving Father uses trials to stimulate our spiritual growth.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 17, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.