Friday, September 09, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 50

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

Carrot and Stick

The Writer tells us to "keep our eyes on Jesus." That is the carrot. To become like Him and have His approval is a great reward. To be with Him is a great reward. But if we take ours eyes off Him, what then? Here is what the Writer says about that:

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have 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; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.

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?

But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

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? 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.

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. (Hebrews 12:4-11, NASB 95)

We may take our eyes off Jesus, but God does not take His eyes off us. If we have faith, then we are His children and good fathers raise children to be functioning and fruitful adults.

I believe that it is a mistake to equate the word "discipline" in this passage with the word "punishment." It is not that punishment cannot be a part of discipline, but it is only a part. To be sure punishment is painful, but so is being held to a task that you do not want to do. Consider these words from Timothy:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Here is a more complete view of discipline:

  • Teaching--One must first know what is expected before punishment is even warranted. God teaches us through His word, His Holy Spirit, and through other men and women of faith. "You must always tell the truth." is instruction.
  • Reproof--This is a rebuke for doing something wrong. The word has strong connotations of verbal instruction. "You have told a lie and I have instructed you to always tell the truth."
  • Correction--This is in a response to a good effort that left something to be desired. "You have told the truth, but you left out certain things. Effectively you have still lied."
  • Training in Righteousness--Moving the student into areas where your teaching, reproof, and correction can be practiced. Each training exercise will be followed by more teaching, reproof, and correction.

Which of us has not found lectures, and study, and practice, and reproof painful. Which of us have not found painful being held to a task until we have done it well. And yet the results are surely to our benefit.

Punishment is the means by which resistance to teaching, reproof, correction, and training is broken. The reason that such punishment does not lead to rebellion is that the attitude of the parent reveals the goals behind the inflicted pain. Only arbitrary punishment wielded because some selfish desire of the one in power yields rebellion.

So it is our task to submit to the Lord's teaching, reproof, correction, and training (aka testing). We are to be glad to see evidence of His hand in our lives here. To know we under the hand of His discipline is know that we are truly His sons and daughters. The end or goal of His work is our being conformed to the character of His Son. Life has no better end than that.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 49

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

How Should We Then Live?

In this study, we have seen the greatness of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant--and we have sampled the accomplishments of the saints of old. Now What?

The Writer begins the answer to this question with this:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NASB 95)

Behind us are the Old Testament saints. They have inspiring testimonies based on an inferior covenant. They are living and, if the language is taken at face value, they are watching us. And, therefore, we must at least do what they have done in the past and "also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us and run the race." As they endured and overcame, so must we. They are watching and they are cheering us on.

The ancient men and women of faith fixed their eyes on promises and that kept them going. We have the very Son for God to fix on. What's more, He is the author and perfecter of faith. What greater things are we able to accomplish with this faith and with His Spirit that indwells and empowers us? When the path is hard, we have Jesus' example. There is a future state of joy to be achieved and a glory and a greatness. That is the end of the race--and that is why we can endure and suffer along with the Son of God.

If I were to generalize a concept from the passage, it would be this: Let's keep greatness before our eyes! We focus so much on failure. We fail and fall and then compound the situation by relishing in the failures of others so that our missteps are not so painful. We would do better to study greatness. To be sure, it will make small our accomplishments and draw serious attention to our shortcomings. On the other hand, it shows us what is possible. Looking at the faults of others is being the spiritual couch potato. Looking at the greatness in others is exercise. Seeing what the Holy Spirit can do in the lives of ordinary men and women is goal setting.

Test everything. Cling to what it is good.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 48

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

Faith's Works

The Writer of Hebrews concludes his essay on faith this way:

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:32-40, NASB 95)

By faith people have conquered and overcome to great victory. By faith people have endured triumphant enemies, persecution, torture, and death. Faith is our connection to the living and true God. It will unleash His miraculous deliverances or His miraculous power and strength to endure. It is a gift for all seasons.

The one great theme in this letter to the early believing Jews has been the greatness of the New Covenant over the old. Here at the end of chapter 11, the Writer picks up the theme again, "And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. " Salvation has always been by faith. Salvation and a relationship with God have always been by faith and never by works. The casual teaching of much of Christianity infers otherwise--that Jesus brought salvation by faith and not by works. This is not true--and a study of Hebrews, Paul, and James will show their agreement on this.

By faith men of old gained approval and overcame great obstacles--and we can expect the same from our faith. What Jesus, the Son of God, added was access to God. None of us need priests, because we are all priests able to intercede for others. None of us need to travel to the temple, because we are all the temple of the Holy Spirit. None of us need the Day of Atonement, because we all have access to the Holy Place in heaven any time we have need.

And so the challenge for us is to live lives based on the realities of the New Covenant. If the Old Covenant saints accomplished great things, how much greater can we accomplish. They have faith, but we have faith and the Son and direct access.

Think about this as we move to the concluding sections of Hebrews.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.