“And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or lose heart when you are reproved by him, for the Lord disciplines the one he loves and punishes every son he receives.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
“This is for your own good.” Ever hear some version of that when you were growing up? I honestly can’t remember if I did or not. Usually the one hearing it is doing so in the context of an adult (most often a parent) forcing them to do, or perhaps doing to them, something they don’t like. It may be technically true in the moment—and even in a longer term sense—but it doesn’t make whatever it is that’s happening any easier to experience.
The first 75% of the letter of Hebrews is heavily theological. It mostly comprises two themes: Explaining why Jesus is better than Moses and why the new covenant He inaugurated is better than the old covenant of the Law of Moses, and warning believers of the danger of falling away from the faith. It is rich and deep and true and wonderful and it offers an encouragement the original audience was very much in need of hearing, but it left out something important: Their lives as Jesus followers in Judea in the first century were hard.
They were really hard. They dealt with persecution, social ostracism, poverty, and so on and so forth. There were not a few times that they were wondering whether the whole thing was worth it (thus the warnings against falling away). They wondered why they were struggling so hard to battle back the temptation to sin. They wondered why so many hard things kept happening to them. You know, in some ways, their lives weren’t all that different from how we sometimes feel about our own. I don’t mean our situation is objectively the same as theirs was—it’s not even close to as bad—but there are a lot of ways in which it’s tough to be a follower of Jesus nowadays and it’s getting tougher all the time.
The writer of Hebrews understood this and wanted to offer some encouragement. The first bit of encouragement comes in chapter 11 when he describes this incredible cheering section believers have in all the faithful followers who came before them. Then, as this chapter begins, he essentially says, “Because we’re playing before this amazing home crowd, let’s buckle down and keep going strong in spite of the challenges before us.” Next he brings us back to Jesus: “If Jesus could do all that He did, surely we can keep pressing on if we’re going to call ourselves His followers.”
Finally, here and for the rest of the chapter, he shifts gears one more time: “You need to change the way you’re thinking about the hard times you are facing.” Rather than merely thinking about them as hard times or persecution or bad luck or anything else along those lines, try this on for size: Consider them to be instances of discipline from a loving father.
What exactly this does for us and how it can totally transform the way we face the difficulties and challenges that come up before us as we go through life we will talk about next time.