REMEMBER … THE REWARD (10:32-39)
“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.” (10:32-34)
The Hebrews addressed in these verses were so closely identified with Christians (becoming sharers) that they even experienced suffering, reproaches, and tribulations because of it. It is possible even for an unbeliever to have a kind of “first love” for Christ as they are sometimes strongly be drawn to Him intellectually and emotionally. The unbelieving Jews addressed in this passage were so attracted and enlightened.
They were well on their way to believing, but they had not believed. Now they are told to complete the process by putting their full trust in Jesus Christ. They had the prospect of a better possession and an abiding one.
“Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” (10:35-36)
They needed endurance and patience. Everything they did was not for nothing, but it was not enough. They had not done the will of God fully, because they had not trusted in His Son fully. And until then, they could not receive what was promised. They knew the promises, but they did not receive them.
“For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” (10:37-39)
The Lord will come back for the faithful. In the meanwhile, the way to become righteous is by faith and the way the righteous should live is by faith. Good works play an important role in the life of the believer, but only faith will bring salvation and the preserving of the soul. We are not of those who shrink back to destruction.
HOLD FAST IN HOPE (10:23)
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” (10:23)
A person who genuinely trusts, cannot help being hopeful and will hold fast. Holding on does not keep us saved, any more than good works will make us saved, but both are evidence that we are saved. Holding on is the human side of eternal security. The Reformers called it “the perseverance of the saints.” God’s sovereignty does not exclude man’s responsibility. Jesus not only said, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44), but He also said, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31).
In the parable of the sower, Jesus illustrated four different kinds of response to the gospel. Some people are so far from wanting salvation that the devil simply takes away the seed of God’s Word before it has time to germinate at all. Others respond joyfully at hearing the Word, but their “belief” lasts only until the first temptation. Still others believe until they run into a few problems. True believers, however, “are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15).
A true believer will be around in the end. He may become discouraged or frustrated, and occasionally fall into a sinful habit. But he will hold fast the confession of his hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
God’s answers may seem to be a long time in coming, and our waiting may be uncomfortable or even painful. But He will always do just as He has said He will do. The reason we can hold fast to our hope without wavering is that He who promised is faithful.
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE (12:1-3)
“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 may not grow weary and lose heart.” (12:1-3)
Effective teaching often makes use of figures of speech. Paul was particularly fond of the figure of the race. He uses such phrases as “run in a race” (1 Cor. 9:24), “running well” (Gal. 5:7), and “run in vain” (Phil. 2:16). “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:24-25). Paul did not pursue comfort, money, great learning, popularity, respect, position, lust of the flesh, or anything but God’s will. This is also the figure used by the writer in Hebrews 12:1-3. In these few verses we see various aspects of the race, as they are compared to the faithful life in Christ.
In 12:1, the words “let us” may be used to refer to Jews who have made a profession of Christ but have not gone all the way to full faith. They have not yet begun the Christian race, which starts with salvation. The truths, however, apply primarily to Christians, who are already running.
A race is not a thing of passive luxury, but is demanding, sometimes gruelling and agonizing, and requires our utmost in self-discipline, determination, and perseverance. To stand still or to go backward is to forfeit the prize. Worse yet is to stay in the stands and never participate at all, for which we forfeit everything—even eternal heaven. Endurance is steady determination to keep going. There will be obstacles and there will be weariness and exhaustion, but we must endure if we are to win. God is concerned for steadfastness.
Many of the Hebrew Christians to whom the letter was written had started well. They had seen signs and wonders and were thrilled with their new lives (Heb. 2:4). But as the new began to wear off and problems began to arise, they began to lose their enthusiasm and their confidence. They started looking back at the old ways of Judaism, and around them and ahead of them at the persecution and suffering, and they began to weaken and waver.
Ours is not a race of works but a race of faith. Our competition is against Satan, his world system, and our own sinfulness, often referred to in the New Testament as the flesh. Second, our strength is not in ourselves, but in the Holy Spirit; otherwise we could never endure. We are not called on to endure in ourselves, but in Him. That is why our protection against Satan’s temptations is “the shield of faith” (Eph. 6:16). As long as we are trusting God and doing what He wants us to do, Satan and sin have no power over us.
The cloud of witnesses are all those faithful saints just mentioned in chapter 11. We are to run the race of faith like they did. They have proved by their testimony, their witness, that the life of faith is the only life to live. Nothing is more encouraging than the successful example of someone who has “done it before.”
An encumbrance is simply a bulk or mass of something that weighs us down, diverts our attention, saps our energy, dampens our enthusiasm for the things of God. It keeps us from running well and therefore from winning. For these Jews, the main encumbrance was Judaistic legalism, hanging on to the old religious ways. These Jewish believers, or would-be believers, could not possibly run the Christian race with all their excess baggage. “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?” (Gal. 4:9).
If there is one particular sin that hinders the race of faith it is unbelief, doubting God. Unbelief easily entangles the Christian’s feet so that he cannot run. When we allow sin in our lives, especially unbelief, it is quite easy for Satan to keep us from running.
JESUS, THE PERFECT EXAMPLE
Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He knew the Father in everything He did and He obeyed. “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30). Whatever the prospect of hardship or suffering, He trusted His Father. His Father’s will was what He lived by and died by. If Jesus’ perfect faith had not led Him to the cross, our faith would be in vain, because there would then be no sacrifice for our sins, no righteousness to count to our credit.
He is also its perfecter, the One who carries it through to completion. He continued to trust His Father until He could say, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). In faith, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame. It accomplished exactly what it was meant to accomplish, because, from birth to death, His life was totally committed into His Father’s hands. There has never been a walk of faith like Jesus’.
THE END OF THE RACE
No one runs a race without some expectation of reward. If you do not have something important to look forward to at the end of this race, you will likely not start it and will certainly not finish it.
Jesus ran for two things, the joy set before Him and sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God. In His high-priestly prayer Jesus said to His Father, “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do. And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:4-5). Jesus gained His reward by glorifying His Father while on earth, and He glorified God by totally exhibiting the Father’s attributes and by fully doing the Father’s will.
The prize true Christians are to running for is not heaven, as heaven is already ours. Like Jesus, we run for the joy of exaltation God promises will be ours if we glorify Him on earth as His Son did. We glorify God by allowing His attributes to shine through us and by obeying His will in everything we do. When we anticipate the heavenly reward of faithful service, joy will be ours now. What gives us joy in this life is confidence of reward in the next.
Even if we must suffer for the Lord, we should be able to say with Paul, “I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (Phil. 2:17). And though, like Paul, we are not yet perfect, we should also forget what is behind and reach forward to what lies ahead, pressing on “toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14). We should be able to look forward to the day when our Lord says to us, “Well done,… enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). “In the future,” the apostle says, “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim.4:8). And when we get to heaven, we can join the twenty-four elders in casting our “crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power’ ” (Rev. 4:10-11). We rejoice that one day we will “live together with Him” (1 Thess. 5:10), but we should also rejoice that we can live like Him right now.
We do not live in our own power but in His, just as on earth He did not live in His own power but in the Father’s. We can say with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
FALLING SHORT OF GOD’S GRACE (12:12-17)
Nothing in Scripture is more important than doctrine. Apart from doctrine there could be no basis for obedience, faith in God or love of God, since we would know nothing about Him. But Scripture contains much more than doctrine, as it also contains exhortation for living out the truths we learn. Knowing and believing are one side of the coin; living and obeying are the other.
The basic thrust of Hebrews 12:12-17 is clearly exhortation. Strengthen, make straight, pursue, and see to it are all terms of exhortation. Its purpose is to encourage living up to the truth. Teaching sound doctrine that is not applied is worthless, and exhortation that is not based on sound doctrine is misleading.
Verses 12-17 give three exhortations: for continuance, for diligence, and for vigilance. They are addressed first of all to believers, although they apply to unbelievers as well.
“Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 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.” (12:12-13)
These verses resume the race metaphor. The primary reference here is to professing Christians, those who have identified themselves with the church but who are not saved. They have the appearance of being in the race of faith but are not.
The first thing that happens to a runner when he starts to tire is that the arms begin to droop and then the knees begin to wobble. But if you concentrate on the drooping or the wobbling, you are finished. The only way you can hope to continue is by focusing on the goal. When we experience spiritual hands that are weak and knees that are feeble, our only hope is in “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (12:2). One of the surest ways to encourage ourselves is to give encouragement to someone else.
And make straight paths for your feet refers to staying in your lane in the race, not losing concentration on the goal. “Let your eyes look directly ahead, and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet, and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:25-27)
When we run, we leave a track behind us, which will also either lead or mislead others. Lame could apply to weak, limping Christians, who are easily tripped up or misled. It is certainly true that our weaker brothers will be among the first to be hurt by our poor example (see Rom. 14). The writer of Hebrews was warning believers about the danger of misleading lame, uncommitted unbelievers and of causing them to apostatize back into Judaism.
A poor testimony can cause an already limping unbeliever to be put out of joint, completely dislocated spiritually. Directly and indirectly, our testimony should glorify God and therefore be the best possible influence on those around us. God wants unbelievers healed, to be saved.
“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” (12:14)
A person who is not saved cannot pursue either peace or sanctification. Only the Christian has the ability, through the Holy Spirit, to live in peace and in holiness. “‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” (Isa. 57:21) Because we are at peace with God, we should be peacemakers. Because we are counted righteous, we should live righteously. Our practice should match our position.
If we love men, we will be at peace with them. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). We have an obligation to live peaceably, whether or not those around us treat us peaceably.
Sanctification has to do with our love for God. It speaks of the pure, obedient, holy life we live set apart for God’s glory, because of that love. When we love Him, we will want to be like Him, and when we are like Him, others will see Him in us and be attracted to Him. Love toward men and love toward God are inseparable.
When unbelievers see a Christian’s peacefulness and holiness, they may become attracted to the Lord. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our love for each other is a testimony to the Father and to the Son. It is a means of drawing people to Christ, apart from whom no one will see the Lord.
“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.” (12:15)
We are also to look out for, oversee, those in our midst, especially within the church, who may not be believers. The first purpose of our oversight should be to win the unsaved to Christ. We are actually exhorted and commanded, to make every effort to see to it that no one comes short of the grace of God.
The second purpose for vigilance is to prevent bitterness. The root of bitterness refers to a person who is superficially identified with God’s people, and who falls back into paganism. But he is no ordinary apostate. He is arrogant and defiant concerning the things of God. We should be on guard against such apostates, lest they cause trouble, and by it many be defiled. A person in the root of bitterness, however, is a corruptive influence, a serious contamination in the Body.
PREVENT SHALLOW SELFISHNESS
“That there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 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 for it with tears.” (12:16-17)
Perhaps the saddest and most godless person in Scripture outside of Judas is Esau as the Bible strongly condemns them. Wilfully they turned their backs on God and the things of God. Esau was not only immoral, but he was also godless. Christians are to be vigilant that no persons such as Esau contaminate Christ’s Body. See to it… that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau.
When Esau finally woke up to some extent and realized what he had forsaken, he made a half-hearted attempt to retrieve it. Just because he sought for it with tears does not indicate sincerity or true remorse. He found no place for repentance. He bitterly regretted, but he did not repent. He selfishly wanted God’s blessings, but he did not want God. He went on sinning wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth.
ENCOURAGE IN LOVE (10:24-25)
“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.” (10:24-25)
A further positive response to the gospel is fellowship in love. One of the best ways to hold fast to the things of God is to be in the fellowship of His people, where they could love and be loved, serve and be served. The day drawing near is referring to the coming of the Lord.
THE DISCIPLINE OF GOD (12:4-11)
“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” (12:4)
All the Jews to whom the book of Hebrews was written were undergoing persecution because of their break with Judaism. Those who had made mere professions of faith were, under this pressure, in danger of reverting to Judaism, of apostatizing. The true believers were in danger of having their faith seriously weakened by adopting again the rituals and ceremonies of the Old Covenant. One of the reasons Jesus “endured such hostility by sinners against Himself,” was that His followers might “not grow weary and lose heart” (12:3).
Some of their suffering was deserved and was intended for their spiritual discipline and growth. The emphasis of this passage is on the heavenly Father’s use of discipline in the lives of His children.
God uses hardship and affliction as a means of discipline. We must realize that there is a great difference between God’s discipline and His judgmental punishment. Though we deserve God’s wrathful punishment because of our sin, we will never have to face it, because Jesus endured it for us.
We experience some of God’s discipline as the direct result of our sin, but the punishment is corrective, not judgmental and not the sort that unbelievers receive. Through the prophet Nathan, God told David that because of his sin, “Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Sam. 12:10). Yet David was a better man because of God’s discipline. God had a purpose in the discipline—to draw His servant closer to Himself, to convince him not to sin again, and to help him grow and mature.
It is often hard for us to see the good in God’s chastening us. But we know that, because He is our loving heavenly Father, He will not do anything to harm us, although it may hurt. It does however do us good as it restrains us from repeating the sin.
Sometimes God disciplines in order to prevent sin. He puts “fences” around His children to protect them. What seems to us a terrible inconvenience or hardship may be God’s loving hand of protection. Our sickness, lack of business success, or other problems may be God’s way of keeping us from something much worse. If God’s children accepted His preventive discipline more willingly and gratefully, He would have much less need for administering His corrective discipline.
Besides punishing and preventing, God’s discipline also educates us for better service and better living. Sometimes God can get our attention better through affliction than through blessing. Discipline can also teach sympathy for others.
By God’s own declaration, Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1). Yet God allowed him to suffer pain, loss, grief, sickness, and ridicule that make Paul’s thorn in the flesh, whatever it was, seem insignificant by comparison. Just as Paul’s thorn, Job’s afflictions were messengers of Satan and came upon him with God’s approval (1:12; 2:6). Job went through his horrible sufferings and “did not sin with his lips” (2:10).
FORGETTING GOD’S WORD
“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.” (12:5)
When God’s Word is neglected it is forgotten. Sometimes the answer or the help we need is in a truth we learned a long time ago but have let slip away. Here the Jews were reminded that they had also forgotten the teaching from Proverbs 3:11-12 about God’s discipline. They had forgotten more than simply divine truths, they had forgotten the exhortation of their heavenly Father.
The first thing that can keep God from accomplishing what He wants in our lives is to regard lightly His discipline. Our reactions cannot be right if our view of what is happening is not right. Our focus is more than often so much on the experience itself, rather than on our heavenly Father and on what He wants to do for us through the experience.
We can also become callous to God and His Word and not recognize God’s hand in our experience or treat God’s discipline lightly by complaining. When we are calloused, God’s discipline will harden us instead of softens us. We can prevent God from accomplishing His desired result through discipline by questioning. Our questioning God implies that He is not justified in doing what He is doing to us.
Perhaps the greatest danger in regarding God’s discipline lightly is carelessness. When we do not care about what purpose God has in the discipline or about how we can profit from it, His discipline cannot be effective. Some people become so overcome by their problems that they give up; they become despondent, depressed, faint. They become spiritually inert, unresponsive to what God is doing or why. The cure for hopelessness is hope in God. The child of God has no need to faint because of God’s discipline. God gives it to strengthen us, not to weaken us, to encourage us, not to discourage us, to build us up, not to tear us down.
PROOFS IN DISCIPLINE
“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.” (12:6-8)
PROOF OF GOD’S LOVE
The first thing we should think of when we are suffering is our Father’s love, for those whom the LORD loves He disciplines. God loves His children and is bound by His own nature and His own covenant to do them only good. Therefore, whatever we receive from God’s hand, including discipline, is from God’s love. We benefit in all these ways, and many more, when we accept His discipline. “For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men” (Lam. 3:31-33). He will not discipline us beyond what we need or can bear, any more than He will allow us to be tempted beyond what we can endure (1 Cor. 10:13).
PROOF OF OUR SONSHIP
All men are subject to God’s punishment, but only His children receive His discipline. We can know we are God’s children by His leading us (Rom. 8:14) and by the witness of His Spirit to our spirits (8:15-16). We know from the fact that we have trusted in Jesus Christ that we are God’s children. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). We also know from our discipline that we are His children, because He scourges every son whom He receives. Not a single one of His children will miss out on His loving discipline. Whom He receives is exclusive. Only those He receives through their faith in His Son are His children.
Scourges means that God’s discipline can sometimes be severe, especially when our disobedience is great. To us as parents, the Bible teaches, ““He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Prov. 13:24; cf. 23:13-14). We can be certain that because God will always love us, He will also always discipline us, as His children, while we are in this life. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
When we look at how well many unbelievers are doing and then at how much trouble we are having, we should take this as evidence that we belong to God and they do not. If they are without discipline, they are illegitimate children and not sons.
PRODUCTS OF DISCIPLINE
“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, 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.” (12:9-11)
You do not know what victory is until you have fought a battle. God’s discipline produces life and holiness. Since we respected our earthly fathers even while they were disciplining us, shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? A Christian’s persistent rebellion against God’s discipline can cost him his life because of his stubbornness.
“Those who love Thy law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble” (Ps. 119:165). No one lives so well as the believer who loves God’s law and will, who receives everything from his Father’s hand willingly and joyously.
God’s primary desire for us is that we be holy as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16), that we may share in His holiness. The Lord never makes such mistakes with His children. His discipline is always proper, always at the right time, of the right sort, and in the right degree. It is always perfectly for our good, that we may share His holiness. The only way we can be separated from sin, and thereby partake of His holiness and be filled up with His fullness, is “to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29)—which requires that we accept His discipline as a son. Positionally we already are holy, because we are justified. But practically our holiness is just beginning, which is the work of sanctification—making us holy.
If discipline was pleasant, it would have little corrective power. “Afterwards . . . yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” It builds our character and our faith, our love and our righteousness.
(MAIN SOURCE: MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY – JOHN MACARTHUR)