This past Lord’s day I had the privilege of teaching an adult Bible class en Español. That class uses the lectio continua method of Bible study. That means they read and discuss their way through books of the Bible one section at a time. They go as far as they can each week and pick up where they left off the previous week. They are currently working through the Book of Hebrews and it just happened that my text was Hebrews 12:11-17.
That is significant to me because we just finished our first year as Christ Covenant Church. Due to circumstances beyond our control, it was a difficult year in which our faith was tested and tried in various ways. Many of us feel like the Hebrew Christians — weak, weary, and wobbly.
Here are a few things I shared with our Hispanic brothers and sisters that I hope will encourage you as well.
We all face hardships at various times and in various ways.
The Hebrew Christians who first received this letter had endured a hard struggle with many sufferings. Sometimes they were publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes they were partners with those so treated. They had compassion on those in prison, and they joyfully accepted the plundering of their property, since they knew that they had a better possession and an abiding one (Heb 10:32-34).
Once they endured many physical and emotional hardships, but now they were feeling weary and worn out.
As a result, they were losing their confidence in the Lord and conviction in the gospel.
They felt like the gospel was causing more trouble than it was worth; that it cost more than they were willing to pay. They were trying to convince themselves that they needed something more comfortable, or something more satisfying, or something more mainstream.
And some even felt like they needed the Law, the temple, and the priests. Not to mention the altar, the blood, and the incense.
Once upon a time they went boldly outside the camp, outside their comfort zone, and gladly took up the cross of Christ, but now it all seems too shameful and embarrassing. Their attitude had changed; their confidence was shaken; their joy was fading.
Their world was falling apart.
As a result, they were thinking about leaving Christ, the cross, and the church and going back to what felt more comfortable and less costly.
The author knew that some of the Hebrew Christians were wavering between two sides because of their hardships. Some of them saw their hardships as a twist of fate or a turn of bad luck. But the author called them to endure hardships as a form of spiritual discipline. He wanted them to see by faith the invisible hand of God behind all their hardships: Though hardships are unpleasant in the moment, there is a deep and abiding purpose behind hardships. God our Father loves us enough to correct us in real time and instruct us in real life.
In Hebrews 12:11-17 the author suggests that there are two responses to hardships and difficulties. The response of Jacob the struggler or the response of Esau the sell-out.
Jacob endured hardships of various kinds throughout his life. One night in particular, he wrestled with God in the mud of the Jabbok. At the end of that grudge match his hands were weary, his knees were scraped, and his hip was popped out of joint. However, in spite of the pain (perhaps because of the pain) he tightened his grip and refused to turn loose of the Lord. He was determined not to turn his back from God’s face no matter what. He endured hardship as discipline and he was blessed after the struggle. He traded a fleeting moment of suffering for a lasting permanent blessing.
Esau endured hardships of various kinds throughout his life. One day in particular he went hunting and returned empty-handed with an empty stomach. He was weak and weary from hunting. If anyone ever needed a Snickers, it was Esau. He wanted immediate relief from hunger and thirst. He felt so famished that he hastily negotiated the sale of his birthright for a bowl of red beans. He rashly traded his permanent inheritance for an instant gratification.
What about you? Are you a struggler or a sell-out?
Strugglers trust the Lord their God no matter what. They lift their drooping hands, strengthen their weak knees, and make straight paths for their feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
They strive for peace, not self-pity.
They do it for others, not themselves.
They strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
They see to it that no one in the community — no one, including themselves — fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble and defiles others; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy. (Hebrews 12:11-17)
They are concerned about the whole community not just themselves. They wrestle when no one else will, and struggle when no one else can. And they hold on to the Lord with all their might, until the light breaks forth and drives away the night.
They might limp after the struggle, but at least they walk with the Lord.
But sell-outs are concerned about themselves, not the whole community. They wallow in self-pity, show a bitter spirit, and dabble in secret sins. They refuse to struggle or suffer; they do not expect to see light at the end of night.
They might not limp away from a struggle, but they walk alone away from the Lord.
Are you a struggler or a sell-out?
You face all kinds of hardships in your marriage, your family, your job, and more. You even face hardships in your church. Will you endure or expire?
Right now your life seems more painful than pleasant, and you feel like there is not much to show for all the hardships. But later on, God will see to it that your hardships yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness — if you endure hardship as a struggler not as a sell-out.
God loves us as his children. Like a good Father, he is training us by means of our hardships, and he is teaching us obedience by means of our sufferings. In this way, he is conforming us to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
As you struggle, and before you sell-out, consider Jesus, who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you will not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb 12:2-3)
The struggle is real, but it is worth it.