Hebrews 12:10

Sermon preached on July 30, 2006 by Laurence W. Veinott. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

What a week and a half it's been for
Floyd Landis. Eleven days ago he felt confident that he was going to win the Tour de France. He was riding confidently and was sure he was the strongest man in the race. Then he had one of the worst days of his life. With the world watching he suffered one of the worst cases of cracking that has ever occurred to the yellow jersey. On the slopes of La Toussuire he lost more than 10 minutes and fell from first place to 11th. He thought that his hopes of winning the tour were over. But then the next day he left the peloton behind, won the stage by seven minutes and put himself in a position to win the race on the final time trial, which he subsequently did. Last Sunday he was declared the victor in Paris. But a few days after that he was notified that he had tested positive for doping and he may be stripped of his title.

Landis claims he has never doped and that he won the race fair and square. He claims that his victory was due to 15 years of training and hard work. That could be true. The tests are not fool proof. Perhaps he will be vindicated. Perhaps he will be stripped of his title. For the past few days his life has been like a roller coaster and it is certain he has one more high or one more low to endure. If he is innocent, I'm sure he's wondering,

"Why is all this happening to me?"

You've probably wondered that from time to time as well. Sometimes you can be trying to do everything well and in spite of your best efforts—things go terribly wrong. That happened to Job. It happened to the apostle Paul. It happens to many Christians. Why? Here the Holy Spirit tells us about one of the reasons we undergo difficult times. We read,

"Our fathers disciplined us for a little while
as they thought best;
but God disciplines us for our good,
that we may share in his holiness."

God is disciplining us so that we became more holy.

There are many valuable lessons for us here so let's look at some of them.

First of all, we should understand that

afflictions are ultimately from God.

The word translated 'discipline' here has a wide meaning. On the one hand it could just mean 'educate' and it's used in Acts 7:22 that way. In Stephen's speech to the Jews he said,

"Moses was educated
in all the wisdom of the Egyptians
and was powerful in speech and action."

The apostle Paul also used this word to refer to his education as a Pharisee. Before the crowd at Jerusalem he said, (Acts 22:3)

"I am a Jew,
born in Tarsus of Cilicia,
but brought up in this city.
Under Gamaliel I was
thoroughly trained
in the law of our fathers
and was just as zealous for God
as any of you are today."

So the word can mean to educate or to train.

But it can also refers to training that has punishment associated with it. We see this in
Pilate's words to the Jews when he wanted to release Jesus to them. He said, (Luke 23:16)

"Therefore, I will punish him
and then release him.'"

Luke used the same Greek word there that we have in our text. It seems that what Pilate had in mind was a severe flogging. He was going to have Jesus flogged in an attempt to satisfy the wrath of the Jews.

The apostle Paul also used this word in referring to the most horrible way to learn a lesson. In 1 Timothy 1:20 he wrote,

"Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander,
whom I have handed over to Satan
to be taught not to blaspheme."

Discipline in that case would be most horrible—being handed over to Satan. We all know that Satan hates human beings and the discipline Hymenaeus and Alexander underwent would have been the most horrible imaginable.

Thus when the writer here refers to God's discipline we need to look at the context to understand exactly what he has in mind. God obviously educates us in different ways, sometimes with very mild correction—is he referring to that here, or is the more severe form of discipline in view?

The context makes clear that the writer is using it in terms of
the more severe form. In verse 7 he wrote,

"Endure hardship as discipline."

What is in view here is learning our lessons through difficulty and hardship. It's the more severe form of discipline that is in view. In verse 11 he wrote,

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time,

Again, he's telling us that it brings pain. He's referring to affliction that causes us sorrow and pain. He also compares God's discipline to an earthly father's discipline—which, maybe not today, but in times past—included physical punishment.

Thus what the apostle is telling us here is that
our troubles, hardships and difficulties are from God. We are to view them as examples of God disciplining us in an effort to make us more holy.

We have an example of this in
1 Corinthians 11. Some of the Corinthian Christians were abusing the Lord's Supper and were creating a division in the church. Some of the rich Christians were having a feast and were not sharing their food with the poor Christians. Some had nothing and were going hungry. It has horrible. So what did God do? He sent sickness and death to them. Some became sick and some died. (verse 30) God had determined to make them holy and His discipline was very severe.

God uses troubles, hardships and sickness to make us holy.

It's important that we grasp this point
because some people will tell you that sickness, troubles, and afflictions are from Satan, not from God and they will try to take you in an altogether different direction in how you respond to afflictions and troubles. Some guys at the prison once told me that God doesn't want us to be sick. He wants us to be healthy, wealthy and successful. All we have to do is rebuke Satan and claim the promise that God has for us. Their whole focus would not be on learning something from the sickness and difficulty, but on rebuking Satan and escaping from it. Not only that, but their approach inevitably leads to doubts about a sick person's faith—because if the Lord tarries it is inevitable that many Christians will get sick and die.

So it's important that we see that afflictions, troubles and sicknesses are ultimately from God, for our sanctification.

Now it is true that Satan has a hand in some sickness. We don't deny that. The apostle Paul referred to
his thorn in the flesh as, (2 Corinthians 12:7)

"a messenger of Satan, to torment me."

Paul saw Satan's hand in his suffering. He was absolutely correct.

Luke 13:11f we read about a woman who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. Jesus healed her and when some people complained because He healed on the Sabbath, Jesus replied, (verses 15-16)

"You hypocrites!
Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath
untie his ox or donkey from the stall
and lead it out to give it water?
Then should not this woman,
a daughter of Abraham,
whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years,
be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?"

Jesus clearly taught that Satan had kept the woman bound for eighteen years. Satan had a hand in it.

We also know that Satan had a hand in
Job's suffering. In Job 2 we read how God gave Job into Satan's hand. When Satan asked for power over Job, God replied, (Job 2:6)

"Very well, then,
he is in your hands;
but you must spare his life."

Satan is very active in causing suffering and sickness. There is not doubt about that. But it is totally unwarranted to extrapolate from that and conclude that sickness and suffering is totally from Satan and that God doesn't want His people to suffer. That is not warranted.

God controls all things.
Consider Job's sufferings. Ultimately it was God's will for Job to suffer. Satan couldn't lay a finger on Job without God's permission. He had to ask God before he could do it. Even though evil people and Satan were responsible for his sufferings, Job declared,

"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised."

Consider the apostle Paul. When he was dealing with his thorn in the flesh, this messenger of Satan, he asked God for deliverance from it. Indeed, he saw God's hand in it for his good. Consider the verses that come before and after. He wrote,

"To keep me from becoming conceited
because of these surpassingly great revelations,
there was given me a thorn in my flesh,
a messenger of Satan,
to torment me.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord
to take it away from me.
But he said to me,
'My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.'"

So we see that God was ultimately behind Paul's thorn in the flesh. He was using it to keep the apostle from sin. He was using it to ensure that Paul would continue to rely on His power and walk closely with Him.

Regarding the healing of the woman who had been crippled for eighteen years I think we could safely apply our Lord's words, that He spoke regarding the man born blind in
John 9. He said, (John 9:3)

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned,
but this happened
so that the work of God
might be displayed in his life."

God is in ultimate control of what happens to you. Your troubles and afflictions are ultimately in His hand. As the apostle Paul said in Acts 17:25f,

"he himself gives all men
life and breath and everything else.
From one man he made every nation of men,
that they should inhabit the whole earth;
and he determined the times set for them
and the exact places where they should live.
God did this so that men would seek him
and perhaps reach out for him and find him,
though he is not far from each one of us.
'For in him we live and move and have our being.'"

As Joseph said when he revealed himself to his brothers, (Genesis 45:4-8)

"I am your brother Joseph,
the one you sold into Egypt!
And now, do not be distressed
and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here,
because it was to save lives
that God sent me ahead of you.
For two years now there has been famine in the land,
and for the next five years
there will not be plowing and reaping.
But God sent me ahead of you
to preserve for you a remnant on earth
and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
So then, it was not you who sent me here,
but God.
He made me father to Pharaoh,
lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt."

Joseph's years of suffering and affliction were from God. God sent him into slavery, into the Egyptian prison. It was part of God's plan to prepare Joseph for leadership. This leads us to our second point.

The second great truth that we see in our text is that God has a good purpose in the afflictions that He sends our way—

they are to help us to become more like God, to share in His holiness.

He designs them so that we would become more like Him. Paul wrote,

"God disciplines us for our good,
that we may share in his holiness."

John Owen wrote,

"There can be no greater pledge of divine love in afflictions than this, that God designs by them to 'make us partakers of his holiness'- to bring us nearer to him, and make us more like him."

How wonderful God is. He is working in such things to make us like Him, to make us fit to dwell with Him. There is nothing greater than that for us.

His discipline is for our good. Even in the difficult things that happen to us we should remember
Romans 8:28,

"And we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose."

God has a good purpose in our sufferings—they are to draw us closer to God and help us to love Him more. We see this in Psalm 119:67, 71 where David wrote,

"Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word…
It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees."

We think that we would become more like God if everything went well for us and life was smooth and easy. But that's not necessarily so.

There are three applications we should apply from this.

First, Christians,

you are to have the mindset that troubles, afflictions and sickness are opportunities to grow to be more like God.

Most of us don't usually have this mindset. We think that it would be better if troubles and difficulties didn't come our way. We somehow think that we would more like God if our path was smooth and easy. We look on afflictions and troubles as things that are exclusively bad.

How different the mindset that James told us to have in
James 1:2-4. He wrote,

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith
develops perseverance.
Perseverance must finish its work
so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything."

Do you consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds? That's not our usual reaction. But that's the mindset that we are to have.

Consider the words in
1 Peter 1:6f. Peter wrote,

"In this you greatly rejoice,
though now for a little while
you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that your faith
—of greater worth than gold,
which perishes even though refined by fire
—may be proved genuine
and may result
in praise, glory and honor
when Jesus Christ is revealed."

Secondly, for you Christians who are struggling with all kinds of afflictions, what this means is that God is giving you lots of instruction in how to share in His holiness. God is giving you lots of opportunities to become more like Him.

Use those opportunities to become more like Jesus.

Don't squander such opportunities. The opportunities you face are born of trouble and hardship. Don't undergo such for nothing. Die to the world. Die to the vain things of this world. Become holy, separate from sin.

For us, the way to holiness is through trouble and hardship.

The origin of our holiness was even that way.

In order for you to become holy—what had to happen? Jesus had to suffer and die for you. It could be no other way. Before He went to the cross Jesus asked, (Matthew 26:39)

"My Father,
if it is possible,
may this cup be taken from me."

But it was not possible. In order for us to be made holy—Jesus had to suffer and die for us.

It's sometimes the same way today. In order for us to become more holy God has to send affliction and trouble our way.

This teaching is
very humbling. It puts us in our place. God tells us that sometimes the best way for Him to make us holy is to discipline us. If He just sent good things our way, rather than using those blessings properly, they would take us away from God and make us less holy. So he tells us not to despise His discipline because it's necessary in order for us to become like Him in holiness. He designs it for our good, that we may share in His holiness.

Now for you Christians for whom everything is going well—who have received blessing after blessing from God and whose lives have been free from hardship and difficulty—use those blessings to become more holy. Through God's grace it is not absolutely necessary that we suffer in order to become more holy. God can make us holy through blessings. But sadly, very few make such use of blessings. So God sends hardship in order to make them holy. How much better if we use even the blessing to draw closer to God.

Thirdly, for Christians,

don't lose heart in afflictions.

As strange as it may seem, what we see from our text is that afflictions are a sign that God loves you. The world cannot understand this. But it's clear from verses 5 through 7. We read,

"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.
Endure hardship as discipline;
God is treating you as sons."

Don't lose heart in discipline. God is treating you as a son. Don't be afraid in troubles and hardship.

Remember that troubles for a Christian are like
Haman's gallows. Haman had it built to hang Mordecai. He designed it to harm Mordecai. But that gallows turned out for Mordecai's good. Haman himself was hanged on them.

Don't lose heart because of sorrows and afflictions. Many Christians who have suffered great affliction have come out of it as pure gold. It changed them, for the better. It has made them like God. Use affliction that way.

God loves you. These troubles you face cannot do you great harm. Quite the contrary, they can do you much good and be a great blessing to you. Use them to share God's holiness.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians. Are you going through troubles, trials? You may not be now but one day you will. It is inevitable that they come. They will come in this life and the next. The great question is—

Will your sufferings be for naught?

Sufferings for naught—how horrible they will be. Jesus described hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Why? In part because the sufferings, as they relate to the people who suffer there—are for naught.

Don't let that happen to you. Sufferings in itself is not good. But through Jesus and His work the sufferings you face can have not only a purpose—but an end—for you to be with God and to be like Him—to enjoy Him and His beauty forever. Go to Jesus. In Him find rest for your soul.