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Discipline and the Struggle Against Sin

Date: May. 28, 2017

Author: Michael Mark

Hebrews 12:4-17

Key Verse: Hebrews 12:11

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

A Gallup Poll, which is survey of public opinion, reported in 2014 that 26% of Americans viewed the Army as the most important branch of the US military for defense, but also showed that 47% of Americans viewed the Marines as the most prestigious.  This could be in part because of their role in the military as an Expeditionary Force, which is a military unit dispatched to a foreign country and capable of quickly being deployed.  Often they are the first to go into battle.  Because of their role they are trained at a higher intensity than the rest of the military, and as a result they are considered the most disciplined branch of the US Armed Forces.  They are “The few, the proud, the Marines.”  By the way, who knows the motto of the US Marine Corps?  It is “Semper Fidelis,” or as you may have heard, “Semper Fi” for short, which is Latin for “Always Faithful.”  Faith and discipline are complementary qualities.  The standard of the Marines is “always faithful,” and they discipline themselves to live that out.  Discipline is essential to their success, but they had to go through and overcome many hardships in order to become disciplined.  Last week through Dan’s message, we took a trip down the Great Hall of Faith, those who we now can remember as “Always Faithful, Semper Fidelis,” and were encouraged by the great display of faith in God in their lives.  We too were encouraged to throw off the sin that entangles us, run the race with perseverance, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.  Last week, there was a picture of a race, and in today’s passage the metaphor switches to combat, and we will learn about the discipline necessary to fight against sin.

Let’s start now at verse 4, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  The Jewish Christians were struggling against unbelief.  They had once, in the early days of their faith endured public insults, standing side by side with others who were so treated.  They suffered along with those in prison, and joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property.  They were doing so well!  They suffered, but they had not yet suffered to the point of shedding their blood, dying for their faith.  There was still more they could do to express their faith.  But now, instead, their faith was falling apart.  They were tempted to fall away.  Some have stopped meeting together (Heb 10:25).  Some became lazy and stopped trying to mature in their faith and understanding about Christ (Heb 5:11,6:12).  They were no longer struggling against that sin that was tempting them to fall away.  Persecution, pressure from the world, and the fight against their own sin were causing them to become weary, and lose heart in the struggle.

These Christians lost sight of something, something important that the author will remind them of now, in v.5-6, “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son?  It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’”  They have completely forgotten this word of encouragement.  This is like long lost good news!  They have forgotten about God’s love for them!  Although this seems like a rebuke to the Jewish Christians, this is also an encouragement, so let’s read this as an encouragement.  This word is addressed to all Christians, those whom God calls sons and daughters.  This is a word for you. It says first, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline.  Discipline is training someone to obey, often corrected by punishment.  To make light of discipline could be to despise it, reject it or avoid it.  I was not a good student in Chinese school in my younger years.  Sometimes during recess, right before we were going to learn to sing, I would escape by climbing over a fence.  The consequence was that I missed an opportunity to learn a classic Chinese song.  Sometimes the Lord may discipline us in a hardship, like teaching us to love one another unconditionally, or requiring us to resolve conflicts, even in our marriages.  We should not grumble or despise this discipline.

We also should not lose heart when we are rebuked.  To lose heart means to despair or give in to depression or hopelessness.  I do remember a time many people were commenting on our messages, saying they were too dry, or long, or boring, or confusing.  This was many years back.  And I acknowledge this was true.  There were times I had packed too much into a sermon, trying to cover too much.  I am thankful for everyone’s honesty.  I took this to heart personally, and was a little upset and saddened, but accepting it as the Lord’s rebuke, I looked for ways to improve the content of the messages.  Now here is the encouragement: The Lord disciplines whom he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.  Sufferings and hardships are signs of God’s love and care for us.  He trains us through trials, and teaches us obedience and the right way to live through difficulties.  It’s one way to remove and burn away our habits of sin.  Hardships and trials do visit all people, whether they are Christian or not.  But those who do not know God never know what the purpose of their hardship is for.  It may be due to sin, or judgment, but they cannot confidently say that their hardship is due to God’s love, as the Christian can.  Only Christians can point their suffering back to the love of God, because they know that they are God’s children.  Only Christians really knows that they are accepted by God, because they believe in Christ.  Remember always this word addressed to you as from a father to child, and remember that the hardships you face are signs of his love.  The sufferings that come from God are because of his love.  This is what they should have remembered.  This is what we all need to remember: God loves us.  God is love, and we know this because of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for us.

The author proceeds to expand upon this encouragement, and explains to us why we are disciplined and why we need to be disciplined.  With this encouragement we can also view hardship in a new light.  Look at v.7-8, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.  For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined – and everyone undergoes discipline – then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.”  We can see our hardships now as discipline, and God is giving us hardships because he is treating us as his children.  I remember hearing from my mom, as she is now raising my little brother, is that her job is to raise and guide Joseph to be as successful as he can be when he becomes an adult.  So she taught him what is right and wrong, she helped him with his homework, she cooks food for him.  A parent guides a child for their safety.  You yell at them if they try to stick a fork in the electric socket, try to stick their fingers in a burning stove, and instruct them not to talk to strangers.  Imagine a parent who did not care, and let their child run around without telling them right from wrong.  The child would be lost, helpless and can get into trouble.  But God’s discipline is a sign that he is treating you as a true child.

 There is a saying, “Father knows best,” maybe some might say “Mother knows best,” but our parents generally are doing their best to make us better.  God also disciplines us in order that we may be made better, and not only that, but that we would also truly live.  Look at v.9-10, “Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.  How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!  They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.”  There is something about a child that looks up to and respects their parents, even when their parents are harsh to them.  You probably don’t see this as much with older children or teenagers, but generally the young children show such sweet and genuine faith, even when punished or disciplined.  Most, if not all children, obey their parents and respect them.  I remember when Joseph was 3 or 4 years old, and he did something bad that angered my mom, so she said, “I don’t want you (of course she did not mean it, and he was back in her arms in minutes).”  But he started to cry, and he kept repeating, “I want you, I want you!!”  Children have a natural love and respect for their parents.  The Bible also tells us to honor our mother and father.  Now, according to these verses, how much more, should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!  Not all of us have dads.  As Jimmy pointed out last week, related to Mother’s Day, many of us, including himself, and his friends were raised by their mothers.  My parents divorced when I was around 8 years old, and I was raised by my mom.  But God is the true Father of all.  Our flesh comes from our fathers, but our spirits were created and given to us by God.  He also created our flesh.  For anyone who doesn’t have a father, God is your Father, and he is involved in your life even more than you thought.  And God, being the Father of your spirit, how can he not love you?  He loves you with a Father’s love.  According to v.9 only by submitting to God the Father, that we live.  We should submit to the Father of spirits and live!  Conversely, if we do not submit to God the Father, we cannot truly have life.

Our parents disciplined us only for a little while, and as they thought best.  But our parents are fallible, they can make mistakes, they can be a little bit too harsh.  And they usually may only discipline us until we are adults, or if past that age then they may discipline us until they pass away.  But God is eternal, he is infinitely wise and infinitely good.  His purpose, his motives, his methods are higher and better.  He knows exactly what we need, he knows exactly how much pressure and hardship we can handle, and what type of challenges we need – and his purpose for us is eternal: it is so that we may share in his holiness.  What a royal gift!  God himself is holy, set apart above the heavens and the earth, and he wants us to partake in his holiness.  We get an insight into the purpose of him disciplining us: to make us more like himself, and less like the world.  He himself suffered when he came into the world, are we any better that we should not?  Our parents prepared us to live life in this world, but God is preparing us to live life eternally in heaven.  This is an interesting opportunity we have here on earth. In heaven, we may not get to experience overcoming sin by the power of God in us, but here, we can experience God’s power over sin, his love for sinners, and how much he strived with sinners and struggled in order to save us.  Only here can we experience the depth of love he has for sinners, that he even sent his son.  Even angels long to look into these things.  And so it is through discipline through suffering that we can truly know God, because we are participating in what he went through.  We learn more about our God through the trials he gives us.

The author gives some final encouragement and more fruits of discipline in v.11 – can we all please read v.11, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  This is the straight truth about discipline: it is not pleasant.  This will help prepare you for those hardships.  Sometimes difficulties come to humble us.  Sometimes they come to correct a sin in us.  Sometimes they come so that we may go to God in prayer.  Sometimes they might be good things that are difficult, and challenging.  I can think of the moment when my dad passed away – not only was his passing sad, but I felt compelled to preach his funeral.  I was discouraged multiple times in the days of preparing for his funeral, wondering how I could preach, and was it a good idea, will my family accept it.  It was a trial, but having gone through it, God blessed it.  Sometimes preparing sermons when my rotation comes up, though I like to do so, can be a painful struggle sometimes.  But here’s the great encouragement – it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Discipline produces harvests of righteousness and peace.  Like a Marine under control in a high pressure situation.  Discipline brings us peace with God, and peace from our anxieties when we learn to trust in him.  It also builds up our righteousness, which I understand to be sanctifying us more through and through, and increasing our faith. Discipline is training, from none other but God.  Some of these IT trainings cost thousands of dollars.  I got an email saying I could save $400 dollars off a $1500 dollar training.  Um yeah, great, no thanks.  But God’s training is free, and the benefits far outlast any other type of training anywhere in the world.  Paul wrote to Timothy, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Tim 4:8)”  God’s training is better than physical training, it is the training of what you cannot see.  It is the training of your spiritual and mental capacities, making them stronger.  Discipline helps us to fight sin better, and it is God who makes us stronger.

Having given an encouragement to struggle against sin, even to the point of shedding your blood, and given the reasons and benefits of God’s discipline, the author now gives a call to action.  Look at v.12-13, “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”  Some of those Jewish Christians were like lame ducks.  They were paralyzed with fear over persecution, or caught up in sin that so entangles.  But this author says, “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.”  He is saying, now, accept the Lord’s discipline.  Endure hardship as discipline.  Lift up your arms, and strengthen your trembling knees.  Do not despise the Lord’s discipline, do not be discouraged, but trust him.  Trust in Christ.  Take courage, go into the battle with sin and endure the suffering with God.  With each trial you are being made stronger, you are giving your faith a work out, so to speak.  Endure the suffering that comes from God, and not only your faith but you will be strengthened.  Work out your salvation like a work out, but with reverence and obedience toward God.  Also, make level paths for your feet.  This reminds me of the prophecy regarding John the Baptist, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ (John 3:4)”  John is calling people to repent.  So here, as you accept the Lord’s discipline, also repent of your sins, and do what is right.  When you live in this way, others will be strengthened and walk in the straight path.  The lame, those in the ministry who were weaker in faith, will be strengthened as your discipline is being exercised.

Verse 14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”  This is to eagerly pursue peace with everyone, and also to eagerly pursue holiness.  You see here are commands to fulfill the law – to love your neighbor, and to love God, who is holy.  The Holy Spirit will help you to live in this way.  We are building each other up so that we may encourage one another, and to continue to encourage one another in faith and in hope of the Lord’s return.  We are all in this together, and we are all going together.  Look at v.15, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God, and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  We are to watch out for one another.  If someone is stumbling under persecution, or under sin, we are to help and encourage, using peaceable means.  In this body of Christ, no one gets left behind.  There is an unofficial rule I believe, in the military, where no man gets left behind.  On Sept 8, 2009, a corporal in the US Marines saved 36 guys under Taliban fire in Afghanistan.  Sgt. Dakota Meyer went back and forth into a town five times under heavy fire, risking his life each time, through smoke, chaos and bullets, to rescue his comrades, one by one.  This act of selfless heroism has made him the first US Marine alive to receive the Medal of Honor during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  He did it because, as he says, “That’s what you do for a brother.”  That’s what you do for a brother and sister in Christ.  See to it that they do not miss the grace of God and fall away into sin.

See to it also that no bitter root grows up.  When someone is under heavy discipline, their hearts may become hard, and they may need some encouragement and prayer.  But also when someone is under a heavy assault by sin, they may try to run after the world, and despise God.  Let’s see to it that we are there to also correct someone from sinful ways.  Verses 16-17 gives the example of a bitter root: “See to it that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.  Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected.  Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.”  Sexual immorality in the church can cause a lot of bitterness and strife.  We must be on our guard.  This might have been a problem in the church that this letter is written to.  Surprisingly, on the same level as sexual immorality is godlessness.  Godlessness is just as bad as sexual immorality.  The example of Esau is used to show that he lost his birthright, and could not get it back.  The birthright is a God-given gift, because no one can say if they want to be the first born, or second child, etc.  But Esau, for some temporal, I mean very temporal comfort, sold his God-given gift for a single meal.  The parallel we can draw here is our birthright into the kingdom of God.  If we, for temporary comfort in this world, either to escape persecution or discipline, or to indulge in sin – if we, for temporary comfort abandon our hope in Christ, there may not be a chance of getting it back.  This is like the warning in Ch. 10 of those who deliberately sin after a knowledge of the truth.  Now if someone truly repents, will God forgive them?  I believe so.  But if you start down that path of sin and worldliness, there is no guarantee of your repentance, so it is better to heed this warning and not fall away.

Let us all also keep watch, and see to it that no one is sexually immoral or godless – let us help one another reach the finish line together.  Embrace and endure hardship as discipline.  Remember the love of God.  Through this you will grow and build up your faith, and be able to struggle against sin.  Let us not love our lives so much that we shrink back from our struggle against sin, but let us resist, even if it comes to the point of the shedding of our blood, for our life is in His hands.  The grace of God will give you all the strength you need, when you remember that these struggles are from him, for your benefit.  Submit to God and live!  Be Semper Fidelis, always faithful, and one day you will be among the few, and the proud who can say that we have conquered death by the blood of the Lamb!

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