Reinterpreting Suffering

In 2016 I preached on this passage in a series on the Book of Hebrews. I was looking over it again, and I thought it might be helpful to summarize it as a blog post.

A background note: The KJV and NKJV use the word, chastening. That has led many to think that this passage is just about punishment. Or that what the author is talking about is something punitive for specific disobedience. However, it’s really the word, discipline. And discipline is whatever God uses to bring us to maturity, to correct us. Remember that we are not condemned (Rom 8:1). We won’t ever pay the price for our sins. Jesus did that on the cross. However, we are God’s children and we will be disciplined. He wants to make us like Christ in any way that we’re not.


God disciplines His children…and it’s good. Hebrews 12:4-9 tells us how to reinterpret suffering. How to recast hardships. By reinterpreting I mean that we come to a true understanding of them. We come to God’s understanding of them.

There are four reinterpretations we need.

Don’t Overstate Your Suffering—It’s Not As Bad As You Believe (12:4-5)

•Hebrews 12:4 (ESV) In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

The audience of this epistle had suffered. We know that from Hebrews 10:32-34. They have suffered public abuse, loss of property, and even imprisonment. Those are substantial losses. This is not light suffering they’ve experienced.

But they hadn’t experienced loss of life of anyone in the community yet. Why mention this obvious fact to them? Surely they know they haven’t resisted to death yet. Why say it? Because our temptation is to overstate our hardships. And it’s not as bad as you believe. It’s really not.

You see our tendency is to think that we are the center of the world—certainly the center of our worlds. And that makes us look at our hardships as more difficult than they really are because they are happening to us.

But Scripture wants us to get perspective. We need to look around us and sympathize with the suffering of others. We need to bear one another’s burdens. When I’m suffering, I find it hard to think about the hardships of others. I can only see my own pain.

If we don’t understand God’s discipline it leads to two sinful responses found in verse 5…

•Hebrews 12:5 (ESV) And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.

You Disregard God’s Discipline

If we get focused on our pain we can assume it has no purpose. It’s just the random stuff of life happening to us now. God has a purpose for your hardships. He never wastes pain, so don’t treat it lightly.

You Become Discouraged

This is probably the more likely sinful response. You get tired of God’s chastening. It seems so oppressive that you actually lose heart.

I think one of the difficult lessons that Christians learn over and over again is that God is not interested in making our lives pain free. Salvation doesn’t mean that your life suddenly becomes wonderful and prosperous and your car never has expensive mechanical problems.

God is not concerned with that vision of life. He has bigger plans for you. He actually wants you to be like His Son, Jesus. And He will discipline you and me to get us to that objective.

Don’t Think God Has Abandoned You—He Only Disciplines Those in the Family (12:6-8)

•Hebrews 12:6–8 (ESV) For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

Here’s where our understanding really needs to change. We really need to reinterpret our hard times. Discipline means that God loves us. It’s actually the assurance that God loves us. A lack of chastisement is a bad sign. God disciplines those that He loves.

A father that doesn’t discipline, doesn’t love his child. You can say you do, but if a father doesn’t discipline his children, then he doesn’t care how they turn out. That’s a sign of indifference, but not a sign of love. So the father that loves his children will discipline them.

And it’s the same with God. It’s a sure sign of sonship to be chastened by God. Adversity, suffering, and hardships are the tools that God uses to sanctify His children. Suffering is not a sign of abandonment by God. No, it’s a sign of His love. Hardships don’t indicate God’s rejection. They are clear evidence of God’s fatherly care.

This is radical reinterpretation of suffering. Rather than being an indication of God’s indifference, it is a mark of His love for His children. Suffering should assure us of God’s care, not make us question it.

Don’t Resist God’s Discipline—You Can Submit to God (12:9-10)

•Hebrews 12:9–10 (ESV) Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

This passage makes an argument from the lesser human relationship to the greater. Our fathers might have poorly disciplined, but we still submitted to them. Can’t we also submit to our heavenly Father? With our human fathers it was their duty to discipline us and our duty to submit. Your father might not have disciplined well, or you might not have submitted well, but those were the responsibilities. Therefore, submit to the God that does discipline well.

Don’t resist God’s discipline. Why? Because…

God is Wiser Than Your Father

Your dad may have been mistaken in his discipline, but your heavenly Father will never impose any discipline that isn’t for your good. God doesn’t make arbitrary judgments.

God’s Purpose Is Better Than Your Father’s

Your dad was a sinner. So he made decisions about discipline that were often at least tainted by sin. That means that sometimes he disciplined you for his own convenience. Sometimes it wasn’t about your character, it was about what was best for him.

But God has no such limitation. God disciplines so we may grow in holiness. We are to become like Him. Your trouble is used by God to make you grow into holiness.

Don’t Focus on the Pain—the Result of Discipline Is Worth the Trouble (12:11)

•Hebrews 12:11 (ESV) For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

In the moment, nobody enjoys discipline. When we’re in the midst of God’s discipline, it’s easy to focus only on the pain. Sometimes it does hurt so much. We lose something that we really value. God uses the pain to conform us to Christ’s image, but at the time, it doesn’t seem worth it to us.

But it bears good fruit. The outcome of suffering is substantial and pleasant. The period of discipline is followed by one of joy. We grow in righteousness through discipline. When reinterpreting our suffering this way, we can actually submit to it in the present. “Peaceful” reflects that the man that believes God’s discipline is designed for his good will cease to feel resentful and rebellious.

Pain wakes us up. God doesn’t waste pain, but He also doesn’t avoid it either. It’s a tool to make us grow. You and I wouldn’t have near the desire to grow if it weren’t for God’s discipline in our lives.

Don’t focus on your pain; instead think about the good fruit that God is growing in your life. Listen, God disciplines His children…and it’s good.

Gospel Parenting

It’s a weakness in our parenting that sometimes we think our efforts will eliminate sin from our kids’ lives. What I mean is I think if I’m faithful in discipline, my kids will sin less often. God-pleasing parenting involves discipline, but our hope isn’t in our discipline. Our hope is in Jesus Christ.

Someone has said this better than I could.

We talk a lot about training our children and raising them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and we should be doing that. But we must never forget that we cannot train sin out of our kids. Their sin must be atoned for. We also talk a lot about the importance of spiritual discipline and being in the Word regularly, about training ourselves in godliness and righteousness. We should do that, too. But friends, we must not forget that we cannot discipline ourselves out of sin. Our sin must be atoned for.

Parents, as you work with your children, and Christians, as you go about your own spiritual disciplines, do not forget to apply the gospel to your life and to your children’s lives. It is the atoning death of Christ that they need and you need. Do not depend on training; depend on the work that Christ did. And realize that this is a work that only Jesus Christ could do. Only Jesus can make atonement for sin.
–Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence, It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement (Crossway Books, 2010), 95.

It’s always a great time to renew your resolve in the spiritual disciplines both for your own life and for your children’s lives. But keep in mind that your self-discipline doesn’t earn you any favor with God—it isn’t the Gospel. Your sin was paid for by Christ’s death. That’s your hope of change.

Use the times of discipline to regularly remind your children that they are sinners and that they need Christ’s death. Good parenting confronts children with their need of the Gospel. Remember, you don’t discipline them because their disobedience has inconvenienced or irritated you. You discipline them to please God and see their hearts changed by the Gospel.

Do You Love the Gospel… More?

Been reading a book on forgiveness by Gary Inrig and one of the chapters I read recently was based on the biblical account of Jesus visiting Simon the Pharisee’s house in Luke 6:36-50. It’s different but similar to how Jesus talks about forgiveness in Matthew 18. Simon the Pharisee isn’t rude, but also isn’t welcoming to Jesus. He doesn’t think he’s (Simon) much of a sinner. Jesus tells a story and Simon correctly understands it. Read the passage to get up to speed.

Here’s the bottom line. Those love the gospel best that know their sin best. If you don’t think you’re much of a sinner, then you don’t think much of the gospel. I mean you like it, but you’re not amazed that Jesus could forgive you. If, however, you rightly understand your sin, then you love the good news. Which means that our appreciation of the gospel should always be growing as we grow in our understanding of our sinfulness. If my greatest appreciation for the gospel is from years ago when I got saved, then I’m not growing in my knowledge of God’s Word.

So, is your love of the gospel growing?

A Grudge Has Serious Consequences

I read this last week and was reminded that holding a grudge is no small thing.

Mark 11:25 (ESV) And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

A forgiving heart is necessary for answered prayer. But it’s also hard. I don’t think I’ve been greatly sinned against, but I do hold grudges nonetheless. Grudges for ways people have stepped on my idols, not necessarily ways that they have sinned against me. I have lots of minor grudges because I am a wicked sinner. I take offense at others. Just saying. Often I’m not a pleasant fellow in my heart.

And God convicts me for which I’m thankful. And he prompts me to confess my pride and grudgeholding. And often I do. Which is necessary according to this verse. If I have anything against anyone, I need to give it up. Otherwise it affects the Father’s forgiveness of me. So my grudges are more serious than I think they are.

Of course this is talking about familial forgiveness I believe, not judicial forgiveness. The latter was settled at the cross. But like after the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:14-15, this passage tells me that my relationship with God can be affected by my unforgiveness towards others.

And notice this verse doesn’t claim that the offender needs to ask for forgiveness. Of course other passages encourage that, but here, I just need to extend grace to even an unrepentant offender.

It’s an urgent matter. This person is standing in prayer, and they recall they’re unforgiving. They need to repent right then.

So you cannot hold a grudge if you want to pray effectively. God doesn’t hear the unforgiving.

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