Date: April 22, 2018
Pastor Matthew Burt
Title: Discipline for Duty
Text: Hebrews 12:12-17
Wellspring Church, Springfield, Mass.
2 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
BIG IDEA: Discipline for Duty
Over the last two weeks we have been looking at the reality of discipline from God in the life of His children. This morning we want to consider is that when we are confronted with the discipline of the heavenly Father in the life of those of us who are His, we don’t want to think of it only that we respond passively to the discipline. It is possible that when we come to the teaching of the Father’s discipline in our life that we don’t understand that we have no responsibility of activity in our response. And so it could be that we would fight against a sense of stoic passivity. For when the Father is active in disciplining His children, the children need to be active in their reception of the discipline. There is a duty in discipline or to say it differently we are disciplined in order to perform duty. That’s where we are going to go this morning. It’s not just a sitting back and letting God do.
These verses start with “therefore”. Immediately we see this is connected with what came before. The author is saying since the things I have said are true.
A) But what do we know? What is the truth about discipline?
Since we know there is a truth and goodness behind whatever our afflictions or hardships or anything that come under the umbrella of discipline by God. We know that it is never meant to be understood as judicial punishment. The Father in the life of childis a Father in the life of a child not a judge in the courtroom. He comes and disciplines and He does not punish. But we also know that our discipline is often a result of consequences of our actions. What a great thing that is. Think about it – if God had not built in consequences for our foolish, stupid, rebellious actions, what would we do? We would continue to be stupid, foolish and disobedient. So the discipline is a correcting, not a judging. It’s to turn us in the right direction. It is to tell us“Don’t do this because it’s deadly”. So there’s a correctiveness to our discipline. Sometimes discipline feels like God is being mean to us. Often times the discipline is meant by God to prevent us from going in a direction we should not go in.
B) What else do we know?
Since – therefore- we know these things are true – we know the Father loves us. Last week we said that the Fatherhood of God implies this.And the character of God defines the discipline. If our God is a holy, just, fair, powerful and loving God then we know the character of the Father is also the character of the discipline that comes into our lives. And we know that the fruit of this discipline is that we will live and have the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
C) So, knowing, or being convinced of these things, there are
Three things we need to do:
1) Strengthen and straighten
2) Strive after peace
3) Seek holiness
And then there are three things that we need to avoid 1) missing out on the grace of God; 2) Immorality in our lives; 3) Ungodliness.
And we need to remember that there will come a time when the time for repentance is gone and the door is shut.
OUTLINE FOR TODAY:
Point 1: Importance of the Old Testament
Point 2:Lift up drooping hands, strengthen weak knees, and straighten the paths.
Point 1:Importance of the Old Testament
When we look at the passage, in order to make his point, the author of this word of warning has used quotations from the OT in these 6 verses. Four OT passages are quoted or alluded to in these 6 verses and he already quoted or alluded to two other OT passages in the first 11 verses. It is easy to see the OT reference because it is indented in paragraph from. We are signaled by v5 that it is from the OT (Proverbs 3) and verse 6 is from Psalm 94:12.
When we come down to v12 we have 2 more OT allusions. You will have recognized this because we just read that in Isaiah 35. So now we have 3 quotations in these verses.We also read the entirety of Proverbs 4 because the last two verses say make sure you keep your feet in a straight path. So we have another OT quotation. Then when we come to the next verse – it is a direct quotation from Deuteronomy 29:15 where the people are warned against idolatry. From there he goes to Genesis 20 where he talks about Esau. Later in the chapter we have Exodus 20 and further down it goes to Genesis 3. So we have in this chapter 8 separate allusions or quotations to the OT.
This is a reminder to us that the OT is important to God. Obviously, the writer of Hebrews only had the OT. He did not have the New Testament. So here’s this author who is so steeped in the words of the old covenant that they just come bubbling out. He can’t help but talk about the OT. Spurgeon said of John Bunyan: if you prick him anywhere he bleeds the Bible. That’s like the author of Hebrews. That might frustrate us because we don’t know the OT so well but his audience did. That’s all they had. Now that being true does not mean that because the old covenant has been replaced by the new covenant – it doesn’t mean that we only need the New Testament today. 1Cor 10:11 we read “these things were written for your instruction”. The same Paul says in Romans 13:15 “all the things that are written in the past are for your good” When our Lord Jesus seeks to encourage the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He does the same thing. You will never understand the beauty of the New Testament until you understand the OT. The OT is revealed in the NT. We need to immerse ourselves in the OT. The author uses the OT to show us his sermon.
Point 2:Lift up drooping hands, strengthen weak knees, and straighten the paths.
A) We go to the OT and the author reminds us of what Isaiah said in chapter 35: make straight paths for your feet. He is continuing the same metaphor that he began in verse 1 where he said let us run the race with endurance. A runner always keeps his arms up to motivate himself. His hands droop when he gets tired. There is the reality that those of us who are under the discipline of the Lord, fighting against the obstacles of the world – we get tired. Instead of running we find ourselves limping and we are not sure we can go on. He says – here then is what we need to do. We need to lift up the hands. You need to strengthen the knees. You will not run the race of endurance if you are not regularly refueled, rested and refreshed. Here is the sweetness of our creator God who instituted the rhythm of 6 days of work and commanded the 7th day for rest.
How can I get rest? God says take the time I have given you to refuel and rest. When He gives the 4th commandment He says you shall do no work nor your manservant, etc. He has given the entirety of the animal world a day of rest. If we don’t take it then to whom to blame.
First step is to take advantage of what God has given me. God has given me a rhythm in my life. He has given me food. He has given me His Word. He has given me the body of Christ, fellowship and friendship. If I am feeling unrested, empty tank – ask myself have I been using the gifts of God?
B) Whose hands are to be lifted? Whose knees are to be strengthened?
There is a difference between the Isaiah passage quoted and the way the Hebrews verse is translated. When we read our ESV translation of Hebrews 12: 12. in our ESV we have “lift your drooping hands…” In Isaiah we have “lift the dropping hands…” Which is correct? The “your” before hands and knees is not in the Greek text. Why is it added in the ESV? Here’s what they have done. They have taken “your” comes from “your path” since it is your feet it’s obviously your knees and your hands. Apparently by the considered opinion of the scholars who translated the scripture, some think it can be seen one way: the hands and others think it can be another way: your hands.
The first way I think how can I strengthen my own hands? How can I pull myself up by my bootstraps? I need to help other people? I need to be a source of strengthening and encouragement to other people? How can I do that if I myself am not strengthened and rested So it’s not an either/or but a both/and.
C) Here’s the first thing that I need to do in my active response to the good and fair and just and careful discipline of God. My active response is not to become weary under the discipline of God. Rather at those points where I can do what I can do to strengthen myself I need to be strong. When I am strong I need to strengthen others.
How can we do this strengthening? You already know. It’s what the author says in v17. You know that we as spiritual beings need to refuel and refresh and strengthen our spiritual persons just the same as we need to refuel and strengthen our physical persons. Way I strengthen my physical person is 1) eating 2) resting 3) exercise. So I as a spiritual being, as a Christian person, rather than looking at the frustrations of life and passively saying I can’t take it anymore and I am just weary and tired and I am just give up. No he says strengthen your knees and lift up your hands. How am I going to do that?
I am going to feed myself. Make sure I am eating food that God gave me.
Radio program: Psalms for breakfast. You are what you eat. Eat the Word of God. We need to eat right, so that we can strengthen properly. Emphasis in God’s Word and comes out of our reformation heritage, God nurtures and nourishes and strengthens His children through what are referred to as the ordinary means of grace. God does not say lift up the drooping hands by doing extraordinary things. He doesn’t say go have a vision. He says Use the worship of God with His people on a regular basis. When we worship with other people we hear the word of God and we ask God to plant the seed and water that seed that would bring fruit. There is something different about being under the word of God rather than being in the word of God. So the ordinary means are corporate worship. We become refreshed and refueled. We help others become refueled when we gather together. We sit together under the word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. And then we encourage one another just by our presence. PB gets discouraged. No matter how strong we look or seem, we find ourselves easily discouraged often too easily. It’s an encouragement when we gather and as PB watches and prays and thanks God for how He is growing and strengthening us and bringing progress. As we look around the room, we are encouraged when we see persons in all walks of life here together, learning together, worshipping the same God together. Do you think of worship as agetting from God? We need to. I am bringing God a sacrifice of praise. If you look at the OT, often times when a sacrifice is instituted, people are instructed how and what to bring for a sacrifice and part of the instruction is to sit down and eat what’s left over of the sacrifice. So when we come on a Sunday morning, when we come to the Word of God, when we sit with other Christians and we see it only as a sacrifice of our giving up something of value or a duty that God demands of us, we stop short. Instead we need to say I am doing my duty, I am bringing my sacrifice and God also let’s me also eat of the sacrifice and I am nourished and fed and nurtured by the sacrifice of praise.
So we strengthen ourselves by investing our time and energy into those things that God has ordained. And then we are strengthened and enabled to lift up the drooping hands and strengthen the weakened knees and the tired, weary, discouraged, depleted depressed brothers and sisters. It’s a dual duty; a dual activeness. When it seems like God’s discipline is just wearing us down, He gives us the command and privilege of being strengthened but strengthening others in our lives.
Here’s another way to think about it. Babies need to be fed. Sometimes we need to come to where we will be fed.People who are bed ridden often need to be fed. Sometimes we can feed ourselves and so we come to where we will be fed.
D) How can we put these together in a way that will be helpful?
1) First, make your own strength and vitality in Christ a priority.
a) God has set a banquet of the finest food,He has prepared a table for me. Let’s eat.
b) There is a time that has been set aside for you and me to refresh and refuel.
We must refresh ourselves – 1 in 7 – don’t fill all your hours with draining activity.
Take time to rest.
c) Take advantage of the honey in God’s discipline.
2) Second, commit to making the strength and vitality of others a priority.
a) We can’t strengthen others out of our lack of strength. So we need to strengthen ourselves. Butthere is a residual fruit that comes from our commitment to rest and eat at the banquet – there is strength for others. I can make a habit of being with others to encourage others. Be where God’s word is taught. Be in the fellowship of God’s people. It’s so tempting for us is to think that our best rest is a rest from God. That’s not rest – taking a day off from God. If someone is sick at home, it’s not a reason for the entire family to stay home. We make a commitment to help one another by being fed ourselves.
b) Another reason we continue to meet together is there is great damage, there is deep pain in the life of a congregation when people are absent or they absent themselves. In a small church in particular, we have a barely hanging on by a thread Sunday school program for our children. So if a family says this church is too weak for me my family because it doesn’t have a good children’s program or a singles program or whatever and they leave, the whole church suffers. Or if someone leaves because of pain or bitterness, the whole church suffers. They take themselves out of the congregation. We can’t be strengthened and we can’t strengthen. We leave behind people who wonder where did they go? Why did they leave? Opens the rest of us up to the temptation of gossip. So we strengthen one another by staying with one another. Our presence encourages.
c) Our words encourage one another. If I am committed to the strength of vitality of others, let’s look for signs of discouragement in others and speak words of encouragement to them. Say to a young Mom ‘what a good job you are doing”. Words of encouragement to strengthen and also actions of encouragement – take the initiative. Don’t say “call me if you need anything” to families in grief. The person needs a creative action of help. We have to look for ways to help and encourage others.
If we do this, we will be able to be strengthened ourselves and strengthen others. The hands that are falling down, the knees that are weak will be strengthened and encouraged and then we will be able to be active and not grow weary under the discipline of the Lord.