2020—very bad, do not recommend. You’ve seen the memes. It’s been a doozy of a year. We will all remember 2020. It’s similar to a Pearl Harbor moment, or September 11, 2001, in that our lives are not the same as they were before it. Except, it didn’t happen in a moment. It’s been a year of fear, loss, uncertainty, and polarization. 2020 has affected us all, and our churches, in different ways. When going through trials, there is a verse in the Bible that can be either comforting or terrifying. It’s one that I take to God in prayer. In exhorting the Hebrews to persevere, even under divine chastisement, the writer says this:
“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”Heb. 12:11
Most of us do what we can to avoid going through trials, or as the New King James Version calls it, chastisement. In this section of the sermon-letter, we see that it is even to be considered divine chastisement, as God disciplines those he loves. But not so much in the sense that we normally think of the word now. We aren’t talking about a mere punishment for our actions kind of thing. The Greek paideia means tutorage. The writer to the Hebrews draws on Old Testament context to take advantage of both the punitive and non-punitive meaning of the word here. Both concepts of discipline—as a means of correction for disobedience and also as a means of training in obedience—are at play. There is an exhortation to endurance in getting an education in training, which includes disciplinary correction. The writer is talking about our sanctification through perseverance, even—especially—under hard trials like 2020 brought.
I like the NKJV here, because two of the words used together lend well to the applications of this verse. Arthur Pink’s commentary on this verse was particularly helpful for me years ago, when I was writing my book Theological Fitness. That word afterward infers that we will all encounter these trials. It is a much more powerful word than I realized at first glance. It is a searching word—one of those penetrating through the joints and marrow kind of words. What will our divine discipline reveal about us?
Pink stresses that we will be affected one way or another by divine discipline. Whether we are better or worse off, the afterward is going to reveal our spiritual condition. He pushes the reader to ask what fruits our afflictions have produced:
Have your past experiences hardened, soured, frozen you? Or have they softened, sweetened, mellowed you? Has pride been subdued, self-pleasing been mortified, patience developed? How have afflictions, chastisements, left us? What does the ‘afterward’ reveal?(978)
We have to take a hard look at what the last year has revealed about us. 2020 isn’t to be passively endured. We are to be trained, or exercised, by it. Pink explains how this word trained or exercised is borrowed from a Greek word that was used in the gymnastic games. “It had reference to that athlete stripping himself of his outer clothing. Thus, the word in our text is almost parallel with the ‘laying aside of every weight’ in v.1. If afflictions cause us to be stripped of pride, sloth, selfishness, a revengeful spirit, then ‘fruit’ will be produced” (979).
You see, we aren’t supposed to just “get through” 2020 and try to hang onto as much as we can. Sanctification is not about mere maintenance. A healthy spiritual life yields fruit—the peaceable fruit of righteousness. And this kind of exercise can be even more painful than the physical training in the writer’s metaphors of gymnastic games, Grecian fighting, and running a marathon. But the comparison is very helpful. When we are physically training, we know that whatever is burning is getting a workout. And whatever is sore the next couple of days is undergoing repair and strengthening. So under affliction, which is never joyful at the present, but painful, we can do the same kind of checkup.
But we have to pay attention.
It’s more difficult to identify our own bitterness, selfishness, and unwillingness to leave our comfort zones. We may not pinpoint what’s really burning. It’s easier to follow those secondary emotions, such as anger, than to recognize that our pride is hurting. But in doing so, we can see clearly how it needs to be laid aside and stripped from us so we can train better. It’s difficult to examine what our fears are, helping us to see that we may be holding on to false security. False peace.
But there’s another great word in this verse that seems inconsequential until we home in on it:
We are encouraged to actively endure because the only One with the fitness to run the race of faith and obedience is already victorious. He has already gone before us. He made us qualified for this “marathon.” And now through the power and help of his Spirit in us, Jesus Christ will finish the work he has begun in us. For this, we can also be thankful for the divine chastisement by our heavenly Father. He loves us too much to let us continue running the race with the full weight of our sin.
2020 has been quite a workout—for those who will be trained by it.
And that is the question we must ask, what has the afterward revealed? Are we being trained by it? The good news is that we can pray this verse and lay hold of its promises. The blessed trinity already knows us and is working in us for that afterward—revealing Christ’s radiant bride, shining with the glory of God (Rev. 21:11, Ps. 34:5, Song 6:10). We can thank God for paideia, particularly through 2020. And we can pray for him to reveal what needs to be stripped now, and for us to be teachable, trainable, that he would produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
 See Chad Spellman, “THE DRAMA OF DISCIPLINE: TOWARD AN INTERTEXTUAL PROFILE OF PAIDEIA IN HEBREWS 12,” JETS 59/3 (2016): 487–506, https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/59/59-3/JETS_59-3_487-506_Spellman.pdf