Exercise. What thoughts come to your mind when I say this word? Duty? Guilt? Pain? How about excitement? I know I have some active readers who enjoy exercise. But do you always? Sometimes I have to talk myself into changing my clothes and training. What am I training for? Mainly just to maintain physical fitness—aptitude for an active, healthy life. But it doesn’t always feel good.
The writer of Hebrews uses the analogy of a runner in a race, and then a combatant in the Grecian Games to exhort the believer to endurance in the faith, even under divine chastisement (12:1-11). This is an uncomfortable exhortation. Verse 11 particularly lends to the opening illustration:
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.
As our Bible study was studying verses 1-3 this morning, I was thinking about how I had to get everyone motivated to study divine chastisement next. Not exactly the study that everyone marks on their calendar with a star. We may try to run from learning about chastisement and affliction just as fervently as we avoid going through it. And yet, the word afterward in verse 11 infers that we all will encounter these trials. It is also very searching—what will our divine chastisement reveal? Arthur Pink, in his An Exposition of Hebrews, asserts that we will be affected one way or another by divine chastisement. Whether we are better off or worse off, the afterward is going to reveal our spiritual condition.
Then ask yourself, What fruits have they 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)
Are you out of shape? We see from these passages that enduring trials, even divine discipline, is no passive thing. We are to be trained, or exercised by it.
The Greek word for “exercised” was borrowed from the gymnastic games. It had reference to that athlete stripping himself of his outer clothing. Thus, this 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).
Our motivation to train under affliction is much different than maintenance for a healthy spiritual life. It is to yield fruit—the peaceable fruit of righteousness. And this kind of exercise can be much more painful than physical training. What are you exercising? Pink gives some suggestions: your conscience, prayer, the grace of meekness, patience, faith, hope, and love, to name a few. Half of the time when I’m physically training, I’m not even aware of all the parts of my body that are benefiting from my workout. I imagine this is also the case spiritually. But I do know that whatever is burning is being trained. If it’s my lungs, I know I’m improving my cardiovascular system. If my biceps are on fire, I’m confident that I am strengthening those muscles. So under affliction, if my pride is hurting, guess what weight needs to be laid aside? I will need to exercise much prayer and meekness in doing this. It’s not joyful at the present, but painful.
Nevertheless! I am encouraged to endure because the only One with the fitness to run the race of faith and obedience is already victorious. He has made me qualified. And now through his powerful and helping Spirit, Jesus Christ will finish the work he has begun in me. For this, I can also be thankful for the divine chastisement by my heavenly Father. He loves me too much to let me be weighed down by any weight. And since Christ his Son has already paid the curse for my sin, God will be faithful to transform me into Christ’s likeness. For this reason, I believe the writer of Hebrews is only further illustrating his earlier exhortation:
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (10:23).
That is a workout indeed.
*Originally published on November 14, 2012.