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In our last session I mentioned the letter to the Hebrews which was written to a group of Jews who had become Christians. The writer of the letter was aware that they were passing through tough times and there was a distinct possibility that some of them, at least, were ready to abandon their new-found faith. In this session, we will look a little deeper into their situation.

Series:   THE DISCIPLINE OF GOD       Session No. 2      Reading:  Hebrews 10/32-39

We begin with the appeal of the writer of the letter found in vs. 35-36

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Heb 10:35-36 NIV)

They are reminded of those early days and what they once endured.

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.  You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. (Heb 10:32-34 NIV)

Those memories became the basis of this appeal for them to remain true.

Question: In identifying some specific struggles that those Hebrew readers experienced, are we likely to have those same experiences today? If you answer 'yes', can you give an example from your life or someone close to you? If you answer 'no', then in what areas of life might our tests of faith take place? Be specific in giving an example. (e.g. health, finances, relationships)

The writer then names a whole bunch of Old Testament examples; people who remained faithful to God in the midst of test and trial (chp 11). The ultimate example is that of Jesus Himself (chp.12)

Question: Select 3 or 4 examples from Hebrews 11 and consider the nature of their test of faith.  How would you have done in the same or similar circumstances?

[1] HOW DOES GOD DISCIPLINE US?

He Wounds (Hosea 6/1-3)

"Come, let us return to the LORD! He has torn us in pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time, he will restore us so we can live in his presence. Oh, that we might know the LORD! Let us press on to know him! Then he will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring." (Hosea 6:1-3 NLT)

This sounds like pretty tough discipline, doesn't it? We use the expression, "Tough Love", and we mean that this kind of disciplinarian love is direct, purposeful and determined. The people of God in Hosea's day had become very unfaithful to the Lord. Their relationship with God was compromised to the point that they were accused of spiritual adultery - a lifestyle that warranted a strong response from the Lord.

Now God is very patient with us. But there comes a time when, because of His love for us, He may have no alternative but to injure or wound us. He does this, not because He is vindictive or callous, but because He loves us and He is not prepared to let us ruin our lives.

Because of the depth of their sin in Hosea's day, the time came when God disciplined them by having them conquered and taken into exile. The prophets of that era spoke of the impending judgment but they also spoke of a future time when a remnant of God's people would return to the Lord, return to their land and begin life afresh.

There comes a time when, like a divine surgeon, God "lances the boil" and all the infection & gunk is released and healing can begin. The goal is restoration to health and well-being. No one criticises the surgeon. If anything, they thank him for using his skills and his scalpel to correct a situation that, untreated, could have ultimately become life threatening.

The purpose of both the wounding and the healing is positive but the process is painful and feels negative. If Hosea's family situation is a model of disciplinarian love, then we ought to be comforted rather than intimidated by such love.

Let's go back to that classic passage on spiritual discipline in Hebrews 12.

"My child, don't ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don't be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes those he accepts as his children."  (Heb 12:5-6 NLT)

B. He Refines (Malachi 3/1-5)

"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Mal 3:1-4 NIV)

V.1 seems like a great answer to prayer – the Lord has come among His people!! We have desired His coming. BUT….His coming results in a painful process in which He refines and purifies our lives.

Thus far we have thought of discipline in terms of wounding and healing. Now we add to that the imagery of (a) the launderer using soap to get rid of the stains and (b) the refiner using fire to get rid of the impurities from the gold and silver.

Neither of those two images is very appealing. The idea of scrubbing in order to get rid of deeply entrenched stains is painful to think about. The idea of fire burning away the rubbish in our lives is no more inviting. Both images speak of pain, resistance, withdrawal even though the desired result is purity and cleanliness. 

Note that the outcome of such discipline is related to worship and our offerings to the Lord. God is seeking those who will bring their gifts out of a life of righteousness. The Refiner's Fire is resisted by the unrighteous but welcome by those who desire to offer purity to the Lord God.

Question:  As you think about our exploration thus far, what would you say is the purpose or goal of any trial of faith you may experience?

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