Endure Hardship and Pursue Peace (Hebrews 12:1-16)
Hebrews moves from providing examples of faithful saints to providing challenges for the people of its own day. Like the rest of the New Testament, Hebrews describes the Christian life as full of hardships. We are to endure these hardships as measures of God’s fatherly discipline. Through them, we come to share in Christ’s holiness and righteousness. Just as the Son came under discipline and so was perfected (Heb. 5:7–10), God’s sons and daughters undergo the same process.
It is the most common thing in the world for us to interpret our hardships as divine punishment. Those who oppose us may even view it as such, hurling our very real sins and faults in our faces. But Hebrews reminds us there is no punishment for those who have been forgiven through the all-sufficient, once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. “Where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” (Heb. 10:18). Our loving Father will discipline us (Heb. 12:4–11), but discipline is not punishment (1 Cor. 11:32). Discipline is hard training, but it is a form of love, “For the Lord disciplines those whom he loves” (Heb. 12:6). Let no one pretend to interpret our hardships as God’s punishment. “He disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:10).
But this discipline is not only for our personal benefit. Hebrews goes on to exhort Jesus’ followers to “pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” The “peace” of which Hebrews 12:14 speaks is the full notion of the Hebrew shalom, which conveys an ultimate state of justice and prosperity, shared among the whole community. It is the final goal of salvation. It is captured in another way later in the chapter with the imagery of the holy, heavenly city of Zion (Heb. 12:22–24).
We know how hard it is to endure hardship and pursue peace in our work. Having received the promises of God, we naturally hope they will immediately make our work more pleasant. We want to be fruitful, multiply our wealth, and gain authority—all good things in God’s eyes (Gen. 1:28)—and to enjoy friendships (Gen. 2:18) in and through our work. If instead we encounter hardship, money troubles, lack of power, and hostility from co-workers, endurance may be the last thing on our minds. It may seem much easier to give up, quit, or change jobs—if we have the choice—or to disengage, slack off, or pursue a rough justice of our own making. Or we may grow weary and lose heart, remaining at our work but losing interest in doing it as a service to God. May God give us the grace to endure difficult workplace situations! The hardships we face in our work may be God’s means of discipline for us, to grow us into more faithful and useful people. If we cannot maintain integrity, serve others, and pursue reconciliation in the midst of difficult jobs or hostile work environments, how can we become like Jesus, “who endured such hostility against himself from sinners” (Heb. 12:3)?