Learning Obedience through Suffering

Hebrews 5: 8 Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.

I don’t think there is a more perplexing verse in Scripture than this. Jesus was sinless and perfect. How did He LEARN obedience?! But for this post, I want to put aside questions that deal with the interplay of His humanity and divinity and instead focus on the simple idea of learning obedience through suffering. What does this verse indicate to us about the interplay of suffering with God’s sanctification in our lives? In Hebrews 5, Scripture just briefly touches on this idea. But in Hebrews 12, we get a deeper look.

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts the encouragement I receive from this cloud of witnesses. There are the Biblical witnesses listed in Hebrews 11. But I can add some modern ones that encourage me as well. Joni Eareckson Tada, Corrie Ten Boom, Elizabeth Eliott … . What is it about these ladies that has set them apart for peculiar ministry and makes them effective witnesses from the sidelines of the character and worth of God? No one wants to say it, but it is their suffering. Joni Eareckson Tada has had a lifetime of physical suffering. The tragic murder of Elizabeth Eliott’s husband set the stage for her ministry. And Corrie Ten Boom is known for the shame and betrayal she endured at the hands of so called Christians for her compassion toward Jews in the holocaust. Suffering. Pain. Betrayal. And sometimes that betrayal seemed to come from God Himself.

3Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

Do not regard lightly God’s discipline. Do not be weary when He rebukes and chastens you. Remember first that God’s discipline is not punishment. It’s not that you stupidly missed some lesson He was trying to teach you the easy way. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a 100 times from friends going through trials–“I just wish I could learn whatever God was trying to teach me so that He could stop this situation.” And they wrestle in frustration trying to figure out what magic action or attitude from them will suddenly release them from their struggle. But that misses the entire point of discipline, God’s proactive training in righteousness. He’s killing in us our affection for this world and its attractions. He’s preparing us for eternity. But though we want the physical stamina to be ready to run the triathalon, we don’t want to learn endurance through long runs day after day after day. But there is no other way to learn endurance. If you want Christian maturity, there is no other way to learn it. You must suffer. You must endure. You must experience the testing of your faith for the long haul. I submit that there is no other way to become conformed to the image of Christ.

7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

You are enduring for the sake of discipline, i. e. training in righteousness. And God does this for ALL His children. Don’t envy those who seem to not be enduring hardship. I won’t draw too much in the way of conclusions from this verse on the fate of those who seem to have it easy, but suffice it to say, God disciplines ALL His true children.

9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

That we may share in His holiness! We are conformed to the image of Christ through suffering and the endurance of discipline. There is something about the exposure of sin and lack of faith that can ONLY come through extended suffering. God exposes to us parts of our character and shows His adequacies in comparison to our complete inadequacies in a way we can never get through success or accolades or times of plenty.

11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

The peaceful fruit of righteousness. I want that. This is why we shouldn’t despise painful times of endurance–LATER it will yield the beautiful golden fruit of enduring peace based on authentic righteousness. How wonderful! That is the best of fruits indeed.

If you are in a season of suffering and endurance, here is my encouragement.

1) Look to Jesus. Every moment of every day when the mental battles threaten to crush you, think on Jesus. This world is not your home. Jesus is your Bridegroom, and He looks on you with love, mercy, and grace in your time of need. Think of Him ministering to the woman at the well. Reread the story of His love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus or His rebuke of the accusers of Mary Magdalene. Hang on to Him mentally, and do not let go!

2) Do not DESPISE God’s discipline. Recognize it for what it is–not God’s punishment of you, but His training of you which ALL His children must participate in.

2) Open your hands in acceptance and ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE TRAINED BY IT. For me, this acceptance isn’t a one time thing. I have to weekly (or daily) literally open my hands to God and accept those things He has allowed into my life to train me in righteousness.

3) Then get up and go forward. The end of this section of Hebrews words it much better than I ever could.

12Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Some people don’t want to hear this. They can’t handle the truth. But if you would like to read more from authors who get this truth, I recommend The Path of Loneliness by Elisabeth Elliot and Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie.

5 Responses to Learning Obedience through Suffering

  1. Jody September 21, 2009 at 1:12 am #

    Glad to see you back to posting. My favorite from verse 3 is “Consider him…that says it all for me. Great post. I am reading Nancy Guthrie's book right now.

  2. Everybody's Mama September 21, 2009 at 2:42 am #

    Thanks for this post. It came at a good time when the discouragement is heavy.

  3. Keisha Valentina September 21, 2009 at 7:12 pm #


    You have no idea how timely this post was for me.

    Thank you.

  4. Chad August 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    Hi Wendy,

    The internet is a smaller world than I thought! I just did a google search for “Christ learned obedience through suffering” and lo and behold I found this post on the first page, and then saw that Keisha had left the last comment!

    I hope you, Andy, and the boys are all well. Many blessings!

  5. Emily May 1, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    This article has just made my joy complete Wendy!

    I thank God for your life and would like to encourage you to keep sharing the truth that God reveals to you.I know it can be a hard thing to do in our 'modern'society even/especially among xtians sometimes.

    This morning I declared that 'yes I am going through the fire but I shall come out as pure Gold!!!'

    Sometimes it seems like the suffering/disapointment is a never ending story but indeed God is working in me and disciplining me to become more like his son. I wouldn't have it any other way as I asked him to mature me.

    Glory to God! *The sufferings of this world cannot be compared to the Glory that awaits us.

    God bless you Wendy. I pray that we all grasp the truth that we are blessed regardless of what we're going through and that God IS WITH US.

    Love, Emily