We open with a comment from our friend WWH that helps us to frame today’s discussion of Hebrews. He writes:
Two phrases to look for when reading Hebrews: “Better Than” and “By Faith.” Jesus is better than any other path you might follow, and there is no turning back, because Jesus is infinitely better than whatever you were doing before you met Him.
Great point, WWH – “No turning back” – that is a key phrase here. Most scholars believe that Hebrews was written to a group of Christians – likely undergoing severe persecution – who were tempted to turn away from following Jesus. Thus the two major themes of Hebrews are the superiority of Jesus and encouragement to keep going forward – no turning back, no turning back as the old hymn says. I’m going to take the very unusual step today of having our focus verse be THREE focus verses, and here they are:
12 Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. 14 For we have become participants in Christ if we hold firmly until the end the reality that we had at the start. Hebrews 3:12-14
This section really encapsulates chapter 3, and the whole of Hebrews. It is a sobering warning, combined with an encouragement, followed by an exhortation. The warning is stark: Watch out – DO NOT turn away from the living God…because sin will try to harden you and deceive you. Indeed, Hebrews 3, 6 and 10 are collectively known as the ‘warning passages’ of Hebrews because the warnings in them are some of the starkest and strongest in the Bible. The writer of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is warning us of clear and present danger here – turning away from God. His remedy for that envisions a family of people – the church of the living God – DAILY encouraging each other to persevere. I can’t emphasize this enough – the Bible calls us to DAILY encourage each other, and warns us of the consequences of NOT daily encouraging each other. It certainly sounds like we will be in grave danger of having hard hearts and being deceived by sin if we do NOT experience daily encouragement from each other. Vs. 13 has a double edge to it. It means that we MUST experience daily encouragement from other members of the Body of Christ – other Christians and it also means that we MUST GIVE daily encouragement to other members of the body of Christ. What sort of encouragement? All sorts of encouragements, no doubt, but primarily ones that cause us to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith and to keep walking in faith. Let’s read our passage and then discuss how to manage in an environment that lacks daily encouragement.
What if we are in a place where we are not receiving daily encouragement? This can be dangerous to us. Imagine a scenario where a deadly disease is circulating around. Not too difficult of a scenario to imagine, right? But, this time it’s not Covid, but let’s say it’s more like scurvy. Scurvy is a potentially deadly disease that one can get from a lack of vitamin c – the only cure for scurvy is foods or supplements containing vitamin c. The body needs daily vitamin c, usually from a good diet, and will break down when deprived of daily vitamin c. Likewise, Christians need DAILY encouragement from each other, and we will also be subject to breakdown, deception and spiritual hardness in absence of daily encouragement. Again – how do we manage when we are deprived of these daily encouragements that we so desperately need? The best antidote for this lack I’ve ever seen is to redouble our own efforts to encourage others daily. Nothing goes further towards developing a culture of daily encouragement among a large group of Christians than a small group of Christians engaging in daily encouragement vigorously, intentionally, and without ceasing. Give encouragement, and it will be given unto you.
One last bit of our focus verses – vs. 14 is interesting. We have become participants in Christ IF we hold firmly to the end the reality we had at the start. Paul says likewise in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. Also, vs. 6: 6 But Christ was faithful as a Son over his household. And we are that household if we hold on to our confidence and the hope in which we boast. I believe Christians for the past 200 years or so have more emphasized the beginning of our journey with Christ – conversion – and underemphasized perseverance. The fact is that the Bible focuses on both, and so must we. How do we know we are Christians? We will know it by the fruit that God causes to grow in our lives and we will know it by God enabling us to persevere in our following of Christ. So, dear friends – be encouraged: Jesus is better. He is the best. He is the ONLY way. Follow Him wholeheartedly – the reward is great, and He is greater.
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