Returning to Hebrews, Part 2
Two weeks ago, we grappled with the significance of the fulfillment of God’s promises through Jesus Messiah and of our need to reflect on him (Part 1). He changes everything. To consider him constantly throughout each day is the meditation that shapes our lives and changes us. The following passage struck me with its emphasis on the condition of the human heart.
Our hearts can fill us with joy or terror, with hope or hopelessness, with courage or paralyzing fear. The human heart must be tended, shepherded, coaxed, encouraged, and uplifted. This is a constant challenge. The author continues the written challenge to the Hebrew readers of the letter.
[bctt tweet="Our hearts can fill us with joy or terror, with hope or hopelessness, with courage or fear. The human heart must be tended, shepherded, coaxed, encouraged, and uplifted. This is a constant challenge."]
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your HEARTS as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their HEARTS;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving HEART, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened (in your HEARTS, v. 15) by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, IF indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your HEARTS as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:7-15).
What is the heart? The heart encompasses our mind, will, and emotions. It is the seat of our affections, desires, and passions. “The Scriptures attributed to the heart thoughts, reasonings, understanding, will, judgment, designs, affections, love, hatred, fear, joy, sorrow, and anger” (#2588, kardia, Lexical Aids to the New Testament, AMG Publishers, Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D).
Our hearts can easily become hard, stiff, resistant, and stubborn, v. 8-9, 15, as occurred to the Jewish nation in the wilderness. We are exactly the same as the ancient Israelites referenced here. We are just as likely to do the same things during times of trial, testing, relocation, cultural change, conflict, confusion, uncertainty about our futures, hunger, migration, and spiritual upheaval, all of which they were experiencing. And, just like us, they were led astray, seduced by other religious thoughts of the culture they had just left and the ones they were entering, as well as by temptations of lust and flesh, v. 10.
Unless we TAKE CARE, consider, take heed, watch out (v. 12, a command that is to be habitual, continual, and repetitive), we can also nurse an evil and unbelieving, resistant and distrustful heart that doesn’t acknowledge God or his work in our lives, leading us to fall away from following him, and that can have epic, generational, and eternal consequences.
[bctt tweet="Unless we TAKE CARE, we can nurse an evil and unbelieving, resistant and distrustful heart that doesn't acknowledge God or his work in our lives, leading us to fall away."]
And so, because this is true, in v. 13 the Lord commands us as a community to address this. This is not just the problem of the individual believer. This is a church-wide matter. We are to continually EXHORT one another, come alongside, urge one another not to harden our hearts and minds, not to resist our consciences and the Holy Spirit’s softening work on our hearts, not to throw away our belief and our trust in God.
Our faith is a community effort. This is why the regular meeting together of the church (the body of true believers) is essential.
[bctt tweet="This is not just the problem of the individual. This is a church-wide matter. We are to continually EXHORT one another. Our faith is a community effort."]
The Holy Spirit urges us in this passage not to be lured by the temptations we wish to continue to visit and the sins we want to continue to commit. Sin is deceitful and an entrapment for our hearts, and so he urges us to help one another with this through our encouragement.
Why is this important?
For IF we hold our original confidence in Christ firm to the end, v. 14 tells us, we know we have a share in Christ, and thus, in heaven, in God’s family, and in eternal life. That’s a big and terrifying “IF” that calls us to continually turn and turn again in repentance if we are truly the Lord’s children, NOT hardening our hearts, as occurred to the ancient Hebrew nation when they wandered in the wilderness. They were given as an example for us. We are just like them. Sin is deceptive, sneaky, and seductive.
16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 4:1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, LET US FEAR (reverent fear concerning our spiritual state) lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest. . . Hebrews 3:16-4:3a ESV).
The final years of illness, waning health, wavering memory, and loneliness pose just as much threat to our faith as our younger years of temptation. In our youth we are untested and lacking in wisdom accrued from the lessons of life and years of application of Scriptural truth, but in our old age, we are weary, often sick, focused inward, battered by life’s hardships, and of limited strength. Our lessons of reliance upon the Lord are tested and tested again as we are stripped bare of our natural strengths. The Lord strips us to the bone, preparing our souls for heaven, as we grapple with the reality of our salvation.
This is where and why community is essential. We have been given the task of urging one another to continue to turn again and again to the Lord in repentance and in leaving aside our sins. We come alongside those who are tottering, discouraged, or in need of encouragement. This is the work of believers, the work of the church. And so, I add a personal note here, addressed to the body of believers:
Anyone who loves me, please urge and encourage me whenever you see me slide away in attitude or action. Do so as often as necessary. Please.
Do we, as the church, do our job? Do we come alongside when we see anyone lonely, struggling, and in need of encouragement?
[bctt tweet="Community is essential. Do we, as the church, do our job? Do we come alongside when we see anyone lonely, struggling, and in need of encouragement?"]