Those of you who have a little bit of age to you might remember a song that Barbara Streisand sang. One of the lines went something like this, "People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world." I'm not sure what she meant by that, because we all need people. The problem is that not everybody realizes that, so we might change that line to read, "People who realize they need people are the most fortunate people in the world." Do you realize that? We all need people, and as the Church of Jesus Christ, we are designed to live and function in dependence on one another. We are a body, a team if you will, and we function best when we all work together.
When I was in Navy boot camp our company had to work together. When one person messed up, we all paid for it. So it didn't take us long to figure out that if we all worked together, we all benefitted. I remember one time at a P.T. test after I did my pull-ups, my company commander made me switch shirts with another guy who couldn't do the required amount, and get back in line to do his pull-ups. During that same test, two of us literally carried another man who couldn't make the run in the required time. We worked together as a team, and we all made it to graduation.
I believe the Christian life is something that requires team work. We need to watch out for one another if we're going be all that we can be for the Lord. We need one another.
Are you aware of the "one another" verses in the Bible? Look with me at:
Romans 12:5 (NKJV) so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
Romans 12:10 (NKJV) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;
Romans 12:16 (NKJV) Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.
Romans 13:8 (NKJV) Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Romans 14:13 (NKJV) Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.
Romans 15:7 (NKJV) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
Romans 15:14 (NKJV) Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
The word "admonish" comes from the Greek word noutheteo, which means: "to lead someone away from a false path into a true path by warning and teaching." You are competent to counsel one another:
1 Corinthians 12:20-25 (NKJV) But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
Believers, we need each other, I hope that is clear to you from the Scriptures, and no more so then when were going through chastening. Which brings us to our text today of Hebrews 12:12-17.
Let's review the context: These Hebrew believers were losing heart in the midst of suffering and were tempted to abandon the Christian race because of the affliction which they were enduring.
The problem which our author seeks to remedy is very clear. Undoubtedly, there was a wrong perspective that was greatly affecting these believers. They thought that the absence of affliction and suffering was a sign of God's special favor, and conversely the presence of affliction was evidence of His anger. When actually the exact opposite is true.
It was evident that these Hebrew Christians had allowed their misunderstanding of chastening to bring discouragement and faintheartedness in their Christian walk. And many of them, in fact, were so discouraged by this misunderstanding that they were contemplating dropping out of the race, quitting, apostatizing from the faith. Our author is trying to encourage them by correcting their thinking. He is in effect saying. "Cheer up, God loves you. You know this!"
Hebrews 12:12 (NKJV) Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees,
"Therefore" is a connecting particle, the remote reference is to the whole of Chapter 12, but the immediate or near reference is with verses 10 & 11. Look at:
Hebrews 12:10 (NKJV) For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.
God chastens us so that we might share His holiness:
Hebrews 12:11 (NKJV) Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Temporarily grievous, chastening leads to peace and righteousness. But we must respond to it, we must allow it to train us. The word "exercised" is gymnazo which literally means: "to train, as for an athletic contest". In other words, chastening is a training process by which we get in shape spiritually. Its end result is the development of righteousness. To give up and break training because the way is hard, is to lose our reward.
So in verse 12 our author says, "Therefore - because of the result of chastening, which is holiness, and the motive for chastening, which is LOVE, hang in there, don't give up, be encouraged." The basic thrust of Hebrews 12:12-17 is clearly exhortation. Strengthen, make straight, pursue, and see to it, are all terms of exhortation.
Hebrews 12:12 (NKJV) Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees,
The athletic metaphor begun in verse 1 is continued. The idea is quite simple, the competitor, because of the longevity and severity of the race, has allowed his hands to droop and his knees to become weak. They were giving up, because they misunderstood the nature of affliction and suffering. Our author encourages his readers with words borrowed from:
Isaiah 35:3 (NKJV) Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
And in the next verse continues (showing the contextual appropriateness of our author's use of quotations from the Old Testament):
Isaiah 35:4 (NKJV) Say to those who are fearful-hearted, "Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you."
This is very much like what we have in:
Hebrews 10:37 (NKJV) "For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.
The word "strengthen" in verse 12 is a plural imperative, implying a joint effort by many. This entire section consists of exhortations to the entire group to help and encourage each other in their faith. "Strengthen" is from the Greek word anorthoo, which means: "to lift up, to straighten up, make straight". It was used by medical writers of the act of setting dislocated parts of the body. He's saying, "Don't give up, strengthen the weak parts and keep going."
Hebrews 12:13 (NKJV) and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.
This is from Proverbs 4:26-27, again using athletic imagery. The word "paths" is from the Greek word trochia, which means: "a track (a wheel-rut), i.e. (fig.) a course of conduct, a path." It refers to the tracks left by the wheels of a cart or chariot, which later travelers follow.
When we run, we leave tracks behind us, which will either lead or mislead others. We should take great care that the tracks we leave are "straight" - this is the Greek word orthos, which is not so much in the sense of straight as distinguished from crooked, but more generally in the sense of right or plain, and by implication, even or smooth. We need to make the track smooth for those who are weak and spiritually lame.
The writer goes on to say, "...so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed."The word "lame" is from cholos, meaning: "limping, crippled." This is the same word the LXX uses in:
1 Kings 18:21 (NKJV) And Elijah came to all the people, and said, "How long will you falter [cholos] between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." But the people answered him not a word.
The word is used of spiritual limping.
He goes on to say,... "may not be dislocated, but rather be healed". The word "dislocated" is from the Greek word ektrepo, which is another medical term that means: "to be put out of joint". Vincent puts it like this, "Make the paths smooth and even, so that the lame limb be not dislocated by stones or pitfalls."
A poor testimony can cause harm, many times without our knowing it. It can cause an already limping believer to be put out of joint, completely dislocated spiritually. He is stressing the necessity and obligation of corporate responsibility that the believers have.
If the readers make straight paths for their feet, the weak among them will not give up completely but be strengthened. How this is done is suggested in:
Hebrews 12:14-15 (NKJV) Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
"Pursue peace with all people" - the context here requires us to understand this mainly of persecutors. Their trials seem to have arisen mainly from persecution, and he exhorts them to pursue peace with all, even though they were being persecuted by them.
The word "pursue" is the Greek word dioko, which means: "to run swiftly in order to catch some person or thing". It is used of hunters and hounds after game. Used in a metaphorical sense, it means: "to pursue, to seek after eagerly, endeavor to acquire." This implies what we already know that men are by nature wrathful and unpeaceful. Remember he is talking to believers.
This also indicates that we are to be peace makers and not simply peace keepers. It doesn't say, "Don't quarrel or maintain the peace". The exhortation is to "pursue peace", and there's a great difference between avoiding situations which might lead to wrath and anger among believers and actually going out of your way to restore relations that have been previously disrupted. He is telling us here to make it our business to restore believers who are at each other's throats.
In other words, he wants everyone of us not simply to live in our own little cubical in the body of Christ and make sure we don't step on somebody else's toes. He wants each of us to become the medium of reconciliation for others who are at odds. Instead of fanning the flames of dissension or being apathetic and neutral, it is our responsibility to seek to reconcile believers who are not getting along.
Our author says, "Pursue peace with all men", but Paul seems to add a note of realism:
Romans 12:18 (NKJV) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
The idealism is clear, but it isn't always possible. The impossibility is not on our part, it's on the others who hinder peace. If disharmony is to exist, be sure it is by another's hand and not yours.
Genesis 13:5-9 (NKJV) Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents. 6 Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. 7 And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. 8 So Abram said to Lot, "Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. 9 "Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left."
Abraham was pursuing peace, he wasn't demanding his rights.
Proverbs 13:10 (NKJV) By pride comes nothing but strife, But with the well-advised is wisdom.
There is another reason why peace is sometimes not possible, and that is when peace can only be had at the expense of holiness. And if that is the case, we ought not to be peaceable people:
James 3:17 (NKJV) But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
The word "pure" is hagnos, from which we get holy. It is, "first pure 'then' peaceable" - "then" here has the idea of: "in the next place, after that".
Not only are we to pursue peace but also holiness - "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness", we are never at peace with sin. Now, when people hear something like this, they often twist and pervert it to their own ends. We must never put peace above holiness, but that doesn't mean that you can never be at peace when you are holy. We have two responsibilities; peace and holiness. The cultivation of peace is not only a great aid to holiness, it is part of what it means to be holy.
Remembering that this whole verse is governed by the word "pursue", what we have here is "pursue practical sanctification!" It should be obvious that one who is contentious cannot be holy, for the Holy One is the God of peace. To promote peace, God made the supreme sacrifice of His Son and the Son of God of his life:
Romans 5:1 (NKJV) Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
To be holy like God involves of necessity that the child of God must seek peace and pursue it.
The holiness that he's talking about here is not positional holiness, he's writing to believers and you can't pursue what you already have. This is practical holiness that we are to pursue, sanctification.
What does he mean by... " without which no one will see the Lord"? Many have used this to say that if you don't lead a holy life, you won't go to heaven. Now if that's true, what is our eternal destiny based upon? WORKS! Is that what the Bible teaches?
Romans 4:5 (NKJV) But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
Romans 3:24 (NKJV) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
If our author is not talking about getting to heaven, then what is he talking about? I believe he's talking about fellowship, communion. I believe he's using "see" here in the sense of "understand, or perceive". We often use it that way; we'll say, "I see" meaning: "I understand".
1 John 1:6 (NKJV) If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
Matthew 5:8 (NKJV) Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
Believer, it's only as we pursue peace and holiness that we will enjoy the fellowship of the Lord, and walk in understanding of Him.
How do we pursue sanctification? Sanctification is a work of God in which He uses means: One being providence and the other being the Word of God. We are to spend time in His Word and yield to His providence.
John 17:17 (NKJV) ""Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth."
Believer, if we are to pursue sanctification and it comes by the means of His Word, I'd say that we should pursue time in the Word. Do you pursue, seek after eagerly, endeavor to acquire time in God's Word?
Hebrews 12:15 (NKJV) looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
The words "looking carefully" are from the Greek word episkopeo, which is closely related to episkopos: "an overseer, or bishop, or elder." I think he is saying that we are to have oversight of each other, helping each other grow in holiness.
Then he says, "...lest anyone fall short of the grace of God"- He thinks here, probably, of those who might draw back from the resources of grace available at the throne of grace through our High Priest. This text is very similar to the one found in:
Hebrews 3:12-14 (NKJV) Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,
How many believers might be saved from backsliding by a little oversight? Love can invent many ways of warning a friend without making them angry. Mutual supervision within the entire body stimulates the spiritual health of the individual members. We must avoid the indifferent attitude of Cain who asked, "Am I my brothers keeper?" I think this text makes it clear that we are!
He goes on to say, "... lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" This is virtually a quotation of:
Deuteronomy 29:18 (NKJV) "so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood;
Moses is addressing the Israelites. Evidently a person rather than a motive is intended by the expression a "root of bitterness," as is clear from Deuteronomy. The implication is that one embittered and rebellious person in their midst can have a disastrous effect on the community as a whole, so that many be defiled.
1 Corinthians 5:6 (NKJV) Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
They were to guard the assembly against those who had turned away from God and could defile others. In particular, immorality and profane disregard of Christian privileges is to be avoided.
Hebrews 12:16 (NKJV) lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.
Some commentators have questioned the propriety of calling Esau a fornicator. But given the structure of the language here it is natural to understand both adjectives as referring to Esau. Jewish tradition depicted Esau as a man of sensuous passions, and this would have been well known to the Hebrew recipients of this epistle.
Fornication is a destroyer of Holiness:
Ephesians 5:3 (NKJV) But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints;
1 Thessalonians 4:3 (NKJV) For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;
Paul was speaking of sexual sin when he said:
1 Corinthians 5:6 (NKJV) Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
Often immorality is the root cause of defection from the faith.
Well Esau was not only immoral, he was also profane. This word means: "secular", it is a mind set which takes little notice of anything beyond the material. That this was Easu's outlook is apparent in the incident referred to when Esau for just one meal bargained away his inheritance rights as the oldest son (Gen. 25:29-34). His insistence on the gratification of his immediate needs led him to overlook the importance of his rights as the firstborn. For a small immediate gain, he bartered away what was of infinitely greater worth.
These Hebrew Christians will be guilty of a much greater act of profanity if, disheartened by the difficulties of the contest, they barter away their fellowship with the Lord for a short period of worldly ease and prosperity.
Hebrews 12:17 (NKJV) For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, (in his father Isaac) though he sought it diligently with tears.
Esau did repent, in the sense of tearfully seeking the blessing of the firstborn. The point is, it was too late. Jacob already had the blessing. The pre-Christian meaning of metanoia (repentance) as: "a change of mind" is its basic New Testament sense as well. This can readily be seen in Hebrews 12:17, which reads: "For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit a blessing, he [Esau] was rejected, for he found no place for metanoia, though he sought it diligently with tears." What was it that Esau could not find? It was not a turning from sinful behavior. It was not penance. What he could not find was a way to change his father's mind. The matter was settled. No matter how much he pleaded, he couldn't change Isaac's mind.
I believe the writer is saying that immoral and worldly Christians who squander the opportunity for fellowship with the Lord will someday deeply regret it . But it will be too late.
Believer, don't exchange eternal blessings for temporal pleasure. Hang on, believer, the sufferings of this world only increases our eternal reward. As the songwriter put it, "It will be worth it all when we see Jesus."
Let's work together to help each other pursue peace and holiness- watching out for each other, helping one another. We're all on the same team, and we all need each others oversight.
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