Warnings in Hebrews

illuminated manuscript in Hebrew

The book of Hebrews was written to people who are likely second-generation Christians still struggling with the tensions between the traditions of Judaism and the teachings of Christianity. Many had, currently or at one time, relatives who would have seen Jesus as a false teacher. They would have had family and friends reject them, and the temptation would have been great to slip back into the traditions of their past. In this light, the Hebrew writer includes five warnings in his epistle to these struggling Christians.

Neglect

Hebrews 2:1 encourages them and us to give earnest heed to the teachings of Jesus and His inspired apostles, confirmed by signs and wonders from God, lest we drift away in neglect. Hebrews challenges us to ask ourselves how we plan to escape judgment if we neglect and reject so great a salvation, a salvation planned from the foundations of the world.

John 20:30-31 concludes that the miracles and signs recorded in that gospel are for confirming our faith. Like those steps reviewed every time we get on a plane, have we heard God’s word so much that we filter it out? Ephesians 2:8 reminds us of the role grace plays in our salvation. While we were disobedient, God sent His Son as an unmerited gift of propitiation. God has given us a gift in salvation and eternal life in His Son, and the Hebrew writer makes sure we understand that we should not neglect so great a gift.

A Hardened Heart

In Hebrews 3, the author repeatedly quotes the 95th Psalm, saying, “Today, if you hear His voice…” He calls on us, in verse 12, to take care we do not develop an unbelieving heart, and he uses the next several verses to help us overcome unbelief – exhort each other, share in Christ, hold confidence, even fear of failure. We need to be aware that it is possible to harden our hearts and miss salvation.

We may simply choose unbelief, but I Corinthians 10:6-13 warns us to learn from the mistakes of those who came before us, lest we be overconfident in our faith and slip into disobedience. This is why the Hebrew writer warns us against becoming hardened to God’s word, for it can happen without us realizing it.

Immaturity

No one likes being called immature, but when we most dislike it is when we are often most guilty of it. In Hebrews 5:11-14, the author does just this. He admonishes his readers for being too spiritually immature to understand some things they should. He goes on in chapter 6 to then encourage growth, so they and we do not fall away despite having known the heavenly gift.

When we are not growing spiritually, skepticism, indifference, and apostasy may find room to creep in. An arm kept in a cast for several weeks quickly becomes smaller and weaker than the arm being used every day. Growth takes effort on our part, and it is something we should be working toward every day.

Falling Away

In Hebrews 10:26-31, the author addresses the dangers of deliberate sin, specifically quoting from Deuteronomy 32. Again, these are things his readers are familiar with from Moses’ teachings, but now it is being applied to rejecting Christ’s sacrifice, a sacrifice sealing a covenant greater than the one brought by Moses.

Refusal

The author uses the illustration of Esau in Hebrews 12:16-17, who refused to acknowledge the worth of his family birthright. This is compared to our own spiritual birthright, standing before the holy mountain, and we are warned, in verse 25, to not refuse the one who speaks to us now — Jesus Christ according to chapter 1:1.

Conclusion

In Jeremiah 44, after God calls on His people time and again to listen to His word, the prophet makes a final appeal. In verse 16, though, the people state they will not listen. Rather than refusing the word of grace like they did, we should receive it gratefully, knowing the promises and gifts that come from our God who delivered Him.

God’s word can work in our lives if we avoid turning our back, hardening our heart, and closing our hearts to it. His word can change us from sinful creatures without hope into sanctified children with the hope of eternity. No one can force us to soften ourselves to His word, though. It has to come from within. We need to heed these warnings just as much as those second-generation Christians, holding to our faith despite anything that might try to take it from us.

Worship While Having Fun

child playing soccer
photo by Markus Spiske

In this series of lessons, we’ve looked at what true worship is — that it is more than playing church when we come together to assemble. It is part of who we are everywhere we are. We’ve considered worshipful living while at work as well as in our home lives. We’ve looked at worshipful living in our school communities both as students and parents, and today we’ll be looking at worshipful living at something we might not usually consider – while engaged in our free time and while having fun.

A Life Meant to Be Enjoyed

Fun is an attitude, and the challenge is to keep a Christian attitude while having fun. This may be the most difficult time to stay Christ-like in our conduct. Hebrews 5:14 reminds us that we should have good discernment as mature Christians, even when entertaining ourselves. In the moment, we may not always do such a good job choosing between good and evil; we may be around people who are not the best influences; and we may give into peer pressure to prevent killing the fun.

God means for His people to enjoy their lives, and we see His people engaged in celebration and joy numerous times in the Old Testament. In the New, we even see Jesus’ first miracle taking place at a wedding celebration. To follow God is not to renounce the joy of this life. Ecclesiastes 11:8 calls on us to rejoice in the days in our lives. Verse 9 tells us to rejoice in our youth, and verse 10 calls on us to remove pain from our hearts. A joyless life will do nothing to bring others to Christ, and a joyless life is full of wasted opportunities to lift others up and to celebrate all God has given us.

Our Example in Recreation

We should be known by the example we set. We should have fun on our terms, rather than the terms of others. There are limits to the type of fun we should have, and when we engage in sin for entertainment, it takes away from our worshipful living. There is plenty of joy without sin, and Proverbs 13:9 tells us the light of our righteousness should always shine. I Peter 4:3-5 tells us we will give up some activities and some friends when we submit to following God, but we can be an example to them of joy without immorality.

So what do we do for fun? Who do we choose to be around? Do these choices reflect our Christian values? If someone will not be your friend because you abstain from sin, then you don’t need that influence in your life. They may think you are mean, a jerk, or a prude; but being a Christian is between you and God, not between you and them. Romans 12:1-2 calls on us to be living sacrifices. This means we won’t be like those around us. It means we won’t even be like our former selves. Philippians 1:10 admonishes us to keep ourselves spotless for Christ’s return.

Conclusion

We need to evaluate who we are when having fun. We have to define ourselves, our opinions of ourselves and our boundaries. We must refine ourselves, making sure our choices then reflect the definition we have of ourselves. Finally, once we define and refine ourselves, we must *be* ourselves. We are Christians no matter where we are; we must always be setting a Christian example to those around us; we need to make good choices about those we spend time with. As living sacrifices, we can succeed even while having fun if we decide how we will reflect Christ in the choices we make.

lesson by Mike Mahoney

Worship in Social Media

Photo by Thom Weerd

We’ve been engaged in a series called “Worship 24 x 7,” and we’re looking at how to live in context of the Bible guiding every aspect of our lives. In this lesson, we’re going to examine how we live spiritually while engaged in online activities. How do we present ourselves as Christians in our modern culture of online communications?

Two caveats before we begin:

  1. I’m restricting this lesson to how we behave online socially. We could go into whole separate lessons about moral conduct online in the context of file-sharing, downloading pirated media and games, and visiting questionable websites; but those discussions can wait until another lesson. The focus of this lesson is social conduct.
  2. This lesson is not coming from someone who is afraid of the modern web or who sees it as inherently evil. I don’t get confused every time Facebook changes the shade of blue or moves a button. I know my way around social networking and have fallen into and climbed out of many of the pitfalls we’ll be talking about.

Potentials and Dangers

Social networks are amazing things. What began in the nineties as forums for small groups to congregate has blossomed into a mainstream phenomenon where parents, children, teachers, grandparents, and entire masses of people can reach out to each other and connect more easily than ever before. Through a variety of services, we can share pictures, bookmarks, links, hopes, fears, ideas, and so much more with our new online communities. The potential for communication is greater than in any point in history, for a few taps of our thumbs can take those messages and share them with the entire world.

We build up our own pages to ourselves where we feel a sense of empowerment behind the anonymity of the keyboard. We are not, however, truly anonymous. People actually see these things we post and share — but we forget that those things reflect on us as Christians. See, along with this great ability to share ideas and knowledge across the globe comes a false sense of security and bravado. We aren’t talking directly to someone. We don’t see how our words and our comments affect others, so we grow bold in the things we share or approve of online.

A Reflection of Our Hearts

What we need to remember is that everything we do online reflects upon our character. When I post a tweet, it reflects my character. The same is true when I compose an email or forward one sent to me by someone else. It’s true when I send text messages, when I share someone else’s material in some way, when I write comments under a status update or blog post, and when I quote someone else. When I write, share, or endorse something online, it demonstrates where my heart is — perhaps more accurately than any other venue because of that perceived anonymity I allow to embolden me.

What I write is a form of speech. It is verbal language put into a visual medium, and the Bible has much to say about our verbal conduct. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus speaks of fruit born by good and bad trees; every tree is known by its fruit. He then draws a parallel to our speech in relation to our hearts. If we are pouring out negative and hateful things from our mouth, what does that say about our hearts? In the parallel account of this lesson in Matthew 12:33-36, Jesus goes on to say that we will be judged by our careless words. Few settings are a greater temptation for careless words than when we are online. It’s so easy to simply hit a button without taking a second to think about how this will reflect on our Christian walk.

Ephesians 4:25-29 asks us to put away falsehood in our lives, to control our anger, and to only speak such things that are beneficial for encouragement. Then there’s James 3, where the apostle writes about the power of the tongue, and he paints a picture that portrays our tongues as nearly uncontrollable. James asks why we think we can curse our fellow man with the same mouth we praise God. He calls it a contradiction, and that same contradiction exists when we post mean-spirited, hateful, and unmerciful things online. That’s where the wisdom spoken of in verses 13-18 comes in. We have to be wise about what we post.

Some Practical Tips

So what are some things we can do to avoid tarnishing our reputations as Christians online?

  • Think about who is seeing your posts, especially on Facebook. Let’s avoid airing out relationship problems, becoming involved in personal arguments, and otherwise imposing our dirty laundry on others.
  • Is what you’re about to share even true? This is especially dangerous when sharing someone else’s post or forwarding an email — substantially more so when the topic skews political. Before you go sharing a juicy bit of outrage, you should see if it passes the Snopes test. Then you still probably shouldn’t share it even if it does.
  • Ask yourself what Jesus would endorse. I’ve seen Christian hit the Like button on statuses and groups that convey hateful attitudes, that portray misplaced priorities, that even use coarse language. Think about it, do you think Jesus would endorse a group called: “If you’re going to burn our flag, wrap yourself in it first?” Are we (like I Timothy 5:22 warns against) laying our hands hastily on others?
  • Ask yourself if your post is encouraging. Honestly, I know which public figures you hate; I know what laws and bills make you bitter; I know which celebrities get under your skin; I know which groups make you angry. It’s so easy to be negative, but we need to try to avoid it and rather share things that edify and encourage.
  • I’ve already touched on this, but texting or tweeting foul language is no better than saying it. And, no, I don’t give free passes for abbreviations. Let your words (and acronyms) reflect your spirituality.
  • Don’t post things that require disclaimers. “I don’t approve of the hateful way this person says this, but he makes a good point.” No he doesn’t. If it has to be done coarsely, rudely, or hatefully, then it’s not worth sharing, and the points made probably aren’t all that good at any rate.
  • If you wouldn’t be willing to say something you’re writing to someone’s face, then don’t write it. I’ve received messages and emails from Christians that simply turn my stomach, and I’ve never heard them talk that way in conversation. Hold your emails to the same moral standard as your spoken conversations.
  • Finally, consider the focus. What does your Timeline say about your priorities? Mine says I’m about 10% spiritual. That’s not good, but it unfortunately does better than a number of Christians online. Would anyone know you’re a Christian by the focus of your online conduct?

Teach the World

We can go on and on about the dangers of social networking. Some of you won’t even touch sites like Facebook because you’ve seen the harm that can come through them, but there is so much potential for good. There is so much potential for seeing opportunities to help others in need. There is so much opportunity for edification and encouragement. There is so much opportunity to lean upon one another for support in ways that would have been impossible in the past. Let’s not squander these opportunities by misusing our time online, and let’s not lose out on opportunities to encourage because we are afraid.

Most importantly, social networking gives us the opportunity to share God’s word like never before. My Bible study blog gets visits from all over the world. Our congregational site and blog gets visited by people all over the world. We’ve been visited over 8,000 times in just the last week and over 50,000 times since the new site was launched. When you post to Facebook or other social networks, you are reaching out to friends and family who may live hundreds or thousands of miles away, who might otherwise only know you through annual Christmas letters. The potential is astounding. The opportunities are endless. Let’s use them well. Let’s teach the world. Let’s make each other better. Let’s save souls. Let’s be living sacrifices to God even when we network online.

lesson by Robert Smelser