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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Putting Others first in Christ

Carl Bloch's painting depicting Jesus sitting before a crowd and delivering the Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890

The Sermon on the Mount is easy to understand but challenging to live. We have to really open our hearts to the message being taught by our Savior so that we may walk the way He would have us. James 1:22 – 25 encourages us to see ourselves in comparison to God’s word, to take that comparison to heart, and then do something about it. So as we’re looking through Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5 and 6, let’s do so in a way that allows each of us to become more spiritually complete.

Matthew 5: 33 – 48:

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

These words continue the theme set up earlier in the chapter that Jesus wants something deeper than outward compliance. He wants us to change our hearts and the attitudes that motivate us. This is a fundamental shift in thinking.

Let Your Yes Be Yes

In Numbers 30:2, God’s law talks about taking pledges and making oaths. This was part of their culture, and it’s still part of ours in some situations. Jesus, however, says that oaths and pledges are unnecessary if we are fundamentally honest people. Jesus addresses this again in Matthew 23, when Jesus talks about the Pharisees placing oaths on various sacred relics and then giving different weights to those different oaths. Jesus goes on to say not to make any oaths at all. Just be a person of your word.

This shifts from a legalistic approach to our word and toward a more spiritual approach. This is not about external signs. It is a way of life and a reflection of your spirituality and your character. Our honesty then gives credibility to the message we bring. It reinforces the changing power of God’s word in a simple, immediately evident way. By our honest word, we show that we mean what we preach.

Others Before Self

Jesus then addresses the nature of personal vindication. Again, the law lays down fundamentals of equitable recompense when wronged. Jesus says instead to get over it and move on, for by this time, God’s people had taken rules that were meant to be applied to a legal system and made it personal. See Leviticus 19:17 – 18 for an example of how God’s people were supposed to keep personal feelings out of legal resolutions.

These concepts are not new, but Jesus is ensuring we understand the importance of love — even for those who don’t love us. Be generous; avoid vengeance; go the extra mile; bless those who hate you. This takes a major shift in our own concept of fairness. It means avoiding the easy way out and doing right by others, even when we don’t feel they deserve it. It’s not our place to dole out punishments to everyone we don’t like. Instead, we should be living peaceably and without animosity toward others anywhere.

Perfect As God Is Perfect

All of this leads us to spiritual wholeness. These teachings and others in the Sermon on the Mount lay down the template for what godly living truly looks like. That template abandons worldly reason and secular justice. It demands a complete self-sacrifice and a change in heart. Let your words and your actions agree. Let go of all resentment or anger you might have toward others, and be ready to do good toward all. In these ways, we grow closer to Christ and show Him to others through the way we live.

lesson by Don Larsen

Water from Heaven: Refreshment

Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud
Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud

Water is essential to our lives, and God’s word is water for our souls. It is every bit as necessary and influential to our spiritual lives as is physical water to our lives on this planet. Ephesians 5:26 ays God’s word washes over us as water, so we are studying water, its effects on us and our world, and we’re looking at similarities with God’s word. Last time we were together, we talked about the way water shapes and changes our world and how God’s word should do the same for our lives. Next time, we’re going to look at the ways water washes us. Today, we’re going to talk about refreshment and sustenance.

A Refreshing Word, a Refreshing People

In Acts 3:19, Peter calls on those listening to him to “repent and tun back, so that your sins may be blotted out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Also, in John 7:37, Jesus stands on the last of day of the Feast of Booths and calls out, “If anyone thirsts, come to me and drink.” In both of these cases, water is being referenced as something that refreshes, that energizes us, and that revives us.

Think about how if feels after you’ve been out working in the sun, running a marathon, or hiking in the woods — how good it feels to just get a mouthful of water during or after those activities. It may just be a splash to keep you going, but that water reenergizes and refreshes you. Water is the most revitalizing thing we can consume, but we might turn to the wrong thing at times. We don’t actually listen to our needs. For example, many times you go to grab a snack, drink a glass of water instead. You might be mistaking thirst for hunger, and you will then end up eating too much or make yourself more dehydrated by pursuing the wrong solution. It’s important to know when our bodies need water instead of some substitute.

The same is true of God’s word. We live in a world that is always wearing us out, but turning to God can be that moment of refreshment that gives me the energy to keep pressing on in that race the Hebrew writer describes in chapter 12. The world may leave us parched and weary, but God is always there to freshen us up, renew our energy, and help us renew our work in Him. The challenge is that the world offers may alternatives that look refreshing and that seem like they will reenergize us. The truth is that we might be left more spiritually parched than when we started. Psalm 81:10 portrays God saying that He will fill our mouths with good things. His is the only true and lasting refreshment.

We should then be a refreshing people. Matthew 5:13 calls us the salt of the world, and Colossians 4:6 says our speech should always be gracious, as seasoned with salt. Being around a Christian should simply leave a good taste with anyone we meet, and that should leave others longing for more. Galatians 5:22 – 23 says we produce a spiritual fruit when we behave a certain way — again, something that is flavorful and refreshing. Just as God’s word refreshes us, so should we be refreshing to others. If we are filling ourselves with the true water from Heaven rather than the sugar water of this world, we will be sources of refreshment.

A Sustaining Water

An even deeper purpose of water is one of sustenance. Put simply, we need water to survive, and nothing else can act as substitute. Mountain Dew, coffee, tea, Pepsi, root beer floats, orange juice — we can take a great number of fluids, but none of them can take the place of water. In fact, some of these other liquids are actively harmful to our bodies, and the other ingredients actually serve to actively remove any and all health benefits of the water they contain. The caffeine in coffee actively dehydrates us despite the water in it. A diet cola may acidify our blood and deplete our bodies of calcium despite the water it contains. Water is the single best fluid for keeping our bodies alive and well. Nothing else suffices.

Just as we might look to the world for energy or refreshment, we might come to lean on the world for spiritual sustenance. Unfortunately, there is none to find. We may seek to strengthen ourselves, but instead the things of this world slowly eat away at us, just as rust and moths eat away at the treasures of this world in Matthew 19. This world will always leave us thirsty for more. Instead we should be sustaining ourselves on the bread and water of God’s word. It is this living water that Jesus offers the Samaritan woman in John 4, and He offers it to us as well. It is that which can eternally sustain us. God’s word will fill our hearts and never leave us hungry or thirsty again.

A Healthy Water

Part of water’s sustaining nature is its healing influence on our lives. If you want to feel better, the first and simplest thing you can do is drink more water. Experiencing inexplicable aches and pains? Drink more water. Feeling lethargic and tired? Drink more water. Bouts with headaches and dizziness throughout your day? Drink more water. We don’t think about it because we’ve grown used to being dehydrated. We’re used to feeling a certain level of crummy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Simply staying hydrated will start to make you feel generally better.

The nourishment of God’s word does the same for us. Psalm 30:2 records the psalmist saying, “I cried to you, and you have healed me.” John 10:10 has Jesus saying that He has come to give life and give it abundantly. Think of all the miracles Jesus performed around healing, even calling Himself a physician on one occasion. All of these were to illustrate the power of God’s word to heal our souls. When I’m felling spiritually depleted, when I’m down on myself and others, when I feel the pains of this world are just too much — chances are its because I’ve been neglecting time in study and prayer. I’ve been seeking sustenance elsewhere when all I really need is to return to the sustaining water of God’s word.

Losing Taste for All Else

It can be tricky to start leaning on water as our primary source of refreshment and sustenance. Your tastebuds may be used to the various sensations less healthy and harmful options offer. I know mine were when I first made the effort to switch. The things of this world are so much more enticing, but, as the Hebrew writer puts it, they are but for a season. I have to be able to keep things in perspective. It takes self-discipline to wean ourselves off the sugary, caffeine-loaded refreshments of this world to turn to the pure waters of Christ.

The great thing is this: the longer we are focused on God’s word and doing what we find therein, the less this world will entice us. I simply don’t crave certain drinks anymore since I’ve been focusing more on water. Do I still have cravings at times? Sure, just like I still crave certain sins and wordily pursuits. I even give in at times, but they just don’t carry the allure they once did. The pleasures of the moment just don’t seem worth all of the negatives. In the case of drinks, they’re just not worth the shakiness, the upset stomach, the headaches, or whatever else may come from those sugary, caffeinated beverages. Even when I give in to a craving, I find myself longing for water again.

Sometimes, I get asked if water as my primary beverage is ever boring, and to be honest, at first it was. In fact, it was downright hard at first because I went through sugar and caffeine withdrawal. And you know what? I sure felt a life of godly living was boring and unnecessarily difficult at one time as well. I went through world-withdrawal. Paul describes this when he says that his spirit and his flesh war with each other in Galatians 5:17. Returning to Hebrews 12, that writer says we deal with those burdens by laying them aside, and that’s exactly what Paul says he did in Philippians 3:7 – 8 when he says he counted all as lost for Christ. We trade the sustenance of this word for waters from God and we count it as loss.

We have a perfect source of refreshment and sustenance available to us through our Father. Let’s continually turn to Him in study and prayer so that we may have perpetual seasons of refreshing from a well that will never dry up. Let’s lay aside the cravings of this world, even those that seem so immediate and fulfilling in the moment. Lay aside their temporary pleasures so that they can’t erode our spiritual health. Let’s instead fill ourselves with perfect nourishment from above, continually refreshing and being refreshed, sustained by the love and word of our Father, and losing all taste for the things of this world.

lesson by Robert Smelser