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.

The Bonsai Tree: Sacrificial Cuts

Hokusai_A_lacquered_washbasin_and_ewer

Last week, we looked at the nature of bonsai and how its purpose is to create a miniature image of a tree, just as we are to be in the image of our Lord. We also looked at the care, concern, and stresses involved with producing a healthy tree. Like a master gardener, we know that God is in control, and He refines and perfects us with love, concern, and even trials.

In our growth, how nourishing do we let the word be to us? At times, we may suffer from spiritual bulimia. We consume the word, but we don’t digest it properly. We may not take the time to meditate on the word and let it take hold in our hearts as it should. If we are to grow into God’s image, we have to take the time to let His teachings nourish us. This word shapes the type of growth we will have as Christians.

Cultivating Reasonable Service

Romans 12:1 – 2 calls us living sacrifices, dead to the world but alive to Christ. This is reasonable service to God. This is what transforms us, but to what standards are we holding ourselves? What do we consider to be reasonable service? Paul speaks of freedom from sin, unity with our brothers and sisters, being merciful and peaceful. These are the foundation to our sacrificial service.

We become living sacrifices by meditating daily on God’s mercies and then putting those mercies in action. This is how we transform from something old to something new. The world presses us from every side, but we are not to succumb to those stresses, shaped into something resembling the temporary and physical. Instead, we should resist those pressures and allow ourselves to be shaped by God’s wisdom and mercies.

Finding God

Where do you go to find God and be in awe of Him? Do you see Him in nature? Do you see Him in the cosmos? Do you see Him in the love shown by others? We should be looking for God all around us, and we should be setting aside time to meditate on the glory and majesty of our God. In times of joy and in times of sorrow, we can find God around us. It is always the right time to draw closer to God.

In Philippians 3, Paul speaks about doing all he can to attain perfection in God, and he never considers himself to be perfect. He knew it was a daily process to draw closer to God. There is always more we can learn. We can always improve on our journey to find our God within ourselves. Acts 14:19 – 22 even shows Paul getting up and continuing his encouraging work after a stoning. This is sacrificial service.

Finding God in our lives and directing our service toward Him does not guarantee an easy life. Godly service is not a hobby. It is a commitment. It is a sacrifice. Our master gardener will always be at our side to help us grow, but growth can be challenging. Growth can be painful, but the end product is something better and more perfect than the original. We have to be focused, with our roots planted firmly in our God. Then He can transform us into His own image.

lesson by Donn Koonce

The Struggle Against Self Will

lion

We’ve been studying from Ephesians 6, particularly from verses 10-19, in talking about how we prepare for the spiritual battles of this life. Last time, we talked about the fact that our struggle is a spiritual one, that we must be prepared to overcome, and that this battle is ultimately the Lord’s. We lean on Him for our victory. In this continual conflict, we have one obstacle we might never consider, but it can be the strongest opposition we face — our own self will.

A Struggle with Self-Deception

Jeremiah 17:9 – 10 simply tells us our hearts can deceive us. We are so used to following our hearts in so many things that we may not think to question ourselves. We want to trust our own judgment, but it should be God’s that has the final say. Isaiah 55:8 – 9 tells us God’s ways are higher than ours. Our standards are fallible. God’s are infallible.

Ezekiel 18:25 – 32 speaks of how God exercises righteous judgment and how He can discern our hearts as easily as our actions, but Matthew 7 warns us against relying on our own judgment overmuch. Jesus warns us that we will be judged by the same standards to which we hold others if we are overly critical. He says that, if we wish to help others overcome their shortcomings, we must first be aware of our own.

Looking Into Self

This means that when we search God’s word, we need to take it for what it says rather than trying to make it fit our own desires. Truly search the scriptures. Don’t try to make it say want we want it to say. Otherwise, we’re just like those Jesus is speaking to in Matthew 13:13 – 15 who have eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear. We have to hear and see when we search.

1 John 1:5 – 10 Tells us we have to be open and willing to self-examination. We have to be able to admit when we are wrong so that we can better walk in the light. As in James 1:22 –25, we should be looking at the mirror of God’s word and openly assessing what we see reflected back to us. Then we can begin to make progress.

Seeing the Obstacles Within

When we look at ourselves critically, we can better see how sometimes we are indeed our own worst enemy. We must be self-aware when it comes to our weaknesses and our personal sources of temptation. On the other hand, we can also know where we need help to grow, what to pray for, and what our spiritual needs are. Examining self will reveal shortcomings, but it will also reveal opportunities for growth and self-improvement.

Galatians 2:20 and Romans 6:6 both emphasize that we crucify a sense of self when we put on Christ in baptism. If He is ruling our lives, then we should be striving to put aside that opponent who is ourselves. My Savior lives in me, and I have given myself wholly to Him. Sometimes I get in the way of myself with that commitment, but I can overcome when I am honest with myself, and let Jesus rule my life.

lesson by Kent Ward