In review: Woven into the fabric of a beautiful tapestry portraying the superiority of Jesus Christ, is a progression of spiritual digression which the writer of Hebrews needed to confront in chapters 1-6 —a slippery slope, if you will, of neglecting so great a salvation in Christ Jesus.
The first step in this process consists of drifting away through a lack of attention. “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (2:1) This appropriate counsel is for all believers at all times and not just for the Hebrews. Any digression in our spiritual lives usually begins almost imperceptiblly—not as the result of catastrophic change, but through a lack of intentionality.
The second step in this process consists of turning way because of an unbelieving heart. “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (3:12) The context of this section is the refusal of Israel to enter the promised land of Canaan because of their fear of the giants. Instead of trusting God and his promises, they rebelled, maligned his motives, and wanted to go back to Egypt. Thus, the writer of Hebrews applied this lesson from history to his contemporaries by warning them against failing to trust God and slipping back into Judaism in order to escape the “giant” of persecution. Failure to hold fast to their profession of faith in Jesus Christ would be tantamount to refusing to take the promised land.
Life is filled with giants. My dad used to tell me, “Every David has his Goliath.” So do you, even if your name isn’t David. And every giant comes with its own set of fears and threats and harassment. This pandemic has provided enough giants for a life-time of fear: the fear of catching the disease or of a loved one catching it; the fear of an uncertain future; the fear of economic ruin; the fear of God not caring; the fear of not seeing your kids or grandkids again…on and on we could go. Just remember, it is at the point where we are most afraid that often shows us the point at which we are not trusting God; the same point where we risk turning away from him because of an unbelieving heart.
What is the author’s antidote to turning away? “But encourage one another daily, as long as it called Today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (3:13) Just as drifting away is a process over time so is the hardening of heart because of the deceitfulness of sin. When we do not trust God because of a certain giant, it starts a hardening process in our hearts by deceiving us into believing lies about God—does he really love me, why did he let this happen, is he punishing me? When not dealt with properly, these lies make it easier to mistrust God for the next giant. If you look at that unfaithful generation that failed to enter the land, they didn’t become unfaithful overnight. They left a trail of unbelief all over the wilderness that culminated with the catastrophe at Kadesh Barnea.
Thus, the daily encouragement of one another to help us turn toward God is the antidote for the deceitfulness of sin and the sclerotic process of unbelief. John Piper has said, “God has appointed a means by which he will enable us to hold our confidence firm to the end….Develop the kind of Christian relationships in which you help each other hold fast to the promises of God.” Richard Phillips adds, “Like climbers roped together on a steep mountain, like soldiers teamed together on the battlefield, we must keep track of one another. We must work together if we are to reach our objective safely.” And so, the Body of Christ has been designed to protect, encourage, warn, and restore us on our spiritual journey, so that we do not becomes self-deceived and hardened by indwelling sin.
In one of the episodes in Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and his friend Hopeful, on the way to the Heavenly City, passed through an area on the King’s Path called “Enchanted Ground.” The wicked prince had placed this there in order to make pilgrim’s sleepy and stop to rest so his soldiers would capture these sleeping pilgrims and take them all the way back to the City of Destruction. And so, Christian and Hopeful began to get very sleepy (yawn!). What did they do? They encouraged each other about God’s goodness in their lives and how he proved himself faithful to each of them in spite of their unfaithfulness. The more they talked the wider awake they became, and soon they were passed the Enchanted Ground. What an apt illustration for the power of encouragement.
Social distancing should not be a hindrance to Christian encouraging. A phone call, a text, an email; WhatsApp, FaceTime, Messenger; even snail mail cards and letters are all means of being/keeping in touch and encouraging one another while it is called Today! You may never know whether your encouragement kept one pilgrim from drifting away and other from turning away.