Happy Tuesday, friends! Today we are celebrating the birthday of the most famous writer in the history of the state of Alabama, Harper "To Kill a Mockingbird" Lee. Fun fact: No mockingbirds die during that book. Jay Leno and Jessica Alba also have birthdays today. Happy birthday, Jessica!
Today's Bible readings include Numbers 5, Psalms 39, Song of Songs 3, and Hebrews 3. Our focus question comes from the middle of Hebrews 3:
"12 Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. 14 For we have become participants in Christ if we hold firmly until the end the reality that we had at the start." Hebrews 3:12-14
Hebrews 3:13 has long struck me as an incredibly important command in Scripture, but one that the church honestly doesn't practice regularly enough. We must hear this command - and follow it - now, more than ever. In a world where the plague hides around every corner, and people are prisoners in their homes cowering in fear, anger, or both...we need to be daily ENCOURAGING each other. By phone, by text, by Facetime, by Zoom, by smoke-signal, by any and all means necessary. This is a crucial command, and it's not just simply about lifting somebody's spirits...it is actually life or death, if I am understanding the context of the passage properly. Let's read Hebrews 3, and then discuss.
Key word for the day is 'Encourage,' but the Greek word used there is not exactly the same as our word for encourage. It's the word: "παρακαλέω parakaléō," and it means to be called to one's side. It is a very active verb - and it implies drawing near to somebody. It is also the word used by Jesus in Matthew 5:4 - blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted/parakaleo'd. So the word has an aspect of comforting to it, but also an aspect of encouraging somebody AND an aspect of asking/beseeching somebody. I think the context of the overall passage helps to illuminate what the Word of God is calling us to, and why it is so important. Hebrews, similar to 1 and 2 Thessalonians, is written to a group of believers who are being tempted (by trials/tribulations/persecution) to turn away from Jesus. One of the Bible antidotes that is prescribed for us when we are weary and ready to quit is this ministry of daily encouragement/beseeching/comforting. WE ALL NEED IT. It is not a weakness to require daily encouragement/beseeching/comforting any more than it is a weakness to require daily vitamins, minerals, water and air - we were designed by our Creator to NOT function well without this daily ministry of encouragement/beseeching/comforting.
Where does the beseeching part come in? Great question. Are you a wrestling fan? I'm not talking about entertainment wrestling, though I grew up a big fan of the WWF/WWE - I'm talking about real wrestling. I believe the beseeching part of parakaleo can be compared to a fan or a family member of a particular wrestler that is just about to get pinned by his opponent shouting encouragements to him to not give up. We all need to GIVE that ministry of daily encouragement/parakaleo to each other and we all need to RECEIVE that ministry of daily encouragement/parakaleo FROM each other. The fact is, you never know when somebody feels like they are about to be pinned - daily encouragement/parakaleo ministry is a necessity in the Body of Christ to keep us going forward and overcoming.
You might be wondering why I called this a life or death issue earlier. I can assure you, that I am not engaging in hyperbole. One of the very thorny issues that is raised by the book of Hebrews, beginning in this chapter, and expanded on in several other chapters, is the issue of apostasy, or falling away. Can a Christian lose their salvation? That is a question that we are going to explore in depth over the next two weeks, or so. I believe that the Bible teaches something that many call the Perseverance of the Saints, the view that a truly saved Christian will NOT ever lose salvation, but that view is a difficult one to hold in light of all of the sobering warnings in the book of Hebrews about falling away. I have seen some people hold so tightly to 'once saved, always saved,' that they practically nullify any impact that the warning passages of Hebrews 3, 6, 10 (and others!) might have, and I think that is a danger. Hebrews 3, 6, and 10 are written to be sober and scary warnings about turning away from Jesus, and I believe fidelity to God's Word requires us to treat those warnings in a sober and serious way.
On the other hand, I have seen people so over-emphasize the warning passages in Hebrews, that they way-underemphasize the saving and preserving power of God and, in turn, inflate the role of man in His own salvation by saying something like, "The only way you'll be saved is if you hold tight to the rope in your own power and strength and never let go." I concur with the idea that if preserving my salvation was all up to me and my power to be faithful, I'd be doomed - If I could fumble away my salvation, I sure would do it. But I believe the teaching of the Bible is that GOD is the one who preserves those who are His. Yes! We must hold firmly to the truths we have been taught, but it is the grip of God and His grip strength that is the deciding factor in my salvation, and not my own grip strength.
We will dive deeply into these issues in future episodes. This will be a 3-5 part series on the Perseverance of the Saints, but they all won't be back to back - instead, we will discuss them as we get to each of the warning passages in Hebrews. Stay tuned for that! For now, let's close by strongly taking heed to the truth in Hebrews 3:14, "For we have become participants in Christ if we hold firmly until the end the reality that we had at the start." ESV, "14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end." Many Christians and churches emphasize making a one-time decision for Christ, and it is all about the fact that we have decided to follow Jesus. That is great, and I want to preach so that people will follow Jesus for sure, but in my preaching and teaching, I put my less emphasis on the 'I have decided part." and much MORE emphasis on the "FOLLOW JESUS" part. The Christian life is NOT about making a one-time decision in a moment of time that gives you fire-insurance for all of eternity, any more than marriage is all about saying, "I do," and then you just sit back and reap the rewards of your one time decision to say those words. Instead, following Jesus is about holding firmly from beginning to end. Or, as Paul puts it:
Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:1-3
23 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful
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