Don’t Stop Believin’!

Hebrews 3:7—19

The inspired writer to the Hebrews has spent some time establishing the facts that Jesus Christ, the founder of the Church, is superior to angels, superior to any human priest, and superior to the ever-faithful Moses.

The remainder of Hebrews 3 may seem a little out of place; a couple of Old Testament quotes all strung together for some reason that’s unclear on the surface. However, this seems to be the author’s writing style. He quotes a verse from the Old Testament without any kind of set up or introduction, and then proceeds to explain it by applying its words to his readers.

It seems that in describing the faithfulness of Moses and Jesus Christ, the author thinks of something else. The people to whom he is writing were not exactly paragons of faithfulness, and he is gravely concerned about this shortcoming.

1. The Warning, verses 8—13

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

The exhortation begins with three timely commands, taken from Psalm 95, which is actually the foundation of the third and fourth chapters of Hebrews.

a. Do not harden your hearts, vs. 8—11

The story of the “rebellion” mentioned in Hebrews is found in Numbers 13 and 14, and it has to do with the refusal of the Israelites to obey God in taking the land He had promised to give them. But more about that in a moment.

You’ve probably noticed how often the big little word “if” is used in this letter. “If you hear his voice” is an interesting phrase that says a lot more the longer you think about it. Who in the world can NOT hear God’s voice? It’s difficult to imagine any human being missing an utterance from Almighty God, and yet many people do. When God speaks, human beings are free to listen or ignore. When human beings refuse to listen to God, their hearts harden, and when their hearts harden, God rejects them; they forfeit their opportunity.

Another oft-used word in this letter is “today,” which is used 8 times in it. Its prominent position in the sentence gives it emphasis: immediate action is absolutely imperative. God is speaking today. You must not ignore His voice today.

This first command is given using two examples of rebellion and hardened hearts. The writer wants his readers to remember what happened in the desert during the 40 year wilderness wanderings. He wants them to behave differently then their forefathers did. They ignored God’s voice, but we shouldn’t. People who ignore God’s voice open themselves up for a world of hurt! James in his letter nails it:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

So just how serious is it to ignore the voice of God? A short history lesson will show us. Near the beginning of their 40 years in the desert, and after the children of Israel had left the Desert of Sin near Rephidim, they had no water and they were thirsty. When they quarrelled with Moses, God told him to strike a rock, and when Moses did, water flowed from the rock. Moses called that place Massah, which means “testing” and Meribah, which means “quarrelling.” Some 40 years later, near the end of their desert journey, the people of Israel once again ran out of drinking water and quarrelled because of thirst and this time Moses blew his top and instead of speaking to the rock as God told him to do, he lashed out in anger and struck the rock twice in order to make water flow from it as it had decades earlier. Because Moses chose to ignore God’s instructions, he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.  Those quarrelsome Hebrews were allowed to go in, but Moses, after a lifetime of listening to the voice of God, was not, because this one time he turned a deaf ear to God. It’s a serious thing to ignore God when He’s speaking to you!

b. See to it…that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart, vs. 12

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.

John Calvin refers to this “evil heart of unbelief” as a heart riddled with sin, corruption, and wickedness that leads to unbelief. God does not take the sin of unbelief lightly, because He knows that this sin has its origin in the depths of man’s being.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Now, obviously, his readers hadn’t reached the point of turning against God, so this stern warning is given. “See to it,” or we might say, “Be alert” or “Watch out!” The necessity of being on guard and alert all the time is, in various forms, a recurrent theme in Hebrews.

The word translated “unbelieving” means “lack of trust and confidence.” It does not refer to an individual, who from time to time, has honest doubts and questions about their faith and seeks answers in the right place, God’s Word, and from the right Person, God. The kind of “unbelief” referred to in Hebrews infects every aspect of an individual’s life and opens them up to all other sins. An unbelieving heart is like a “gateway sin,” that leads to one deeper and deeper into a life of sin, wickedness, and corruption.

How a person avoids an unbelieving heart is the subject of the last command:

c. Encourage one another daily, vs. 13

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

The best defense is offense, and the best way of preserving one’s own soul is to be watchful of the spiritual welfare of others. A strong sense of “group responsibility” is the sign of a healthy church!

The word “daily” gives us an idea of how often we should encourage one another in the faith: DAILY. In other words, it should be our habit to watch out for each other; to make sure our fellows are faithful and growing in the faith. This is not being nosy; it’s being obedient to the Word of God. Christians are like burning embers; together they feed each other’s fire, generating heat as long as they remain united. When Christians are separated from each other, they soon cool off and die. Christians should be committed to building each other up all the time, not just on Sunday morning in church. Believers should see to it that whenever we are together, whether we are at work or at play, something is included which will reinforce our faith and our spiritual zeal and holy purpose.

So we are to be continually at this, but there is a limitation. We may encourage each other “as long as it is called Today.” There is a limitation—a period of time—in which the faith response may operate. There is a window of opportunity for an errant believer to change his ways. If he doesn’t do it “today,” it will be too late. Timely obedience is one of the great dynamics of Christian life.

2. Eternal, conditional security, verses 14—19

We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold firmly till the end our original conviction. (verse 14)

Once again we read that gigantic word “if,” and it has a greater emphasis that the rest of the words of verse 14. “If” usually comes from the Greek ean, but this time the word translated “if” is eanper, which is a “strong if.” The TNIV helps us see the strength of this occurrence of “if” by translating eanper “if indeed.” It’s an “absolute if.”

The word “share” is a remarkable one. The word is ginomai, “to become,” in the perfect tense, which means our present state is based on a past but sustained action. In other words, our present state of salvation, which is based on our past conversion, or “conviction” in the text, is sustained today only if we our faith is maintained until the very end of our lives.

This idea of never giving up the faith is so elemental, even Journey realized it!

Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to the feelin’
Streetlights, people
Don’t stop believin’
Hold on
Streetlights, people

Christians must never let go of the faith, no matter how many doubts my filter through your mind. You may wonder about aspects of your faith. You may question aspects of your faith. But you must always hold on to your faith if you want to continuing sharing in Christ.

Again in verse 15 the writer reminds his readers that “today” is the day God is speaking to His people. Today is an opportunity to hear His voice and respond to it. God will not stop speaking to a believer unless that believer lets go of His faith and confidence in Christ.

The writer’s point in this chapter is declaring that believers can have fellowship with Christ only as long as they endure and never give up their faith. Our prayers will be answered only if we keep the faith. God will deliver us from hard hearts and forgive us of rebellion and disobedience and will ultimately deliver us from death on as we keep on believing.

The unbelieving, faithless Hebrews had a big problem:

So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (verse 19)

Because they lost faith; because they stopped believing, these people were unable to enter the Promised Land. Likewise it is we Christians who maintain our faith and hang tough until the end who are assured of entering our Promised Land. Unbelieving people will never enter into God’s heavenly rest.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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