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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:30am service, 2003-12-07

Text: Hebrews 12:1-13:19

We continue with our study of the book of Hebrews, a book that brings out the theme of Christ's supremacy over all things. Thus far you will notice that much of what we have been dealing with in these messages is doctrine - deep doctrines, concerning prophecy and fulfillment, Bible history, and fascinating concepts like the priesthood, the atonement and the Covenant, which may be quite difficult for some Christians to understand and appreciate fully. Now, the writer of Hebrews refers to these things as 'strong meat' which belongs to those who are of full age, mature in the faith (Heb 5:14). And these are things we should get used to and learn to love, because we cannot keep drinking milk all the time and be content with just a superficial knowledge of the Word of God. We should be growing into mature Christians who are able to rightly divide the Word of truth, and know how to apply it in our lives.

And all the deep truths of doctrine that we have learnt from the first 11 chapters of this book, now become a firm foundation on which we can build up the practise of our faith. So as we come to the last two chapters of the Book of Hebrews, we find that the emphasis is now less on doctrine and more on the practical applications of it telling us how to live for Christ and obey Him. The first practical application is:

A. Laying Aside Every Weight (12:1-3)

'Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,'

The picture here is that of an athlete about to compete in a race. Imagine that you are an athlete about to run a race in a large stadium. A large crowd of spectators is watching us (the 'great cloud of witnesses') - and this consists of all the heroes of faith who have already run their race well. Now that it is your turn to run the race, how will you run it? You will definitely not be able to run the race of the Christian life well if you are still keeping all the spiritual deadweight with you. These may even be things that are legitimate - hobbies, pursuits, games and sports, etc. 1 Corinthians 6:12 'All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.'

Beside laying aside every weight, you must lay aside any besetting sins that you have not dealt with, as they will only hinder your progress. What are besetting sins? They are habitual sins that you are most prone to commit (e.g. lust, laziness, hot temper). To lay them aside, examine the factors that precipitate the sin - is there a consistent pattern of circumstances that tend to lead you into it? If there is, then see if any of them can be removed or avoided. Change your pattern of life so that the opportunity for the besetting sin to be committed will be minimized.

But in order to have the willpower and discipline to lay your besetting sins aside, you need Christ's power. Jesus Himself said, 'without Me ye can do nothing.' The power of Christ who indwells believers is alone sufficient to lay aside besetting sins. This is why you will notice that after mentioning the need to lay aside these sins which so easily beset us, the author of Hebrews immediately adds: 'Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith' (Hebrews 12:2). Looking to Jesus is also the first step in:

B. Coping with the Trials of Life

The race of the Christian life is not an easy one to run, because of trials. The path that leads to glory is not always smooth-sailing. Sometimes we find ourselves being tried and tested to our very limits. Things happen to us unexpectedly through no fault of our own - e.g. accidents, damage or loss of possessions, sicknesses, retrenchment. How should we respond to sore trials like these? Here are four steps given by the writer of Hebrews:

1. Consider the Trials That Jesus Endured (12:3,4)

'For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.' 

By doing this we soon realize that the trials we suffer are quite small, and in fact, nothing compared to what our Lord Jesus suffered. Our Lord was falsely accused, mocked, insulted, scourged with whips, punched and slapped, nailed and pierced. How did He respond to all that? He endured it all patiently and continued to trust in God. Since none of us have ever had to endure (or will ever have to endure) so much tremendous pain and suffering as Jesus did, we should endure our own trials patiently. In the next few verses we can find another useful step for coping with the trials of life:

2. Accept Chastisement from God's Loving Hand (12:6-7)

The writer of Hebrews addresses this in vv.6-7 'For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?' We should not make the mistake of thinking that these trials we face mean that God is not happy with us and that He does not love us. On the contrary it is precisely because God loves us that He chastises us. And if we are not chastised at all, we should wonder if we are really children of God at all! 

Now, when God chastises us, He has a definite and good purpose for it. The trials He puts us through are not designed to destroy us, but to build us up and make us better than we were before. Vv.10-11 'For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.' Here we are told that there are at least two things that we will gain in enduring trials - firstly we become partakers of God's holiness, and secondly we produce righteousness in our lives. Both of these are characteristics of the new man that each of us should put on, as Ephesians 4:24 says 'And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.'

Now that we know that our trials are from God who loves us, and who uses them to purify and shape us to be conformed to God's own righteous and holy image, we should be able to respond to trials in a more constructive manner, which is the next step.

3. Seek God's Strength To Do What Is Right In God's Sight

vv.12-13 'Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.' The mention of hands and knees here refers to prayer. There are many Bible passages that speak of the power of prayer to cope with trials - e.g. Philippians 4:6 'the peace of God will guard your heart and mind when you pray your anxieties away. James 5:16 � �The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.' What about the phrase, 'to make straight paths for your feet'? In the context of responding to trials, it refers to doing what is good and right in God's sight, in order that we do not set a bad example that will become a stumbling block to others.

You see, when you respond well to trials, you will benefit not only yourself, but others as well. Christians who are weaker in their faith will be encouraged when they see your good response, to take the same path you have taken. But when you do not respond well to trials, others will be affected adversely. Those who are spiritually younger or weak will be stumbled and 'turned out of the way' when they attempt to follow the crooked and uneven paths you have created. This leads us to the next step:

4. Watch Your Testimony Before Others (v.14-15)

'Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled'

Let us understand that no one lives for himself. You must always consider how others will be affected by the way you live. This is also true of our response to trials that are caused by those who are against you. They may attack you, call you awful names, and say all kind of unkind words against you. But you should not aggravate the situation by reacting against them. Your response should be one that is peaceful and holy, like our Lord Jesus 'Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously' (1 Peter 2:23). If you do not respond to personal attacks in a peaceful and holy manner, you risk stumbling other Christians and even those who may be almost at the point of salvation, but they fall short or fail of the grace of God, just because of you!

Many who may have been brought into God's kingdom earlier have have been put off from pursuing Christianity further by the inconsistent conduct of some Christians they know. So let us watch our testimony carefully especially when we are under much pressure to react or retaliate. Don't respond with a bitter spirit - because this will affect others badly. A bitter spirit can spread from person to person like an infection, until many are defiled by it! 

Thus far we have seen two practical applications given by the writer: Laying aside every weight, and coping with the trials of life. The writer of Hebrews now moves into another area of practical application -

C. Maintaining Purity and Godly Fear (vv.16-29)

The need for purity is found in v.16 'Lest there be any fornicator' The word 'fornicator' refers to one who is indulging in sexual sin. As we live in a permissive world, where immorality is no longer frowned upon as before, where censorship standards have degenerated in the name of artistic expression, we need to be even more vigilant than ever against falling into sexual sin. We must be careful what we allow our eyes to see and our ears to hear from the media and the Internet, as these are the channels through which we may be tempted to sin. 

The need for godly fear is found in the mention of 'profane person'. This describes a person who has no respect for God or for the things of God. Esau is held up as an example of an ungodly man. He was the elder brother of Jacob (Genesis 25:28-34) who went hunting one day, and when he came back all tired and hungry, he found Jacob cooking a delicious meal. He asked Jacob for some food, and Jacob in turn asked him to sell him his birthright. This refers to all the rights of the firstborn son which he coveted from Esau. 

Now Esau should have known that this birthright he had was not just an ordinary inheritance of property, but included the Covenant promises that God had given to his forefathers, Abraham and Isaac. These promises of God are priceless, and should never be surrendered. But Esau obviously did not care for them. To him, the food that was simmering in Jacob's pot was more valuable than these God-given promises. And that showed up how profane he was.

The lesson we learn from this is that we must always treasure all the spiritual blessings that God has given us and never sell them, surrender them or compromise them at any time. This includes things like our salvation, the privilege of prayer, the Word of God, our personal quiet time, and the Lord's Day. What is your attitude to these things? To the one who has godly fear in his heart these things will always be most precious. 

Now in order to help readers understand godly fear, the writer of Hebrews describes the awesome manifestation of God at Mount Sinai (vv.18-21 'For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:'). 

This manifestation of God was so awesome that even Moses was moved with fear and trembling - an attitude of real godly fear! And since the writer had earlier proved that the New Covenant is better than the old one that was made at Mount Sinai, it follows that we who are under the New Covenant should all the more have a sense of godly fear. Look at v.25 and 28 'See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear'

Dearly beloved, what attitude do you have toward God? Are you like Esau, who did not think that God's promises are worth keeping and therefore sold away his precious birthright so easily? Or are you like Moses who feared and trembled in God's presence? How do you treat the New Covenant and Christ who is the mediator of the New Covenant? If you really have a sense of godly fear, then Christ will be supreme in your life. Is Christ foremost in your life? Is He truly supreme in your life? I trust that you fill resolve to make Him supreme in your life. And if Christ is supreme in your life, you must listen to every instruction that He gives to you in His Word. That includes the instructions that are found in the final chapter of Hebrews.

D. Maintaining An Attitude of Love

The first few verses speak of our need to maintain an attitude of love for others. First of all we are to have love for the brethren (v.1). In v.2, love for strangers is mentioned. In days when it was very unsafe for Christians to travel, the ministry of hospitality to itinerant preachers and missionaries was really needful. The mention of angels in this verse refers to Abraham who found to his surprise that the three strangers he gave hospitality to turned out to be divine messengers. One of them was even a theophany of God Himself! 

In v.3 love for those who are in bonds and for those who suffer adversity is enjoined. Because of persecution, many Christians were imprisoned and suffering at that time. Today, we also ought to remember brethren in our own midst who are facing adversity because of their faith, or because of retrenchment (refer to article in today's weekly by Rev Wong on Mercy Ministry).

In v.4 the need to maintain love for one's spouse is mentioned. 'Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.' Let all who are married take heed to maintain love in your marriage and not allow familiarity to breed contempt.

In v.5 love for material things is addressed 'Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.' Unlike the other kinds of love named before which are good, this love is not good. 1 Timothy 6:10 'For the love of money is the root of all evil' How true this is! We can see it everyday in the news in the crimes of embezzlement, civil suits over property, breach of trust, etc. 

Instead of being covetous we should be content, and even though we may not have much by this world's standards, we are actually very rich, because we have Christ with us! He is our greatest wealth and treasure, and He never changes, for He is the same yesterday, today and forever. All earthly wealth can be taken away from us, but no one can ever take Jesus Christ from us! Not only should we be content, but we should also be willing to give generously to others. V.16 'But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.' Let us be known as givers rather than takers.

In v.7 the writer of Hebrews begins to speak about the attitude that Christians should have toward their spiritual leaders. And there are altogether four injunctions we must observe concerning them: First we are told to remember 'them that have the rule over you.' We should love them for two reasons: Firstly because of their work in teaching God's Word (v.7 'who have spoken unto you the Word of God'). Secondly, because of their example (v.7 'whose faith follow'). 

The second injunction regarding leaders is found in v.17 where we are told to 'obey them that have the rule over you'. Why should we do this? Firstly, because they have a great responsibility: They watch out for your souls (v.17). We honour doctors who watch out for our physical bodies, we listen to their advice and follow their prescriptions religiously. How much more should we obey those who watch out for our souls, which will outlast our bodies! Secondly, we ought to obey them because they will give a report to God: of their watching over our souls, and the response they receive from us. Whether they will give the report with joy or with sorrow depends on our response to them. 

The third injunction regarding our spiritual leaders is found in v.18 'Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.' We should keep upholding the leaders of our church in prayer, as they are often the main targets of the devil.

The fourth and final injunction is found in v.24 'Salute (i.e. Greet) all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints.' The word 'all' here indicates not just respecting some of the leaders we like (our 'favourite' leaders), but all of them without exception. We should recognize that there is plurality of leadership - which consists of pastors, elders, deacons, and teachers.

But at the same time, we should always recognise that our greatest spiritual leader is none other than the Lord Jesus Himself, who is called 'that great shepherd of the sheep' in v.20. And therefore, while we remember all our shepherds who are appointed to watch over us, obey them, pray for them and salute them, our greatest love and allegiance should always be exclusively reserved for Christ alone, who is above all. It is Christ whom we must live for and obey!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11