Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Watching over our Souls--Together: A Reflection on Hebrews 3:12-13

I woke up this morning around 5:30 and began reading Hebrews, partly to prepare for the discussions of the day and partly to exult in the treasure that is hidden there. Within a few minutes I arrived at 3:12-14 and it really grabbed my attention, especially the relationship between the words “in any of you...none of you” (that is, not a single one of you) and the words “one another.” Here’s the full text:

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

The Greek word for “take care” literally means “see,” which is why some translations render it “watch out” or “beware” or something like that. I take it to mean, “Be awake, be alert, keep an eye out.” I get the picture of a watchman on the wall of a city who’s assigned to keep an eye out for approaching enemies. If the watchman falls asleep, or otherwise fails to do his job, the whole city will be vulnerable and perhaps pay a terrible price.

In this instance, the city is our soul and the reason we must be vigilant in watching over it is because there are real enemies on every side that have the capacity to destroy us. Thus, if we do not watch out our hearts will turn toward evil, they’ll stop believing in the living God and we will fall away from him. This is the natural inclination of every human soul, and so it is that we must be on the look out!

Of course, it’s true to say that only Jesus Christ can rescue us from this inclination. Of course, it’s true to say that no amount of striving is going to rescue us from “this body of death,” as Paul put it. But I don’t see how anyone can read the Bible honestly without coming to the conclusion that God has given us a part to play in this. Certainly, the reason we’re able to play that part is because of the grace of God that enables us to do so (see, for example, Phil. 2:12-13 & Titus 2:11-14), but this doesn’t mean, in turn, that we have no part to play. God has said, in so many ways and in various places, Christian, play this part, I will give you the power to do so, but if you do not play your part your heart will grow cold and unbelieving and you will fall away from the living God!

It’s so crucial that we feel the force of this threat because in so doing we come to feel force of the command to “watch out” or “take care.”

Now we come to what really grabbed my attention this morning: “taking care” is not an individualistic matter, it is a communal matter. That is to say, even though Paul uses individualistic words like “any one of you” and “none of you” when he’s pointing out the problem, he uses these communal words when he’s pointing to the solution: “But exhort ONE ANOTHER every day, as long as it is called ‘today.’”

In other words, we were not designed to watch over our souls in isolation but rather together with those who are also watching over their souls by the grace and power of Jesus Christ. We were designed to pursue Christ and kill sin together, and not alone!

Oh Beloved, this point is so easy to grasp with the mind that I fear the punch of it will be lost on us, and so I ask: Are you deliberately enlisting the help of fellow believers to exhort you every day in your pursuit of Jesus Christ? Are there people in your life—people you can name—who have permission to poke and prod and ask questions and give suggestions and encouragements and otherwise spur you on to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24)? And do they do it? And do they do it “every day”?

This is so not about legalism, so please do not let your mind go there. Just read Hebrews carefully, see that on the basis of it my questions are fair, and then answer them. If you are not deliberately enlisting the help of others in your life please hear me say that you are on dangerous ground because in that case you cannot obey the command in verse 12 to watch out for your heart. Exhorting one another is not, in the author’s mind, one suggestion in a list of many for keeping your soul in good condition. It is an integral part of obeying the command. So I ask you again, Are you partnering with others for the glory of God and the good of your soul?

I’m aware that I’ve turned toward preaching here but the reason is that I’ve been preaching this sermon to myself all day long. I do have people in my life who are exhorting me every day, but I think I could make even more use of their ministry in my life and I plan to do so. In fact, before I sat to write this blog-entry I e-mailed a few people along these lines. All to say, I’m not asking you questions I’ve not asked myself and I’m not calling you to do something I’ve not taken more substantial action on myself.

So please, don’t let yourself off the hook here: answer the questions.

If you will do this, there will be much joy awaiting you and, in part, here’s why: Jesus has helped me to see all the more today what the opposite of an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away is—it’s a heart that has the capacity to take him in, and he alone is glorious and all-satisfying. It’s a heart that is able, in measure, to see him for who he is and delight in him with sincerity and serve him with gladness. It’s a heart that will, in time, understand the meaning of words like Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

To put it simply, obedience to Christ is the path to joy, and obedience is a group project. So, let us watch over our souls—together—for God’s glory and our joy.

2 comments:

  1. This is such good stuff. What came to my mind was a tragic story. I was on a church board where the Pastor was found to be unfaithful. It ended up being prosecutable. I had no idea this went on. At one of the board meetings a very aggressive woman prosecutor came in and asked all of the board members to come clean and gave us the opportunity to come forth and confess if we hiding or new of this affair. I was only 23 and shaking in my boots I knew nothing. I remember coming home to my wife and holding my hands out in front of her and saying is there any "blood" on my hands. Today I was reading Job where he was found to be justifying himself before God Job 32:2. No one would argue the opening passages of Job where God claims "none like him on the earth" what God did not say was that he was righteous without God.
    Certainly Job as a "very good" man in God's sight, but he was prone to evil like all of us. Job 36:21 Elihu cautions Job to not choose iniquity in order to avoid the affliction. We have all turned aside there is no one who does good. We would rather sin always, no matter if we are feeling good or feeling bad. Elihu is not perfect, but I will take an imperfect brother cautioning me about my walk with Christ, over a blameless man who says nothing.
    I was very concerned that there was "blood" on my hand. I hope you are as concerned about my hands as I am. Help me persevere Lord Jesus.

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  2. This is such good stuff. What came to my mind was a tragic story. I was on a church board where the Pastor was found to be unfaithful. It ended up being prosecutable. I had no idea this went on. At one of the board meetings a very aggressive woman prosecutor came in and asked all of the board members to come clean and gave us the opportunity to come forth and confess if we were hiding any information or new of this affair. I was only 23 and shaking in my boots I knew nothing. I remember coming home to my wife and holding my hands out in front of her and saying is there any "blood" on my hands. I was worried and had to think hard over the past few years if anything was said or done that I knowingly held private to protect myself from an unpleasant truth or the Pastor. I of course was hiding nothing.
    Today I was reading Job where he was found to be justifying himself before God Job 32:2. No one would argue the opening passages of Job where God claims "none like him on the earth" what God did not say was that he was righteous without God.
    Certainly Job was a "very good" man in God's sight, but he was prone to evil like all of us. In Job 36:21 Elihu cautions Job to not choose iniquity in order to avoid the affliction. We have all turned aside there is no one who does good. We would rather sin always, no matter if we are feeling good or feeling bad. Job must have considered sinning rather than endure the affliction. Elihu was not perfect in his chastisement of Job, but I will take an imperfect brother cautioning me about my walk with Christ, over a blameless man who says nothing
    I was very concerned that there was "blood" on my hand. I hope you are as concerned about my hands as I am. I want people to come into my life and do more than say you have a spot on your shirt or dirty hands. I want men to come into my life and say “you are on a path of destruction with this and you had better stop.”
    Help me to persevere Lord Jesus. Job 36:15 says He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity. Lord help me to welcome this process of opening of my ears as a blessing.

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