In Hebrews 11 we read that great roll call of faithful men and women who looked with the eyes of faith and saw things as God saw them. These were regular men and women, whose faith in God caused them to do things that would seem “odd” or “stupid” to the world around them. “The world was not worthy of them,” the writer tells us, and the world is not worthy of those today who look with the eyes of faith at things that are not seen.
These faithful ones are an encouragement to us (Hebrews 12:1-2). As we look at their lives; and see their strengths and weaknesses, we should realize that they were like us – sometimes doubting, sometimes struggling, yet they kept their focus on God and what he wanted. They inspire us to keep running the race until the end.
The greatest example we have is Jesus, who, as the “finisher of our faith,” endured the cross, and despised the shame so that we could be saved.
The Hebrews needed this word of encouragement to finish their race. These words echo to the 21st century to us to stay faithful and keep our focus on God.
The struggles and toils of life are lessons from which we learn. We need the discipline of making mistakes and bearing consequences. We need the discipline that comes from the Lord so we can be better Christians everyday of our lives. Unlike our earthly parents who disciplined us in an effort to train us for this life; our Heavenly father “disciplines us for OUR profit; that we may be partakers of his holiness.” Chastening is not joyful. None of us like it. When we were children we did not like discipline, and as we grow older we do not like it. BUT IT IS FOR OUR GOOD!
The ultimate goal of God’s discipline is for us to be partakers of His holiness – to be set apart like God is set apart. The goal is to live lives purified from sin, evil and wickedness. It is to be different from the world. While going through the discipline it hurts, but it produces the righteousness that will make us holy.
The writer then states, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.” (Hebrews 12:14-17).
As the writer stresses the need to pursue holiness, these things jump out to the reader:
First, we need to always pursue peace with all people (Jesus is the Prince of Peace).
We CANNOT see the Lord if we are not holy. We need to be set apart and live like Jesus.
We can, even if we are Christians, fall short of the grace of God if we do not strive for holiness. If a Christian is “once saved, always saved,” then how can they fall short of God’s grace? This doctrine may cause many to stop trying to be what they need to be; at the same time, the writer’s warning that we can fall short should cause us to be more diligent in what we do in our walk with the Lord.
The “root of bitterness” suggests that there is a possibility that bitterness will surface in our lives. Bitterness is anger or resentment at being treated unfairly. Resentment then leads to “bitter gall” or bitter hatred. If we continue in the sin or resentment that causes the bitterness, it can lead to hate. How do we become bitter? One way is if we have unresolved sin between brothers that are not dealt with in the way God has instructed in Matthew 18.
There are some very clear warnings and lessons to Christian concerning this. If a Christian remains a fornicator he or she will be defiled and will come short of the grace of God. If a Christian is profane (the Greek word here is used to discuss “a person who crosses a threshold” — the idea of going too far) they will fall short as well.
The writer gives us the example of Esau. He sold his birthright to Jacob (Genesis 25:29-34). To us this would not be a big deal (unless the estate consisted of millions of dollars), but at that time the first born would inherit the estate. Esau exchanged the birthright for a bowl of red stew. He despised what was his and sold it for some stew that satisfied him only a short while. How often do we exchange the gracious gifts of God for some worthless thing of this earth?
Esau sought the birthright later but was rejected. He could not regain what he lost, even though he repented later and sought it earnestly. Sometimes we cannot regain what we have lost because of bad decisions and sin in our lives, even though we do repent. We have to start where we are and strive for the holiness God wants us to have.
The stress of the Hebrew writer is that we pursue peace and holiness. Some might think these places a great deal of responsibility on us, and it does. The faithful in Hebrews 11 pursued holiness so that they could see God. They erred at times yet were faithful to the end. What are you pursuing? Are you pursuing holiness?
unrighteousness of all sorts is bound to increase; for, if we are no more than animals, why should I respect a man’s rights any more than I would respect the rights of any of the lower animals? As ungodliness increases, crime of all sorts is bound to increase.”