Exhort One Another

Exhort One Another- Heb 3:12-14

 

Introduction

  • Our family loves the Olympics. Every two years we make it a priority to tune in to the summer or winter games. We love the competition, the various events, the amazing athleticism. We can’t decide what we like better; the summer or the winter games. And within those games, it is hard to say which event is our favorite, because we like so many of them. But for the majority of the events, one thing is essential that you cannot neglect if you want a shot at a medal. You must finish. You must finish your race or your routine if you want to get the hardware. You may begin with excellent start out of the gate, make all your turns to perfection; but if you stop before the finish line, you are eliminated from your change at the podium.

 

  • Throughout the New Testament, the Christian life is likened to a race. And, like any race, it is a race you must finish. But unlike other races, failing to finish doesn’t merely ruin your chances at first, second, or third place. Failing to finish the Christian race ruins your chances at heaven. It doesn’t matter how glorious our beginnings were; if we do not make it to the end, we will not be saved. Jesus said: “The one who perseveres (or endures) to the end will be saved.”

 

  • But many of us tend to think of salvation exclusively in past and present terms. “I was saved or I am saved.” But Scripture also speaks often of salvation in future terms. What we can call future salvation or final salvation. You were saved when you believed in Christ, you are being saved as you continue to believe in Christ. And you will someday be finally saved.

 

  • Matt 24:13: But the one who endures to the end will be saved

 

  • Rom 5:10: For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life

 

  • Rom 13:11: Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed

 

  • 1 Thess 5:9: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

  • 1 Peter 1:3-5: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

 

  • 1 Peter 1:9: Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1Pe 1:8-9 ESV)

 

  • When Christ saves us, he saves us with a secure salvation. Christ will not let us go (John 10:27-30; Rom 8:31-39). But the question we neglect to ask is “What does it mean to be held onto by Christ? It means that he will keep us believing. Let me ask you: How were we saved? We are saved by faith. So how does God keep us saved? By enabling us to continue to believe. In order to make it from initial salvation to final salvation, we must continue to believe, in real time. How does God do that?

 

  • As we will learn today, one of the primary ways he keeps his people believing is by giving us relationships within the church. And not just any relationship, but relationships that regularly stir us up to faith and repentance.

 

  • The church—particularly your local fellowship of believers—is one of God’s primary means of your perseverance. God will make sure that his elect continue to believe until the end and make it to heaven. He will guard their faith (1 Peter 1:5). And one of the primary ways he does this is by giving us the church.

 

  • That is what we will see in today’s text.

 

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 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. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Heb 3:12-14 ESV)

 

  1. The Warning (v. 12)Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.

 

  • First notice the word translated as “take care” in the ESV and NASB is a word that basically means, “look.” “Look out for,” “pay attention,” “open your eyes.” There’s no passivity here. There’s no room for shyness or being pre-occupied with your own life and problems. You are to be actively interested in your brothers and sisters’ lives and you love them so much that you know how to speak a word of exhortation into their situation.

 

  • And this is not merely when you see a brother or sister drifting away. We all need regular exhortations from each other. That’s why the author of Hebrews says, “Today.” This is a regular, constant, ongoing ministry. We will talk more about this in a little bit.

 

  • But also notice that he says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” We need to be clear at this point.

 

  • (1) He is talking to believers. He says, “Take care, my brothers, lest there be any of you…” He is talking to the church. He is talking to believers.

 

  • (2) He is warning the church that none of the professing believers in their midst be found with an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. Let’s be clear: to fall away from the living God is to apostatize. To fall away from the living God means to walk away from Christ for good. It means that you will not be going to heaven. So here’s the application for GBF: Take care, my brothers and sisters, that there not be any among you that have an evil, unbelieving heart that causes them to fall away from the living God.” Take care that there is no one in the young adult group, in the young professionals group, in Sam Kim’s class, in North of 40, in the young couples with kids class, in the women’s ministry, who drifts away from Christ and fails to make it to heaven.

 

  • Now, some of us might scratch our head at this statement. “You can’t talk to believers like that! A believer won’t fall away from the living God.” Well, that’s true. A genuine Christian will not fall away from the living God. But that’s precisely the point. God holds the believer secure by keeping them in the faith. And one of the chief ways he keeps you in the faith is by using individuals in the church to warn and exhort you so that your heart will not become evil and unbelieving.
  • Brothers and sisters, listen: one of the chief ways God is keeping the person sitting next to you from bailing on Christ is their relationship with you. Your relationships in the local church are one of the primary ways that God keeps you believing in him. These gospel-centered relationships are how God keeps you in his secure salvation.

 

  • Again, let’s be clear. This is not a warning that some of who we perceive as our brothers and sisters may become less fruitful due to sin. The warning is that some of the professing believers around us—those who we are confident are Christians—may become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and not go to heaven.

 

  • But you might be thinking at this point: Doesn’t this imply that a genuine Christian can lose their salvation? No, not at all. That would be to misunderstand this passage and the whole argument of Hebrews. By using the expression, “brothers,” the author of Hebrews is simply speaking from his limited, finite perspective. He is writing to professing believers, but he—like you and me—is unable to see inside of each heart to know for certain who is truly regenerate. A person who I have good reason to believe is my brother in Christ may turn out not to be.

 

  • But to call someone my brother in Christ who has given me good reason to believe they are a Christian is to speak from a confidence, but not an absolute certainty, that they truly know Christ. That’s what we do as elders in the membership process. We seek to determine as best we can that your testimony is genuine. And when we are confident that it is, then we accept you into membership; we are saying that from the best of our ability we have determined that you are a believer. You are our brother in Christ or our sister in Christ.

 

  • But God hasn’t given to us the ability to know with certainty who is and who isn’t a Christian. When a person makes a credible profession of faith and there is good reason to believe they are a Christian, we are called to accept them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. And that is what is assumed in this passage. The author is referring to a church whom he believes are Christians. In fact, the author of Hebrew is confident that they are believers, for he says in Hebrews 6:11, after giving a severe warning to not fall away, “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.” And in Hebrews 10:39: “We are not those who shrink away and are destroyed.” In other words, I am giving you a series of serious warnings, and I am confident that you will heed them.

 

  • Let me help you understand this by applying this warning and instruction to myself. Let’s say that you have recently successfully completed the membership process. You have met with pastor Tim, shared your testimony with the elders, and demonstrated a clear understanding of the gospel. And the elders—including myself—all agreed that we have confidence that you are a genuine Christian. None of us have certainty that you are a Christian—we can’t see inside your heart; we don’t have a spiritual x-ray machine that allows us to see the Holy Spirit inside you. But based on the fruit that we see and the testimony we heard, we have confidence that you are a Christian. Ok. Now what? Well, based on this passage, it is still my responsibility to watch out for you and to make sure that you are never found with an evil, unbelieving heart. Why? Because, as we will see in more detail in verse 14, the genuineness of your profession will be proved by your perseverance in the faith. My job is not to see inside your heart; it is to accept you as a brother or sister in Christ, and then, by exhorting you and encouraging you, be one of the means by which God keeps you believing. And that is your role with your brothers and sisters at GBF according to this passage. This is not a call for suspicion of your brothers and sisters, and a constant wondering, “Are they really a Christian?” No. If someone has a credible profession of faith and they appear to be bearing fruit, accept them warmly and graciously as a believer…and continue to exhort them so that they won’t be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. That’s the dynamic at work here.

 

  • So, the implicit warning of this text is to guard yourself from an evil, unbelieving heart. But the main warning and instruction in this text is for you to be on guard for your brothers and sisters to make sure that they are not found with an evil, unbelieving heart. You’ve heard me say this before, but the answer to Cain’s question several millennia ago, “Am I my brother’s keeper” is a resounding “Yes!” You are your brother’s keeper. You are your sister’s keeper, according to this verse.

 

  • You should have a genuine concern When you start to see your brother or sister drift into sin, compromise, become indifferent toward Christ, and indifferent toward fellowship and accountability. When you start to see them have more relish for the world than for spiritual things; when you begin to notice that your friend’s financial and career interests are drowning out their spiritual interests; when you begin to see patterns of deception in the life of your brother or sister, your first impulse should be to exhort them; to stir them up to renewed faith and repentance so they won’t be fooled by sin.

 

  1. The Instruction (v. 13a) – “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,”

 

  • So, how do we actively take care that our brothers and sisters are not found with an evil, unbelieving heart? Verse 13 tells us. You might notice that the NASB and the ESV translate v. 13 slightly differently. The NASB says encourage one another; the ESV says exhort one another. The word here is “parakelow.” You might recognize that Greek word. The noun form of this word is used to describe the Holy Spirit. He is our paraclete. The Holy Spirit is our comforter and encourager and exhorter.

 

  • This distinction between these two major translations is actually helpful because this Greek word actually has shades of both meaning and is used throughout the NT to refer to both exhortation and encouragement. It can refer to strongly inviting someone, to urge someone, to admonish, to call for help. Most of us, I suspect, tend to think of encouragement and exhortation on two opposite ends of the lexical spectrum. Let’s consider both of these English words for a moment.

 

  • To encourage: to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope; to spur on; to give help to; give support and advice to (someone) so that they will do or continue to do something. The first definition highlights the structure of the word. To encourage is to endow with courage. Something has happened to sap you of the courage to move ahead and do something, so you need to be encouraged. We probably tend to think of encouragement as inherently positive. When someone discouraged we say words to lift them up from being sad and downcast about their circumstances or their walk with the Lord. So we encourage them. “I see the grace of God in your life.” “Think of the many ways God has shown his goodness to you.” “You are fruitful in ministry.” Our goal is to cheer them up. Why? So that they continue to move ahead in the faith and not become stagnate.

 

  • To exhort someone is to offer direct admonishment. to incite by argument or advice: to urge strongly; to give warnings or advice; another dictionary says that to exhort is to “strongly encourage.” For example, we notice sinful patterns in our brother or sister or a need to spur them on to change their thinking or behavior or affections, so we exhort them. Stop being lazy! Love your neighbor! Share the gospel! Repent of your sin! Stop looking at pornography. Quit complaining and gossiping. Quit wasting your life with video games, etc. That’s probably what we think of when we think of exhortation.

 

  • Now, the goal of cheering up a brother or sister is a worthy goal and a vital element of the Christian life. We should all seek to be more like Barnabus; that happy son of encouragement. To bring sunshine and hope to people’s lives through the encouragement of the Word. But we should also be ready to exhort one another with strong admonishment when the situation calls for it.

 

  • The question is, however, What does the author mean by using this word in this context? I believe, given the seriousness of the warning that the author primarily has in mind exhortation, which is why I titled the message, “Exhort one another,” and not “encourage one another.” The instruction is for believers to exhort one another—to urge, to firmly admonish each other. To speak serious, strong words into the lives of other professing Christians. But the definition for exhort I gave earlier actually highlights the fact that we cannot sharply separate encouraging and exhorting, which is why the two translation committees for the NASB and ESV were justified in using either of these two words.

 

  • We saw that one way to define exhort is to “strongly encourage.” And to encourage is to endow with courage; to provide support or inspiration so that someone will continue to do something they need to do. So there is important overlap in these two words. So, I would say that the text is calling us to strongly encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ so that they will continue in the faith and not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. And strongly encouraging will include elements of sharp admonishment and warm reminders of the goodness of God in the gospel.

 

  • We need utilize both in our ministry to our brothers and sisters so that they might not be fooled by sin. At the right times, we need to remind each other of the glory and goodness of God, the beauty of the cross, and the wonder of and worth of eternal life. Then there will be times when it is necessary to offer firm, serious admonishment and exhortation.

 

  • Illustration: If you are sitting as a passenger in a car with someone doing 75 mph toward a cliff, you may start with warm encouragements if you are a mile away, but the closer you get to the cliff, it will be time for serious, unwavering, courageous exhortation.

 

  • But the danger in drawing a distinction between encouragement and exhortation is that we tend to see encouragement as mainly concerned with a believer’s happiness; and exhortation mainly concerned with a believer’s holiness. This is an unfortunate dichotomy that we’ve allowed to develop in the Christian life. To be concerned about a person’s holiness is to be concerned about their ultimate happiness.

 

  • The very goal of this passage is to help our brothers and sisters avoid being deceived by the fleeting, paltry, unsatisfying, eternity-wrecking promises of sin and get them to press on to infinitely better enjoyment of Christ. The whole point of this passage is about exhorting our brothers and sisters to pursue a greater happiness than what sin can provide; namely, the blessedness of knowing Christ and eternal life.
  • “Today” – This is a regular, on-going, never-stopping ministry. We must be engaged in encouraging and exhorting and admonishing our brothers and sisters in Christ until they die or until we do.

 

  1. The Goal (v. 13b) – “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

 

  • So, we’ve heard the warning. We’ve received the instruction. We must exhort and encourage our brothers and sisters. We must bring the hammer of admonishment to break up any hardness and wake them up. And we must melt their hearts with the wooing and encouraging promises of the Scriptures. Why? Here’s the goal of this ministry: so that our brothers and sisters will not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

 

  • First, notice what we are seeking to avoid: hardening of the heart. Sin has a hardening effect on the heart and the mind. It deadens us to the Spirit of God and to spiritual things. It cools our affections for Christ and for the Word of God so that we begin to love the things of this world more and more. It hardens our mind from the ability to receive spiritual wisdom and instruction. Sin makes us insensitive to the pain and suffering of others. Sin douses our love for others. Jesus himself makes a direct connection between sin and the cooling of the affections for God and others. He predicts that this will start happening in abundance in the future, when the end draws near: Matt 24:12: “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”

 

  • What is causing this hardening? The author tells us: it is the deceitfulness of sin. Now, I think he could have made his point by simply saying that saying we need to be on guard so that our brothers and sisters are not hardened by sin. But he adds a description to sin, calling it deceitful. Sin hardens. But sin is able to harden because it infiltrates our defenses by posing as a good guy. How do opposing militaries infiltrate the other army’s defenses? One way is by disguising oneself as someone from that army, so that they see you as someone on their team and happily welcome you in. Sin is looking for ways that fool you into letting it in the door. How is sin deceitful?

 

  • Sin tells you that a little of it won’t hurt you.
  • Sin tells you that you can get away with it and not get caught.
  • Sin says that you are missing out on true pleasure if you avoid sin
  • Sin promises you high-quality, lasting pleasure, but it never delivers on its promise
  • Sin can appear harmless and advance on you slowly and imperceptibly. A little compromise here; a little lack of integrity there, a little lie here, a little half-truth there; a little pornography here, a little swimsuit issue there. Pretty soon you are caught in deception and sexual immorality that you never even thought possible.
  • Sin can cause you to justify your sinful pleasures and say that you deserve them. Your job is hard; life at home is hard; surely God won’t mind if I get a little sinful indulgence.
  • Perhaps most deadly: Sin disguises itself as something good. It will fool you into thinking that gazing lustfully at a woman is merely “appreciating feminine beauty.” It will trick you into thinking that your workaholism is merely your strong work ethic. Or that your laziness isn’t laziness, you just don’t want to become to engrossed in your work. Sin will trick you into thinking that hoarding your money is simply “acting wisely and thinking about the future.” It will fool you into thinking that your love of money is just “the enjoyment of God’s good gifts in my life.” Jesus said explicitly that money is particularly deceptive (Matt 13:22; Mark 4:19). You may start off well, but soon you become more and more dedicated to earning money, saving money, spending money, loving money. Money blinds you to spiritual realities and ties your affections to this earth.

 

  • So, sin not only hardens our hearts and minds and makes us numb to Christ; it is deceptive. We are exceedingly vulnerable. We are liable to deception. Don’t think for one moment that you are above sin’s deception. The point of this passage is to say that you are never above sin’s deception on your own. We need each other. Let me make this plain. If you are a drifting Christian, casually going from one church to the next, or merely coming for a couple hours on Sunday, in and then out, never digging in and developing sincere, holy, deep relationships with other believers so that you are putting yourself in the way of exhortation, you are endangering your perseverance in the faith. You are endangering going to heaven.

 

  • I have an ever growing list of former Christians who have left the faith, and it all started—or, at least, was when they started drifting from the accountability and safety of relationships within the local church. They started to resist exhortation.  (Illustration: hotel room with “the three”)

 

  1. The Reason (v. 14) – “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

 

  • Now we come to the grounding statement of this passage. This is the anchor to the other two verses. Why do we want to exhort and encourage our brothers and sisters and keep them from being hardened by sin? Because their perseverance is proof that they have truly come to share in Christ. If they don’t persevere, it shows that they haven’t shared in Christ.

 

  • Notice, however, that he is not saying that our perseverance is what makes us share in Christ or by our perseverance we will share in Christ. No. We don’t have to wait until heaven to find out if we have shared in Christ in this life. Rather, he says that our perseverance demonstrates that we have already shared in Christ. We have come to truly share in Christ if our first confidence—when we first believed the gospel and had assurance of our salvation—continues firm until the end. True faith is a persevering faith. True faith continues. True faith endures to the end.

 

  • The primary goal of this text, therefore, is not meant to cause genuine believers to doubt their salvation. It is meant to cause you to press on to full assurance; to hold that first confidence firm until the end. What is the first confidence? The conviction that Christ is real and true and beautiful. That the gospel is the greatest news in the universe. That Christ promised to save and you hold you firmly so that you will not be lost. Assurance of salvation is the goal of this text!

 

  • Connecting this verse to the previous verses, then, we must keep clearly in mind that brothers and sisters next to us—those who have professed faith in Jesus Christ—must continue believing if they are to show they have shared in Christ. God is using us to make sure that happens. The author of Hebrews doesn’t want us to be fooled at this point. Do not think that just because your friend previously professed faith, became a member of the church, appeared to bear fruit that everything is ok right now and you can just let them go on their own. God has placed you in their lives so that you might be one of the means by which their faith is protected; and you help protect their faith by exhorting them so that they won’t be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

 

Conclusion

  • So today we’ve heard a serious word. But it’s a serious word that is meant to lead to serious joy for you and your brothers and sisters in Christ. You may not have realized it until today, but one of the primary means that God uses to get his children safely to heaven is faithful gospel relationships within the local church. If you are resisting these relationships or find yourself presently without them, you are endangering your perseverance. You are endangering your entrance into eternal life. I want us to keep clearly at the center of our minds and hearts the vital importance of our ministry to our brothers and sisters in Christ. God has designed that our relationship with them is one of his primary means to keep them believing. Do not neglect this ministry. If you see spiritual indifference, a growing love for the world, pride, personal glory, the pursuit of a love for money, ask God for grace and exhort your brother or sister as long as it is called today, so that they might not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and fall away from the living God.