The Church's Commitment to Holiness (Hebrews Sermon 64 of 74)
May 06, 2012 | Andrew Davis
Church Membership, Marks and Purposes, The Purity and Unity of the Church, Church Dysfunction
Critical Aspects of the Local Church
Well, it's an incredible gift of God's grace and providence that today is New Member Sunday, and that we have the opportunity to read over again our church covenant, and there's a line in it that has been on my heart and has been growing in my mind since the very first time that we read the church covenant together, when I came here almost 14 years ago. And that is the statement, "We will watch over one another in brotherly love." I thought much about that, and I believe it to be the centerpiece of my calling as an elder, as an under-shepherd under Christ, to do precisely that. But this is something in the church covenant that we're promising to do, all of us, for one another. It's not specifically set aside for the elders of the church to do, although it very much is their work and the focus of their work, but it's something that we are promising in our covenant to do for one another. But what does it mean? What does it mean to watch over one another in brotherly love? If you look at the things that follow it in the covenant, how it talks about caring for the sick and the needy, and avoiding backbiting and tattling and other aspects, I think there are many churches that might not esteem the Word of God properly, that do that kind of good man, or type things.
Caring for the elderly, caring for the sick, visiting the sick, bringing meals to people, they do those kinds of things. But I think that the statement in the church covenant specifically has to do with spiritual shepherding of souls. And the premise behind it is... And just moving away from the covenant now to our text... The premise behind it is that just because you make an outward profession of faith in Christ, doesn't mean you're genuinely regenerate. Just because you make that outward profession of faith in Christ and you assemble together with the local church doesn't mean that you're saved." We understand that there has to be more than that profession. And we are in a section of scripture now which bears down on that and makes that clearer than almost any other passage in the New Testament. What does it mean for us to shepherd each other spiritually? What does it mean for us to look over one another's souls?
Now, this is not a new concept for us in Hebrews, we've seen it many times. We know that the context of the whole book of Hebrews is of Jewish professors of faith in Christ, those who had made a profession, an outward verbal commitment to Christ, who had even testified to it by water baptism, but who are under intense pressure by the surrounding, I think, Jewish community to give up their faith in Christ and go back to Old Covenant Judaism, go back to what was safe and comfortable. In our text, we're going to see also a pressure just from the world, in general, to just go to a secular, godless kind of life. Either way, to turn away or drift away or fall away from Christ is the danger that we all face everyday. And so the author to Hebrews has been dealing with this topic of apostasy, this danger of drifting away from Christ, of turning away from Christ. And we already saw that earlier in Hebrews 3, "See to it, brothers, 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." We have come to share in Christ, if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at first.
So that brings us right to Hebrews 12, where what's laid in front of us right at the beginning is a race to be run, as we saw a few weeks ago, "Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race marked out before us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." And so, we have this race to run and we have to have endurance for it. This latter stage of the book of Hebrews is very much... The author is really bearing down on this issue of endurance, perseverance in the Christian life. And, in this case, it's in the context of Christian community, that we are together going to help each other. And so, in Hebrews 12:1, we have this race that we are to run, a race of holiness, a race of endurance in the face of persecution and opposition.
And then, last week, we saw how the Father helps us in that race by disciplining us, when needed, for our sins, for our transgressions. And so we are told on to endure hardship as discipline. And so there's again that issue of endurance, of staying under it and letting that discipline have its work. And all of us needs it, because we have a Roman 7 struggle with sin, the very thing that we hate, we do. And the very thing that we would do, that we yearn to do, we do not do. So we struggle with the flesh, all of us struggles. And so the Lord disciplines us, he says, so that we may share in his holiness. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore... " We're in our text now, that's the context.
I. Strengthen Your Weak Members for the Race (vs. 12-13)
"Therefore, strengthen those feeble arms and those weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed." And so we have this command. Now, it's not clear whether the individual is being addressed, or whether the community, the church, let's take it both ways. These verses speak an individual word to us to not grow weary and get discouraged in the Christian race. And that as you see yourself drooping and sagging in the Christian life, spiritually, you see your hands hanging down, is literally what it says here. Your knees are buckling, you're getting discouraged in the Christian life, then strengthen yourself in the Lord, be strong in the Lord and his mighty power. Go back again to God's word and strengthen and renew yourself in Christ.
Strengthen your own feeble arms and weak knees. And that's, I think, completely valid. The text being quoted here, the author is constantly quoting Old Testament text, even if you're not sure that he is, he probably is. And it's just a river of scripture coming all the time. The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. He's just constantly quoting the Old Testament to us.
This is Isaiah 35. And the context in Isaiah 35 is of the judgment that God is going to bring on Judah, in Jerusalem. He's going to bring a judgment by the Gentiles. But in due time, in Isaiah 35, he's going to restore the nation, and he's going to make the desert bloom like the Garden of Eden, and therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and your weak knees. God is going to restore you, he's going to establish you, really, is a picture of final salvation, that beautiful flowering of our relationship with each other and with God. And so don't get discouraged as you're being chastised by God, don't get discouraged as you're going through hard times because of sin, because God is going to establish and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. But I don't think that the individual focus is primarily right here. I think he's really talking to the whole church. And he's really asking us to develop a horizontal eye toward the brother and sister in Christ, strengthen each other's feeble hands and weak knees.
Look around you. Notice and see what's happening in the lives, spiritually, around you. And it takes a special discernment. It's really, in some sense, not hard to see, although sometimes it can be, but not hard to see if somebody's physically ill, maybe their pallor is a bit off, they've got beads of sweat on their forehead, or some symptoms. Doctors in our midst are better at it than we might be. Harder to do spiritually, though, to see if someone's sick or weak spiritually, you really have to know and be known there, and be in those close relationships one with another. And so I do think that the Lord is speaking to us, as a congregation, to notice what's going on with each other spiritually. And I think there you just have to have relationships with people, you have to spend time together. So tonight, when you go to Home Fellowship, I don't mind, there's nothing wrong with some chit-chat or talking about the weather, or current events, that's fine, that's normal. We do that. But don't let it stay there. Go deeper. Go deeper, talk to each other, ask each other real, genuine questions.
How is it going with you spiritually? How is your soul? Are you healthy spiritually? Do you feel like you're thriving or are you weakened? Are you struggling? How can I help you? How can I strengthen your hands that are hanging down? How can I lift you up? The image here in the word strengthen is of building something back up that's been cast down. I get the image, biblically, of Nehemiah going to Jerusalem, and the wall's just rubble, just a pile of rubble. And he's going to have to take and just restore that wall out of, more or less, the same building materials. And to some degree that's what you're doing, in a loving way, with a brother or sister in Christ. They're just... They feel like... Spiritually, like they're rubble. And they're just down, and you just want to build them back up. And so I think that's what the Lord is commanding on us, commanding us to do, that we would strengthen those feeble arms and the weak knees, and it says make level paths for your feet.
The word paths here is of a cart that leaves tracks. And so, you can imagine, back in those days, that there's just these cartwheels that you're going, and it leaves a track in terms of where you're living and where you're going. It has to do with the direction and the flow of your life. And he says make level paths for your feet. This is, again, another quotation. This one from Proverbs 4:25-27. There the proverb says, "Let your eyes look straight ahead of you. Fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet. Take only ways that are firm and do not swerve to the right or to the left. Keep your eyes from evil." So it's just a total focus, just go straight ahead, do not turn to the left or to the right. Now, you know I love Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress', and there's just such truth in that allegory of the Christian life, and it just presents the Christian life as a journey, from that initial justification at the cross all the way to the celestial city, which is heaven. And there's a journey to be traveled. But one of the basic rules of the road, so to speak, in 'Pilgrim's Progress', is you've got to stay on the highway, stay on the road, don't get off it ever.
And there's one section of the story that teaches us very, very clearly, they're on that way leading to the celestial city, the straight and narrow way, but it's gotten very difficult. There's a climb involved, and it's steep, and it seems to be filled with rubble, and they notice, right alongside the highway, a very smooth and comfortable meadow with lots of soft grass for their feet. And the only thing they need to do, because it, more or less, runs along the same way, is they just have to jump the fence, and just go along there for a while, and then they can easily jump back in the future. Bad mistake. Even as you're reading it... If you've never read it, it's like, uh-oh, don't do it. They jump the fence, they go into By-path Meadow, and they do not notice that, little by little by little, it's diverting from the straight and narrow way.
They didn't notice it. It was comfortable to them, they made a choice for personal ease and comfort, but it led them gradually slowly away from the straight and narrow, and they got lost. And night came, and a storm came, and they couldn't find their way back. And suddenly, the next morning, Giant Despair sees them, arrested them for trespassing on his property, and threw them in Doubting Castle, and pressed on them over the next number of days to commit suicide. And they got more and more desperate. In my opinion, it was the worst trial that Christian ever faced, and it all started so innocently. You just make a choice for personal ease. A choice, a little... Little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and things just get a little bit easier for you spiritually, and next thing you know, you don't know where you are.
And so, the author says to make level paths for your feet. Stay on the straight and narrow. Don't make your life difficult by getting off of the path, that's what he's saying here. And do that for each other. If you sense there's a brother or sister wandering, you say, "You know, I think you're off the path. How can I help you get back on? How can I help you get back going again with the people of God, and with the Lord? What can I do?"
And so that's what he is saying here. So the lame may not be disabled, but rather, heal. The idea is of a limb put out of socket or out of joint, it's out of socket, it's out of the place where it needs to be. And so it's painful sometimes to put it back in the socket, but it's got to be back in there. So it's speaking, I think, of a member of the Body of Christ that's not settled in where he or she needs to be. And we are to be spiritual physicians. And though it may be somewhat painful to get it back in the socket, that's what has to happen. So that's the image that the author gives here. We are to watch over one another in brotherly love, dear friends, we are to be engaged with each other, spiritually, we are to care about what's happening spiritually, in each other's lives. That's a healthy church. In the next verse, he talks about a pursuit. Part of the shepherding that we have for one another, and part of the love that we have for one another is to make sure that we are at peace with one another.
II. Pursue Peace with Everyone (vs. 14)
It says, in the NIV, "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy. Without holiness, no one will see the Lord." And so the Greek word here is pursue or hunt peace. As it says in another Psalm and in 1 Peter, seek peace and pursue it. Our God is a God of peace, amen. Isn't it glorious? Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and because we have peace vertically with God, we have peace with brothers and sisters in Christ too. And we are in a relationship of peace with each other, as we are in a relationship with peace with God.
And yet, for all of that, the world, the flesh, and the devil constantly assault the bonds of peace between Christian brothers and sisters. It's constantly under attack. All the time our pride, our selfishness, our anger, our sin seeks to sever the bonds of love that we have with one another. And so this could be referring to the peaceful relationship that we should have with any other human being, anybody, it doesn't matter whether they're Christian on non-Christian, and that's a valid New Testament theme, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men, that's Romans 12. And so whatever you can do to get along with your co-workers or your non-Christian neighbors or others, do it. But I don't think that's what the author is talking about here. I think what he's talking about here is intramural peace, peace within the church, seek peace and pursue it. There are many verses in the New Testament that teach this. It says in Ephesians 4 in verse 2, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace."
Think about in Philippians, where, in chapter 2, Paul says, "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but, in humility, consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus," Who also had, of complete humility. And so why does he say this? Because they're human beings. The Philippian church was healthy, it was fruitful, God blessed that church and they were a blessing to him.
Things were generally good, it wasn't like the Corinthian Church or the Galician church, where there were so many significant problems, but yet, for all of that, the Philippian church, there was still some divisions and problems. In chapter 4, in Philippians 4, you have these two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, and they are not getting along. And Paul is grieved by this, he said these ladies have helped me in my ministry, both of them have. God's at work in their lives, but they just don't seem to like each other. They don't seem to be able to get along. And so, he pleads with this other person, some translate it true companion or loyal yokefellow, this other individual, will you please help these two ladies to get along?
Just like he says, in Corinthians, "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." So there's many verses that talk about this. So this must be a big problem in the Christian life, friends. Galatians 5 says, "If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out, or you will be destroyed by one another." And that's... He goes right from that to talking about the acts of the flesh, and many of those acts of the flesh dissensions, factions, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, that's acid poured on the bonds of love that we have with one another.
III. Pursue Holiness... Or You Won’t See God (vs. 14)
And so, therefore, as we're watching over one another in brotherly love, we have to seek peace and pursue it. Practically, what does it mean? It means don't harbor any resentment against one another, forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. And it means, in Romans 14, don't flaunt your freedoms in front of others, just because you can eat meat sacrificed to idols, if your brother or sister can't, you're violating their conscience, to do it right in front of them. Don't do it then. Do everything that leads to peace and to mutual edification, Paul explains in Romans 14.
And so many, many verses teach this, and so we, at FBC, we need to be zealous concerning this, we need to be sure that we are pursuing peace with one another, and doing whatever it takes to keep that unity and that piece. Now, the second part of the verse, you're not getting today. I know it's in your outline, but you're not getting it today. I'll tell you, next week, why you're not getting it today. I'll tell you a little right now. I consider Hebrews 12:14 one of the single most important verses in the whole book of Hebrews. I consider Hebrews 12:14 to be one of the single most important verses in the Bible, so it's not going to be a sub-part of this sermon, it can't be. I'll tell you more next week, but what does it teach? What it teaches is that you are to pursue or to seek after, to energetically drive after a holiness that, if you don't have that holiness, you will not see the Lord.
It's a verse that can be very confusing to some people, because it seems to teach justification by works, when it doesn't. And so, next week, I want to work on it in depth with you, to show you what is this holiness that we are to pursue, why is it that, without it, we will not see the Lord. We're going to talk about that next week, but it's really at the center of this text, so I want to mention it. The yearning, the drive for personal holiness is really the center of this whole wheel, it's the desire that each member of the church be conformed to Christ. That's the race that we're running with endurance, and that's what we're trying to do as we shepherd one another.
IV. Oversee Yourselves in the Grace of Salvation (vs. 15-16)
And so, moving from that, we are called on, therefore, to oversee ourselves in areas of personal holiness. So, we're somewhat hindered by me not stopping and doing 12:14 right now, but just defer it to next week, because all of the things that follow in this section talk about personal holiness issues. "See to it, brothers, 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."
See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral or is godless like Esau. These are matters of personal holiness, and this is really the centerpiece of the shepherding that we do for one another.
And now, I've held back from you, until now, this marvelous verb in verse 15, NIV just gives, see to it. But it's... Episcopal is the Greek word, and I don't usually like pronouncing Greek words, accept that I want you to see the significance of it. It's from which the Episcopalian denomination gets its name, but it really is translated, usually overseers, overseers, Episcopos, to oversee. It's almost a literal translation, to stand over and watch. And so, obviously the elders, the overseers in the church are to do these kinds of things, but they're not addressed directly here, except as members of the congregation. This is something we're supposed to do for one another. This is your watch over one another in brotherly love verse, this is it, Hebrews 12:15. So, watch over one another so that no one misses the grace of God. Do you see? We're going to shepherd one another. We are going to look over one another and be sure concerning this issue.
See That No One Misses the Grace of God
Now, what does it mean then? What is the author talking about here? See to it or shepherd one another so that no one misses the grace of God. This is a very, very important issue, what is the grace of God here, and what does it mean to miss it? Well, I believe the grace of God is everything the book's been unfolding about the work of Jesus Christ in our lives, it is the priestly ministry of Christ where he offered his own blood as a sacrificial atonement for us. As our high priest, he pleads on our behalf, at the right hand of God. This is the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ, how God sent his son, who is the radiance of God's glory, and the exact representation of his being, sent him into the world, the God man who lived a sinless life, did all of these miracles, signs, and wonders to identify himself as God's son, but primarily came to obey God's law perfectly, and then to give his life as a ransom for many, whose blood was shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, and who was raised from the dead on the third day. And by faith in Jesus Christ, all of our sins can be forgiven. This is the grace of God in Jesus, this is the gospel, the good news of Christ that we've been unfolding all these many months in the Book of Hebrews.
It's enough to get sinners like you and me to heaven, amen? Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, and this is the grace of God in Christ. And if I can just pause and say, every week, we pray and we yearn that unbelievers would be here and have an opportunity to hear this, and hear it. If you know yourself to be outside of Christ, let me speak to your heart right now. Don't miss the grace of God. The word here means to lack it, to come short of it, to lack the grace of God. And so, I'm pleading with you that you would not lack the grace of God. And you might wonder how can I receive it? All you have to do is look to Christ with the eyes of faith. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, not might be saved, will be saved. All you have to do is call on Jesus, even in your heart, and say, "I'm a sinner, I've broken God's laws, I violated his commands, and I have no hope. Apart from Christ, I'm lost."
This is the grace of God here in verse 15. Now we are told to see to it that none of us come short of that grace. So what I think it means is what I said at the beginning of the message, making an outward simple profession of faith in Christ is no certain proof to the outside world that you are genuinely born again. We can't know your hearts, so we're supposed to shepherd one another, we're supposed to be involved in each other's lives, and be sure that everyone has genuinely come to a saving knowledge of Christ. We're not making simple, childish assumptions here. Now, I know that there can be a harsh way of doing this, we're not advocating that at all. There is something called the judgement of charity, we accept one another. Somebody comes to me and tells me they're a believer in Christ. I believe it, for what it's worth, my belief, I mean. If they want to become a member of this church, we ask some more questions, lots of them, but we know that the asking of those questions, they can be answered. Laura said, "I knew all the right Jesus answers." That's not enough.
What actually is enough is a new creation, amen? A transformation of the heart by the spirit, see to it that no one misses that grace of God, that there's actual evidence of regeneration.
See That No Bitter Root Grows Up
And he goes on from there to say that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. What is this bitter root? Well, I know what bitterness is. Bitterness is something that's wretched in your mouth. I remember, when I went on my first mission trip, we talked about this before. I had to take an anti-malarial medicine called Chloroquine. The quine part, I think, is related to quinine. It is as bitter as anything I've ever put in my mouth, and, to boot, it was incredibly water-soluble, so as soon as I put it on my tongue, it immediately started to melt. So I got to experience the bitterness.
So what I would do is I would kind of suck all of the moisture out of my mouth, get my tongue as absolutely dry as possible, get the drink ready, put the thing on my tongue and just wash it down immediately. And it usually worked, except one time, it got caught between my molar and a cheek there, and just melted, 100%. Two hours later, I'm still tasting quinine, oh, is it bitter. So, in scripture, bitterness has to do with sin, and it has to do with something that you want to spit out of your mouth. But this is called a bitter root. So the idea here is of something that's hidden, a bitterness that's hidden. Now, there are two great possibilities for this. One of them, I think, is it may just be the issue of unforgiveness in the Christian body, that a bitter root could be a broken relationship in which someone is going through the motions of forgiveness, but hasn't really forgiven. And so there is a bitter root, and that interpretation is, I think, supported, in one sense, from Ephesians 4:31-32. And there it says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as, in Christ, God forgave you."
So it links bitterness to forgiveness, and I think that's important. An application for us, a practical application is clear, do you, are you harboring any bitterness against a brother and sister in Christ here, for any reason? Something that they have done to you, something they've said, something they didn't do or didn't say. Sometimes those sins of omission can be just as fostering of bitterness as... You went through it a certain time in your life, you went through some illness or a surgery, and you had thought that people would do this and that, and they didn't, and then you feel unloved, you feel unwelcomed. Friends, we need to do better at those kinds of things, but just providentially, from time to time, you may find yourself, at least in one relationship, wondering about someone, because of something they didn't do. And some bitterness can creep in, and it can be very poisonous. Or it could be something more severe, something that actually was done. And bitterness is submerged anger, it's down below the surface, and at some point, it's going to come up. So I think that's a possible interpretation, but I don't think that's actually what the author is talking about here.
Actually, he's quoting Old Testament scripture again. Here, he's quoting Deuteronomy 29:18. And in Deuteronomy 29, Moses... God talking to Israel through Moses, as they're just about to enter the promised land, and he is saying that when you go in there, you're going to be surrounded by a bunch of pagans, and they're going to have sensual, wicked religions that are going to be very alluring to your flesh. Deuteronomy 29:16-18, "You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. 18 Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison."
That's what the author's quoting. And so, the issue here really has to do with the way we relate to the world, worldliness, idolatry. And the things that flow right from this statement support what it is I'm saying. See to it that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. This is an individual who, outwardly, you thought was a Christian, but in their heart, they're not. Well, if they're not a Christian, then what are they living for?
That No One is Sexually Immoral or Godless
Well, this world. They're living for the things of this world, they're living for the gods of the Canaanites, they've gone after that stuff, but it's secretly... It's why it's a root, you don't see it. And so, what the author is doing is saying when this kind of person is exposed, get rid of it. See to it that there is no such root among you, because it will defile many.
I think this is really dealing with the issue of church discipline on serious sins, because he goes on from here, "See that no one is sexually immoral or is godless." One translation... I think a better translation is it talks about fornication, the sin of fornication, see that there is no fornicator among you.
Fornication is sexual relations between unmarried people, as distinguished between adultery, where one... At least one of the partners is married. So the sin of fornication is highlighted here. Back in the ancient Greek world, at that time, it was thought to be a light thing, not a serious issue, really, unless a pregnancy resulted. Even among Jews of that time, they thought as long as you do it with a non-Jew, you're fine. The attitude is very loose. It was the Gospel of Jesus Christ that shone the light into this dark area of the human heart, which has been a weakness ever since Adam and Eve fell in the garden, ever since their eyes were opened and they realized that they were naked and they couldn't handle that kind of disclosure, and God definitely agreed because he made coverings for them out of animal skin. In effect, our souls... John Bunyan, another allegory, 'The Holy War', likens the individual human soul to a walled city, a walled fortress, he calls it Mansoul.
And, basically, in effect, if you notice all of the enemy running to a certain place in the wall and focusing all of their attention there, you can be sure they have discerned a weakness in your defenses. Well, do you not see Satan putting a ton of effort toward the sexual side? We are assaulted every day by sexual temptation, every day, males and females alike, assaulted with it. It's impossible to be in this world and not be assaulted with it, but it's getting worse, through the media, through the movies, through the internet, even through smartphones, through the mall, through... All kinds of things, images can flow into your mind and heart and defile you and draw you away. Many other verses talk about the sin of adultery, this talks about the sin of fornication.
Young people can think it's no big deal to be together sexually. Well, it is a big deal. It's a devastating sin. And so the author is commanding us to be sexually pure. Not only that, but in connection with 1 Corinthians 5, if there's anyone exposed who isn't sexually pure, we are told very plainly, in 1 Corinthians 5, to expel the wicked man from among you. And the mentality is the same, although the image is different, here, it's a bitter root that grows up and defiles many, there it's yeast that spreads and defiles many, but the answer is the same in both cases, get rid of it. Now, you may say, "Is there no mercy? Is there no forgiveness? Is there no grace?" Of course there's grace. We already talked about it. See to it that no one misses the grace of God. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. Most interpreters of 1 and 2 Corinthians say that this very same sexually-immoral individual later repented and was brought back into sweet fellowship with that church, and Paul commanded them to welcome this one back because he has been brokenhearted, and sought forgiveness, and is genuinely repentant. But without dealing with the sin, the Church cannot maintain its holiness and its purity. And so he warns, see to it that no one is sexually immoral, or, he says, is godless.
V. A Picture of Apostasy: The Godlessness of Esau (vs. 16-17)
And, in doing this, he brings in this example of Esau, this godless man "who, for a single meal, sold his inheritance rights as his oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears." So here, we have this example, this central biblical example of the godless man. The word translated godless here is the word profane, to profane, let's say, a holy place. You could imagine someone going into a shrine, a sanctified place, and just taking some spray paint and just spraying graffiti, all of it, that's the image of profaning something. But this was a profane man, and Esau is the quintessential anti-example of what the author to Hebrews wants us all to be. For chapters now, the author to Hebrews has been highlighting faith, and living for another world, living for a glorious and beautiful world that is yet to come. And he said, "Remember those earlier days when you first received the light? When you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison, and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property because you knew that you had better and lasting possessions"
And then, in chapter 11, he talks about faith being the "the assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not seen." And that, by faith, we yearn for the reward that God alone can give. And in 11:13-16, he talks about people who consider themselves aliens and strangers in this world, just passing through, who weren't looking for any permanent dwelling place here, they were looking ahead to a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God. And so God is not ashamed to be called their God for he has prepared a city for them, and they're living for that future city, living by faith, like Moses, who didn't hold on to a comfortable pleasure-filled life in Egypt, but gave it away so that he could suffer with the people of God. These are people who wandered around in deserts and caves and holes in the ground, they were persecuted, mistreated, men of whom the world was not worthy, the scripture says. That's what the author's been celebrating.
But now you have Esau, what's he like? What does he live for? It says, in Philippians 3, there's a kind of person whose God is their stomach, that's Esau. You remember what happened in Genesis 25, he comes in from the field, and he's famished, he's hungry. His God is calling to him, "Esau, Esau, time for a sacrifice." He's hungry, stomach's growling. And there is Jacob, twisty, crafty Jacob, and he's making some stew, real mama's boy, I guess, and he's just cooking, and he's a good cook. And Esau is hungry and he sees the stew and he smells the aroma, his stomach grows even more, and he says, "Quick, give me some of that stew." And what does Jacob say? "First sell me your birthright." Then comes the fateful statement, "I'm about to die. What good is my birthright to me?" "Swear to me first," said Jacob. So he swore, he served the meal, included bread, so that was good, so he had the stew and the bread. He sat down and he ate the whole thing, and it says, very plainly, coldly, "He ate and drank, and then got up and left, so Esau despised his birthright."
What would you sell Jesus for? What would you trade... What earthly thing would you trade your place in heaven for? What good is my birthright to me? And so, for a single meal now... Not a year's worth of meals, wasn't worth that much, just one meal, the author really stresses this, a single meal, he sold his birthright as firstborn son. If you look later, in the next text, not next week, but the next text, he talks about the church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven.
That's you, friends. Brothers and sisters, you are part of the church of the firstborn. What is your inheritance worth to you? Esau was godless. He lived for this world. The world is constantly clamoring for your attention and saying, "Live for me. Live for a good meal, live for good sexual encounter, live for a beautiful spouse, a nice home, a good paying job, a degree from a prestigious institution, accolades of the world, a nice vacation, just the stuff of this life, live for that. The other stuff isn't worth anything. It isn't," so they say. "You can't taste it, you can't see it, you can't hold it. Is it even real? A bird in the hand's worth two in the bush. I'm not going to live for pie in the sky, by and by. I'm not going to do that. I'm going to take the bird in the hand right now, it makes me happy."
Do you realize how much we are assaulted with that mentality everyday? Every temptation that comes and panders to your lusts and panders to your flesh is the spirit of Esau all over again. It's a devastating thing. So it was just an instant, it came on him in an instant. In an instant, he sold his birthright, but it was confirmed over decades of unrepentance, because the final act of that drama didn't come until Isaac was laying in his deathbed, and he wanted to just have one more meal to share with his son, and then give him his patriarchal blessing, the blessing of heaven, and then die. So he went out to hunt, Esau did, and he came back, but by the time he got back, the patriarchal blessing was gone. He had maybe 50, 60 years to repent of selling his birthright, never did. There was no God in him, he never thought about God. And afterward, when it was gone, he sought the blessing, he did not seek the God who gives the blessing. You can easily misunderstand this text. Some of the translations give us a sense that Esau was seeking repentance, and he couldn't find it. I don't understand that. How do you seek repentance and not find it?
I think the NIV does a good job of translating. He's really trying to change Isaac's mind, it's his father's change of mind. He said, "Bless me-me too, my father!" And he cried and wept bitterly. That's what the author is talking about here. So he's trying to change his earthly father's mind, he's not thinking about God, because, in his mind, there's no room for God, he's not thinking about him at all. Don't misunderstand. Jesus said, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." And so, therefore, "Ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened."
So you say, "Well, how do I apply this? What do I do with this? Well, simply put, be warned about the spirit of Esau, it's worldliness. Do not exchange your place at Jesus's table for a single meal or a whole series of meals. Don't live for earthly things. And if you say, "Well, how do I engage the world? How do I use the things of the world, but not be enslaved by them? Well, get involved in a good church. And FBC, let's be a good church. Let's help each other, let's ask real questions, how are you doing with the things of the world? Are you enslaved by anything? Is there anything you're living for that you think has too hard a grip on your life? Is it computer games? Is it movies? Is it hobbies? Is it a person, a relationship? What is it?
Let's help each other with this. But this Esau, there was no redeeming him, he was rejected by his earthly father, and had been rejected before eternity began by his heavenly Father, who he... Was not his father, because Jacob I loved, and Esau I hated. Esau is the quintessential reprobate, and just, in space and time, lived it out, a life of worldliness.
Dear friends, God is calling us, in this text, to be a genuine Christian community that shepherds one another, watches over one another in brotherly love, cares intimately about each other's spiritual wellbeing. Read over this text, pursue peace with one another, strengthen those feeble arms and weak knees, pray for each other, help each other run. Sometimes you have to prop somebody up for a few miles along this arduous road. Do it. Build deep relationships with each other. Close with me in prayer.