Captured And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 12:12-17 – Spiritual Maintenance Check

Grace For The Journey

We are studying verse-by-verse through Hebrews and we pick up in today’s blog at verse 12, Hebrews chapter 12 and picking up at verse 12.  I want you to see the layout of the passage.  When we began chapter 12 on Tuesday, we looked at the opening two verses, verses 1 and 2 and we talked about how the Christian life is a race (verse 1).  We run this race with our eyes fixed upon Jesus (verse 2).  We live our Christian lives like a runner running a marathon, pressing onward as we go with our eyes looking to Jesus.  In verse 12 the writer comes back to this running metaphor, “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet …”  What is between these two pictures in verses 3 through 11 is teaching about the loving instruction and discipline of God.  In His love, God causes us to grow in holiness.  By working through our painful circumstances and persecution, God helps us grow in godly living.  That is the point of God’s discipline.  It is has a good result.  It may not seem so at the present, but it does.  That is what the writer says in verse 11, “Now no chastening (or discipline) seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

God’s discipline is a good thing.  You can trust Him.  He is a good Father.  He does right.  Your adversity, your difficulties, and your persecution are not there because God is punishing you for your sin.  If you are “in Christ” your sins have already been punished.  Jesus took upon Himself all the punishment for all sin.  God is not punishing you, but lovingly leading and guiding you, as a good father lovingly leads and guides a son or daughter.  A good father.  Remember that God is not like your earthly father.  Our earthly fathers may have been good or not so good, but God is the always good Heavenly Father.  

This connection to the discipline of God is important because the first word of verse 12 is, “Therefore.”  We have seen that it is a word that points back to what precedes it. We’ll talk more about that in a moment, but for now I just wanted you to see that connection before we read the text.

The writer would have us stop, observe, and check out how we are living the Christian life and adjust where necessary.  That is especially evident in the first couple verses of our passage.  We are to live the Christian life with endurance setting and fixing our eyes on Jesus.  We may hit some facing hardships and persecution, but God will be at work in our lives, through loving discipline and instruction to keep us looking to Jesus.

Verse 12 says, “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.”  As we are running the race of life, we are to observe how we are doing.  Are we getting tired?  Are our hands beginning to droop?  Are we getting weak?  Are our legs getting limp, and our knees feeble?  The writer here in verse 12 is quoting from Isaiah 35:3, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.”

The important question here is, “How does the writer want us to strengthen ourselves?”  In what way are Christians to be strengthened?  Note that the first word of verse 12 is “Therefore,” a word pointing backward to what he has just said.  And he had just been talking about the loving God who disciplines us as we run.  Verse 6 says, “For who the Lord loves He chastens,” or disciplines. 

The first action is . . .

1) Be Strengthened By God’s Love – Verses 12-13.

It would be bad if we read verses 12 and 13 and just sort of “drummed up” our own strength by self-effort and will power.  He is not saying, “Come on, get your act together and tough it out!”  He ties the imperative action of “strengthening our hands and feet’ in the indicative truth of God’s love.  In other words, . . .

Know that God in His love

Is with you as you run,

Working in your life

For your good.

God is up to something in the center of your suffering, persecution, trials, and difficulties.  God is up to something good.  God has not abandoned you.  The Lord loves you.  Be strengthened this week as you run the Christian life, being strengthened by God’s love.

In light of your knowledge of God’s love and that He seeks to work in you “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (verse 11) or, a peaceful harvest of right living, godly living, in light of your knowledge of God’s love, strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.”  You can hear the writer saying, “Do not give up!  Do not be discouraged by all that has happened.  Stick with it!”  There are times in our lives where we just want to quit.  We have taken a beating.  We are living for the Lord and things start falling apart – Difficulties . . . Pressures . . . Persecution.  You have been hurt and you are “playing hurt” and you are waiting for someone in your corner to throw in the towel.  

Verse 12 comes along like a “check-engine” light.  Verse 12 says to you, “Whoa.  Stop a moment.  Check under the hood and see what is wrong.”  Have you forgotten that God has not forgotten you?  In His love God is working “the fruit of righteousness” in your life, helping you become more like Jesus.  Get back in the race.  But be strengthened by God’s love. 

Verse 13 declares, “And make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.”  The writer may be thinking of Proverbs 4:25-27, “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.  Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.  Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”  The idea then is to not fall into sin.  He is exhorting his readers to make straight paths for their walk with the Lord by clearing away obstacles, every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares.  Do not fall into sin, or be pulled down by sin, as you run the Christian life.  When you sin, it is like you have been running and you step onto an uneven surface or into a hole.  And if you have ever been running in a physical sense you know how that feels.  You can sprain an ankle or dislocate something.  You get “out of joint” and it make it difficult or impossible to keep going.

The writer’s main purpose here

Is to encourage Christians.

He is saying, “When you live the Christian life this week, do not become discouraged, do not give up.  Do not give in to the temptation to leave the race, to step out of your lane, and sit on the sidelines.”  No.  He is saying, “Press on by calling to remembrance God’s love for you.  Be strengthened by God’s love.”  God is working in your life to bring you to greater heights of godly living and Christlikeness.  He knows what He is doing in your life.  So, press on, being strengthened by God’s love. 

Secondly . . .

2) Be Steadfast In Godly Living – Verses 14-17.

What follows in verses 14 and following is a call for righteous, godly living; namely growth in holiness.  Verse 14 says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”  Wow – do you see that? 

Holiness is not optional.  

Holiness is essential

If we hope to see the Lord

In the sense of experiencing

His presence in our lives.

And to see Him

In heaven

When we die. 

The only way we are made acceptable in God’s sight is by being holy.  Buy, the Bible teaches that we are sinners.  We are sinners by nature and by choice.  We are not holy by nature or by our effort and we need to be made holy if we hope to be in God’s presence.  The Bible teaches that only the righteousness of Christ is what makes us acceptable to God. 

There is a righteousness that we have in the Lord Jesus

And

A righteousness we have as we live out the Christian life.

  • There is the imputed righteousness of Christ that makes us acceptable to God; our position in Christ makes that this possible, thus we refer to this righteousness as positional righteousness. 
  • There is the practical righteousness, the righteousness we display as we practice or live out the Christian faith.  This is what the author has in mind when we writes of our holiness.

The writer in verse 14 is talking about a righteousness that Christians have as they grow in the Lord.  In other words, if you have become a Christian you will produce what the Bible calls in verse 11, “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”  It does not mean that you will do this perfectly or that you will not at times slip into sin.  It just means that over the course of our Christian lives we begin to look more and more like Jesus.  We grow in righteousness.  This is the holiness about which the writer is talking here: “holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”

Holiness is not optional.  Holiness is required of every Christian.  Holy living is what happens in the lives of true believers.  Growth in the Lord.  A person who says they are a Christian but there is no holiness – no evidence of “the fruit of righteousness.”  As someone has said, “Where there is no fruit, there is no root.”  There is no new life. 

New life in Christ means

New actions,

New desires,

And new fruit.

What does that fruit look like in the believer?  Verse 14 indicates that a true believer will seek to be at peace with all people.  Much like the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”

You may not attain peace with everyone,

But

You must pursue peace with everyone.

Our Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).  We are to press on, being steadfast in godly living, pursuing peace with all people. 

Verse 15 says, “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.”  This verse calls for the Christian community to watch over one another. 

The church is a body of people

Who look out for one another and

Are accountable to one another.  

There is a concern that goes beyond

The individual member himself

An outward in concern for

His brothers and sisters.

“Looking carefully” towards one another.  Verse 15 is a call for looking out for one another in the body of Christ.

This is why church membership is important.  When we become members of a church, we covenant with each other to model godly living.  Whether we sign a church covenant or verbally assent to covenant with one another, we are saying, “Yes, I willingly and gladly become a member of this church, putting my name on the line here with my brothers and sisters, my family, to whom I am committed, with whom I am connected, and to whom I am accountable.”

The writer has mentioned this before . . .

In Hebrews 3:13 he tells us that we are to “… exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”

And in Hebrews 10:24-25 he says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The writer instructs us to be, “Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God.”  We must look carefully around at one another and ensure that everyone is on the right path, on the racetrack, running the race, and following Jesus.  We do not want anyone to fall short of the grace of God, first and foremost falling short of the gift of eternal salvation.  And, we continue to look carefully lest anyone fall short of the ongoing grace of God, the grace that comes to the church through the preaching of the Word and living of God’s Word.  The grace of God that comes to us through church membership, through involvement in small group discipleship Bible Study, giving, missions involvement, and evangelism.  We are to continue to look carefully to make sure everyone is using his or her spiritual gift and growing in the grace of God rather than falling short of the grace of God.  That is why we minister one to another through phone calls, visits, deacon family ministry, and so on.  Because we want to press on, being steadfast in godly living. 

Look at the warning there in verse 15, “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.”  The danger is that failing to grow in Christ and holy living will be detrimental to our lives.  Rather than become better we become bitter.  Bitterness.  Someone said, “A bitter person is like a porcupine: they may have a lot of good points, but they are hard to be near.”  One of the things we are to do in our church family, one of the ways to improve in godly living, is to go on a “search and destroy” mission against bitterness.  We are to find it and deal with it.  Bitterness in a church is destructive to the entire body of Christ.  Bitterness is a harmful toxic in the church.  Bitterness in one person can grow and embitter others.  Resentment spreads like a wildfire, or an aggressive cancer when untreated.

We must first examine ourselves.  Is there any bitterness in our own life?  More broadly, is there any sin in our life that we need to confess and repent of so that we do no harm to others in the body?  While verse 15 teaches that we are to look out for one another, we are in no position to help our brother or sister when we have failed to first avail ourselves to the grace of God.  In other words, we have got to address our problem before we address the problems of others.

It is like the oxygen masks on the airplanes.  You remember what the flight attendant says?  Nobody listens to the flight attendants!  If you have flied on an airplane for business, or mission trips, or vacation, you know the drill.  The fight attendant stands in the aisle and says something like, “In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will deploy from the compartment above you.  Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally.”  I like that!  Breathe normally!  And then they say, “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, please secure your own mask first before helping others.”  Why?  Because you have got maybe 10 seconds of lack of oxygen before you start getting dizzy, and possibly pass out, and worse: die.  So “secure your own mask first before helping others” because you cannot help someone else when you are dead.  Take care of your own problems before addressing the problems of others.  Or in the words of Jesus, “First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5). 

Bitterness in the lives of others must be addressed.  Verse 15 warns: “bitterness springing up cause(s) trouble, and by this many become defiled.”  Like a spreading cancer, or blight on a tree, left unaddressed, it will spread.  We are to address the issue because of what it will do to the person and the health of the church family.

Continuing into verse 16, the writer shows why this is important as he says, “Lest there be any fornicator or a profane (godless) person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.”  You can read more about Esau in Genesis 25.  Esau came in from the field one day utterly weak and hungry and he saw his brother Jacob cooking a pot of stew.  Esau asked Jacob for some food.  Jacob said he would give him some if Esau would give him his birthright.  Esau, for what amounted to be no more than “one morsel of food sold his birthright,” his privileged position of the firstborn and all that that meant in terms of inheritance and blessing.  Gave it all away to feed his belly in a moment.

This is why the writer describes Esau as a “profane” or a godless person.  Because . . .

His sin of giving away his birthright

Was chiefly a sin against God,

The One who birthed him first,

the One who positioned Esau

First in order to work in and

Through him the privilege and

Status that came to the firstborn.

The writer instructs his readers to see to it in the body of Christ that they deal with things like bitterness otherwise there will rise up profane and godless people like Esau.  Or, there will rise up a “fornicator” as the writer puts it there in verse 16.  A fornicator is a sexually immoral person.  A person who has sex before marriage.  A person who is unfaithful in marriage.  Sexual immorality is one of the biggest cancers in the church.  It is probably mentioned here in connection to Esau because it is a sin that occurs largely in the same fashion as Esau’s selling his birthright.  Esau sought only immediate gratification.  He sought only to feed his base appetites.  Rather than cherishing the blessing of the firstborn and living for the Lord, feeding on the deeper more eternal satisfying things of the Lord, he sought to feed himself right now on the temporary, passing pleasures of the world.

A focus on immediate gratification leads to immorality.  A person who becomes sexually immoral is a person who feeds his or her appetites, yearnings for physical and emotional satisfaction by looking at pornography, or engaging in pleasing themselves through sex outside of God’s boundaries.  They fail to grow and experience a greater and more satisfying joy in the Lord Jesus Christ and our inheritance in Him!

Verse 17 says, “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.”  The phrase “for you know” implies that they did, in fact, know.  They knew their Bibles; they knew the story of Jacob and Esau.  Do you?  Are you reading the Word daily?  The point of verse 17 is that Esau could not undo what had been done.  He regretted what he had done, but he did not repent from what he had done.  He had tears because of the consequences of his actions, but there was no genuine remorse that led to repentance.

In 2 Corinthians 7:10 the Bible speaks of a godly sorrow that works repentance, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”  The idea is that worldly sorrow produces only death.  Godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to forgiveness and worldly sorrow produces only death.  There is a sorrow that is worldly.  It may involve tears and heartbreak.  But there is no change.  It is merely a sorrow because of the consequences.  When a wife finds her husband’s cellphone and reads the texts and calls out her husband for his infidelity, that unfaithful husband may say to his wife: “I’m sorry,” but he may only be sorry that he got caught.  If he is repentant, then he will confess that sin and forsake that sin.  That is godly sorrow that works repentance.

Esau was merely sorry for the consequences of his actions.  That he had blown and could not undo what he had done. 

He traded away God’s lifelong gift of blessing

To satisfy a short-term appetite. 

He left the race when his hands

Became weak and his

Knees became feeble. 

He wandered off-course.

Do not let the world get into your life that you wander off-course.

The moon is especially beautiful to us when it is big and full and shining in brilliant white light.  We know that the moon has no light in itself, but is merely reflecting the light of the sun.  The sun shining upon the moon makes the moon look clean and white.  The moon waxes or wanes relative to its position to the earth and sun.  During a lunar eclipse, you can only see part of the moon because the earth is in the way.  When the world gets in the way, you cannot see the moon.  What once was a beautiful sight of brilliant white light is covered up because of the world. 

Christians shine the light of Christ.  Christians reflect the light of the Son, S-O-N.  The light of the Son, Jesus, shines upon us.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” but the reason some people cannot see the light of Christ in our lives is because the world has gotten in the way.  When we become “worldly” and we fail to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us,” people cannot see Jesus in our lives because the world has eclipsed His light and His light does not shine on us.  

Christian, what things of the world are getting in your way?  What things need to be cleared from your path so you can run the race this week?  What sins do you need to confess and forsake?  Do that right now.  Just silently before God say, “God forgive me for that sin.”  Make straight paths for yourself right now.  “

If you are not a Christian?  The only way to be accepted by God is through the righteousness of Christ.  Turn to Jesus right now. This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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