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On Preventing Shipwrecks

On Preventing Shipwrecks

Here is an excerpt from "Running The Race Together Part 1–Help Each Other To Keep Going: An Exposition of Hebrews 3:12-13":

We do not want our fellow churchgoers to leave Christ behind, and Hebrews 3:12-13 is designed to prevent catastrophic spiritual failure. In other words, mutual exhortation is preventative in nature. The daily exhortation is supposed to prevent something – it is supposed to prevent the hardening of the heart, it is supposed to prevent evil and unbelief from getting the upper hand, it is supposed to prevent “[falling] away from the living God.” I fear that too often we sit on the sidelines while others are in the process of self-destructing, and we don’t do anything about it until when? Until they are already “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,” until they are already ‘out the door’ so to speak, until they have already settled into their rebellion, until they are already far from God. Then we go to them and make an appeal. Well, I’ve got some sobering news for you: the purpose of the exhortation in Hebrews 3:13 is not to rescue those who have made a shipwreck of their professed faith. What is the purpose of the exhortation? It is to prevent shipwrecks: “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Although it is good and right to preach the gospel to shipwrecks, we need to reckon with the actual purpose of mutual exhortation and mutual encouragement as it is set forth in Hebrews 3:13. Don’t miss this: if we refuse to exhort one another on a regular basis, then we are refusing to do the very thing that is designed to prevent the hardening of the heart; then if we only begin to exhort people whose hearts are already hardened, we are operating outside of the purpose of Hebrews 3:13. Hebrews 3:13 is not a cure for spiritual hardening; it is, rather, a God-ordained measure to prevent the hardening of the heart. Hebrews 3:13 is not a post-catastrophe recovery strategy; it is, rather, a pre-catastrophe security system that is designed to prevent the catastrophe from taking place.

What this means, really practically, is that we need to be out in front – way out in front – of the potential catastrophes, and encourage and exhort, strengthen and support, counsel and correct. Let it not be said of us that we saw the warning signs, but didn’t say anything. Let it not be said of us that we saw the warning signs, and only prayed, but didn’t say anything. Yes, pray! But this passage says “exhort,” open your mouth, speak! Let it not be said of us that we thought it wouldn’t go beyond the little things, the small sins, the minor compromises, and so we didn’t say anything – and then we act all surprised when we wake up and learn that he finally left his wife. Small wonder, that, because sin is sin, and it is the nature of sin to grow, and it is the nature of sin to first slow you down, then take you off course, and finally slay you. And you saw the slow down, you saw the tiny deviations, but you didn’t say anything, because you were afraid, or you didn’t think it was your place. And yet, it is! It is your place!

Because the living God has spoken and said to the church, “exhort one another every day,” you don’t need anyone’s permission to step in with a word of truth. God has commanded that you do so, which means it is your place to do it. You don’t need my permission to exhort me to treasure the gospel, or to keep my eyes on Jesus, or to be gentle in my dealings with other people, or to be faithful in preaching the Word, or to be a loving husband and father.