Running The Race Together Part 1
Topic: Love For One Another Passage: Hebrews 3:12–13
RUNNING THE RACE TOGETHER PART 1–
HELP EACH OTHER TO KEEP GOING
An Exposition of Hebrews 3:12-13
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: June 23, 2019
Series: Running The Race Together
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT
Holy Scripture says:
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 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.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
Lord-willing, today’s sermon is the first in a series of five sermons that bear the title “Running The Race Together.” As Christians, we are like runners in a race, and the goal is to keep running until we cross the finish line.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Our Lord Jesus Christ “endured the cross” as the appointed pathway to everlasting glory and joy. Those who follow Jesus must progress along the same pathway that leads to the glorious finish line of eternal rest and unending joy. “[Let] us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Unlike a competitive track meet that results in an individual ‘first place’ winner, the runners who are running the race called ‘the Christian life’ are called to run together: to help each other to run, to keep going, to persevere all the way to the end and so cross the finish line. Part of running well as a Christian is to help my brothers and sisters run well, too, as we see in the Hebrews 3 passage: “… exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
The reality that we must face is that we are weak runners who are vulnerable to losing our zeal for running, even to the point of eventually falling out of the race entirely. We can lose our spiritual edge of “looking to Jesus” and trusting in Him and resting in His finished work on the cross and walking in close fellowship with Him. We can lose our theological edge that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one and only way to the Father, and that the Bible is the divinely revealed and utterly reliable Word of God. We can lose our relational edge of loving one another and cultivating peace within the body of Christ. We can lose our moral edge of pursuing holiness and living sacrificially for the good of others. A serious decline on any of these critical edges can cause us to turn back and opt out of the race.
And let’s be honest: sometimes it is not so easy to keep going, is it?
There is a powerful scene in the movie The Two Towers, which is part of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Frodo has this nearly unbearable burden of carrying ‘the ring of power’ to Mount Doom. It is as if he has to bear the power of evil on his own shoulders, without succumbing to its enticing power, until it is cast into the molten lava. On this epic journey, he faces all kinds of difficulties and trials, all kinds of opposition and pressure to turn back and opt out of the journey. At one particular point, he is almost ready to throw in the towel, and he speaks honestly to his dear friend, Sam.
Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam: There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.
What was so capably expressed in the land of Middle Earth is, in fact, the stuff of real life in the real world. We live amid “darkness and danger,” and a heavy shadow overwhelms. And the question for us as Christians is: Will we keep going, or will we turn back? “Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.” And we are holding on to Someone. Like the folk in those great stories, we also have “lots of chances of turning back.” Will it be said of us that “only [we] didn’t”?
The author of Hebrews is very concerned that the professing Christians to whom he is writing keep going forward and not turn back. The true Christian life is not a matter of coasting along, but a matter of pursuing and running and striving. There must be a deliberate effort to run, and to help others run, until we cross the finish line together.
THE VULNERABILITIES THAT SPIRITUAL RUNNERS FACE
Now in order to appreciate the instruction of Hebrews 3:12-13, it is helpful to scan the book of Hebrews and take note of the fact that the people addressed are a people who were at risk for losing their spiritual, theological, relational, or moral edge. And the author of Hebrews doesn’t want them to lose their edge, doesn’t want them to get off the track, doesn’t want them to fall back. Listen carefully to these passages and feel their urgency.
Neglecting and Drifting
First, there is the possibility of neglecting the wonderful salvation that is found in Jesus, or “[drifting] away from it.” After highlighting the splendor and supremacy of Jesus in Hebrews 1, the author says at the beginning of Hebrews 2:
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3)
There is no middle ground here: we are either devotedly attentive to the gospel of Jesus Christ, or we are drifting from it; we are either paying attention to the message of salvation, or we are neglecting it. And the stakes are high.
Dullness and Immaturity
Second, there is the possibility of becoming dull and stuck in perpetual immaturity. In Hebrews 4:14–5:10 Jesus is set forth as the “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14) who is “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). Then the author says,
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14)
We cannot help but be immature in our early days as a Christian, but we ought to grow up in our understanding and become competent to teach others. We ought to always be eager learners and sharp hearers, who are first nourished by milk and who then advance to solid food, thus becoming mature enough to feed and lead others. We must beware of the very real possibilities of stagnancy, stunted growth, and dull ears that are no longer responsive to the truth of God’s Word and at risk of leaving the good and right ways of the Lord.
Throwing Away Your Confidence
Third, there is the possibility of throw awaying our confident expectation that one day the faithful will inherit eternal glory. Our vision must not be dimmed, and our confidence must not be shaken. The author writes in Hebrews 10:
“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:32-36)
In this context, “[throwing] away your confidence” involves no longer believing that you have a better and abiding possession waiting for you in glory. The opposite of throwing in the towel is enduring [“For you have need of endurance”], staying on track and sticking to it because you believe the promise and you believe with all your heart that God “rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). The sufferings and persecutions and losses are totally worth it, because your true and heavenly home awaits.
What will you do with “drooping hands” and “weak knees”?
Fourth, there is the possibility of adopting a passive ‘there’s nothing I can do about it’ or ‘it doesn’t really matter’ outlook. Do you think the Christian life is difficult? Do you think the path of obedience is costly? Do you think the world’s disapproval of you because you are a Christian is more than you can bear? Do you think mending relationships is too much trouble? Do you think that temptations to sin are too many, and that holiness is beyond your reach? Do you think that you are too weak to make any progress? Well, Hebrews 12 tells us to get our eyes on “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and to get our eyes on our faithful heavenly Father who “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebews 12:10) and, with our gaze fixed on heaven, we are to stand up and run! “Consider him [Jesus] who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Hebrews 12:3) Don’t pout, don’t be cynical, don’t have a defeatist mindset, don’t say ‘whatever will be, will be’ with fatalistic resignation. Look to Jesus, lean forward, and run!
“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” (Hebrews 12:12-17)
Are you seeing the concern that weighed on the heart of the author of Hebrews? He was looking at runners who had “drooping hands” and “weak knees”; at runners who had some debilitating lameness; at runners who felt tempted to throw in the towel; at runners who had dull ears and wandering eyes and who consequently might possibly neglect the gospel and drift away from its saving power.
In Hebrews 12:13, lameness represents a middle position between spiritual health and spiritual ruin: “so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” Lameness healed, and weak knees strengthened, and peace and holiness pursued, is spiritual health, which leads to the ultimate future blessing of seeing the Lord in glory. But lameness that gets “put out of joint”, and peace and holiness rejected, and immorality and unholiness embraced, is spiritual ruin: such a person “fails to obtain the grace of God” and, like Esau, is rejected by God and reckoned unfit “to inherit the blessing.” Here again, the stakes couldn’t be any higher.
THE MINISTRY OF MUTUAL EXHORTATION EXISTS BECAUSE GRAVE DANGER EXISTS
It is within the context of these spiritual vulnerabilities, with eternal glory and eternal condemnation at stake, that we come to appreciate the need for mutual encouragement and exhortation. To put it simply: according to Hebrews 3:13, the ministry of mutual exhortation exists because grave danger exists. Our passage says,
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 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.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
What is the danger? The danger is that “any of you” might have an evil heart that is hardened and solidified in a condition of unbelief – that is, not trusting God, not treasuring His promises, and not walking in obedience to His instructions. Instead of trusting in God, the “evil, unbelieving heart” trusts in the façade of sin. Sin is deceitful: sin puts on a good face, sin looks appealing, sin promises to satisfy you. But the pleasures of sin are fleeting (Hebrews 11:25), short-lasting, fast-leaving pleasures, and behind the smiling face of sin there is a bloody sword that slays its victims. The tragedy of “an evil, unbelieving heart” is that once it becomes a solidified and settled disposition, it “[leads] you to fall away from the living God.” This ‘falling away’ is apostasy – departure from the faith – that leads to damnation. Just as so many ancient Israelites did not enter God’s rest because of their disobedience and unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-19), so it is possible for people who associate with the Christian community to fail to reach God’s rest and “fall by the same sort of disboedience” (Hebrews 4:1-11, quotation from v. 11). So the author of Hebrews says to the Church: “Take care, brothers”; be on your guard; be sober-minded and serious about your spiritual health and the spiritual health of your brothers and sisters.
We understand that it is not good to be dull and droopy, weak and lame, tempted to throw away and drift away, or on the verge of a weary and faint heart, and yet we often find ourselves in such a state. But it is very important to understand that when we are in such a state of spiritual weakness, we are able – by God’s grace – to recover our footing. This is why Hebrews was written: to encourage weak runners to become stronger ones; to encourage weary saints to persevere; to encourage dull disciples to be re-sharpened in their spiritual growth; to encourage suffering believers to endure all the way to the finish line.
Some, no doubt, will turn back. The truth has been well said: “the same sun which melts wax hardens clay.” And in a community of weak spiritual runners, the true believers are softened by the ministry of God’s Word and softened also by the difficulties of life (because they face those difficulties as cheerful servants of Christ), and so they draw near to God and grow in His grace and “go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1) and bear good fruit and endure suffering. The pseudo-believers, by contrast, are hardened by the ministry of God’s Word and, at the same time, they are hardened by the difficulties of life, and so they turn back from following Jesus, and thus prove to be strangers to God’s grace.
The Doctrine of Perservance
Now before we go any further, I need to set forth an important clarification. If you do not understand this clarification, then you will not properly understand the instruction in Hebrews 3:12-13. The needed clarification is that it is very important to understand that ‘falling away’ is not the loss of salvation, but rather proof that one was never truly saved in the first place.
There are always two ditches that lie on either side of the road of truth, and people are very apt to fall into either of these ditches. One ditch teaches that a true believer can lose his or her salvation (in other words, that a true believer can “fall away”). The other ditch teaches that a true believer can walk away from Jesus and live an unfaithful and disobedient life, and yet still be considered a true believer. The true biblical doctrine, however, rejects both errors. It is true that a true believer cannot lose his or her salvation, but it is equally true that a true believer will persevere in the faith and pursue a holy life. Douglas Wilson is right on the money when he says: “We are not saved by putting on a life jacket, but rather are saved by putting one on and keeping one on.” This is correct: true, saving faith continues to lean on Jesus and keeps on living and growing in Him.
Hebrews 3:6 and Hebrews 3:14 are the key verses here. Verse 6 says: “And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” Similarly, verse 14 says: “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” What both of these verses teach us is that perseverance is the proof that one truly belongs to Christ. We are God’s house now, we belong to God now, we have already come to share in Christ, we belong to Christ now, if we continue in the faith, if “we hold fast our confidence” and “hold our original confidence firm to the end.” This ‘holding fast’ is not a theoretical affirmation that the gospel is true. People who say that they believe that the gospel is true, but live as if it isn’t, are not ‘holding fast’. ‘Holding fast’ means we “hear his voice” (Hebrews 3:7, 15; Hebrews 4:7) and “do not harden [our] hearts” (Hebrews 3:8, 15; Hebrews 4:7) and do not “go astray in [our] heart” (Hebrews 3:9) and do not “fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12), but instead we stay close to the living God, trust Him, and obey His voice. As verses 6 and 14 make clear, persevering in faith is not a strategy for becoming part of God’s house and coming to share in Christ in the future, as if our perseverance is currency that purchases heaven. The text does not say that if we persevere, then we will come to share in Christ. Instead it says that “we have come to share in Christ,” if we persevere. In other words, persevering in faith demonstrates that we already have become part of God’s house and that we already have come to share in Christ.
The other side of the coin is that failing to persevere in faith, and getting a heart that is solidified in disobedience, demonstrates that a person was never truly born again in the first place. The person may have had some profound spiritual experiences earlier in life, they may have found the Bible or worship services or Christian fellowship very interesting or inspiring at an earlier point in their life, they may have made some sincere efforts to reform their life, but the gospel never took root in their heart – and the fruit of their superficial acquiantance with the things of God is now evident as they harden in unbelief and fall away to their own ruin.
As the true believer ponders these things, he or she doesn’t get complacent and doesn’t get into a coasting mentality, but is ready to heed the instruction of Hebrews 4:11 – “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Or in the words of the apostle Peter, the true believer is ready to “make [his] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10), and so make a straight path for his feet as he journeys toward that glorious day when he shall be received as a faithful son into the glories of God’s everlasting kingdom (2 Peter 1:10-11). The true believer who has drooping hands and weak knees, and whose ears have gotten a bit dull, and who doesn’t see as well as he used to, doesn’t reason ‘it doesn’t matter’. Instead, the true believer rises up and says I want to follow my Lord, I want to recover lost ground, I want to finish strong, and I want to help others make safe passage to glory.
THEREFORE, “EXHORT ONE ANOTHER EVERY DAY”
So the stakes are high, our weaknesses are real, and we are surrounded by ‘a clear and present danger’, namely, “the deceitfulness of sin.”
Therefore, “exhort one another every day.” Not only do I have a responsibility for myself to lay aside weights and sins in order to “run with endurance the race that is set before [me],” but I also have a responsibility to help you do likewise, to help you run, to help you keep going. This is articulated throughout the New Testament, including at least twice in Hebrews.
In Hebrews 10 the author tells us that in light of glorious gospel that brings us into fellowship with the living God, we ought to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) We have a mutual responsibility “to stir up one another” – specificially – “to love and good works.” We have a mutual obligation to “[encourage] one another.”
Then here in Hebrews 3: “exhort one another every day.” We need continual exhortation and encouragement in order to remain faithful to God and thus prove to be a true part of God’s forever family. While simple words of sentimentality might have their place, what is envisioned here is a serious and profound ministry to one another. Let’s look at the goal of this serious and profound ministry of exhortation that we are supposed to exercise one to another.
The Goal of Exhorting One Another
One way of stating the goal is by considering what it is we’re supposed to help others avoid. We don’t want a professing brother or sister to have “an evil, unbelieving heart” that leads them “to fall away from the living God.” Instead, we want them to have a healthy, believing heart that leads them to receive God’s Word with meekness (James 1:21) and draw near to the living God (Hebrews 4:16, 10:19-22) and stay close to Him. We don’t want a professing brother or sister to “be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Instead, we want them to have a soft, tender, teachable heart that is always drawn to the beauty of God’s righteousness and is eager to live a holy life.
Another way of stating the goal is to look again at verses 6 and 14 (of Hebrews 3). Here the goal is that our brothers and sisters continue to hold fast to the confidence and hope that we have in Christ, thus demonstrating the reality of their relationship with Christ. This holding fast to Christ doesn’t take place in a vacuum, but amid the trials of life that tempt us to turn back. According to a recent prayer guide: In Iran, five female converts from Islam were arrested by the authorities and interrogated for 10 days. They wanted these women to forsake Christ and return to Islam. The prayer guide went on to say: “Iranian Christians ask us to pray for her and the four other women, that “God will help all Christians who are arrested and interrogated in Iran to stand firm in the faith.” Stand firm. Hold fast. Persevere through trial. Your trial may be very different than theirs in terms of outward circumstance, but the fundamental issue remains the same: will you cling to Christ and follow Him through the pressures, or will you do what is expedient, take the easy way out, and leave Christ behind?
Exhorting One Another is Preventitive
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 preventitive 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.
EXHORT ONE ANOTHER IN FOUR KEY AREAS
Let me conclude by highlighting four categories where it is especially important to “exhort one another daily.”
1) Exhort Your Brothers and Sisters to Look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2)
First, we need to “exhort one another daily” to look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). We need to remind one another that Jesus is a great Savior, and that His gospel is all-sufficient to save us and sustain us, now and forever. This is foundational gospel truth, and it is emphasized throughout the book of Hebrews. This sermon series is probably going to intimidate some folks, and even this sermon today will be a turn-off to some people if they take it to be a policing, moralizing, judgmental, critically-minded exhortation. But it’s not like that at all! Yes, there is a moral dimension to it, but the center and heart of this mutual exhortation is ‘hold fast to Jesus’; trust Him; brother, sister, it is true that you are a sinner, but your sins don’t have the last word because He made atonement for your sins and by His blood you are cleansed; He is the great high priest who intercedes for you; He has gone before you into the heavens and He invites you to meet Him there at the throne of grace; brother, sister, it is true that you are weak and vulnerable to temptation, but He is seated at God’s right hand and is ready to help you in your battle against sin (Hebrews 2:16-18, 4:14-16); you are prone to all kinds of suffering and persecution and loss in this fallen worl,d but look to Him – He “endured the cross,” He “endured” hostility, He endured shame and mistreatment, because He was looking ahead to the promised joy and the fulfillment of God’s glorious plan for His people. Therefore, look to Him, lean on Him, and follow Him.
One of our most basic problems is that our eyes wander, and one of your jobs is get my eyes looking at Jesus again. If you get the sense that I’m always talking about politics, or always talking about coffee, or always talking about essential oils, or always talking about the stock market, or always talking about me, you ought to give me a gentle nudge and remind me that “Jesus is fairer,” “Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer / Than all the angels heaven can boast.”
2) Exhort Your Brothers and Sisters to Pursue Holiness (Hebrews 12:14)
Second, we need to “exhort one another daily” to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14). Hebrews 5 describes maturity in terms of being able to competently “distinguish good from evil” (v. 14), with the obvious implication that we are choosing and following that which is good. Hebrews 12 urges us to pursue holiness and to steer clear of immorality and unholiness (v. 14, 16). Hebrews 13 warns us against immorality, adultery, and greed (v. 4-5). Hebrews 10 directs us toward “love and good works” (v. 24). Trusting Jesus necessarily leads to a transformed life, and we need encouragements to pursue it and grow in it.
Some years ago I was sitting with some friends and one friend was selling his car to another friend, and they were discussing some of the detail right there in my living room. The buyer, a dear Christian brother, had a really bad idea, namely, that he wasn’t going to report the sale price to the Department of Motor Vehicles, largely because he thought it was unjust for the state to collect taxes on the sale of the vehicle. We were sitting there in my living room, and I immediately confronted him about it. I mean, why wait? Why let him slide into sin? Why not nip it in the bud? So, I exhorted him, and he received it. Although he didn’t change his mind that it was unjust for the state to collect taxes on the sale, he did change his mind about reporting the sale price to the DMV. Since he really was paying for the vehicle, to write down a sale price of $0 would constitute lying, and lying – he well understood – is a violation of God’s law. So, he left that conversation resolved to tell the truth. It was good for him and his conscience, and it was good for the moral integrity of our church family, that he would act and speak honestly to the DMV.
3) Exhort Your Brothers and Sisters to Pursue Peace with Other People (Hebrews 12:14)
Third, we need to “exhort one another daily” to pursue peaceful relations with other people, especially within the body of Christ. The command that we “[strive] for peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14), in conjunction with the command to “exhort one another,” has the implication that we ought to help others walk in “peace with everyone.” I fear we let too many negative attitudes, critical comments, and broken relationships fester within the church family. We attempt to manage these broken relationships in all the wrong ways, like by avoiding the other person or talking about it with everyone else, when what we ought to be doing is seeking peace through direct conversation with the relevant person. You should resolve to be a dam against the flow of gossip, slander, and unrighteous anger – and instead of welcoming it and becoming a conduit for its passage, you should push back and, with gentleness and love, tell the gossiper, slanderer, or angry person to go the person with whom they have an issue and work it out peaceably for Jesus’ sake.
4) Exhort Your Brothers and Sisters to Endure Suffering (Hebrews 10:32-39, 12:1-11)
Fourth, we need to “exhort one another daily” to endure suffering. The suffering may be persecution, or difficulties in marriage or parenting, or frustration in singleness, or financial pressures, or challenges in the workplace, or declines or setbacks in your physical health. The reality is that people are often overwhelmed by life, and one of our responsibilities is to help them hear God’s Word in the midst of their suffering, to encourage them to trust God’s promises in the midst of their trials, and to exhort them to keep going all the way to the finish line. “For [we all] have need of endurance” (Hebrews 10:36)!
The Lord Jesus Christ “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18) and is able to supply mercy and grace “to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16), and the way that we help those who are being tempted or who are weak and in a time of need is by what? By pointing them to Jesus. The author of Hebrews calls his entire letter a “word of exhortation” (Hebrews 13:22), and its central message consists of the unique excellence and saving power of Jesus Christ. “[Look] to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2), “[consider] him” (Hebrews 12:3), “hold fast” to our confidence in Him (Hebrews 3:6, 14; Hebrews 4:14), and “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16), and thereby endure in your running, in your striving, in your obedience.
A CLOSING WORD: WE NEED ONE ANOTHER
Brothers and sisters, we need one another – we need one another as a God-ordained security system that prevents catastrophic spiritual failure and promotes continued and increasing love for the gospel, fellowship with Jesus, holiness of life, care for one another, and endurance through suffering. It is our privilege to run the race together and then, some day, to cross the finish line together.
In light of Hebrews 3:12-13, is there a phone call you need to make? A letter you need to write? A lunch meeting you need to schedule? A visit that needs to take place? A relationship that you need to build or re-build? A small group that you need to join, or start, or re-start, or expand? It would be a shame to affirm the general value of mutual exhortation, only to do nothing with it. Yes, it would be a shame, and it would also be disobedient. Why not rather be part of this God-ordained security system that is designed to promote spiritual vitality of your fellow Christians?
We Don’t Get Very Far Without Each Other
At the end of that movie The Two Towers, which I quoted from earlier, there is another beautiful scene that captures the truth of which we have spoken.
Sam: I wonder if we’ll ever be put into songs or tales.
Sam: I wonder if people will ever say, ‘let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring.’ And they’ll say ‘yes, that’s one of my favorite stories. Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, dad.’ ‘Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that’s saying alot.’
Frodo: Huh, you left out one of the chief characters – Samwise the Brave. I want to hear more about Sam. Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam.
Sam: Now Mr. Frodo, you shouldn’t make fun. I was being serious.
Frodo: So was I.
The truth is that we don’t get very far without one another, and that’s just the way God planned it. So “exhort one another every day,” and “[encourage] one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Let us pray.
 Douglas Wilson, “Colossians as Cornerstone #2.” February 9, 2019. Available online: https://dougwils.com/the-church/s8-expository/%EF%BB%BFcolossians-as-cornerstone-2.html.
 From the hymn “Fairest Lord Jesus.”