ENCOURAGE THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY:
– TO PERSEVERE IN RUNNING THE RACE AND
– TO PURSUE PEACE AND PURITY
This passage continues the same context as the previous section which focused on Divine Discipline – not so much for addressing specific sin – but suffering and persecution which tests and builds character. Here the emphasis is on the proper response to that chastening work of the Lord. And the application includes both a personal focus and a corporate focus. There must be an mutual encouragement in both the areas of continuing to run the race of faith as well as to pursue peace and sanctification.
J. Ligon Duncan: The Christian’s walk in this life is not a solitary one. It may feel that way sometimes, it may feel like we are alone in that walk. But a Christian’s walk is not a solitary walk. We cannot go on in the Christian life without mutual support. We all, at times, need Christian friends to bolster flagging faith.
I. (:12-13) PERSEVERANCE IN RUNNING THE RACE PROMOTES A HEALTHY CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
A. (:12-13a) The Command (Action) – Encourage Perseverance in Running the Race
1. (:12) Shore Up the Weak Links (Isaiah 35:3)
“Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak
and the knees that are feeble,”
Get your second wind and get going
Richard Phillips: Like runners who see the finish line ahead, the readers of Hebrews are to take heart, lifting up their arms and legs to run the race to the end.
MacArthur: The writer of Hebrews got his metaphor from Isaiah. The faithful in Israel had been through a lot. They had many evil kings, some false prophets, generally disobedient and stubborn fellow Israelites, powerful enemies who threatened them, and seemingly no prospect of ever living in their own land in peace. They were discouraged and despondent, ready to give up. So the prophet reminds them of the coming kingdom, when “the wilderness and the desert will be glad” and “they will see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God” (Isa. 35:1-2). Then he counsels them to counsel each other: “Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you'” (Isa 35:3-4). In other words, “Don’t give up now. A better day is coming. Look to that and you will have the encouragement and strength you need. Victory is ahead!” The emphasis of Hebrews 12:12 is the same as that of Isaiah 35:3-4. We are not told to strengthen our hands or our weak and feeble knees, but the hands and the knees, regardless of whose they are. In other words, we are not to concentrate on our own weaknesses but to help strengthen other Christians in theirs. One of the surest ways to be encouraged ourselves is to give encouragement to someone else, “encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). One of the best ways to keep continuing is to encourage others to continue.
Kent: the main thrust of the admonition here is toward fellow believers, inasmuch as the local church seems to be primarily the sphere of the author’s reference in verses 13 and 16.
Leon Morris: The writer is mindful of the fact that Christians belong together. They must have consideration for the weak among their members, i.e., the “lame”. . . By taking care of the defective members of the congregation, the stronger members can help them along the way. Where the Christian life is in any way “out of joint,” steps should be taken to revitalize it.
2. (:13a) Stay in Your Lane (Proverbs 4:26)
“and make straight paths for your feet,
Spurgeon: We are to make straight paths because of lame people. You cannot heal the man’s bad foot, but you can pick all the stones out of the path that he has to pass over. You cannot give him a new leg, but you can make the road as smooth as possible. Let there be no unnecessary stumbling blocks to cause him pain. The Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, evidently cares for the lame ones. The charge he gives is a proof of the concern He feels. He bids us to be considerate of them, because He Himself takes a warm interest in their welfare.
Mohler: Should we fail to clear our paths, we will not find healing and will remain out of joint. It is what the second half of verse 13 teaches. It is common sense, but we have a hard time obeying this command. Rather than making our paths straight and running after Jesus, we avoid opportunities for accountability and entertain our sin just enough to keep it alive. The danger in this, of course, is that we are never healed, remain crippled in our sin, and eventually turn away from the Lord. Clearing our paths and following Jesus, on the other hand, will spiritually restore us.
B. (:13b) The Consequence (Goal) – Healthy Christian Community
“so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint,
but rather be healed.”
MacArthur: He’s saying, “Look, there’s no reason to run out of gas now; you’re to be renewed every day. Lift up our hanging arms, pump those feeble knees.”
What he’s really saying in athletic metaphor is get your second wind. Sure, the outward man is perishing, but what did Isaiah say? “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their” – what? – “their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” That’s a promise of God.
Well, these poor Hebrew Christians had become tired and weary and listless. Oh, they were under the persecution. Did you ever meet a Christian like that? “Ohhh.” You know? Everything is such a disaster. They’ve completely run out of gas. And instead of taking the weights in front of them and lifting them up and building their muscles, they were collapsing at the very sight of them. Instead of hurdling the hurdles and building strength, they were falling apart at the face of – looking in the face of any kind of obstacle at all; they were collapsing.
Ron Latulippe: In verses 12 and 13, we are shown a picture. It is the picture of a runner who has run hard but is now exhausted and discouraged. This runner is exhausted and discouraged after running a tough race but he knows the race is still not over. He is sitting by the road and wondering if he can finish the race or if he should just quit the race and go home. The race has been difficult so far and his physical, and especially his mental energy is spent. In Hebrews chapter 12 the author is exhorting this runner to endurance, to get up and to keep running the race unto the end and not to give up.
II. (:14-17) PURSUING PEACE AND PURITY GUARDS AGAINST DEFILEMENT AND DISQUALIFICATION
A. (:14) The Command (Action) – Pursue Peace and Purity (Holiness / Sanctification)
1. Pursue Peace
“Pursue peace with all men,”
Phillip Hughes: We are to strive with peace with all men. This we are to do not merely so that we may enjoy a peaceful existence, but so that the blessing of God’s peace may flow through us into the lives of men.
2. Pursue Purity
“and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”
Ron Latulippe: Verses 14 to 17 teach us that God wants His people to get better not bitter. Better means peace with others, and holiness before God. We run the race of faith in community, at least that is how it should be run. We are in the local church and should not live our Christian life in isolation. In community God uses circumstances and people to make us holy. As we endure the race of faith we encounter the hostility of sinners and we experience the discipline of God. Both the hostility of sinners and the discipline of God mean that people will attack us, upset us, rebuke us, correct us, hurt us and be hurt by us, offend us and be offended by us, forgiven and asked for forgiveness, rub us the wrong way, show up our pride, humble us and so on. In community opportunity abounds for hostility and bitterness to grow. God wants us to learn to love one another and to be at peace with everyone, and in the process to become a holy people in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Richard Phillips: Holiness is necessary for us to be saved. It is not necessary as a condition of our acceptance with God, since we are justified by faith in Christ alone, apart from works. But it is necessary as a consequence of our acceptance with God.
B. (:15-17) The Consequence (Goal) – Avoid Defilement and Disqualification
1. (:15) Avoid Defilement
a. Defilement by a Works Mentality
“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God;”
b. Defilement by Allowing Bitterness
“that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble,
and by it many be defiled;”
Kent: At verse 15 the writer begins his transition to the warning passage which actually starts at 12:18. It is the Christian reader’s responsibility to be concerned about the spiritual welfare of the whole congregation, seeing to it that no one be excluded from the grace of God. The reference is to those who may have made a beginning in the Christian community, but may through fear of persecution or faintheartedness in suffering be tempted to defect and thus fall short of true salvation.
Leon Morris: it is possible for a seed of bitterness to be sown in a community and, though nothing is immediately apparent, in due time the inevitable fruit appears. It will certainly “cause trouble.” The effects of bitterness cannot be localized: it “can poison a whole community” (JB).
2. (:16-17) Avoid Disqualification
a. (:16) Disqualification by Immoral Behavior or Godless Mindset
“that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau,
who sold his own birthright for a single meal.”
Mohler: the author of Hebrews appropriately identifies Esau as irreverent, unfaithful, and unworthy of our emulation.
Leon Morris: He could not recognize its true value. His insistence on the gratification of his immediate needs led him to overlook he importance of his rights as the firstborn. For a small immediate gain, he bartered away what was of infinitely greater worth. So with the apostates.
b. (:17) Disqualification by Divine Rejection for Worldly Regret
“For you know that even afterwards,
when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected,
for he found no place for repentance,
though he sought for it with tears.”
Mohler: Esau stands as an example of someone who regrets what he has done but does not truly repent of his wrongdoing. There is a crucial distinction between regret and repentance. God never rejects true repentance, but he has no interest in worldly regret (2 Cor 7:10). Esau does not respond is such a way that communicates genuine repentance over his offense. He simply regrets that he has lost his birthright and his blessing as the firstborn. It is not repentance that Esau seeks with tears, it’s only what he’s lost to Jacob: his father’s blessing.