Life can be mighty wearisome at times. If we had no relationships in this life, and therefore no other heartache or sorrow to deal with but our own, then there would still be enough pain, sorrow, and struggle to make us weary. Hypothetically we might create a world where we have no relationships, no ties, no heartfelt love for others, but the fact of the matter is that we do have many relationships in life. God has created us with a heart that is open to love others, to share in the burdens of their lives, as well as to try and rise above our own situations.
During the past few weeks we have been studying the twelfth chapter of Hebrews and learning about “running with purpose,” “running with endurance,” and “the blessing of discipline.” We have learned that our hardships are not circumstantial or coincidental, but they are the product of the Father’s love for you and me. Our troubles, binds, dilemmas, and other hurdles are part of the Father’s training program to mature us, mold us, and shape us into the image of His Son. The writer of Hebrews wrote in the last section of Scripture that we studied,
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? (Hebrews 12:7 NIV)
The troubles that we face, the trials that are before us, they are there so that we might reach the end of ourselves and trust in Almighty God to accomplish His will in our lives. The troubles that we face are used by God to teach us to trust in Him and to welcome His Sovereign hand that desires to use us, change us, and see us through this life. Through God’s training program we can come to know the Lord with greater trust and faith than we have ever known before.
This does not mean that our troubles and trials are not difficult or that we should just shrug our shoulders and piously say, “Well praise the Lord anyway.” God knows that our training is strenuous. He knows that our training is labor intensive and can easily wear us out. God knows that apart from His grace and mercy we will find ourselves wrung out and giving in to our fatigue, heartache, sorrow, and pain. God does not desire that we be left undone by our troubles, but He does desire that through our troubles we might learn to cry out to Him, cling to Him, and trust Him to accomplish His will in our lives. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the reason why the writer of Hebrews and the Apostle Paul so often used the athlete as an illustration of our race of faith and the training that we must submit to in order that we might become His “set apart” people.
When we come to the section of Scripture that we are studying this morning, the writer of Hebrews uses the little word, “therefore” once again. The very first word that we run into in this section of Scripture is the word, “Therefore.” We ran into this word in the very first verse of Hebrews 12, and if you will remember, “therefore” is a transitional word that offers us a resounding finale to the section of God’s Word that precedes it. What truths preceded this “therefore?” The entire section of Scripture that precedes it begins with “endure hardships as discipline” and ends with “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.”
It is so encouraging for me to know that God’s Word doesn’t downplay the cost of discipline in your life and mine. God’s Word doesn’t make light of the exhausting, demanding training regimen that we have undertaken as we pursue the call of God to be His holy, set apart people. Let’s take a look at this next section of Scripture.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. 14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 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. (Hebrews 12:12-17 NIV)
Pastor John Piper has written about the “therefore” of God and our need to heed His exhortation. Pastor Piper writes,
Since the fatherly love of God designs your pain for your good and your holiness…therefore (verse 12) “strengthen your weak hands and feeble knees…therefore (verse 13) “make straight paths for your feet” and don’t meander around in the Christian life; run the straight race…therefore (verse 14) “Pursue peace and sanctification;” that is, pursue the holiness that God is pursuing in you by his discipline! …therefore (verse 15) “don’t fall short of the grace of God; don’t let a root of bitterness spring up and defile…”God is working grace for you through discipline; don’t miss it. Therefore (verse 16) don’t be like Esau who sold his birthright for a single meal and after that could not repent. Don’t trade the pain of God’s discipline for the delights of the world.
What an awesome and important truth for us to drink deeply from this morning. “Don’t trade the pain of God’s discipline, the rigors of His training regimen, for the delights of this world.” I can’t stress enough how important it is for you and me to take hold of this truth as we make our way through this life. At the same time that I want to encourage you to cling to this important truth, I also want to acknowledge that so many Bible teachers grossly neglect this biblical truth today. “The pain of God’s discipline” is dismissed by so many who say, “God had nothing to do with this” – “This” is often anything that causes you or me pain. The Apostle Paul would shudder with this modern-day teaching. In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul wrote of his own pain and suffering. Read along with me in verses 8-9.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 NIV)
Paul said, “This happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God?” The Lord certainly did not create us to be self-reliant. He created us to learn to rely upon His wisdom, His counsel, His guidance, His comfort, and His exhortations as we go through this life. The Lord has also created us to be a “body” — to walk with one another, share with one another, love one another, forgive one another, and on an one the story goes. I want to show you something that will cause you to lift your voice in praise if you will have ears to hear. Take a look at verses 12-13 with me. The writer of Hebrews writes,
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
By reading this Scripture from the New International Version you could easily come to the conclusion that since the training of God is arduous and exacting that we must strengthen our feeble arms and weak knees. The truth of the matter is, in the Greek New Testament, “your” is not found in verse 12. The Scripture really reads, “Therefore, strengthen the feeble arms and weak knees.” Now you may be thinking to yourself, “What’s the difference?” I will tell you that there is a huge difference. If God’s Word is just a “self improvement” program then it joins the ranks of the multitude of “self improvement” programs. God’s Word, our faith in Jesus, calls us out of our comfort zone, out of our homes, out of our circle of friends, and leads us into the lives of others who are struggling, feeble, and weak.
The writer of Hebrews got his inspiration for this section of Scripture from the prophet Isaiah who wrote in Isaiah 35,
1 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. 3 Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; 4 say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” (Isaiah 35:1-4 NIV)
God’s people had been through a lot when Isaiah wrote these words to them. They had suffered through many evil kings, powerful enemy nations who had destroyed their homeland and taken them captive, and indifferent countrymen who couldn’t care less about the things of God. They were on the verge of giving up when these powerful words were given to them. Isaiah says, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘be strong, do not fear; your God will come?” A better day is coming — don’t give up now! Hold on! Help is on its way!
Just as the people of Isaiah’s day were counseled to seek out those who were weary, worn out, and ready to give up; so we must seek out those same folks who live in our day. Many of you are weary and you need to know that the Lord loves you so much that He has called us to love you, to stand with you, and to strengthen your feeble hands and weak knees by encouraging you with God’s Word and interceding for you in prayer. We are here to remind you that He is on the way!
In verse 13, we are told to make level paths for our feet so that the lame, the weak, the impressionable will be healed and not disabled. Verse 13 reads,
13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”
We are called to walk in the ways of God, to make level paths for our feet. Why is this important for us? Great question and it has a two fold answer. First, we are called to make level paths for ourselves because God has saved us, claimed us as His own, and set us apart so that we might live in the midst of His will and walk in His ways. Second, we are called to make level paths for our feet, to walk a genuine walk of faith, because there are others looking in on us. How many times have you or I met someone who has been spiritually crippled by some fellow believer? “I used to attend church, but there are too many hypocrites there.” “I think Jesus is a great man, but I don’t trust Christians” Those statements and many more have come from people who are not here this morning. As a matter of fact some of us have said those same things at some point in the past.
God has always been concerned that we represent Him well. We are His ambassadors, His representatives to this lost world; therefore we need to let His love, mercy, grace, and holiness shine through our lives. In Proverbs we read this same charge. Look at Proverbs 4:25-27,
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. 26 Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. 27 Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27 NIV)
The word for “lame” is an interesting word. The Greek word for “lame” means, “lame, hesitate, or crippled.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament the very same word is used for the people who were looking on as Elijah took on the false prophets of Baal in I Kings 18. The people came to see what was happening. They wouldn’t make a commitment to serve Baal or YHWH God and Elijah said, “How long will you waver, hesitate — make a decision.” The people were spiritually crippled, they weren’t walking with God, they were wavering between God and their other options. Read along with me beginning in verse 16.
16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. 17 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” 18 “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the LORD’S commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. (1 Kings 18:16-21 NIV)
God has not created you and me to be spiritually crippled. He has not created us to waver or hesitate. God has created you and me to grow strong in our faith and daily walk with the Lord, to undergo rigorous training for the purpose of becoming more and more like Jesus our Savior.
Another word of encouragement the writer of Hebrews offers us is found in Hebrews 12:14.
14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
We are to go the extra mile to live in peace with those around us and to be holy, set apart, for God’s purposes alone. There will be times when going the extra mile will not bring the peace that God desires, but we are to go the extra mile. There will be times that the tough times will tempt us to draw back and give in just to get along, but we must press on, press in to the Lord, and continue to seek Him with all of our hearts.
I know from personal experience that there will be times in our lives when we will not experience peace with those around us. Sometimes we stand up for what we believe and get knocked down. Sometimes there are personality issues that stand in the way of peace. Sometimes we hurt someone and they will not forgive us regardless of how many times we ask for forgiveness. When those times come the temptation is to lash out and strike back. I want you to know that even when there are folks who are not at peace with us we can be at peace with them if we will respond to them in a Christlike way. This type of response to people who are angry, hateful, or ornery will only come about if we are walking in holiness, living a set apart life.
In Hebrews 12:15, we read,
15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
Once again we are called together as family; as the body of Christ. The concern in this verse is not simply for us, but for everyone. God desires that no one should miss out on His grace. In 2 Peter 3, Peter tells us that the coming Judgment of God has not come because God is full of grace and has no desire to destroy, but for everyone to come to repentance. Peter writes,
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9 NIV)
In Ezekiel 33:11 we read about God’s marvelous grace and His passion for the wicked to turn from their ways and live. God relays the message for Ezekiel to give to His people,
11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11 NIV)
How will people come to know this marvelous grace of God? Will it be as they read a book?maybe the Bible? Will it be by going to church? How about watching Christian TV or listening to Christian radio? All of those are fine, but they cannot begin to compare to the opportunity that is given to you and me. For someone who feels like they’ve done something so bad that God can’t forgive them, they can come to know God’s grace as we love them. For someone who has no understanding of God’s Word or His ways, they can come to know the grace of God as we share their burdens. This is our responsibility. It is our duty.
The writer of Hebrews uses an interesting word when he writes, “See to it?” The Greek word for “see to it” means “to look upon, inspect, oversee, look after,” or “to care for.” In the Bible, where it concerns the church, the “seeing to it” was the responsibility of the elders. The same word is used in 1 Peter 5 where we read,
1To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3 NIV)
What Peter urged for the elders, the writer of Hebrews offers for all of us. You and I are to see to it that nobody misses out on the grace of God. This past week a friend of mine was working with some kids from Hoover Middle School. She shared with them the story of Jesus and how He died for the sins that we have committed so that we could be forgiven. After she told the story she asked, “Do you believe it?” One young girl who is wound pretty tight and is often preoccupied with other things said, “I believe it, but I can hardly believe it.” Isn’t that the truth! Why, would we who have tasted of the sweet grace of God, want anyone to miss out on it? Live the life. Share the grace. Offer forgiveness. Draw near to those who are hurting and weary. Share the grace.
Last of all, in verses 16-17, we read about another matter that we are to oversee among our brothers and sisters. Read along with me.
16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 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.
There are two important words here that we need to understand. The first word is the word for “sexually immoral.” The Greek word used here is the word from which we get our English word, “pornography.” The word means, “a man or woman who prostitutes his or her body to another’s lust for hire, a prostitute, a man who indulges in unlawful sexual intercourse, a fornicator.”
We are to see to it that our brothers and sisters don’t fall into this trap of the Enemy. For those standing on the outside the sexually promiscuous life looks enticing, inviting, and full of fun. I watched a television program a couple of weeks ago about Spring Break in Cancun. There were high school kids there who were given the trip as a graduation gift from their parents, there were college kids letting more than their hair down, and there was sex everywhere. What was really interesting was that the TV cameras were rolling during wet t-shirt contests, flasher contests, and sexually charged interaction of all kinds. At the end of the program the news people sat down with some of the girls who had bared all and their parents. The shame, humiliation, and guilt came through the television set. They regretted what they had done. They said they had drunk too much and the alcohol had dulled their inhibitions, but it was done.
We are to see to it that we do not fall into this destruction. Am I suggesting that we start a “church watch” program? Not at all, but if you know that your brother or sister in Christ is living loose then you need, you owe it to them, to go to them broken over their sin and encourage them to consider what they are doing. Pray for them, earnestly pray that God will deliver them before their sin destroys them.
There is a second pitfall that we are to avoid. The writer of Hebrews says that we are to see to it that nobody is “godless.” The Greek word for “godless” means, “open and accessible to all, of things profane, godless, worldly.” What does this mean? Well, Esau is a great example. Esau sold his own birthright as a means to get what he wanted. That same mindset will lead us to doing whatever it takes to get what we want. We are not here to get what we want, we are here to do God’s will. We must avoid the mindset that is open to anything that promises us happiness or relief.
Where should the weary turn for strength? That is a great question. God’s Word counsels those of us who are weary to find strength in the Lord and the company of His people. God is all about the ministry of His people to one another. When we go through difficulties that hem us in and bind us up we should find consolation, comfort, and wise counsel in the company of God’s people.
Earlier in the book of Hebrews we read,
25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25 NIV)
My heartfelt prayer this morning is that those who are weary would find their comfort, the strength for their feeble hands and the straightening of their wobbly knees in the arms of the Father who is our strength. I pray for you who are weary that you would come running into the arms of the Father and His people this morning. If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord of your life then won’t you fall into His arms of grace this morning? Won’t you allow Him to strengthen you? Won’t you allow His people to pray for you, encourage you, and walk with you through this storm? Won’t you come?