Spiritual Maintenance Check

Spiritual Maintenance Check

“Spiritual Maintenance Check”

(Hebrews 12:12-17)

Series: Captivated by Christ (Hebrews)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

  • Take your Bibles and join me in Hebrews chapter 12.

We are preaching verse-by-verse through Hebrews and we pick up this morning at verse 12, Hebrews chapter 12 and picking up at verse 12.  

With your Bibles open I want you to see the layout of the passage.  Couple weeks ago when we began chapter 12 we looked at the opening two verses, verses 1 and 2: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”—and we talked about how the Christian life is a race.  We run this race with our eyes fixed upon Jesus, verse 2—“looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  

So we live our Christian lives like a runner running a marathon, pressing onward as we go with our eyes looking to Jesus.  Now I want you to look at verse 12 because the writer comes back to this running metaphor.  Look at verse 12, “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet,” and so on.  The writer is still using this metaphor of running the Christian life.  

And what is between these two pictures in the opening verses of chapter 12 and then what we’re looking at this morning, what is in-between of course are verses 3-11, what Rich preached last week about the loving instruction of God, or the loving discipline of God; that God in His love disciplines His runners, His children.  Recall verse 6 from last time, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens,” or disciplines.  In His love, God causes us to grow in holiness.  By working through our painful circumstances and difficulties and persecution, God helps us grow in godly living.  That’s the point of God’s discipline.  It’s has a good result.  It may not seem so at the present, but it does.  That’s what the writer says in the last verse from last time, 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.”

So God’s discipline is a good thing.  You can trust Him.  He is a good Father.  He does right.  Your adversity, your difficulties, 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—past, present, and future—God is not punishing, but lovingly leading and guiding, 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.  

So this connection to the discipline of God is important because the first word of verse 12 is “Therefore,” 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.

  • Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Holy Word.

12 Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, 

13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.

14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 

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; 

16 lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. 

17 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.

  • Pray.

My first car was a 1971 Ford Maverick.  Fire engine red.  Had the old, lead paint that isn’t used anymore.  Made it look always shiny and red even through there were scratches and chips all over it.  I paid less than a thousand dollars for it and it lasted less than a year.  But it was fun.  Ford 302 V-8 engine.  I was proud of my first car.  And you learn a lot from your first car.  Things like how far you can get by when the fuel gage starts hovering around the “E” for empty.  Or the importance of oil in the engine.  My Maverick needed a lot of oil.  It leaked oil somewhere around the engine block and I can still smell that smell of the oil getting burned off as I drove my Maverick.  So I learned the importance of regular maintenance.  My car ran better when I stopped and checked the levels periodically and made sure everything was good to go.  Stop, observe, check out everything, adjust, and then get back on the road.

The writer in our passage this morning would have us stop and observe and check out how we’re running the Christian life and adjust where necessary.  That’s especially evident in the first couple verses of our passage.  We’re running the Christian life, running with endurance the race set before us, our eyes fixed on Jesus, and then the writer talks about how we may bump along the way, suffering, facing persecution, God at work in our lives, through loving discipline and instruction, verse 12 now:

12 Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, 

So look at yourself as you’re running.  Are you getting tired?  Are your hands beginning to droop.  Are you getting weak?  Your legs getting limp, knees feeble?  Adjust and press on.  

The writer here in verse 12 is quoting from Isaiah.  It’s a near word-for-word quote:

Isaiah 35:3, Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

Now, how does the writer want us to strengthen ourselves?  This is important!  In what way are Christians to be strengthened?  Well again, note 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.  Again verse 6: “For who the Lord loves He chastens,” or disciplines.  Okay, so here is point one the first action:

**Press On…

  1. Be Strengthened by God’s Love (12-13)

It would be bad if we read verses 12 and 13 and just sort of “drummed up” our own strength by dint of self effort and will power.  He’s not saying, “Come on, get your act together and tough it out!”  He grounds the imperative action of “Strengthening our hands and feet’ in the indicative truth of God’s love.  Be strengthened by 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 and persecution and trials and difficulties.  God is up to something good.  God hasn’t abandoned you.  The Lord loves you.  For whom the Lord loves He chastens, He disciplines, like a good father disciplines his son or daughter.  Be strengthened this week as you run the Christian life, being strengthened by God’s love.

Therefore.  In light of your knowledge of God’s love and that He seeks to work in you—verse 11—“the peaceable fruit of righteousness”—or, a peaceful harvest of right living, godly living, in light of your knowledge of God’s love, strengthen the hands which hand down, and the feeble knees.”  You can hear the writer saying, “Don’t give up!  Don’t be discouraged by all that has happened.  Stick with it!”

Like a trainer yelling out to a boxer in a boxing match.  Like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in the Rocky Movies.  What are there, like 47 Rocky Movies?!  So we’ll just think of the first one, there in that final round, round 15, both of them looking rough.  Hands hanging down, feeble knees.  They’re both ready to quit.  But they keep going.

And there are times in our lives where we just want to quit.  We’ve taken a beating.  You’re living for the Lord and things start falling apart.  Difficulties.  Pressures.  Persecution.  And you’ve been hurt and you’re “playing hurt” and you’re waiting for someone in your corner of the boxing ring to throw in the towel.  

And verse 12 comes along like a “check-engine” light.  Verse 12 illumines and says to you: “Whoa. Stop a moment.  Check under the hood and see what’s wrong.”  Have you forgotten that God has not forgotten you?  For whom the Lord loves He chastens.  In His love God is working “the fruit of righteousness” in your life, helping you become more like Jesus.  Get back in the race.  Just like an athlete you’ve got to “play hurt.”  But be strengthened by God’s love.  Verse 13:

13 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 here:

Proverbs 4:25-27 (NIV)

25 Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.

26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.

27  Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

The idea then is to not fall into sin.  Make straight paths by clearing away obstacles, every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares.  Don’t fall into sin as you run the Christian life.  

When you sin it’s like you have been running and you step onto an uneven surface or like a hole.  And if you’ve ever been running in a physical sense you know how that feels.  You can sprain and ankle or dislocate something.  You get “out of joint.”

And again, the writer’s main purpose here is to encourage Christians.  He’s saying, “When you live the Christian life this week, don’t become discouraged, don’t give up.  Don’t succumb to the temptation to leave the race, to step out of your lane and sit on the sidelines.”  No.  He’s like press on!  Press on by calling to remembrance God’s love for you.  Be strengthened by God’s love.  For whom the Lord loves He chastens.  God is working in the race track of 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, press on:

  1. Be Steadfast in Godly Living (14-17)                                                                                                                      

And what follows in verses 14 and following is a call for righteous, godly living, namely growth in holiness.  Verse 14:

14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 

Wow.  Holiness is not optional.  Holiness is essential if we hope to see the Lord—hope to see Him when we die in heaven and hope to see Him in the sense of experiencing His presence in our lives.  Let’s talk about this holiness for a second.

The only way we are made acceptable in God’s sight is by being holy.  Naturally, we are sinners.  We are sinners by nature and by choice.  So we are not holy by nature and we need to be made holy if we hope to be in God’s presence.  So we speak of the righteousness of Christ which 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 possible, thus we refer to this righteousness as positional righteousness.  Then 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 here 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 verse 11 calls “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”  It doesn’t mean that you will do this perfectly or that you won’t 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.  So a person who says, “Well, of course I’m a Christian” but there is no holiness—no evidence of “the peaceable fruit of righteousness,” where there’s no fruit, there’s no root.  There’s no new life.  New life means new actions.  New desires.  New fruit of righteousness.

What does that fruit look like in the believer?  Well, verse 14 indicates that a true believer will seek to be at peace with all people.  Verse 14 again:

“Pursue peace with all people…”  Much as the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 12: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18).”

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).”  

Press on, being steadfast in godly living—pursuing peace with all people.  You may not always attain peace, but you must pursue peace.  Verse 15:

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 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’s a concern that goes beyond the individual member himself and outward in concern for his brothers and sisters.  

“Looking carefully” towards one another.  Or, “See to it” as other translations have, “See to it” with regard to each other or, as the New Living Translation puts it: “Look after each other.”  So 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 and with whom I am connected and to whom I am accountable. 

Hebrews 3:13, …exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

Hebrews 10:24-25:

24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 

25 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.

“Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God.”  We must look around at one another and ensure that everyone is on the right path, on the racetrack, running the race, following Jesus.  We don’t 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 the observing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  The grace of God that comes to us through church membership, through involvement in small group, Sunday school, giving, missions involvement, and evangelism.  We’re continuing 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.  And that’s 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.  Now 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;

Bitterness.  Someone said a bitter person is like a porcupine: they may have a lot of good points, but they’re hard to be near. 

One of the things we’re to do in Christian community, one of the ways to improve in godly living, is to go on a “search and destroy” mission for bitterness.  Find it and deal with it.  Bitterness in a church is destructive to the entire body of Christ.  Bitterness is a harmful, toxic, contagion in the church.  Bitterness in one person can grow and embitter others.  Resentment spreads like a wildfire, or an aggressive cancer when untreated.

So 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?

See, while verse 15 teaches that we’re 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’ve got to address our problem before we address the problems of others.

It’s like the oxygen masks on the airplanes.  You remember what the flight attendant says?  Nobody listens to the flight attendants!  If you’ve 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 this: “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, please secure your own mask first before helping others.”

Why?  Because you’ve got maybe only 10 seconds 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 can’t help someone else when you’re dead.

Take care of your own problems before addressing the problems of others.  Or in the words of Jesus, “Remove the beam from your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your wife’s eye—Freudian slip!—from your brother’s eye or sister’s eye (Matthew 7).”

But bitterness in the lives of others must be addressed.  Verse 15 warns: “bitterness springing up cause(s) trouble, and by this many become defiled.”  Again like a spreading cancer, or blight on a tree, left unaddressed, it will spread.

We’re to approach other church members who project a spirit of bitterness.  In love, we confront them.  In love, we help them: “Hey, brother; hey sister: why the bitterness?  Why the sour disposition?  Have you considered that your bitterness has the potential of  embittering others?”  Continuing into verse 16:

16 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.  And Esau said, “Hey, give me some of that stew!”  And Jacob said, “Give me your birthright and I’ll give you the stew.”  And Esau said, “Okay, what’s my birthright anyway?”  and Esau, for what amounted to be nor 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.

So the writer is like, “See to it in the body of Christ that you 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’s 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, men, or engaging in fantasy, ladies.  There’s a greater and more satisfying joy in the Lord Jesus Christ and our inheritance in Him!

17 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.

“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 didn’t 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.

2 Corinthians 7:10 speaks of a godly sorrow that works repentance.  Listen to 2 Corinthians 7:10:

“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death,”—and the idea is that worldly sorrow produces only death.  Godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to forgiveness and worldly sorrow produces only death.

There’s a sorrow that is worldly.  And it may involve tears and heartbreak.  But no change.  It’s 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’s godly sorrow that works repentance.

Esau was merely sorry for the consequences of his actions.  That he had blown it.  And couldn’t 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.

Don’t 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.  And 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.  And 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 can’t see the moon.  What once was a beautiful sight of brilliant white light is covered up because of the world.  And Christians shine the light of Christ.  Christians reflect the light of the Son, S-O-N.  And 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 got in the way.  When we become “worldly” and we fail to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us,” people can’t see Jesus in our lives because the world has eclipsed His light and His light doesn’t shine on us.  

Let’s pray.  Bow your heads for prayer.

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 in your spirit.  Just silently before God: “God forgive me for that sin.”  Make straight paths for yourself right now.  “The world behind me the cross before me.”

You’re not a Christian?  Listen: Holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.  The only way to be accepted by God is through the righteousness of Christ.  Turn to Jesus right now. 

  • Pray.
  • COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The text contained in this sermon is solely owned by its author. The reproduction, or distribution of this message, or any portion of it, should include the author’s name. The author intends to provide free resources in order to inspire believers and to assist preachers and teachers in Kingdom work.