top of page
  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

The Church and Endurance


 

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”. Hebrews 10:24-25


The premise of the sermon this morning is this: The church fulfils one of its crucial purposes when, it works to ensure that its people – that is those who share in Christ Jesus – do not turn away from the living God, but endure and hold their original conviction firm to the very end.


That’s a controversial premise because as Calvinists we are hard-wired to think in terms of preservation of the saints. Doesn’t God preserve the faith of his people? Once saved always saved, that’s right, isn’t it?


Well, that’s not a bad inclination to have. In fact it’s a gloriously good one to have – and mainly so because it’s in the bible. Romans 8 says, ‘Who shall separate us from the love Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or sword?’

Answer: ’No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’.

It’s a glorious text and it’s enough on its own to prove that Jesus didn’t die for any sheep that will be lost!


Nothing will separate us from God because God will keep us. God will preserve us. God will see us to the banks of the Jordan, and he will see us through the deep waters to the other side, in-tact, not lost, but home safe and sound. He’s going to do that. He’s promised to do that. ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on the completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 1:6). None of Jesus’ sheep are lost. He’s not a faulty Shepherd. His arm is not too short to guarantee that all he died for are finally saved.

And yet, the book of Hebrews is simply littered with warnings about falling away, falling short, suffering loss, drifting away, shrinking back and more. So what’s going on?


Well, I don’t believe the bible does formal contradiction. If it did, I wouldn’t trust it and I would hope you wouldn’t trust it either. So, I conclude that there’s some way in which the exhortations in Hebrews are the means or the instruments by which God fulfils his preservation promises to all his chosen people.


And if that’s the case, then Hebrews becomes a very important book for us as believers. It becomes very sobering, and it makes us realise that none of us can afford to think that Salvation is an automatic or passive process.


The Hebrews

What is the situation in Hebrews? Well, it seems that these believers, probably from a Jewish heritage, were in the midst of persecution because of their commitment to Jesus, and were now seriously thinking of turning back to their Jewish heritage and abandoning their faith in Jesus altogether.


Chapter 10 verses 32 following give us a flavour of their suffering. Though these verses are not describing the particular trial these believers were enduring at the time of the letter, they give us an idea of the kinds of things they were experiencing as followers of Jesus.


And, I think it’s safe to assume that their current trial was either as bad or worse than the ones described in verses 32 and following, because they are now looking to abandon their faith, whereas previously they had endured in it.


Verse 32: ‘Remember those earlier days after you had received the light’. What does received the light mean?

Chapter 6 refers to those who have been ‘enlightened’. That’s the same Greek word. And chapter 6 refers to them as those who have ‘tasted the heavenly gift’; who have ‘shared in the Holy Spirit’; who have ‘tasted of the goodness of the Word of God’; and who have tasted of the ‘powers of the coming age’. So ‘receiving the light’ sounds like conversion to me – it sounds like being born again.


Verse 32 goes on, ‘when you endured in great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property’.


So, these are the kinds of things these believers were enduring. And now, whether by virtue of worse things than these, or just sheer fatigue of the persistent nature of the suffering, they were contemplating throwing the towel in and turning away from faith in Jesus.


Something, by the way, they would have said they would never have done when they encountered their earlier suffering. They didn’t just accept the confiscation of their property, they ‘joyfully’ accepted it. To endure trial for Jesus was their ‘boast’ as the Apostle Paul calls it in 2 Corinthians 11. But now their joy was gone and they were thinking of turning their backs on Jesus altogether.

It might be easy to sit here this morning and think I’ll never turn my back on Jesus. But you don’t know what he has in store for your life. You don’t know what circumstances might be around the corner that might tempt you to think it’s not worth it anymore. If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!


Christian Danger

Now I want to take you on a whistle stop tour of Hebrews to show you that it really is as sober as I’m saying it is. You shouldn’t take my word for it, you should only be content if you can see it yourself.


I want to show you that in the writer’s mind he believes his readers are truly Christians, but they are also truly in danger of falling away.


So, first, he regards them as believers:

Chapter 3, verse 1 – ‘Therefore, holy brothers and sisters [they’re holy, sanctified, cleansed believers] who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus.

Chapter 6, verses 8 & 9 – ‘Land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case – the things that have to do with salvation’.

And here in chapter 10, verse 34 says, ‘you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions’. That’s the language of confidence about heavenly things.

And verse 39 – ‘But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved’. So, I have no doubt that the writer regards his readers as blood bought believers in Jesus.


And yet, we have these warnings:

Chapter 2, verse 1 – ‘We must pay the most careful attention therefore to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away’. The writer of the letter is no more than 1 chapter into his letter before he’s warning them about drifting away.

Chapter 4, verse 1 – ‘Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it’.

Verse 11 also – ‘make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish’.

Chapter 6, verse 4, perhaps even more explicit – It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened…and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance’.

And now chapter 10. Verse 26 – ‘If we deliberately keep on sinning [notice that the writer is not willing to give them a pass owing to the suffering they’re experiencing – suffering is never a legitimate ground for sinning] after we have received a knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God’. If these people continue to pursue their turning away they will be found to be the enemies of God – that’s the implication of this verse.

Verse 29 also, again perhaps more explicit – ‘How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit if grace?’

Verse 38 – simply says, ‘I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back’.

So, this letter is laden with warnings about falling away. And the reason I’ve shown you that’s the case is because it makes the importance of the role of the church that we’re about to see so much more significant, if we understand that all of us are like these Hebrews. We are all running a race marked out for us. We are all encountering hurdles with race-ending potential of various kinds and severities every single day of our Christian lives. Their danger is our danger.


Perseverance

The writer is saying to us not once, but over and over, ‘be careful not to fall away; not to become unbelieving; do not throw in the towel because if you do there is nothing left to expect except a fearful judgment’.

We are his house; his church; his people if we hold firmly our confidence until when? – until the end (3:6).

We have come to share in Christ if we hold our conviction firm until when? – until the end (3:14).

Show diligence so that what is hoped for will be realised; show it until when? – until the end (6:11).

You need to persevere so that you will receive what has been promised; persevere until when? – until the end when he will come to give what’s been promised (10:36 cf. Revelation 22:12).

It’s not profession that saves a person, it’s perseverance that saves a person. Oh how I wish we could all get the mind-set that final salvation is not a confession of faith in Jesus that finally counts, it’s a completion of a life lived in and for Jesus tot he very end.


Justification is an automatic thing. It is all of God. We must not contribute to that, otherwise we don’t receive it. Final salvation though is not automatic. We must do something or we will prove that we were never justified in the first place. That’s how this dynamic works.


To prove that we must, the following are ‘doing’ phrases collated from the book and they show that there are things we must do to attain to final salvation. We must:

‘Pay attention’ (2:1)

‘Hold firm’ (4 times: 3:6; 3:14; 4:14; 10:23)

‘See to it that…’ (3 times: 3:12; 12:15; 12:25)

‘Be careful’ (4:1)

‘Make every effort’ (2 times: 4:11; 12:14)

‘Show diligence’ (6:11)

‘[not] be lazy’ (6:12)

Persevere’ (2 times: 10:36; 12:1)

Throw off sin and everything that hinders’ (12:1)

Run the race God has designed for us – no matter what it looks like’ (12:1)

Fix our eyes on Jesus’ (12:2)

‘Consider Jesus’ (12:3)

‘Resist and struggle against sin’ (12:4)

Endure hardship as discipline’ (12:7)

‘Make every effort to be holy’ (12:14)

Those are all things that we must do and they are written in this letter to help these professing believers to not make shipwreck of their faith.


They are spoken as means by which they will be finally saved. We just can’t ignore the avalanche of evidence in this book and elsewhere in the New Testament that the way we live our lives as believers matters, and they are the means by which we will be finally saved or lost. God is the decisive factor, but he uses means to bring his purposes to pass.


The Role of The Church

Now about means. All the things just listed are things you can do as an individual. But God has designed the church to be the principle means by which individual believers are equipped to do them which is where our text comes in this morning.


Verses 24 and 25 of chapter 10 are unmistakably community texts. Listen,

‘And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another and all the more as we see the day approaching’.

I’ve got 6 quick things to say about these two verses from the perspective of the church.


1. ‘Consider’ means think through. It means make plans. It means approach it with intentionality. It’s the opposite of a hands-off approach. ‘Consider’ in this context means the church is not going to sit back a let Christians struggle and flounder trying to persevere in their faith.


It means that the church is going to be a community of believers who are taking responsibility for the faith of their fellow brothers and sisters by first of all designing, planning, and formulating ways to help each other. The church is not going to be passive or inactive about the final salvation of those for whom Christ died.

They’re going to be intentional in helping them to run their race. And when the church is considerate in this way it loves, the way Christ wants it to love.


2. ‘Spur on’ means to prod with a sharp instrument in order to induce movement. Not a very pretty picture, but it’s a vital one. Stagnation is the greatest risk to the believer, and therefore the picture of the Christian life is one of movement. Sometimes the picture is growth, sometimes it’s running, sometimes it’s boxing, sometimes it’s journeying. It’s always a picture of movement. And the movement must be in the direction of heaven.


Spur on’ in this context is going to mean putting the plans previously made into action. It’s going to mean the church getting into the lives of believers and prodding them in the right direction. It’s going to mean more than just a Sunday by Sunday gathering. It will mean asking difficult questions. It’s going to mean having enough courage and confidence in Jesus to have the door slammed in your face because people don’t like your inquiry.


It’s going to mean taking time out to write that message, or go for that meal, or give up that evening. It’s going to mean finding ways to relate to people in a way that is more than just talking about church programmes or making chit-chat.


It’s also going to mean that the church needs to have the Word of God coursing through its veins so that it has the truth to impart to its people.


3. ‘Love and good deeds’ are the goal of the prodding. So the designing was with this goal in mind. The prodding needs to be prayerfully with this goal in mind too. Because all believers must be characterised by love and good deeds otherwise there’s no spiritual fruit in their lives. God wants fruit and specifically the fruit of love and good deeds. Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you’ (Luke 6:27).


These are the evidences that the tree is alive. These are the works that are going to be tested (1 Corinthians 3) and the works of love and goodness are guaranteed to be quality works. When they are tested with fire they are the kind of works that don’t get burnt up, but rather those that get refined and come forth as precious in God’s sight.


In this context, the church must be that which is constantly striving to see the marks of love and good deeds in its people because they bring glory to God and are what he is looking for in his true followers.


4. ‘Not giving up meeting together’ combined with ‘as some are in the habit of doing’. It may be helpful if we state it positively rather than negatively for the benefit of our understanding.


Positively, the writer is exhorting the church to habitually meet together. Make a habit of gathering yourselves with your fellow believers. In the midst of gathered believers a kind of interaction can happen that can’t happen in letter writing, or on the phone, or in a text message.


Here’s a quick parenthesis: I’m all for using the technology at our disposal to be as connected as we can be with fellow believers. I have personally received many messages via technological means that have served to spur me on and encourage me in my walk with Christ. And chapter 3, verses 12-14 commands brothers and sisters to ‘see to it that none of us have a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another to shun sin every day so that none of us may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness’.


In a world as busy as ours, with a diligent and intentional use of the mobile technology at our fingertips, we can fulfil this command more effectively than perhaps ever before. But beware of over reliance. If you are invited by a brother or sister to meet in person, if you can make it, strive to do it.


Technology must never become a substitute for in-person gatherings of the Lord’s people, but it can be a very useful tool for the in-between times.


Meeting together is essential and what is in view here is probably more than a Sunday by Sunday routine. Sunday morning should be primarily a receiving experience. Afterwards there is often time for sharing, lifting, carrying and encouraging, but mostly Sunday mornings are about receiving and enjoying God – more of Him, more of what he has to say.

Therefore, if that’s the case, then other occasions of meeting together are essential in the life of the church. These will need to be carved out of our busy schedules.


5. ‘Encourage one another’ this is the goal of meeting together. The church’s aim must to be to encourage. The main idea here seems to be to help each other fix our eyes on the hope of heaven. To get our heads up from the circumstances of life that might cause us to question whether it’s all worth it and to give each other of a divine perspective; of heavenly glories and eternal realities.


Once again, that implies a church saturated with the Word of God and able to use it wisely. In the context of Hebrews, it will particularly mean pointing one another to the promises of God on which the new covenant is established (8:6) and by which Abraham himself was blessed (7:6 & 11:17).


6. ‘All the more as you see the Day approaching’. The intensity with which we do this should increase as we mature in faith. In other words with maturity comes an ever increasing sense of the return of Christ and the fulfilment of all things.


This calls for the church to have focus on the end of the age and, in light of that focus, to encourage the believers to persevere. The idea is that when that day comes, the Lord will reward the confidence of each person’s faith (10:35; 11:6 & 26).


Perhaps nothing is simultaneously more inspiring and sobering in this life to me than the thought of meeting Jesus one day. And as I continue to walk along this road, I find it to be more and more the case. I think that’s what the writer is driving at.


The constant temptation in this life will be to settle for a kind of heaven on earth. These believers wanted a suffering-free life now. But heaven is not heaven if it comes now. Heaven is yet to come and until then we will experience many trials. It’s through these trials that we must enter the kingdom of heaven.


The church is responsible to encourage believers not to settle for heaven on earth because that’s an illusion, and it’s an illusion that leads to hell. The church helps its people to get their heads up from the earth and fix their eyes on Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father and coming on the clouds of heaven with his very great reward.


This is a high calling for the church of Jesus Christ and it’s a crucial one. The church exists for the perseverance of the saints unto the very end when we will all meet Jesus. And when we see him, the promise is, then we will be like him!

Σχόλια


bottom of page