Hebrews is a book full of wonderful nuggets. I taught a Bible Study on it several years ago and thought it was a timely message for our own age. It was written for the express purpose of encouraging and exhorting the believers during a precarious time for Christians. The Church was experiencing a lack of interest, and one commentator called it a pervasive time of “complacency, compromise, and lethargy”.[i] Second generation “Christians” were defecting from the faith in increasing numbers amidst the persecutions that were beginning to spring up.
In this letter to the Hebrews, the author reminds the believers of their heritage, what Christ has done for them, and the truths of their faith. But one of the main exhortations to the Church goes like this:
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. ~Hebrews 3:12-14
Encourage one another daily.
It seems to be a key element in Christian fellowship, the need to encourage one another in the faith. Faith isn’t a once and done experience. It is an on-going, life-long journey with too many daily doldrums and continual pitfalls. According to Hebrews, all of us have this need to be encouraged in our faith.
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Certainly, as believers there is a mandate in sharing the Good News of the Kingdom of God with others, but I believe the author of Hebrews writes about an equally important responsibility that we have towards the other members of the Church. This responsibility is to keep an eye out for one another, to support and reassure each other, and to sometimes give necessary counsel.
Later in the chapter, Hebrews goes on to say how we can do this:
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
We can only encourage one another by frequent association.
I think it is more than simply going to church, while that is important and is certainly a starting point. We need an intentional practice of knowing others and becoming known by others. This turns out to be an important role in our spiritual journey, and we call it: friendship. Friendship in a variety of levels with others of the faith. This can be through small groups, accountability groups, book clubs, and other common associations. They all bring us together for the express purpose of helping each other continue on this sometimes wonderful and sometimes difficult Christian life we find ourselves.
And friendships in the faith puts us in the proper role of being encouragers.
I know that I am encouraged the most by those who know me and have taken the time to understand me. In some respects, they have earned the right to speak to me with truth. I’m sure the same can be said of all of us. We will be more accepting of what someone needs to say to us if we know they have our best interest in mind. Otherwise, the exhortation falls flat and seems to be self-centered, critical, and nitpicking to the person on the receiving end… much less likely to be taken as an important matter to be addressed.
Now I have been given incredibly wise words that have pierced my heart from people who I don’t know very well, and I’ve accepted them as words from God. But the normal route is through those I call friends. It is through this mutuality of friendship where real ministry can blossom. There is respect, love, and experience in friendship. I want my friends to become all they can be and they desire the same for me.
The author of Hebrews knows the path to spiritual maturity can be a tough one with many forces working against us. Hebrews places a great value on the relationships of others. We cannot do this Christian life in a vacuum. Even the Desert Fathers and Mothers, longing for solitude by getting away from it all, had frequent visitors, and lived in a kind of community of fellow solitude seekers. Eventually, they too decided they could better live out their faith-filled solitude in communities they called monasteries.
Who are you spurring on towards love and good deeds? Who is doing that for you?
Reach out to others of the faith, using discernment and patience as you find those who are worthy of your friendship. You need them, as they need you.
[i] A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Phillip Edgcumbe Hughes, Eerdemans:Grand Rapids, 1977, page 1.