Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting man. Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau, who traded his birthright as the firstborn son for a single meal. You know that afterward, when he wanted his father’s blessing, he was rejected. It was too late for repentance, even though he begged with bitter tears.Hebrews 12:14-17
Our world has been shaken. Sickness, natural disasters, hatred and violence, false theologies, economic hardship, moral failings, etc. seem to be in the headlines at every turn. How should we as Christians live in such times? Hebrews 12:14-17 provides us a framework.
- work at living in peace with everyone
- work at living a holy life
- Look after each other
- Watch out for poisonous roots of bitterness growing up and corrupting many
- hold fast to Jesus and our promised inheritance in Him unlike Esau who was immoral and godless
“Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.”
It is important we do not conflate the word “peace” with “approval.” To work at living in peace with everyone is not the same as working to be approved by everyone. If it is the approval of men we seek, we will too often find ourselves far from the holy life God has called us to live.
No, instead we need to work not to sin against each other or be easily offended but to love each other as we love ourselves and treat each other the way we would want to be treated. How are we doing in this area? Are we working to live in peace with those who feel differently about masks, the Covid vaccine, politics, social unrest?
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.I Corinthians 13:4-7
Are we patient and kind or boastful, proud, and rude? Do we demand our own way? Are we irritable with others? Do we rejoice when someone on the other side of an issue is hurt emotionally or physically?
This is not to say we give up truth or the pursuit of truth, but that we continue in peaceful relationship with those Christians who have come to a different conclusion than us. If they are wrong, let’s pray for them in humility knowing we don’t have life altogether figured out either. If they are in sin, then we should love them enough to encourage them in righteousness, but we are never going to viciously berate someone into agreeing with us.
We can trust God is at work in a fellow Christian just as He is at work in us so we are free to live in peace with each other. When we share our concerns, opinions, and ideas, we should first consider our attitude and motivation. I always try to remember that shortly before Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus washed his feet. That is not to say that anyone who holds a different opinion than us is akin to Judas, but it’s the attitude of Christ we should emulate.
I remember hearing a woman tell the story of how she came to Christ. She had been an abortion supporting, sexual revolution endorsing, hard-hearted feminist. Her description, not mine.
When she came to faith in Christ, He began remaking her. She saw everything differently, but the one view she couldn’t let go of was a woman’s right to kill her preborn child. She tried to reconcile her new faith with her prochoice stand, but God wouldn’t let her rest.
The community of Christians she was surrounded with were patient with her and kind to her. They allowed her to bring her questions to them over and over again without judgment. In time, she surrendered her prochoice views to God and declared that He alone is the author of life and death. When I heard this woman speaking, she was defending the sanctity of all human life.
The Christians in this woman’s life trusted God to do the work in this woman’s heart that only He could do. Although they didn’t shy away from sharing truth with her, they were patient and kind as they did so. This is just one example in an ocean of examples of how we work at living in peace with each other by putting our trust in God.
As we work to live at peace with everyone, we are also to work at living a holy life or a life of faithful obedience to God. These two ideas go hand-in-hand.
What does it mean that those who are not holy will not see the Lord? No one will see the Lord who has not been declared righteous (or holy) in Christ (John 14:6). We receive this right standing before God by His grace and through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf (Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:16). Those who place their faith in Christ Jesus are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Evidence of this new birth is a desire to live for God.
Without faith, no one can please God and true faith will be evidenced by obedience (Hebrews 11:6; James 2:26). Unfortunately, holy living has often been associated with perpetual seriousness, boredom, and melancholy. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There is endless joy and peace in Christ.
To work at living a holy life simply means bringing our thinking and our actions into accordance with God’s Word. God has begun the work of changing us from the inside out through the Holy Spirit, and we work at holiness ourselves by growing in the knowledge of God through the study of His Word, praying, and pushing into the community of faith. The more we come to know our Savior the less we will associate living for Him with boredom or melancholy. There is no one more glorious, exciting, or inviting.
Look out for each other and watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you.
We’ve probably all heard the slogan, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” right? The slogan infers that if you love someone as your friend, you will take responsibility for their well-being. You will look out for them and do all you can to stop them from choices that would be detrimental to them and to others. God’s Word is telling us something similar. We need to be willing to do the messy work of standing between our Christian friends and the path of destruction to the best of our ability.
We need to be looking out for each other and considering our own souls so that none of us fails to receive the grace of God by hardening our hearts, turning from Christ, and quitting the race set before us.
Most Bible scholars understand the poisonous root of bitterness mentioned here in light of Deuteronomy 29:18-19. The poisonous root of bitterness, then, is a mentality or theology that dismisses the importance of obeying God and working to live a holy life. These people live in open rebellion to God’s Word and presume upon His grace often encouraging others to do the same.
And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him.1 John 2:3-5
We are told to look out for each other and also to watch out for this poisonous root of bitterness. These are action words. We are not to be passive in pursuing peace and a holy life as individuals and also as a community of Christians.
A poisonous root of bitterness cannot be ignored for the sake of the people headed toward ruin and also for the good of all as a whole. How much damage has been done to innocent people because of those in the church who have been participating in grievous sins such as sexual abuse and it has been ignored or handled weakly or because a pastor has preached a woman’s right to choose? Even now, in response to real issues in society, false theologies are taking root redefining sin and salvation. There is no excuse. The writer of Hebrews says, Watch out! Many will be corrupted.
At times it may be uncomfortable, but if we truly love our friends we will be involved in their lives and will even get in their faces to say, “You are sinning against God, hurting yourself, and are going to hurt a lot of people if you continue in this area of disobedience to God’s Word.” And there may be times a friend lovingly confronts us and calls us to greater faithfulness.
This does not mean that we place the burden of our personal preferences and opinions on other people. When we make our opinions and preferences the standard, we are lifting ourselves higher than God. What it does mean is that we love each other enough to care whether or not our friends harden their hearts to God and miss out on receiving His grace.
Don’t be like Esau who traded that which could not be lost for something he could not keep.
It was the great missionary, Jim Elliot, who wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries gave their lives (that which they could not keep) that the Auca Indians would come to know Christ (that which cannot be lost).
Esau gives us an example of the opposite. He traded his birthright and all the blessings that came with it to satisfy his growling stomach. The satisfaction those bites of stew meat brought him were temporary. His stomach would growl again. He chose to throw away that which would have blessed him indefinitely for that which could only benefit him for a few fleeting moments.
We are warned against being immoral or godless like Esau. Most translations use the words sexually immoral, here. In other words, we are not to trade the grace of God in Christ Jesus for the temporary satisfaction of cravings and desires.
Jesus said to follow Him we must deny ourselves and take up our cross. We must work at living in faithful obedience willing to pay the cost of living for Him. Jesus went on to say, For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Mark 8:34-36) Esau forfeited his entire birthright for one bowl of stew. We are not to be like him.
This warning connects back to Hebrews 10:26-39. If we reject Jesus and continue sinning there is no longer any sacrifice to cover these sins. There is only God’s judgment.
For anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us.Hebrews 10:28-30
Esau was a slave to his cravings and treated the sacred as common. When he wanted to repent, it was too late. Today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:1-2). The day of judgment is coming when repentance will be too late (Romans 2:4-8). Let us not throw away our heavenly inheritance won us in Christ Jesus for temporary earthly satisfaction, but instead let us hold fast to the hope set before us (Hebrews 6:17-18).
How do we live faithfully in a world all wrong?
These verses in Hebrews 12 encouraging us in how to live and warning us against how not to live are sandwiched in a chapter that begins with a call to faithful endurance and ends with the hope of an unshakeable Kingdom.
How do we endure faithfully in a world that is all wrong where all our earthly securities have become vulnerable, where people die of a sickness that can’t be seen, where violence and hatred abound, where the pressure on Christians is increasing and many around the world are persecuted, tortured, and murdered, where natural disasters strike with little warning?
We keep our eyes on Jesus. His faithful endurance is our example. When we become weary and feel like giving up, we remember the hostility he endured. We consider His sufferings, and also His present glory seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. It was for the joy awaiting Him He endured the cross and we can endure our crosses for the joy awaiting us. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.2 Corinthians 4:17-18
And we learn to see our trials and testings through the character of God instead of seeing the character of God through our trials and testings.
The temptations we face, the trials we encounter, the sufferings we experience will all be used by God for our good. People may mean them for evil, God means it for good. Satan may mean to destroy us, God means it for good.
In all our difficulties, God is disciplining us, training us, that we might share in His holiness and our lives produce a peaceful harvest of right living (Hebrews 12:4-13).
The fact that He is at work in our lives in this way is evidence we are His children. He will complete the good work He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6). God’s love for us and His commitment to bring us to completion means He will correct us, discipline us, and train us. Jesus, God’s own Son, learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:7-9). He was obedient even to the cross because He trusted the goodness of His Father (Philippians 2:6-8).
If we believe love never brings the unpleasantness of correction, discipline, and training, we will be confused God ever allows anything difficult into the lives of His children, but if we believe God is good and will do what is ultimately good in all things (Romans 8:28), we can trust Him in our great struggles, sufferings, and heartaches.
Finally, this chapter ends on the incredible reality that we faithfully endure in a world where all our earthly confidences can be shaken and where we experience great heartaches because we are receiving a kingdom that can’t be shaken.
We have not come to Mt. Sinai as the Israelites did. We have not come to a physical mountain, a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, where the voice of God was so terrible the Israelites begged Him to stop speaking and the holiness of God meant even an animal was to be stoned if it touched the mountain (Hebrews 12:18-21). We have not come to the Law which cannot save us because of the weakness of our sin nature (Romans 8:3a).
We have come to Mt. Zion, the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. What an incredible picture!
We have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children whose names are written in heaven. We have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. We have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. We have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).
We have come to God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Let us not turn back. Let us not turn away.
So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.Romans 8:3b-4
Let us make sure in these difficult days, we are listening to the One who speaks to us from heaven (Hebrews 12:25), the One who speaks the Gospel, and we are faithfully obeying His Word. And let us not forget that our God is a devouring fire. In Christ, we do not need to fear the all-consuming holiness of God, but that does not mean we should fail to revere Him or that we should trifle with Him or presume upon His grace and mercy (Hebrews 12:28-29)
So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.
“For in just a little while,
the Coming One will come and not delay.
And my righteous ones will live by faith.
But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.”
But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved.Hebrews 10:35-39