There is a sense of urgency about the word “today.” The things of yesterday are past, and cannot be changed or amended. We do not have to worry about them any longer, and there is no way of accessing time that has already gone by. The things of tomorrow are, also, in a way not entirely pressing. Although the future is coming, and nothing can stop tomorrow from coming except for the hand of God, it is still not happening yet. We have time. But today is now. It will always be today, no matter how old we are, tired we are, or frustrated we are. We cannot stop today from being today – and how pressing is it to realize that your wedding is today, your project is due today, your homework must be turned in today, surgery is today, the championship game is today, etc. One of my favorite texts that helps us see the urgency of the present is Hebrews 3:12-14. “Take care brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.”
I would like to examine this text from the perspective of what we must do today. There are three things that the writer encourages us to be diligent about, beginning with our refusal to give in to sin. Second, we must daily encourage each other. Finally, we must constantly hold fast our faith. None of these things can be put off until tomorrow, and that is why “today” is the most important day of our lives.
“Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God” (3:12).
“Take care” is a an important phrase. It is indicative of the importance and urgency that is involved in abandoning the sin in our lives. Sin is not to be trifled with, for it is serious business. It requires energy, care, concern, tact, and sometimes great skill and effort. We cannot just flee from sin casually or carelessly, but we must diligently work at it. The way that our society flippantly handles sin and immorality is appalling – instead of taking care of the human soul, most sins have become jokes. Adultery is funny on most sitcoms, as is homosexuality. Gluttony jokes are abundant, and no amount of shame seems to get us to stop wasting as much as we do. We allow ourselves to drift into sinful thoughts, use our tongues more and more loosely as we become used to the foulness around us. Perhaps Christians may fall into the trap of believing that the “little” sins in life are okay as long as we “take care” of the major problems. But this does not seem to be the mentality in Hebrews. Every supposedly minor aspect of the Christian life is supposed to be under our control. We take captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5), never allowing ourselves to indulge in the flesh in even the slightest manner. “But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper for saints; and there must be no filthiness or silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:3-4). Paul even goes on to say that the deeds of darkness that are done by sinners ought not even be talked about by Christians (Ephesians 5:12). What he means here is that Christians are supposed to live such focused, clean, moral lives that we would be ashamed to even mention the sins of the world. Not that we cannot discuss them for purposes of combating them, but that we should never revel in unrighteousness. We should not even talk about adultery, homosexuality, lying, lusting, cheating, or any other sin as being something funny or admirable.
“Lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart…” A great lesson can be learned from the context of this verse in Hebrews 3. While the letter is addressed to the Hebrew Christians of the first century, the writer is here making an application from the story of the Israelites in the wilderness. Just as easily as they fell away, so too can God’s children in all ages. The Israelites found themselves supposedly destitute, feeling hungry for more than their portion, and upset with God and Moses because of their apparent lack of resources. This text makes it clear that “the Hebrews Christians were in great danger of apostatizing from the living God, as their fathers had done. And is so, then it follows that a Christian may fall from grace; for to apostatize from God is simply equivalent to falling away finally and forever from the grace of God” (New Testament Commentary On Hebrews, Milligan, 124). Also note the way that the heart is described in this phrase. What is an unbelieving heart? While the world might say that an unbelieving heart is just objective, unbiased, or unwilling to take sides, God sees it as evil. There is nothing noble about “not believing.” We must reject the idea that just not believing anything is the path to knowledge, or an appropriate philosophical approach to life. That is why the one who chooses to disbelief in God and the one who chooses to believe nothing share the same fate in 2 Thessalonians 1:8.
“…In falling away from the living God.” The result of this would be falling toward things that are not living. Compared to the majesty, power, and ability of God to perform all that He promises, the things we fall into most often give us nothing. They are dead, and make us die along with them. When we fall away from God, we leave behind that which is beautiful and vibrant, full of life, and take on the burdens of something dead. That is the problem with false religion and idolatry. While our God lives and carries us, the weight of burden for an idol worshiper is entirely on him. His idol cannot move by itself, nor does it give back any of the spiritual or emotional energy that is put into it. Why choose something dead, when we have life in God? Consider the wisdom of Isaiah 46:1-7. Bel and Nebo were Babylonian idols, the objects of worship for these immoral people. “Bel” was the title given to the supreme Babylonian god “Marduk.” His son was “Nebo” who was worshiped as the divine interpreter. But as destruction befalls the people of these gods, it is discovered that more trouble arises from having to carry these idols than is beneficial. They are a burden, a load, and an anchor that will not come up out of ocean floor. When invaders breach a city, these gods cannot defend themselves and are, instead, taken into captivity. They are just as easily carried away by bandits as they are by their worshipers! And that is the key to all idols! They cannot carry you when you need help! They cannot be anything more than a burden for your soul and your body. It is the same way with our own “modern idols.” We tend to believe that money is the answer-all, that it can carry us and make us happy. We believe that having a better will make life more fulfilling. We think if we can only find the perfect spouse (is there such a thing?) that our families will fall into place and everything will be grand. But is this not what the worshipers of Bel and Nebo thought? “If only we had a better gods to worship, then those gods will carry us through danger. Bel and Nebo could never be a burden to us!” Unlike the things of the world that are dead, God and Christianity are living. We worship a risen Savior, not a martyr in a tomb. We enjoy life in the Lord’s church!
“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (3:13).
“But encourage one another.” The importance of other Christians cannot be emphasized enough. If we did not need each other, then why would God call for worship every week? Why command Christians to assemble? Why encourage them to help each other? The phrase “one another” occurs often in the New Testament, and it is just the most obvious evidence we have that Christianity is a communal religion. We depend on each other like no other relationship in the world. Most especially, as this verse makes it clear, for encouragement. How many Christians do you know who actually prefer the company of brethren over some family members and friends? I know that the abundance of love and the wealth of liberality that flows from other Christians in unmatched by many of my family members, neighbors, and acquaintances. Even my closest friends in high school did not witness my deepest utterances, my sincerest prayers, my highest joys, and my most ardent fellowship. These privileges we reserve for our brethren.
This means there is a great deal of responsibility on our shoulders, though. Helping our beloved brothers and sisters will take sacrifice and energy. We may have to encourage the brokenhearted during times when we ourselves are brokenhearted. We may have to give of ourselves when we have little left in the tank. But the motivation for all of this is the fact that an act of kindness, a brotherly hug, a word of encouragement, a prayer, a song, a smile – any one of these could mean the difference between heaven and hell for someone we love. Sometimes encouragement is difficult, for it may require of us some degree of rebuke. But with eternity in mind, we should not shirk our responsibility to exhort and encourage our brethren always.
“As long as it is still called, ‘Today’…” This is one the most marvelous phrases in Hebrews. All of the things discussed in this lesson have their application for all time, in every part of the world, and for all people. As long as it is still called today, we must be diligent to stop sin in our lives, help prevent it in others, and maintain sound doctrine. The obvious point behind this phrase is that it will always be today. No matter what day it is, we will always find ourselves living right now, “today.” There is to be no procrastination in our evangelism or encouragement, for many cases of sin cannot wait until tomorrow. Millions of people wait unsaved in this world, many of them dying as we speak. A moment spent waiting may be a moment too late for some who we try to reach. So the sense of urgency must always be there! Do not put off the things that need doing until tomorrow, because tomorrow will take care of itself and it has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34). Also, do not be occupied with the concerns over yesterday, for it is over and there is nothing that can be done to change history. You are alive today, so work today. You are a Christian today, so live it. You may need to repent of sins, but tomorrow may never come for you. You can repent today.
“Lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” There is a highly admirable honesty in these words. While we would like to think that we always have our lives under control, there are times when we let ourselves be hardened and deceived. Essentially, sin tricks us (2 Timothy 2:26). It promises so much and delivers so little, and when it has sucked us dry it leaves us feeling empty and angry (2 Peter 2:19). There is no sugar coating here, either. While we may try to place blame on others for our hardness of heart – not enough love from parents or other Christians, etc. – the blame is always on ourselves for our own sin. When we allow ourselves to be deceived, it hardens us. Notice the way sin leaves a person feeling. Does sin invigorate us? Does it fulfill us? Does it breathe new life into us? Does it make us happy? No, friends, sin just leaves us hardened and bitter.
“For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (3:14).
“Partakers of Christ.” The phrase means that we are welcomed to share in his glory and resurrection in salvation. The practical application is baptism into Christ, and modeling ourselves after Him (Romans 6:1-11). Once we have modeled his death, burial, and resurrection, we come from the waters of baptism renewed and purified by God’s grace. But that is the easy part. It is interesting to notice in the religious world how many people are “born again” and yet never seem to be partaking of Christ. Is remaining sinful like Christ at all? Is remaining conformed to the world like Christ, either (Romans 12:2)? What about dismally obeying the commands expected of a partaker of Christ, such as attendance and liberality with one’s energy and resources? Being baptized is only the first step in a long process of being Christ-like, and living our lives in such a way that we do not even try to meet God’s expectations leaves hardly partaking of the divine nature. To partake of Christ is to model ourselves after Him. It means refusing to sin. It means devoting ourselves to a cause that is far greater than anything worldly. It means totally living for God, in spite of the opposition.
“If we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” There are two appropriate applications of this verse, the first one being about doctrine. We have been given the Bible, a book of such immense knowledge and wisdom that its place in salvation is indispensable. It is irreplaceable. From its words we learn our first bits and pieces about God. In a sense, the beginning of our assurance comes from the Bible. So if we start out with such a unique and admirable devotion to it, then why stop at any point in life and leave it behind. Do we ever mature to such a point that we no longer need the wisdom of the Word? Surely not! The second application would be on a much more emotional level. How many of us have known Christians, some perhaps very well, who started out doing so well at first, only to all away when interest was lost or tasks became more difficult. We seem to start out with such enthusiasm, such assurance. We feel confident in our path and doubt nothing when it comes to God. Yet the cares and concerns of the world affect us and leave us embittered. We lose our assurance and start doubting. When doubt is planted, fear arises and discouragement ensues. Other things steal our hearts from God and we run away into the world. That is, as Christ described, the man who is like the seed in the rocky soil (Matthew 13:20-21).
So long as it is still called “Today”, dear friends, we need to remain diligent and steadfast. We have hope in Christ only, and salvation in Him. If we lose that hope, we lose everything. There is no consolation prize for those who fail to find “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).