Lesson Number 5
A SOLEMN WARNINGTO US ALL!
"Therefore, even as the Holy Spirit saith, To-day if ye shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, Like as in the day of the trial in the wilderness, Where your fathers tried (me) by proving (me,) And saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was displeased with this generation, And said, They do always err in their heart: But they did not know my ways; As I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called To- day; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end: while it is said, To-day if ye shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For who, when they heard, did provoke? nay, did not all they that came out of Egypt by Moses? And with whom was he displeased forty years? was it not with them that sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that were disobedient? And we see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:7-19, ASB).
We now enter into a section of great solemnity--one that is sorely needed in our time. Having proclaimed the superiority of the Son to angels and Moses, and His willing identity with humanity, the Spirit proceeds to expound the implications of Christ's excellence. Enlarging upon foundational truth is a matter of especial weakness in the contemporary church. Sophists refer to this as "application," or making the truth relevant to daily life. The Spirit approaches the matter quite differently. The "implications" of the truth have to do with more than mere daily life. They deal with our preparation for the culmination of our salvation. I have often said this, but must say it again. We now have the "firstfruits" of our salvation, and not the fulness of it (Rom 8:23). The salvation in its fulness is "ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet 1:5). That fulness is called "the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1:13). The new birth was not primarily God's way of adapting us to live in "this present evil world." Rather, it was the indispensable means "to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Pet 21:4, NASB). The application of the Spirit is always with regard to that Divine objective. To be ready for the appearing of the Lord, and able to receive the inheritance is everything! If we come short of that, we have utterly failed, and shall gain nothing! The Spirit declares that participation in Christ's "house" requires steadfastness. Inclusion in that sanctified number is conditioned upon "holding fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end" (Heb 3:6, NASB). Notice the language again! This is not referring to slavish obedience to commands that are contrary to our nature. It is not speaking of mere rule-keeping. Let no one suppose for one moment this allows for slovenly or careless response to the commands of the King! No such person has any hope of entering into glory! "Holding fast our confidence" and the "rejoicing of the hope" are heart matters--matters that decisively effect what we say and do. They have more to do with sensitivity that procedure. A tender heart IS obedient! Religious procedure without spiritual insight or understanding has little, if any, value in the Kingdom of God. Keeping rules that you do not love counts for nothing with God!
The Law had no control over man's heart. It was not an economy of the heart! God said of Israel, "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men" (Isa 29:13, NIV). This condition will not be tolerated in Christ Jesus. Provision has been made for the reconciliation of men to God, and the recreation of their basic nature. The redeemed not only CAN be sensitive to the Lord, they must maintain their status before Him! Israel remained the people of God in spite of their obtuseness and spiritual dulness. That is because the Old Covenant provided no means of being born again. The insensitivity of the people was a source of aggravation to God, but He graciously tolerated it in anticipation of the coming Son. Now that the Son is administrating the Kingdom in the behalf of the redeemed, sensitivity is now imperative!
THE RESPONSIBILITY TO HEAR THE SPIRIT
This is a quotation, if I may speak academically, from Psalm 95:7-11. These words of the Spirit belong to the people under both the Old and New Covenant. They speak of the responsibility of men to hear their God. They call upon everyone to profit from the past. In the midst of lofty praise to God, the Spirit sounds forth the words in reference. He has called us into His courts with praise, lauded the King above all kings, and extolled His virtues (Psa 95:1-7a). The point of the Psalm is this: a lofty God demands the attention of the people. Though high above the people, He is affected by their attitudes and attentiveness. He is not seen by the people, but the people are seen by Him. He is gracious, but will not countenance being spurned by those to whom He speaks. Now, the Spirit summons us into the arena of contemplation--to consider these arresting words of the Spirit.
I do not often hear this kind of language. "So, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you hear His voice . . . '" Those that labor under Law do not speak like this. The thrust of their religion is earthward, where things depend upon men, procedures, and human disciplines. The Kingdom of Christ, however, is voice- driven! The King is now speaking from heaven (Heb 12:25), and men are obliged to hear Him! He is speaking to sensitive hearts--hard hearts cannot hear Him. He uses means in this speaking, (i.e., the Scriptures, exhortations, circumstances, etc.), but it is Christ that is doing the real communicating. Paul reminded the Ephesians that the redeemed can hear Jesus and be taught by Him. " . . . if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus" (Eph 4:21, NASB). Jesus Himself said His sheep hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27). Peter reminded his hearers that Moses had declared the necessity of hearing the voice of God's Prophet, Jesus. "For Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything He tells you. Anyone who does not listen to Him will be completely cut off from among His people'" (Acts 3:22-23, NIV).
You must not overlook the seriousness of this prophecy. It denotes the nature of the Kingdom over which Jesus presides--the economy of salvation. It is not possible to be saved while remaining insensitive to the Lord Jesus Christ. The trite aphorism that says, "Now that you have made Jesus your Savior, make Him your Lord," is unsuitable to be taken into our mouths. Much of contemporary religion allows for people to wear the name "Christian" without having an ear to hear the Son of God. That is only an imagination! God will not receive any one that does not receive His Son and you cannot receive His Son without hearkening to what He says!
Today! Today! Today!
One of the great failings of an academic religion is its de-emphasis of sensitivity to God during the present time. Historical analysis is fine, but it cannot take the place of present sensitivity! Probing the future, majoring in what is conceived to be prophetic utterances, is not to be despised. However, it must not dull men's minds to hearing to Lord TODAY! In Christ's Kingdom, a salvation that is not contemporary, is no salvation at all! Our future participation in glory depends upon our present involvement! As it is written, "being NOW justified . . . we have NOW received the reconciliation . . . NOW we have been released from the Law . . . There is therefore NOW no condemnation . . . NOW is the accepted time . . . NOW is the day of salvation . . . NOW faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen . . . " (Rom 5:9,11; 7:6; 8:1; 2 Cor 6:2; Heb 11:1).
Jesus is NOW at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens! He is NOW mediating the a New Covenant! He is NOW interceding for us! He is NOW giving us mercy, and grace to help in the time of need! Today He is speaking, guiding, and nourishing His people. He does not perform His ministry by mandate, coercion, or moral force. He uses sensitive, tender, malleable hearts! These are hearts that are aware of, and prefer, the will and objectives of the Lord. In the midst of circumstance, they can say with Eli of old and John the disciple, "It is the Lord!" (1 Sam 3:18; John 21:7). They are sensitive enough to say with Jacob, "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Gen 28:17). The question is not whether or not we will hear the heavenly voice tomorrow. It is not if we have heard it in the past! It is whether or not we hear it today! Now! Salvation depends upon hearing the Lord TODAY! There is no time when our ears are permitted to be "dull of hearing," and our hearts insensitive to our Savior.
If You Will Hear His Voice
There is no question about Jesus speaking, or of the possibility of men hearing. Debating the possibility is foolishness, and will dry the well from which you must drink to live! The question is not whether the Lord is speaking, but whether men are hearing whether or not they are listening! Are their hearts sensitized to the voice of the Lord? Do they have "ears to hear?" While seeing is considered the predominate sense in nature, hearing is the superior sense in spiritual matters. Men speak of the "eye gate," often saying that the things of God are best comprehended by "visual aids." Whatever fragment of truth may be found in that statement, it is certainly not an accurate depiction of Kingdom realities! As God counts things, seeing is NOT believing, nor has it ever been! A modicum of thought will confirm this to be the case. Jesus was "God manifest in the flesh," yet His bodily presence gave little advantage to the people. He was "in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not" (John 1:10). Of the chosen people themselves it was written, "He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him" (Isa 52:2, NASB). It was not until He was taken from the sight of men that faith sprang forth. What a devastating blow to the notion that seeing is the superior means of learning! Were that the case, faith would have dominated Jerusalem when Jesus was there in the body. Instead, it was ruled by an unbelief so strong, the people crucified the Lord of glory!
Of course, God has spoken specifically on this matter, thereby forbidding the entrance of any contrary notions. "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing [comes] by the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17, NASB). The conversion of the Ephesians was traced back to when they "heard the word of the truth of the Gospel" (Eph 1:13). The same thing is said of the Thessalonians (1 Thess 2:13). There is, in Christ, such a thing as "the hearing of faith" (Gal 3:2,5); that is, a faith that is conferred through the faculty of hearing-- hearing the Gospel. The Word of the Lord is the means through which Divine provisions are revealed to men. Hearing, or the ability of the human spirit to associate that word with the Living God, is the appointed means through which faith "comes."
It is necessary to elaborate on this point. From a heavenly point of view, the message of the Gospel is logical--but its logic is not the means through which faith is realized! The primary appeal of the Gospel is not to logic, but to the heart! In hearing, the heart [or essential part of man] senses it is a Word from the Lord. Whether it is fully comprehended or not, attentiveness is given to the message because of WHO spoke it. I do not deprecate apologetics, strong appeals to human reason, or the association of Divine power with human need. None of these, however, are the means through which faith is conferred! Faith is associated with HEARING! When the individual associates what is heard with the Lord, and embraces the message, it becomes a effectual call--a summons--to participate in blessing! It no longer is simply a logical or orderly presentation. No one of sound mind will oppose logical presentations. It is on the part of wisdom to exercise ourselves to avoid scatter-brained and illogical preaching. God is not served by thoughtless and aimless speech. However, the power is not in our logic, but in the truth of the Gospel (Rom 1:16)!
Observe how the Spirit states the case! "Today, if you will hear His voice!" There is a spiritual dimension in life that must be perceived. In this text, the word "voice" comes from a word (fwnhj), which means "a tone (articulate, bestial or artificial); by implication an address (for any purpose), saying or language:--noise, sound, voice." "Sound, tone . . . The sound of uttered words." This is heart-language! The voice of the Lord cannot be discerned with the hearing of the natural ear! You must have "ears to hear" (Matt 11:15; 13:9). What is more, this capacity is given by God, and God alone! As it is written, "Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear" (Deut 29:4, NASB). Recall the words of the Spirit to the Philippians. "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake . . . " (Phil 1:29, NASB). Again, Timothy was told, "and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 1:14). Let no imagine for a single moment that the spiritual property of believing, or having ears to hear, is the product of human intellect! God has spoken to plainly on this subject to allow the entertainment of such a vain notion!
The phrase "If you will hear His voice" imply two things. First, that there must be capacity to associate the message with the Lord of glory. Second, that the individual is willing to do this, and will not rebel against the Lord. In Christ, you DO receive "ears to hear." That condition is called having an ear an ear for the voice of the Lord! Precious capacity, indeed! Some people can only hear academically! They cannot hear spiritually. The Lord Jesus said this to the churches of Asia, and He says it to those of our day also. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). How often Jesus said to the multitudes, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt 11:15; 13:43; Mk 4:9,23; 7:16; Lk 8:8; 14:35).
This is the spirit of our text! LET HIM WITH A CAPACITY TO IDENTIFY THE WORD WITH JESUS EMPLOY THAT ABILITY NOW! Do not associate the Word primarily with duty, but with the exalted Christ! Let the SOURCE of the message dominate your thinking! Associate the Word with the heavenly Spokesman, and it will soon make sense to you! This is the meaning of the poignant word of Jesus to wondering Jews. "If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself" (John 7:17, NASB).
Do Not Harden YourHearts
What is the meaning of this admonition, and why is it necessary? Notice the context of the admonition, "If you hear His voice!" There are those without this capacity, whose hearts are already hard and impervious to Divine influence. There are also those who are conscious of the Lord, who sense His desire for them, and are sensitive to their need of Him. It is to the latter that the Spirit speaks. They remain in the land of jeopardy, "this present evil world" (Gal 1:4), and thus must be so addressed. If there were no danger of our hearts becoming calloused, this would be a superfluous word! There is a natural hardness in men's hearts from which we must be delivered. This deliverance occurs when God removes our stony hearts and gives us a heart of flesh (Ezek 11:19; 36:26). However, because the remnants of the old nature remain in us, we can acquire hard hearts again--hearts that are impervious to the voice of the Lord. These are hearts that are not moved by Divine pleas and the gentle wooing of the Spirit. This text is speaking of, what I have chosen to call, acquired hardness -- hardness of heart that has been chosen by the individual. It has been prompted by the devil and encouraged by the environment of this present evil world, but it was the choice of the individual to obtain it. This choice was made, mind you, AFTER deliverance from hardness had once been experienced. We are speaking of a sin of unspeakable magnitude!
The situation confronted by the book of Hebrews was a return to Law-keeping. As noble as this approach to life with God may appear, it tends to make the heart cold and hard. The legalist has more difficulty with hard-heartedness than anyone else. Such a heart will demand the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus over the objections of a reprobate political official like Pilate! Do not underestimate the danger of an approach to God by Law! Those that "seek to be justified by the Law ARE fallen from grace" (Gal 5:4)!
To harden the heart is to "resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51). Solomon called it the "hardening of the neck" (Prov 29:1), while Moses spoke of it as being "stiff necked" (Deut 31:27). This is to become stubborn and unyielding to God--to refuse to align ourselves with His will. One resource says of this condition, (Matt. 19:8; Mark 3:5). Indicates a destitution of feeling, insensitivity to spiritual things, persistence in wrongdoing, wickedness; in common use-- stinginess, solidity, firmness. In (Ezek. 3:7) the reference is evidently to a moral hardening. To "harden" or "stiffen the neck" (Kin. 17:14; Neh. 9:29; Prov. 29:1); etc.) is to be stubborn, self-willed. Such individuals become impermeable to Divine influence--a frightening thought! Paul spoke of it as "being past feeling," or losing "all sensitivity" (Eph 4:19). He also spoke identified it as having a "seared conscience" (1 Tim 4:2).
Frequently, the hardening of man's heart is a action attributed to God Himself (Ex 4:21; 7:3,13; 9:12,35; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:4,17; Deut 2:30; Josh 11:20; Isa 63:17; Rom 9:17-18). A remarkable example of this is described by the Spirit in Romans 1:28. "God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper . . . " As generally pictured, this is a response to man's obstinance--the ratification of man's refusal to hearken to the voice of the Lord. In the case of the Gentiles, they had refused to retain God in their knowledge, and became vain in their imaginations. God responded by delivering them over to their depraved wills--hardening their hearts (Rom 1:24,18). In the case of Pharaoh, he first hardened his own heart against the Lord (Ex 8:15,32; 9:34). The Lord, then, ratified Pharaoh's choice, casting it in stone! The possibility of this was chronicled by Solomon. "A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed--without remedy" (Prov 29:1, NIV).
The solemn warning, "Harden not your hearts," is given with these things in mind. Just as the Lord responds to faith, so He does to unbelief. Persistence in a refusal to hearken to the voice of the Lord will eventually result in a irremediable condition. Foolish, indeed, is the person that refuses to listen to the Savior who is appointed to bring him to God!
Remember, the things that occurred to Israel "happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Cor 10:11). The Spirit now refers to a specific incident in their history. It was remarkably tragic, and is filled with profitable things. This event is called "the provocation" (KJV), or "when they provoked Me" (NASB). The NIV refers to it as "the rebellion." What could this incident be? Israel was known for their frequent disobedience, rebellion, and hard-heartedness. However, the Spirit now calls our attention to a single event that turned the course of their history!
Moses recalled Israel's primary provocations to them. "Again at Taberah and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the LORD to wrath. And when the LORD sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, 'Go up and possess the land which I have given you,' then you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God; you neither believed Him nor listened to His voice" (Deut 9:22-23). At Taberah, the people displeased the Lord by complaining. As a result, He sent a fire that consumed all dwelling on the "outskirts of the camp" (Num 11:1-5). At Massah, Israel provoked the Lord when they were thirsty, charging Moses with bringing them into the desert to die of thirst. This is where the people challenged the man of God by saying, "Is the LORD among us, or not?" (Ex 17:7ff).
As if this was not bad enough, they finally provoked the Lord to exclude them from the promised land--THE PROVOCATION! This tragic event occurred when they were told to go in and possess the promised land. It had been given to them by God Almighty! Do you recall what happened? Israel sent twelve spies to see the land. When they returned, ten of them affirmed the land could not be possessed. The obstacles were too great. "The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight" (Num 13:32-33). "All the people" believed these unbelievers, rejecting the testimony of faith brought by Joshua and Caleb. They "wept all night," and lifted up their voice against Moses and Aaron. "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! And why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?" (Num 14:1-3). The people determined to "appoint a leader and return to Egypt" (14:4).
THERE IS A CLASSIC EXAMPLE OF PEOPLE BEING ANGRY WITH GOD a trite and foolish response that has become common in our day. Even after Moses and Aaron pled with them in the name of the Lord, they sought to stone them with stones their hearts had become hard (14:10)! Speaking of this grievous incident, our text says, "Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, 'They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.'" Notice, God was angry with a "generation" a body of people during a specific period of time, that were noted for unbelief and the rejection of God. Here was a generation that wearied God (Isa 43:24). He actually grew tired of them, and was distressed because of them! Scripture apprizes us of the Lord's view of wayward Israel, and the words are most arresting.
"Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against His people, And He abhorred His inheritance. Then He gave them into the hand of the nations; And those who hated them ruled over them" (Psa 106:40- 41). Here is a God that is not well known in our day!
When God Swears In Wrath
Was God impervious to their unbelief? Indeed, He was not! He responded, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they" (Num 14:11-12, NIV). At this point Moses intercedes for Israel in a way unequaled in human history. Because of his closeness to God, and the strong appeals made to the Divine nature, God responded, "I have forgiven them, as you asked." Do you imagine this was the end of the matter? Indeed, it was not! The Lord continued. "Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw My glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed Me and tested Me ten times not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated Me with contempt will ever see it" (Num 14:21-23, NIV).
The point of our text is simply this: those that choose to reject the Lord, being insensitive to His voice, are tempting God. They are in danger of Him cutting them off finally, without any hope of ever being saved. That point cannot be precisely defined by men. However, those that make a practice of resisting the Lord, stifling spiritual influences, and refusing to obtain what Christ has obtained for them, stand in jeopardy. They are on the periphery of the Kingdom, so to speak, and their prospects do not look good. The closer you get to the perimeter of the Kingdom, the more apt your heart will become hard! Tenderness of heart is a quality found at the heart of the Kingdom, in fellowship with God's dear Son! I cannot leave this text without commenting on our times. They are perilous times, indeed! The lack of spiritual appetite is evidenced all around us. Brief messages, much entertainment, and shallow spiritual views dominate the religious scene. Very little of what parades itself as being from God actually requires Him. Nor, indeed, does it require that God's people obtain what has been prepared for them. It is an intolerable situation to God, and it must also be to us! The Lord will not long endure the rejection of Himself, a preference for the things of this world, and the lack of appetite for His good Word. Let men forever cease to explain these conditions, and devote themselves to their elimination. The life of the people is at stake! God is not as tolerant as some suppose!
THE EVIL HEART OF UNBELIEF
Believing God is not an option in the Kingdom of God, but an imperative! "Without faith, it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). Unbelief, therefore, is to be viewed with utter disdain and hatred. It is to be aggressively opposed, and vigorously thrust from us. Unbelief stops the hand of the Lord, prohibiting His work to be beneficial to the people. Do not marvel at this statement. It is said of the Lord Jesus, when He was in His home town, "Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief" (Matt 13:58, NKJV). Mark writes of this incident, "He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith" (Mark 6:5-6). This provides an explanation for the apparent absence of Divine power in many contemporary religious circles.
The Lord CANNOT overlook unbelief! It would violate His nature to do so! After Jesus had risen from the dead, He confronted His disciples. They had refused to believe the faithful women that testified to them of the risen Lord (Luke 24:10). Was that simply a human weakness, to be overlooked by the Savior? Indeed not! When the risen Lord appeared to His disciples, "He reproached (upbraided, KJV; rebuked, NIV) them for their unbelief and hardness of heart" (Mk 16:14, NASB). The Spirit informs us that UNBELIEF is what provoked some of the Israelites to be "broken off" (Rom 11:20). Unbelief is not an innocent thing! Unless it is overcome, it will mandate the individual be cast into the lake of fire (Rev 21:8). The state of the condemned is described as a "portion with the unbelievers" (Luke 12:46).
Do not allow unbelief to dominate your thinking. The heart that does not believe--that does not trust in the Lord, or joyfully receive His Gospel--is an "evil heart." In the words of our text, "Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart." You are the custodian of your heart! Make sure unbelief has no place there! Your determination to exclude unbelief from your life will be underwritten by Omnipotence! The Lord will come to your aid. The Mediator of the New Covenant will provide resources required to live by faith. Taking heed (KJV), or taking care, means we are devoted to maintaining a walk in the Spirit. We will not allow ourselves to governed by seen things, but look beyond them to things that are not seen--eternal things (2 Cor 4:17-18).
Those that are lax in their intake of and meditation upon the things of God will not be able to keep unbelief from entering their hearts. It simply cannot be done! The contemporary laxness in obtaining spiritual nourishment is a most serious condition. When brevity marks religious activities, and longevity is the trait of entertaining ones, spiritual decline is present! Men cannot live without the Word of God (Matt 4:4), and those supposing they can are simply wrong as well as "dead."
Departing From God
The effect of unbelief is driven home with great power "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God" (NIV). The NASB speaks of "falling away from the l,iving God." The KJV, in reading, "departing from the living God," accentuates the willingness of unbelief. Unbelief is never inadvertent. It is always deliberate, always a choice! The individual that does not believe God CHOOSES not to do so. Just as Israel chose to reject the promise of God, so the unbeliever of our time--particularly the one in church--chooses to reject Divine testimony. The result is that the individual is cut off from God. Unbelief voids prayer, thrusts away the Word of God, and judges the individual unworthy of eternal life (Acts 13:46). An unbeliever tests the patience of the Lord, like Israel tempted Him with their rejection of His Word. That is why, on one occasion, Jesus said to nine of His disciples, "'O unbelieving generation,' Jesus replied, 'how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" (Mark 9:19). Preachers and teachers do well to remind sluggardly individuals under their influence of this Kingdom reality! Slowness of heart is always subject to rebuke, and is never justified! Of such, it is always true, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe . . . " (Lk 24:25, NASB).
THE INDISPENSABLE ROLE OF EXHORTATION
The nature of the faith-life requires exhortation. The necessity of this activity is accentuated by its presence in the categorization of spiritual gifts. "And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly . . . he who exhorts, in his exhortation . . . " (Rom 12:8, NASB). New Covenant prophesying includes this ministration (1 Cor 14:3). Those proclaiming the Word of God are to give themselves to this holy activity (1 Tim 4:13). Coming from the word parakaleite, this word means imploration, exhortation, solace: comfort, consolation, exhortation, entreaty. Encouragement and motivation are a strong emphasis in the ministry of exhortation. Exhortation is a New Covenant ministry. The words "exhort," "exhorting," and "exhortation" are not found in standard translations of the Old Covenant Scriptures (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, and NRSV). "Commands" are employed when speaking to people under the Old Covenant. Prior to Christ, although the people were involved in a Divinely originated covenant, they had no real affinity with God. Their hearts were not made new, they did not have the remission of sins as we do, nor did they have the indwelling Spirit. They lived under an economy of imposition, where ordinances were "imposed on them until the time of reformation" (Heb 9:10).
In Christ the situation is different. By God's grace, we have been reconciled to God. We have experienced the "circumcision of Christ," wherein the whole "body of the sins of the flesh" was cut away from us (Col 2:11-12). We are no longer enemies, and are not "debtors to the flesh to live after the flesh" (Rom 8:12). Having been "washed," "sanctified," and "justified" (1 Cor 6:11), we enjoy the status of "sons of God" (1 John 3:1-3). EXHORTATION ASSUMES THESE REALITIES. It is a ministry that urges God's people to move forward in Christ, availing themselves of the graces and the power that belong to them. Exhortation is an appeal to the "new man," which has been created after the image of Him that created Him (Col 3:10).
Timeliness Is Critical
Exhortation is a "daily" ministry. It is a "Today" activity. "But exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." This presumes frequent contact with, and a preference for, the household of faith. I have long marveled at the upbraiding many of us receive because we prefer the company of the people of God. The argument that we must spend more time with the world is so utterly absurd one must close his Bible shut his mind to believe it. God Himself prefers the company of His people, walking IN them and dwelling IN them. He will not dwell in a heart that is not humble and contrite, and offers no fellowship, or intimacy, to those alienated from Him. His Son dwells in the saved alone. He is present where people gather together in His Name, and intercedes for those who are believing in Him. I understand (I think) what these sophists are saying. They are reminding us that we are the only light the world has. But their whole argument is a juvenile redundancy! It is not possible to wealk in the light as He is in the light and not illuminate those about you! You cannot walk in the Spirit and be undetected, or live by faith and go unnoticed. It is not possible to enjoy the fellowship of God's dear Son (1 Cor 1:9), and the communion of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:14) and be indifferent to the needs of sinners.
The design of exhortation is to draw the hearers closer to their Lord--to bring them more within the center of Divine purpose, and away from the periphery of it. By it, the "pure minds" of the redeemed are "stirred up," brought to a recollection of eternal things. "Daily" exhortation is required because the fight of faith is "daily." Temptation is "daily." The influence of the condemned order has upon us is experienced "daily." Our need for spiritual sustenance is "daily." All of this assumes frequent contact with the people of God. Those that remind us there are no commands to meet frequently have failed to make this association.
In reality, there are no commands for us to meet together at all. There ARE exhortations or admonitions todo so. Thus, the Holy Spirit reminds us to prod one another heavenward every day. Let our speech and our manners be such toward each other as point us heavenward. If, due to the weakness of the flesh, we drift into other modes of speech, let us be swift to exhort one another Godward. "The time is short!" We do not have time to be distracted from the heavenly goal!
What is the alternative to daily exhortation in the Lord? "So that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." Who is the individual strong enough, under ordinary circumstances, to withstand Satanic assaults on their own? I say, under ordinary circumstances, because God will sustain a person experiencing uncommon trial like Noah building the ark, Joseph in prison, Daniel in the lions den, or the three Hebrew children in a furnace of fire. But those are not the ordinary lot of believers.
Sin is deceptive because of the one that promotes it. It is also deceptive because we are in its realm-- a "present evil world." Add to that the fact we are in a "vile body," cohabiting it with an "old man," or "sinful nature," and you have the need for exhortation (Phil 3:20; Eph 4:20-24; Rom 6:6-8). The person that chooses to avoid daily exhortation, allowing his mind to be unaffected by the truth of God, will soon be living in sin. It may be, what men call, respectable sin, but it will still be sin. What is more, sin HARDENS the heart. The more we are exposed to it, the more apt we are to be hardened against God and His Holy Spirit. If the professed church were to take this word seriously, it would radically affect its entire program. Methinks buildings dedicated to God would have their lights glowing and their rooms filled more consistently and frequently.
WE ARE PARTAKERS OF CHRIST
Herein is a marvelous consideration--and it is the truth! "For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end." To be a partaker of, or participant in, Christ is worthy the forfeiture of all competing influences. He brings a satisfaction and fulfillment that cannot be realized outside of the Lord Himself. This remains yours, however, by choice. It does not stay with you automatically. The reason for this is obvious: you are not in a vacuum. You are surrounded by competing forces, and assaulted by an intent enemy. You must hold on to your confidence with great tenacity! Confidence is an aspect of faith, which is the persuasion of things "hoped for."
A Conditional Blessing
The blessings of God are generally conditional. The things that compete with the blessing of the Lord must be left behind before it can be obtained. Paul spoke of his personal decision regarding fellowship with the Son. "Yes, indeed, and I count all things to be loss, because of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, because of whom of the all things I suffered loss, and do count them to be refuse, that Christ I may gain, and be found in him, not having my righteousness, which [is] of law, but that which [is] through faith of Christ--the righteousness that is of God by the faith, to know him, and the power of his rising again, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if anyhow I may attain to the rising again of the dead. Not that I did already obtain, or have been already perfected; but I pursue, if also I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by the Christ Jesus; brethren, I do not reckon myself to have laid hold; and one thing--the things behind indeed forgetting, and to the things before stretching forth--to the mark I pursue for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:8-14, Young's Literal Translation). This is the norm of the Kingdom!
If you wonder what it means to "hold fast the beginning of your confidence," look at the Lord Jesus Christ. On the eve of His vicarious death, when He was going to experience separation from His Father, He held fast to His confidence. "Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee" (John 17:1). Later, in the throes of unparalleled agony He prayed, "Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42). He was dominated by the purpose and will of the Father, even at the height of temptation and struggle! There you have a picture of what it means to "hold fast the beginning of your confidence." The struggle against temptation was so strong Jesus "suffered" in the experience of it (Heb 5:8). Yet, He did not lose His grip on, or preference for, the good and acceptable, and perfect will of God! He even "endured the cross, despising the shame" in anticipation of the "joy set before Him" (Heb 12:1-2).
You can also see it in Paul the Apostle. When he was about to leave this world, he declared, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day" (2 Tim 4:7-8). He did not allow the most difficult of all experiences to drive a wedge between him and the hope of glory! He entered the holiest by the blood of Jesus when all was dark around him!
Steadfast Unto The End
Spiritual victory is not by fits and starts! Faith cannot be seasonal! If you are going to triumph over the evil one, you must stay in the battle, and continue the race--all the while "looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith" (Heb 12:1-2). Speaking of those passing through great tests, Jesus said, "But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved" (Matt 24:12, NASB). Earlier in this chapter, identity with Jesus is affirmed to be conditioned upon maintaining our hope until the end. "Whose house are we, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end" (Heb 3:6, NASB). Later in this book, the Spirit expresses the desire for a proper frame of spirit in all us at the time of the end. "And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end" (Heb 6:11, NASB). Participation in the world to come, Jesus declares, is conditioned upon keeping confidence to the end. "To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations" (Rev 2:26, NIV).
Make no mistake about this! We have been called into the life of faith until "the end!" Salvation is not a short-term arrangement, nor is it a mere novelty. Faith compels us to prepare for the long haul of life. Time is the great tester of the heart. It is what sifts out the feeble, fearful, and insincere. But time is on the side of those determined to "keep the faith!" Souls that fall away, draw back, and throw overboard the faith, are displeasing to God. Unless they recover from their inexcusable setback, they will be "destroyed from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power" (2 Thess 1:9).
LEARN FROM THE FALTERING ISRAELITES
Intent upon bringing the Hebrew believers into the consistency of faith, the Spirit again mentions the provocation of Israel. He does not want them to provoke God--and unbelief and a lack of spiritual growth DO provoke Him! "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME." He does not leave us to surmise who He is speaking about, or why God was provoked. "For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?" (3:17-18). He is not talking about the Canaanites or other heathen nations-- although He was angered by them also. He is speaking about the people He delivered--the ones "who came out of Egypt led by Moses." He had been merciful to them, delivering them from oppression, and they dared to despise Him,reject His Word, and murmur against Him!
And do you think He is any different today? He will be provoked even more by people that have been blessed by Jesus, then returned like a sow that was washed to its wallowing in the mire! The church will use its time wisely dissuading men and women from falling away in the first place. They will find it less necessary to develop recovery programs if they spend time in daily exhortation, laboring for the souls of men. The brief exposure the average church gives the people to the things of God makes its survival against the devil highly unlikely! Until spiritual life is on a "daily" basis, "defeat" will be the epitaph over every day!
Israel is the case in point! God was "angry" with them for "forty years!" He was not pleased with them, but His wrath was awakened against them! And why so? Because they did not respond to His overtures! They too soon forgot His deliverance, and rejected the one He gave them! The wilderness was cluttered with the graves of those Israelites. "600,000 men on foot" entered into the wilderness, but only TWO of them came out! That is .0003333 of 1%! Do you wonder, child of God--do you wonder how God feels about those whose love waxes cold? Look to the unbelieving Israelites, and let them testify to you!
Why did 599,998 men fall in the wilderness? Why did God forbid them to enter the promised land, and rest from their wandering? Because they "were disobedient!" He told them to enter, and they did not! He told them they could possess the land, and they did not believe Him! A land of milk and honey was theirs, but they chose to disbelieve! He let them sample the fruit of the land, and they still chose to disbelieve. He let them view the land in all of its splendor, but they could not believe it was for them! And what could be said of our situation today? Jesus has blazed the way to God, tearing down the obstacles, and clearing the way for us to enter the holiest of all. He has taken away our sin, destroyed our enemy, and brought the blessing within our reach. God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think according to the power that is at work in us. Jesus has declared Himself to with us, among us, and in us! He has given us His Holy Spirit, His peace, and His joy. God has given us new birth and a living hope.
He has provided an Intercessor that ever lives to make intercession for us. What possible reason can be given for not advancing--for not growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. What person can say there are not enough advantages in Christ? Who will be able to justify unbelief in any form, and in any measure?
Unbelief Locks The Door Of Entrance!
O, the solemnity of the word! "And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief." Unbelief closed the door of blessing, forbidding their entrance into the very land promised to them! It simply was not possible for them to enter. There was no army capable of leading them into the land no military strategy adequate of plotting victory over the enemy. The day they chose to disbelieve Almighty God, they were rejected!
Of what relevance is all of this to the believer? A great deal indeed, although we hear precious little about it these days! God has urged us to "enter" into the "holiest of all," and to do so with a true heart, a sprinkled conscience, and bodies washed with pure water (Heb 10:19-22). With earnestness He calls for us to "draw near" confidently, and with great expectation. He tells us the "eyes of our understanding" can be opened, and that our "inner man" can be strengthened by His Holy Spirit (Eph 1:18-20; 3:16-18). He reminds us that there is power devoted to us, and that works now within us (Eph 1:20; 3:20). There is no reason for any child of God to "fail of the grace of God" (Heb 12:15).
It is my persuasion that unbelief dominates the average congregation. There are several evidences of this condition. First, the rarity of spiritual appetite. Second, the at-home-ness of the people in "this present evil world." Third, the lack of spiritual vocabulary. Fourth, the ready acceptance of spiritually powerless preaching. Fifth, the dominance of religious law and ritual. Sixth, the propensity to religious entertainment. Seventh, the lack of involvement in the work of the Lord. More evidences can be cited, but these will suffice to portray the condition as I see it.
What is the cause of this condition? Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah. "An appalling and horrible thing Has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so!" (Jer 5:30-31, NASB). Notice, in God's judgment, which is the ONLY valid judgment, speaking falsely in God's name is appalling and horrible! Ruling over God's people with human authority is appalling and horrible! When the people consent to such malpractice, it is also appalling and horrible. What we see all about us is a conspiracy, instigated by the devil and received by those lacking Divine affiliation. Much of what is preached today has not come from God! The means being employed to govern (so-called) the people of God has been imposed by the authority of men. As if this were not enough, people identified with God love the arrangement. They like the concocted vocabulary they have received--a vocabulary spawned in the dens of psychiatry and empty professionalism. The pulpit and the pew have united in the conspiracy of unbelief! Where this is NOT the case (and, bless God!, there are places where this is not true), we have an exception to the rule! Few, if any, informed people do not know this to be true.
How can this condition be averted? Knowing how God feels about lifelessness among His people, we are constrained to do something about the condition. If the state of unbelief is not corrected, damnation is sure! The answer can be found in the correction of the defective areas. The prophets must begin to declare the truth. The leaders must bear rule by God's means. The people must love the Divine arrangement, and forbid to allow false teachers and ruthless rulers to enter their assemblies. If they do not do this, unbelief will surface! You cannot have a strong faith when there is weak preaching! Followers of Christ cannot be produced by manipulative leaders! If this appears a bit strong, think of the passage we have reviewed again. There is no Divine tolerance in it at all! It is a solemn warning to us all to make war on unbelief in any and all forms. It also alerts us to the propensity to unbelief that lies in all of us. Unchecked, it will soon drive us from the presence of the Lord!