Hebrews 3:7-14 - Encourage One Another Daily
I enjoy reading the psalms because they often invite me to worship. In the middle of a busy day or a hectic week they invite me to turn my attention to God and worship Him. Like you, I often need this reminder.
Recently, I spent an entire week studying Psalm 149. Every day I would read it and meditate upon it. But then one morning I read these words as if for the very first time, “Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly!” In that moment it occurred to me that over that week I had never obeyed this psalm. At no time had I read the psalmists call to worship the LORD and responded to it with worship and praise. I had overlooked the Psalmists call to worship.
I excused myself by saying that this Psalm is a call to worship God as we gather as a congregation. This eased my conscience a bit but I continued to read and came to verse 5 which says, “Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.” These words made me realize that this psalm is calling me to worship at church and in my bed at home and everywhere in between.
Psalm 149 it tells us that the ‘high praises of God’ is to be on our lips and a ‘two-edged sword’ is to be in our hands with which we are to execute the judgments that are written in God’s Word (6-9). The psalm closes with these words, “This is honor for all His godly ones. Praise the LORD!”
Psalm 149 describes what should be happening among God’s people. We are to honor the LORD as we gather together and hear the Word. We are then sent out with obedient hearts of faith and a mouths full of praise to execute the Word of God in our lives, in our families, and in our communities. And at the end of the day we are to honor God as we lie down in our beds and sing His high praises.
According to Psalm 149 this is how people ought to honor the LORD, but we don’t always do it. In fact, we need encouragement to do this with any consistency. Last week Ray Haas pointed out that there is a rest for our souls that is far better than even the physical sleep that the psalmist hoped to enjoy as he laid his head down on the pillow at night and ended the day by praising the LORD. To enter this rest we definitely need daily encouragement from each other.
In our text today the author of Hebrews reminds believers that their forefathers had often neglected to do these very things and he warns these believers not to be like them. Their forefathers never entered into the rest that God intended because of their disobedience, unbelief and their heart hardening sin.
The mouths of their forefathers were not full of worship and the high praises of God; instead their mouths were full of grumbling and complaining. Their forefathers did not respond to the Word of God with obedient faith; instead they hardened their hearts and provoked the LORD to anger. Their hearts were not full of rejoicing and gladness; instead they had hard hearts that rebelled against the LORD. I read Psalm 149 for a week before I heeded the call to worship the LORD; but for forty years, despite having seen all that God had done for them, they never heeded the call to worship and they did not enter into the rest that God had promised.
Their forefathers grumbled from beginning to the end of the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Thomas Watson once said, “Every murmurer is his own martyr; he is a murderer: he kills many at once, his joy, his comfort, his peace, his rest, his soul.” Our text reminds us that unbelieving hearts and murmuring tongues does these things and even more. It takes away our joy, comfort, peace and rest. When we do not put our confidence in Christ, boast in Christ and hope in Christ we can actually provoke God to wrath and fail to enter into His rest.
We will probably admit that we are so easily prone to be like the Israelite's. We too are learning to trust God. The lesson seems daunting but it can be done! The apostle Paul learned to do this and he testified of it in Philippians 4:11-13, “...for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things who strengthens me.”
Israel’s forefathers struggled to do this and these believers who were receiving this letter were also struggling in this same way. They were also at risk of turning away from Jesus. They were at risk of hardening their hearts and turning away from the LORD. This is why the author of Hebrews encourages these believers to not harden their hearts in Hebrews 3:7-12,
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Notice that our text begins with the word ‘Therefore’. This reminds us to consider the context. We have seen in the larger context that the author has argued successfully that Jesus is greater than the prophets (1:1), than the angels (1:5-2:18), and He is greater than Moses (3:1-6).
In the Old Testament God had spoken through the prophets at many times and in many ways. All of these prophets faithfully spoke about that which was to be spoken later when the Prophet came into the world (3:5). As we began this book the author wasted no time in letting us know that God has sent His Son into the world and we are to listen to Him. [Hebrews 1:2 said, “God has now spoken to us by His Son”.] Therefore, Jesus is worthy of more honor and glory than all other prophets (3:3). All those who are godly will honor and glorify the Son. Like Psalm 149:9 says, “This is the honor for all His godly ones.” We honor Jesus when we respond in faith to His Word and when we worship Him with high praises from the heart.
The next five words of our text says, “as the Holy Spirit says”. Here we discover that the author of Hebrews had a very high view of the Word of God. He believed that every text from the Law and the Psalms and the Prophets, the whole Old Testament, is divinely inspired and is given by the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps this is important to consider at this point in this letter. The author of Hebrews has made the point that God used to speak through the prophets at many times and in many ways but now He speaks through Jesus. Some might wrongly conclude then that the Old Testament should be ignored now that Jesus has come.
The author of Hebrews and all the other authors of scripture would disagree. For example, In Acts 1:15-16 Luke quotes Peter and says, “Brothers the scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David...”. (Acts 4:25)
Notice the tense of the verb in our verse. It says, “...as the Holy Spirit says”. The Holy Spirit speaks to every generation through the scriptures. We also see this when the author of Hebrews will say in Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
The word lays bare our hearts before God. It does not simply expose our actions but the Word discerns the heart of a person. Consider the last words of that text again, “And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
This past weekend when my mom was here Emily and I took her to Madison to see the capital. As we walked around the outside of the building there was a protester there and she was holding up a sign in favor of abortion. What shocked me was that this lady did not have a shirt on. She was not ashamed to stand before men, women, and children while exposed in that way.
Yet, even though she was willing to do this I would guess that she would not want to have her heart exposed by the Word of God and laid bare before the eyes of the LORD to whom we will all give account one day. The LORD lays bare and judges the heart and that is what we see in our text today. The word ‘heart’ is mentioned four times in our text (8,10,12,15).
But even though the Word exposes our hearts it can also provide the ‘Good News’ that we so desperately need. Consider what Paul says to Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
The Westminster Confession of Faith encourages us to have a high view of Scripture when it says, “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.”1
Martin Luther revealed his high view of the Scriptures when he said that ‘he would not live in Paradise, if he might, without the Word; but with the Word he could live in hell itself.’”2
These believers felt as though their life in paradise had begun to end as soon as they heard and believed the gospel. Since that time they were beginning to experience trials and persecution. As a result, they were beginning to drift away from Christ and the hope that they once had. The author of Hebrews encourages them to not drift away from Christ, His Word and from His people in such times. If a person responds in faith to the Word of God they can live anywhere in a God glorifying manner.
He gives them an example to consider from Psalm 95. Like Psalm 149 this psalm is a call to worship the LORD even when in difficult places. It begins by saying, “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise.” (95:1-2)
The psalmist calls them to Worship God because He is their rock of salvation, He is a great God, He is a great King above all gods, He is the maker of everything, and He is their faithful Shepherd. Then the psalmist admonishes them to remember His Word and respond in faith and to not be like their forefathers who had hardened their hearts and put God to the test.
This particular occasion that the Psalmist is remembering is recorded in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:2-13. The people of Israel were moving through the wilderness in stages according to the command of the LORD. At every stage the LORD had provided for His people and cared for them. But at one point the people were camped in Rephidim and their was no water for the people to drink. Instead of trusting God the people began to grumble and complain against Moses. They asked, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
Moses went before the LORD and said, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
The LORD told Moses to go to the rock of Horeb and strike it once with his staff and water would come out for the people to drink. Moses, however, was angry with the people and he struck the rock twice. Because of this the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12)
The name of that place was to be called Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarreling) because of the sins that the people had committed. Repeatedly the people of God tested the LORD throughout the forty years that they spent in the wilderness. They tested God by trying to see how long His patience would hold out in the face of their stubbornness of heart.
After having reminded these believers of the sin of their forefathers he says to them in Hebrews 3:12-13, “Take care (be careful, beware and watch out), brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
The author warns these believers about having a sinful and unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Are you grateful for a minster, a friend, or a family member who will warn, encourage and exhort you to persevere in the LORD?
The authors continual exhortation in this letter reminds me of the boldness of a minister who began to realize that some in his congregation had forgotten that God is a ‘living God’ and is to be considered Holy. One day he was among a large gathering of people and someone said to him casually, “Pastor, get things started for us with a little prayer.”
Most pastors would have simply said a small prayer to get things going but this bold pastor said, “I will not, there are not little prayers! Prayer enters the lions den, brings us before the holy God , where it is uncertain whether we will come back alive or sane. For it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.”3
It ought to be a priority for us to receive exhortations and encouragement from others. For those of you who were here for the sermon that Ray Haas preached last week you will recall that he gave us several godly exhortations.
Let me give you a couple of examples of pastors who have given similar exhortations to their congregations. Thomas Brooks was a bold pastor who feared that he was ministering to people who were beginning to neglect the Word and may have been slowly falling away from the living God. He says to them, “Remember this: if your knowledge does not now affect your heart, it will at last, with a witness, afflict they heart; if your knowledge does not now endear Christ to you, it will at last provoke Christ the more against you; if it does not make all the things of Christ to be very precious in your eyes, it will at last make you the more vile in Christ’s eyes.”4 Many of us desire to have minds that can comprehend the truths of scripture, but do we have hearts that receive the WORD?
John Owen was another pastor who preached a sermon that sounded a lot like the author of Hebrews. He confessed that he had made some observations over the last forty years of his life in ministry. He then addressed the sins that he saw in the world and in the church. When addressing the sins that he saw in the church he said,
There seems to me, I must confess, to be a great decay in all the churches of Christ in the nation, especially among those of us who have had the most peace and prosperity. That which we call zeal for God is almost completely lost among us...Our first love? How decayed it is!...The value of the ordinances of Christ and the fellowship of His people for our edification? How cold have we become to these things! How little is the church society upon our hearts, which some of us remember as being the very joy of our souls!”5
The author of Hebrews, Thomas Brooks, John Owen and Ray Haas all encouraged believers not to harden their hearts against Christ and His Word. We are prone, through the deceitfulness of sin, to have our hearts hardened and so we need to encourage one another daily.
Thomas Watson said that our knowledge of the Word of God should affect our heart, it should endear us to Christ, and it should make Christ very precious in our eyes.
John Owen encourages us to return to our first love Jesus Christ. He encourages us to partake in the graces that God has given to us to restore that which has decayed, to recover the zeal that has been lost, and to restore the warmth of a heart that has turned cold.
The author of Hebrews encourages us to respond to the Word of God and to consider Christ our great High Priest. He says in Hebrews Hebrews 4:11-16,
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
All three of these faithful ministers have encouraged us with the same exhortation. We are to help each other by speaking the Word of God to each other and draw each other to Him. Jesus is the Living God who can recover our spiritual life. John Owen said, “Christ is the spring of our spiritual life; He is in every way our spiritual life.”6
How do we draw near to Christ to be restored? Owen gives four things that we should consider.
We are to abide at the source of all life by frequently acting in faith upon the person of Christ.
‘Put your faith to work, viewing Him as He is represented in the gospel, in trusting in Him, and in praying to Him – that He may be continually near to you.’
We are to abide in Christ in love.
Consider Christ: His person, His attributes, His nature, His character, His offices, His works, His representation of the Father.
We are to abide in Christ by adding meditation to our love and faith.
Delight more in the hearing of Christ and in the preaching of Christ. Come daily to learn of Him and find your rest in Him.
We are to be aware of a decline of spiritual life in the performance of our many duties, make every effort to bring spirituality into our duties. Bring every grace to bear in our duties.7
Come appropriately to do your spiritual duties.
A resource to consider watching to encourage you to persevere: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/seventy-years-without-shipwreck
Thought to Consider:
In Acts 1 Luke begins in this way, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day when He was taken up, after He had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen. He presented Himself alive to them after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:1-5)
In Hebrews 3 we have seen that for forty years the Israelite’s disbelieved and sinned even though God did many signs and wonders. In Acts 1 we see that Jesus was with the apostles for forty days giving proofs.
When I picture these things I imagine just how captivating the presence of Jesus must have been for the apostles. Jesus was proving to them that He was alive. He was teaching them and giving them commands. He was instructing them to wait for the Holy Spirit. I find it hard to imagine that any of Jesus’ disciples would have had any of the following reactions:
I cannot imagine that they would NOT have savored, enjoyed, and been captivated by every word that Jesus spoke to them during those forty days. There were probably many times when they did not want this time to end because their hearts were in awe.
I also would think that the disciples would have learned from this moment something that Luke is careful to record when he says, “...Jesus had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles”. Jesus’ words were given through the Holy Spirit and now they were to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit that was to happen in the coming days. With the coming of the Holy Spirit they would experience truth in a powerful and profound way.
I cannot imagine that the disciples would have disobeyed Jesus’ words and left Jerusalem. No, I would think that the opposite would have been true. They would have gladly stayed with expectant hearts because Jesus said, “...not many days from now”.
I highlight these things simply to encourage us that, like the apostles, we too would do well to listen daily to the Word of God as long as it is called Today. Our hearts should be captivated by every word that is spoken. This is what Peter asked the people to do on the day of Pentecost.
Peter lifted up his voice and addressed them, ‘...let this be known to you and give ear to my words…’ (2:14)
Peter said, ‘Men of Israel, hear these words…’ (2:22)
The people did listen and we read,
Now they heard this and were cut to the heart, and said to Peter...’Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’
Peter continued to exhort them saying, ‘And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ (2:37-41)
How did the people respond that set them apart from a crooked generation?
And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul… (42-43)
The believers in Acts 2:42-43 ought to be a reflection of us. People who are devoted to the Word of God. People who give and receive biblical exhortation. People who hear the message with faith. People who are characterized by fellowship with the saints. People who obey God in baptism and communion. We ought to be a people of prayer. As we do these things with the presence of the Holy Spirit may our hearts be in awe and not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin as we live in this crooked generation.
1Westminster Confession, Chapter One Article Four.
2Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks, Charles Spurgeon, p. 54.
3White Horse Inn Podcast, Pitfalls on our Path to Prayer, July 24th, 2022
4Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks, Thomas Brooks, p. 95
5Searching Our Hearts In Difficult Times, John Owen, p. 12-15
6Searching Our Hearts In Difficult Times, John Owen, p. 15