The book of Hebrews, believed by most commentators to be an ancient sermon manuscript written to a Jewish-Christian congregation, contains a series of warnings and exhortations against falling away from the faith. Multiple times in this book, we are encouraged to remain steadfast to Christ, not forsaking our salvation and being allured away from God by sin but holding firm to the grace he has given us.
Yesterday in church, our pastor preached on one of these warning passages, and I was struck by something I had never noticed before. The passage was from Hebrews 3, the first exhortation in the book, where we read:
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb 3.12-13, NKJV)
The passages that warn us against falling away and encourage us to remain faithful are written in essentially the same style as we would write them today, simply encouraging hearers to stand firm in their faith and resist sin. What I had never noticed before is that--in the midst of a passage exhorting us--we are commanded to encourage others. More specifically, we read here that our daily encouragement to other believers is one of the means God uses to keep their faith strong and living. How had I never seen this before? How had I never recognized the importance of daily encouragement to the Christian life.
We all recognize that God uses the preached and taught Word to nurture our faith. We understand that God uses the sacraments (his Word combined with one or more physical elements) to strengthen our faith. We typically receive these means of grace once or twice a week, at best, and that is a very good thing. But here we see a daily means of grace that God uses to bolster and feed our faith: the encouragement of other believers. At one and the same time, this is both incredible and utterly sensible. It seems incredible that he should see fit to use the unplanned, untrained, unrefined words of believers like you and me to keep one another's faith strong. It is also utterly sensible (and unremarkable in light of Scripture) that God should choose to use something so ordinary and 'normal' to accomplish extraordinary feats.
Brothers and sisters, take heart and stand firm in your faith this day, knowing that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is with you now and always. At the same, encourage one another today, knowing that your words are a God-ordained means by which to strengthen the faith of those around you!
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash