14 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. 15 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 many. 16 Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau, who traded his birthright as the firstborn son for a single meal.17 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.
I. Living Inside Out
Have you ever done something and as soon as it happened you made a mental note to never do it again? I’ve had a lot of those experiences. The one that came to mind tonight was when I was a kid I lived in the perfect neighborhood. Every one of the neighbors had boys our ages. One of my friends had a huge tree house in his backyard. He built a zip line from his tree house down to the ground. I really like zip lines! At the time it seemed like it was 150 feet above the ground but in reality it was probably two stories high. I was in the tree house and excited about my first time riding a zip line. If you’ve ridden on a zip line before, I’m sure you’re imaging a harness, clips, ropes and gloves. My friend had found a thick metal cable and he had threaded a foot and a half long lead pipe through the cable. The design of the zip line was that the cable would go from the tree house down to the ground and you would hold on to the pipe and slide down. It was a beautiful design!
Now, if you could get your mind to the Middle School Physical Science level, what do you think happens when a metal pipe slides at a high rate of speed down a metal wire? We have a concept called friction and friction generates heat. I was the test pilot for the design. I grab the pipe at the top of the zip line and needless to say it didn’t take very long for the heat from the friction to burn my hand. My natural response was to let go because it was burning my hands. Remember we didn’t have the safety harness to keep me attached to the line so it was a free fall for me. I fell two stories and broke my arm. I had this thought even as a young boy, “I don’t ever need to do that again.” I learned a lesson. There is value in living and learning. I lived and learned the reality that metal rubbing against metal creates friction, which produces heat, which causes pain.
I’m sure you have some similar experiences. Often times we use the statement ‘you live and learn’ after we’ve made a mistake or done something that we regret. The principal though is that experience truly can be a great teacher. As you look at your life, I hope you’ve learned from the experiences that didn’t work.
We’ve been walking for a long time through the book of Hebrews. Today we are going to be focusing on Hebrews 12:14-17. Last week Pastor Allan Runner spoke on the verses that preceded the ones for today. Those verses had a lot to do with discipline. Discipline is also an experience through which you should learn. Sometimes the pain that is inflicted through the discipline is a way you can learn as well. One key word or phrase in verse 10 was the idea that connected discipline to producing holiness in us. We are going to build off of that because the next verses, 14-17, are really driven by application in helping us to live out this life producing holiness in us.
There have been many commentaries written about these verses but today I want to focus in on verse 14 because it sets the stage for understanding verses 15-17. When I look at verse 14 the thought that comes to my mind is that there is a challenge for us to live from the inside out.
A. Work at Peace and Holiness
Are any of you hunters? I’m not a hunter. Years ago a guy in my youth group took me dove hunting. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it. I’ve never been deer hunting but from what I understand you get up really early, put on a lot of clothes, and sit in the freezing cold. You sit in one place in the hopes that a deer comes your way. That type of hunting doesn’t help us understand these verses. The idea of a dove hunt or a foxhunt does because you are moving from where you are to chasing or pursuing the prey. You are moving toward it. That’s the idea that we have here when we are challenged to work toward or strive for holiness.
This is important because there is this false idea that some people carry. They think that since they’ve received Christ, been baptized and go to church that they are good. They feel there is now no need to work, chase or pursue Christ. Is that true? I think God challenges us to live much differently and much more intently.
A. W. Tozer wrote in his book The Pursuit of God, “To have found God and still pursue him is the soul’s paradox of love. Scorned indeed by the too easily satisfied religionists but justified and happy experience by the children of the burning heart.” We realize this may be a paradox but there is more to this then just walking through the motions of religion. Inside of us is this burning heart, a passionate desire to pursue, to chase, to hunt, to work and to strive after Christ. This is not a singular idea out of this verse. It translates all through scripture. We need to hunger after righteousness. We need to thirst after him.
John Piper said this about verse 14, “Go hard after Christ because Christ is at work in you.” What are we challenged to do? Work at peace. Work at holiness. It is interesting that there are a couple of times in Scripture where God says, “You be holy because I am holy.” We read that in Leviticus 23 right after this long list of exhortations or commandments on how to live a holy life – abstain from this, flee from this, commit to do this, etc. Immediately following this list of rules is the context that we need to do these things because we strive to be holy because God is holy.
We see it again in 1Peter 1:13-16, “Therefore with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
This is the life that God has called us to live and the challenge for us to step up to: to pursue, to chase, to hunt, to strive and work after him. Work at peace and holiness. Work at peace with everyone, even the people that are the most difficult to live with, even the ones that cause pain and suffering. Strive for peace and holiness. I think it is important for us to understand that working for holiness is synonymous with sanctification. Sanctification is the process of God working in us through the power of his Spirit to make us more like him.
In Romans 8:29 we are told that we are to be conformed into the image of his Son. In living inside out – he is holy, he is living in me; therefore, his holiness inside of me should be reflected outside of me in how I live, in how I pursue, in how I chase after him. This is a positional statement of my identity. I am convinced that we have a lot of spiritually low self-esteemed believers. We have a lot of people who profess and know Christ but they are walking round with a spiritual self-esteem that doesn’t have the confidence to understand who God is in them, who Christ is in them, who the Spirit is in them and how that should live out of them into those around them. My identity is in Christ.
B. Peace is Connected to holiness
There is connection that we can make here between peace and holiness. As I pursue Christ and his holiness is reflected in my life, I am going to connect the fruit of the Spirit working out of peace, which will impact others.
Peace is truly connected to holiness but it is really cultivated in holiness. One of my hobbies is gardening. It is a way for me to unplug and unwind. I love to get out and work the soil and reap the harvest. I can’t just show up in July and expect to reap a harvest if I didn’t do work in January, February, March and April to cultivate and prepare the ground so that is was receptive and ready to produce a product.
We need to expect to live in peace. We need to expect our lives to be smooth. We need to expect to have healthy relationships. We need to expect to have victory over sin. We need realize that there is connection between the peace that cultivates holiness into our lives. Like the intentional preparation of the garden soil, the discipline of my life to pursue, chase or hunt after Christ cultivates a life pattern that fosters and promotes peace in me as I live inside out.
D.L. Moody said it this way, “A holy life will make the deepest impression. Lighthouses blow no horns they just shine.” Think about it. A holy life will make the deepest impression. There is deep insight that D.L. Moody wrote in that idea. You’ve seen this work out in reality. Have you been around that person who seems to be so connected and walking in rhythm with the Spirit? You just want to be around them. It’s like there is a glow of holiness around them. It’s not because they are anything special but they are walking in rhythm with the Lord and it shines Jesus in how they interact with others. Have you ever been around a person like that? It’s infectious and contagious. They reflect the glory of Christ in all they do. Here’s the challenge though, our pursuit must focus on Christ and not on men. Our hunt and chasing must be after holiness in Christ not in the goodness of men.
Galatians 1:10 asks, “For am I now seeking the approval of man or of God? Or, am I trying to please man. Because if I am trying to please man I would not be a servant of Christ.” The pursuit of Christ flows out of a relationship with Christ and a love for Christ otherwise it is empty. We read in this verse that there is a connection that without holiness no one will see God. I don’t want you to misunderstand or misinterpret what it says. It is not saying that without holy action you will not see God. It is not setting the stage that says that your ability to be in the presence of God is dependent upon your actions. That would contradict Scripture. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For by grace you are saved in faith in that not of yourself it is a gift of God not by works, not by things that you do.” Don’t misunderstand the meaning. I think it is important to understand that it is saying that those who have not put on Christ through salvation will not live in his presence. There is an order that we have to make sure that we observe. Actions of holiness flow out of a faith in a holy God. Faith precedes action and we have to keep it in that order. You could also look at it this way. Our actions to pursue Christ flow out of a love for Christ and a regenerated life. The indicative, what God has done for us in Christ, is always the basis for the imperative, how we should live our lives. If we get those things out of order it is a disaster. The commandments and the precepts that God has given us in his word always flow from the person or his character. They are always connected. We have to understand that as Christ lives in us and we pursue him inevitably then his character should be reflected in our own as our faith is lived out.
II. Lean On One Another
Our pursuit of God will inevitably connect us to others who are pursuing him. Verse 15 focuses on those around us. Let’s reread it. Hebrews 12:15 says, “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 many.” This verse can be really confusing but I hope to help us understand what is trying to be said here. There is a challenge that as we are living inside out that we lean on each other. Think of how boring life would be if there were no people. Some of you think life would be great if it weren’t for people because we wouldn’t have conflict. But, think about how boring it would be. People are important to God. Living life together as believers in a community is so important to God that 62 times in Scripture the words “one and another” are conjoined together in one phrase. Clearly, that is pretty important.
We are challenged to look after each other. The tense of this word really helps us to understand it. It is not visually seeing. It is really implying the idea of guarding against or giving careful attention to. Let me give you a visual to help you understand what is being said here in verse 15. Has anyone ever gone on a long road trip with a caravan of cars? You have four or five cars in the caravan and you’re moving from Point A to Point B. It is very frustrating if you are car #1 or #2 and you go through a stoplight and the light turns red. You have to pull to the side of the road and wait for several minutes for the light to change green so the other cars can catch back up with you. It is this constant challenge as the caravan travels and they move at the same pace so that they are not separated by anything that could come in between them and distract them from their goal. That is the visual that perfectly describes what is being said here. I think as we look at this there are challenges for us. First we have to look for accountability. I think this challenge speaks to the lead car in our caravan, those who are out in front. For us living together in the body of Christ, those of us who are spiritually mature and have been pursuing and chasing after Christ for a while, we need to look around for accountability. We need to look around for others that we can help. We need to look around for those that are behind us to make sure that they are keeping pace and make sure that we are not getting too far ahead.
The other challenge though is for those that are in the pack. They must receive the grace that has been given. We have to pursue Christ to keep up the pace. That challenges us to understand our identity and be confident in who Christ is in us. That is the same posture we should have to the enemy. I know who Jesus is in me and I’m confident in that. I can stand firm in that identity with him. We need to look for accountability but we have to be careful that we receive the grace. We need to pursue him and keep pace.
The challenge though is that inevitably the light is going to turn red. We have to be careful that we guard against failure because it is going to happen in our life. Warren Wiersbe said, “God’s grace does not fail but we may fail to take advantage of his grace.” The second half of verse 15 gives us the image of a root of bitterness that spreads and corrupts many. This is the challenge for you and I. Let me go back to my gardening analogy. This is about the time of year when my garden is done producing. Now everything is wilting, withering and dying. So sometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll go out and start pulling out the dead plants getting it ready for next year. Inevitably though, there is always in one bed one plant that really didn’t produce and one plant that really did great. My experience has been that when I pull the healthy plant up what I couldn’t see was that its roots had spread so far underneath that it has choked out this other plant. Now, what is the visual that that gives to me? We have to be careful and guard against failure because often times underneath the surface that we cannot see there are roots of sin, roots of bitterness and roots of not pursuing Christ that begin to spread out. We can’t see it but it’s not only affecting us it’s affecting those around us. It is destroying the body of Christ. It is destroying the unity and health of the body. This root takes time to develop and it crops up when you least expect it. It is hidden under the surface.
I’ve seen this in a couple of ways. This peace that we should be pursuing in our chase for holiness will disrupt the church. I grew up in an old school Baptist church. It was common in my church growing up that we would have monthly church conferences. We would have a normal church service and immediately following we would go into conference. There were many of those meetings that I sat in that got plain nasty. People clearly were not pursuing Christ and they were pursuing themselves. You would have one guy stand up and call someone out on the other side of the room. It would go back and forth. I was the preacher’s kid and I was watching my dad try to keep everyone under control. The peace in the church was completely disrupted. Why? Because this root had grown, driven by sin or a lack of pursuit of Christ, and it disrupted the peace within the church.
What happens though is that a person doesn’t decide to disrupt the peace in the church but it flows out of a person who has disrupted the flow the peace in their own life by not pursuing Christ. It has gone on for such a long time that now it is impacting others. The peace in a church becomes disrupted when the peace in a person’s mind is disabled. If we are not careful, we will allow a cycle of sin to consume us in our lives. Maybe it is the person consumed with debt and they are running up their credit cards because they are not trusting Christ. They work themselves into an absolute mess. Maybe it is the man or woman addicted to pornography that they can’t break free of. It is a tangled web of addiction in their life. Maybe it is the person who can’t control their tongue and gossips or slanders continually. The sin has crept into a habit and it is consuming them. We can’t live in peace because we don’t have peace in our own heart. We can’t have peace with anyone else.
Too often accountability is only used in crisis management when instead it should be used a preventative maintenance. We generally seek accountability when we can’t find help anywhere else. We will seek accountability when we get caught. We will seek accountability as a plan of improvement to restore a relationship that’s been broken. When in fact if we had been in an accountability relationship for preventative maintenance someone in our lives would have known what was going on before the root ever grew and became damaging. My challenge is that you would seek accountability in your life. It is critically important! Find someone or a group of people that you can give permission to ask some hard penetrating questions about your life. Let them get into your personal space. Let them ask you difficult questions and you commit to be totally transparent with them. If we can live in that transparency relationship with people we will prevent many problems from occurring. If we can get off our high horse and stop pretending like we have it all together. That is a challenge! I know I’m speaking tough but I’m telling you if we can be disciplined to pursue Christ and to pursue that healthy accountability relationship, we will see holiness. It is clear that God has created us to walk in a relationship with him and with his church.
III. Look Back at Bad Examples
At the end of Chapter 12 we get a bad example from the writer of Hebrews that we can learn from. The accountability that we just talked about can prevent us from the disaster that we are about to read about in verses 16 and 17. Hebrews 12:16-17 says, “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.”
I have always been a visual learner. I also had the advantage of being the younger brother. There were many times growing up that I would watch my brother do something and get a spanking for it. I would make a mental note that I never wanted to do that because it resulted in discipline. It is good to learn from bad examples. Here we see Jacob and Esau, sons of Isaac. Esau was the older brother who should naturally get the birthright and inheritance on the passing of his father. But, his sneaky brother Jacob came in and stole it out from under his nose. We learn a lot from this story and Esau. I think it is interesting that Esau was from the family of the promise. Meaning, his father, Isaac, was the son of Abraham. Abraham was the guy that you read about early in Genesis who had an awesome encounter with God. God told Abraham to rise up and leave his home. He told Abraham that he would make a great nation from him but to trust him. Abraham walked out in faith not knowing where he was going. Scripture doesn’t tell us but I have to use my imagination and that at some point Abraham and Isaac would have relayed the story to Esau of the awesome things God had done. Esau clearly knew that he was of the family of the promise.
I think Esau reminds you and I of some people that we know. Have you ever known someone who professed Christ but you saw no evidence of Christ in his or her life? They claimed Christ but there was no fruit to suggest that there was anything real. I’m sure Esau had to go through the routine and rhythm of being a good boy. However, Esau was so focused on the crisis of hunger and the crisis of blessing that he lost sight of the promises.
Circumstances do not dictate your character but they certainly reveal it. In this circumstance or crisis of Esau, we see his character start to come out. When we see him, he returns to his earthly father in tears of bitterness. We never see him turning to God. If you read the account in Genesis you will see that his father says that it was God’s blessing to give not his and that it had already been given. We really never see in that moment repentance from Esau. We see remorse but not repentance.
You and I will fail. It will happen. Matthew Henry said, “Failing is the fruit of preferring flesh to blessing.” God’s desire is that we pursue holiness and maturity. We have to face the challenge. We can’t be like Esau and set our minds on ourselves and sell the rightful blessing for nothing. The bitter tears that Esau expressed as he wept before his father were a result of him turning to his earthly father rather than turning to his heavenly Father. There is a convicting statement in that for us. All to often we or those whom we love have the tendency to lean on and trust in ourselves rather than lean on and trust in Christ.
We make this connection all the way from the beginning of pursuing holiness and working, striving, chasing after it. We’ve got to remember God said, “Be holy because I am holy.” Allowing Christ to work in me and then living inside out. Apart from Christ we are nothing. Only in Christ do we find true peace. Only in Christ do we find true purpose.
Let me tell you a story. I started teaching school here in 1996 fresh out of college. I coached Varsity basketball. There was a young man on my basketball team that I started to build a relationship with. This was a good kid but he never really exhibited faith in Christ. He graduated high school and went on his way. Several years later I got a phone call from him. He said, “Mr. Smith, I needed to call you because I thought you might want to know this. For the first time in my life I’ve got a reason to live.” He began to tell me this story of how the night before he had had an encounter with Christ and he’d given his life to Jesus. He had to tell me about it because of all the conversations we’d had about Christ and giving his life to Christ. That’s true life! True life and true peace comes from a holy God living in us and working out in us as we are conformed into his image. True life is found in the Father and not in earthly relationships. True community is found through the Father and not in isolated living. True peace is found when we walk in his holiness and with others who are pursuing that same holiness.