12Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. God gives faith, of that we can and should always be thankful. But to say that God is the author of our faith is not then to say that an evil unbelieving heart is impossible for we sinful humans. Without diminishing God’s constant, loving and active work in our lives we also need to recognize that each Christian is fully responsible for resisting sin and curbing unbelief, or more literally, unfaith. In short, we must take care!
15As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. God has indeed so richly blessed us with so many wonderful gifts, not the least of which is our life and our salvation. We are called upon to not squander it through a hard heart. Such an unbelieving, unfaithful heart refuses to trust in God’s promises. There is no room in a hardened heart for awe and wonder, even less for thanksgiving.
Take Care! No one is exempt from sin’s deceit. No one has a clean heart and a right spirit within them. 15…do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
Here is the cold hard truth of history. Israel heard God’s grace and still fell. They refused to believe that God would indeed give them the promised land. Lost their awe and wonder of their salvation, quickly lost any sense of thanksgiving for His continual blessings. These were the very people who had seen how bad life could be. They had bowed under the weight of slavery and the whip of the oppressor. They had witnessed with their very own eyes the ten mighty signs against Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharoah’s mighty army. They had tasted the miraculous bread of heaven laid out with the morning’s dew. They had slaked their thirst from a gushing rock in the desert. They had it all, yet sin hardened their hearts and they lost everything.
It was not their disobedience primarily, but unbelief, which caused the unending outbreaks against the Lord, and the punishment that struck them. Moses both freely and frankly told the people this very fact in Num. 14. They could not enter the promised land on account of their unbelief. They could not reach their goal, the end of the way, because at the bottom of their unruly conduct lay the refusal to believe in the Lord, their God, with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their mind. And there is always that same danger for us, that despite God’s goodness, our hearts might be deceived into hardness and sin.
That’s what sin does. Sin deceives. Sin kills. Remember the Israelite corpses and bleached bones in the wilderness if ever you are tempted to doubt this. Sin is never what it seems. No sinner ever has his sin under control. Just as imperceptibly, yet certainly, arteries harden until without warning death strikes by heart attack or stroke, sin works the same hardening effect on faith. Even true believers can also grow old and hard and succumb suddenly to unfaith. We can lose our sense of awe and wonder in the Divine and His works on our behalf. We can forget to be thankful for His many benefits. And the change can come so slowly and imperceptibly that you never see the danger until it is too late. Don’t be fooled. What a Christian “used to do” is irrelevant. Even less so, what you intend to do. What matters is only what is done today. No one is immune from the deceit and danger of sin.
14For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Yesterday’s faith does not save a person today. Tomorrow’s good intentions don’t protect us from anything. The danger is that of by neglecting the Word we are slowly and imperceptibly being hardened over time. Sin has so many pleasant and deceitful guises, and the devil is remarkably proficient in his ability to make the greatest defections from the will of God appear as mere innocent pastimes, that it requires the most vigilant care on the part of every Christian lest without knowing it he become callous to the pleadings of the Word of God and become a prey to eternal death. Unresolved sin in the heart or life blinds a person to the beauty and the meaning of God’s wonderful offer of salvation.
Take Care to Encourage each other right now. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. This is a sure defense against unfaith. It is easy to deceive the lone man or woman, it is much harder to get away with deception in front of a diverse group. It is easy to ignore or excuse our own personal sins only when we are alone.
The community of faith, the church of Christ in all her diverse congregations exists for the distribution of God’s Gifts in Christ, but also for giving and receiving of mutual encouragement. Perhaps it goes without saying but “One anothers” exist only in such communities. The power of Christians to edify and sustain faith in one another enjoys scriptural and even confessional support, but it’s too often given short shrift in deference to the more potent means of absolution — preaching and sacrament. Take care not to give up the great gift of “one another” and the sustenance that comes when we not only receive but also deliver words of edification and encouragement.
Take Care that Today is not put off until tomorrow. The time to act is today. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that clichéd truth may still be truth: yesterday and tomorrow are beyond our grasp, only today matters. Thus, the day to encourage one another is today—an ever-present task. Ultimately, of course, it is the long succession of many todays lived faithfully that finds us finally in God’s eternal rest. And all these todays strung together creates a legacy. Christians should be glad to exhort and admonish one another, to spur one another on in sanctification. It is a kindness which is not a mere matter indifferent, but is the duty which Christians owe one another. Sanctification in every Christian congregation is a matter calling for constant vigilance, for the practice of love which must be carried on daily, day after day.
“What day is it? It’s today, so go and do the work of today.” For now is God’s great Today, now is the time of grace, now is the time that He wants us to listen to His wonderful invitation to the heavenly meal. So long as God still issues His pleading call, we should take heed to pay attention to it quickly; for we do not know when this time of grace may come to an end. Today is the day to gather in awe and wonder. Today is the day to join in hearts of thanksgiving to our most loving and gracious God, and to one another for their continued pledge of support.