Hebrews 3:13

‘exhort one another day by day’
(Hebrews 3:13)

We can all benefit from encouragement, exhortation even! That’s true for our lives in general, but it’s especially important in our spiritual lives. So here we’re encouraged to ‘exhort one another’ as believers, and surprisingly often, ‘day by day’. Interestingly, the whole New Testament book of Hebrews was written as a ‘word of exhortation’(Hebrews 13:22), so it’s a good place to observe and learn how we might encourage one another better.

The book’s original recipients had apparently started well enough. In their ‘former days’(Hebrews 10:32) they’d even endured ‘a great struggle with sufferings… joyfully’(Hebrews 10:32-34). It seems however that somehow they’d become discouraged and disillusioned. Reminiscent of the parable of the sower, perhaps some were even in danger of ‘falling away from the living God’(Hebrews 3:12), so never true ‘partakers’(Hebrews 3:14) of this ‘new and living way’(Hebrews 10:20) at all. Nevertheless, as with Paul when he wrote to the Romans, the unnamed writer to these presumably Hebrew Christians knew that ‘through perseverance and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope’(Romans 15:4). So he was inspired to focus their attention on what ‘the Holy Spirit’(Hebrews 3:7) had said through some Old Testament scriptures: ‘“Today if you will hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, in the day of the trial in the wilderness”’(Hebrews 3:7-8,15&4:7, cf. Psalm 95:7-8), a reference back to the Israelites time in the wilderness after the Exodus.

Back then God had saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, but they were yet to enter the Promised Land. In the wilderness they became discouraged and disillusioned, grumbling and rebelling against God, through what’s described here as ‘an evil heart of unbelief… hardened by the deceitfulness of sin’(Hebrews 3:12-13). The parallel is clear enough. As Christians we’ve all been liberated from ‘bondage’(Hebrews 2:15; Romans 6:6ff.) to sin and death, yet are still in the wilderness of this world, travelling towards the promised land of eternity. Like them we can easily become disheartened by trials, falling into rebellion and sin, fuelled by a weak faith and its associated clouded/jaundiced perspective. So these are key areas to address when it comes to encouraging one another.

First the trials. It’s natural to see why trials might drag us down. Expecting to face them is half the battle, essentially encouragement to be ready. So when Paul and Barnabas went around ‘strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith’(Acts 14:22) they included the fact that Christians should expect to pass ‘through many afflictions’(Acts 14:22). Similarly here we’re reminded that our inspiration should come from ‘Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who… endured the cross’(Hebrews 12:2). Moreover, there’s even a positive side to consider regarding trials. We can be disciplined and ‘trained’(Hebrews 12:11) by them, which is partly how we can even ‘rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance… character’(Romans 5:3-4) etc.

This highlights another important means of encouragement, which the book of Hebrews certainly doesn’t shy away from: serious teaching. Much of the book contains detailed theology regarding the awesome nature of who Jesus is and what He’s done for us as Christians. Sound understanding of such things will prevent us from being ‘tossed back and forth’(Ephesians 4:14) in our faith. So the writer here laments the fact that his readers are still at the ‘milk, and not solid food’(Hebrews 5:12) stage in their Christian development, exhorting them to ‘press on’(Hebrews 6:1) in their depth of understanding.

However, strength in such ‘knowledge’(1 Corinthians 8:1) without application can be dangerous, risking swollen heads with shrivelled hearts. That’s likely why the Bible presents theology in specific contexts with application, as it does here, with both warnings against rebellion and sin, and encouragements to ‘love and good works’(Hebrews 10:24). In fact this book of Hebrews provides a long list of inspiring Biblical examples to encourage us in the walk of faith, the famous ‘great… cloud of witnesses’(Hebrews 12:1).

Their example of what it means to ‘“live by faith”’(Hebrews 10:38) includes the further encouragement of a clear-sighted perspective, looking towards our eternal ‘city… whose builder and maker is God… a better country… a heavenly one’(Hebrews 11:10-16). Such faith and hope are the means and the ultimate fulfilment of entering God’s ‘rest’(Hebrews 4:1), which is the overarching theme of the passage this study verse comes from.

Finally and importantly, that passage concludes with something we must never forget, i.e. how this encouragement actually works: through the ‘living and active’(Hebrews 4:12) word of God, applied by our Holy ‘Counsellor’(John 14:16)/Encourager/Exhorter. So let’s encourage one another to ‘hear His voice’, even daily, where/whenever we can…

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