How Critical is Community? Reflections on Hebrews 3:12-14
Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared:
“If somebody asks [a Christian], Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him of salvation and righteousness. He is as alert as possible to this Word. Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word . . .
But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain; his brother's is sure” (Life Together, pp. 11–12).
The question we want to explore is this: How crucial is it to our salvation and endurance in the faith that we be committed to community and the encouragement and rebuke that come from other believers? To answer that question, look at Hebrews 3:12-14 –
“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” (Hebrews 3:12-14).
A couple of observations are in order.
First, we need to be energetically attentive to what is happening in our hearts. Sin is deceptive and powerful and the world, the flesh, and the Devil are conspiring to lead you into unbelief and ultimately into departing from the living God.
Second, John Piper explains: “Hebrews sees two possibilities for professing Christians: either they hold fast their first confidence to the end and show that they have really become sharers in the life of Christ, or they become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and fall away from God with a heart of unbelief and show that they did not have a share in Christ.”
Third, and most important, is that the means God has ordained and provided by which we persevere is the consistent, faithful, loving exhortation and encouragement that comes to us from other Christian men and women (v. 13).
Again, Piper explains:
“It is written that the saints will persevere to the end and be saved. Those who have become sharers in Christ by the new birth will hold their first confidence to the end and be saved. But one of the evidences that you are among that number is that when God reveals in his holy Word the means by which you will persevere, you take him very seriously, you thank him, and you pursue those means. This text makes it very clear that the means by which God intends to guard us for salvation (1 Peter 1:5) is Christian community. Eternal security is a community project. Not just prayer, not just worship, not just the sacraments, not just Bible reading, but daily exhortation from other believers is God's appointed means to enable you to hold your first confidence firm to the end.”
How and where is this done?
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Where should we “meet together”? Anywhere and everywhere! Here at Bridgeway Church this would include our corporate assembly on Sunday mornings, in our community group gatherings during the week, and in our D-groups whenever possible. And let’s not leave out the coffee shop, around our kitchen tables, at the soccer field, etc.
The author of Hebrews refers to “the habit of some” in not meeting together on a consistent, regular basis. At no time in the history of the Christian Church have we seen this more in evidence than today. Energized and affirmed by the spirit of western individualism and consumerism, professing Christians feel increasingly “led” (often claiming that it is actually the Spirit who is behind it!) to neglect local church life, mock covenant membership, ignore small group dynamics, cast aside any notion of commitment, and pursue their own personal “spirituality” on the back porch, at Starbucks, somewhere between the seventh and tenth holes on the golf course, at a Thunder game, or sitting around a table playing cards.
So, how urgent and critical is it that we pursue a ministry of encouragement, accountability, rebuke, and love? Consider the following scenarios before you answer that question.
• The man who is excessively devoted to his career to the neglect of time and involvement with his wife and children . . .
• The woman who squanders her daytime with soap-operas, reality TV, and romance novels and whose resultant fantasy life undermines her commitment to her husband . . .
• The man whose growing addiction to pornography is distorting his view of women and destroying sexual intimacy with his wife . . .
• The woman whose infatuation with gossip is justified under the guise of “gathering-information-so-that-I-can-pray-for-them-more-specifically” . . .
• The man whose emotional insecurity and ego-driven desire for stature and respect have led him to rationalize low-grade embezzlement and income tax return fudging . . .
• The woman whose body-image obsession has led to dangerously unhealthy eating habits, exercise routines, and an excessively seductive style of dress . . .
• The man whose relationship with his personal administrative assistant is perilously close to adulterous, being justified in his mind by the sexual and emotional neglect of his wife . . .
• The woman whose spending habits have spiraled out of control and driven her family into debt, symptomatic of an idolatrous dependence on things to the exclusion of a singular love for God . .
• The man who, as he passes through middle age, feels increasingly bored with life and finds the excuse “You only go around once in life so grab for all the gusto you can” more and more reasonable with each passing day . . .
• The woman (or the man) whose anguish over a rebellious child, an unbelieving and emotionally distant spouse, a terminal diagnosis of cancer, or the mounting financial pressures of life, leads to increasing bitterness toward God and doubts about whether faithfully following him is really worth it . . .
These are only a few of the countless reasons why people are vulnerable to that “evil, unbelieving heart” that threatens to lead them “to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12b). The potential for being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13b) is so real and relentless that we must “exhort one another every day” (Heb. 3:13a) and aim “to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24), “not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).