Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.
What Are You Doing With Your Life?
When you get up in the morning and you face a day, what do you say to yourself about your hopes for the day? When you look from the beginning of the day to the end of the day, what do you want to happen because you have lived? What difference do you want your life to make?
If you say, I don't even think like that, I just get up and do what I've got to do, then you are cutting yourself off from a basic means of grace and a source of guidance and strength and fruitfulness and joy. It is crystal clear in the Bible, including this text, that God means for us to aim consciously at something significant in our days. God's revealed will for you is that when you get up in the morning, you don't drift aimlessly through the day letting mere circumstances alone dictate what you do, but that you aim at something - that you focus on a certain kind of purpose. I'm talking about children here, and teenagers, and adults - single, married, widowed, moms, and every trade.
Aimlessness is akin to lifelessness. Dead leaves in the back yard may move around more than anything else - more than the dog, more than the children. The wind blows this way, they go this way. The wind blows that way, they go that way. They tumble, they bounce, they skip, they press against a fence, but they have no aim whatsoever. They are full of motion and empty of life.
God did not create humans in his image to be aimless, like lifeless leaves blown around in the backyard of life. He created us to be purposeful - to have a focus and an aim for all our days. And this is not oppressive. It's not slavery. It's not depleting. To find what we were made for and to do it with all God's might (Colossians 1:29), is freeing (Galatians 5:13) and energizing. Jesus said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me" (John 4:34). Food! Aiming day by day to do what you were meant to do, is like eating: it gives life and energy, rather than taking it away. You will eventually die if you do what you were meant to do.
You may be young or you may be old. That is God's choice, not yours. But when you die doing what you were meant to do, you die well and full.
The Aim and Focus of our Lives as Christians
1. Embrace Your Hope
Would you consider with me what these three verses teach us about the aim and focus of our lives as Christians? God may use them to bring crystal-clear focus to your life. He may use them to blow away all the confusion and fog, and give a lucid, bright, crisp, spring-morning clarity to the aim of your days.
First, verse 23 says, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." Now that is not something you do with your hands or your feet. You don't go to the kitchen to do this, or to the den or across the street or to the office or to school. This is not done where anyone can see. This is an affair of the heart. Embrace your hope. Hold fast to your hope. Be a hope-filled person. Hope in God. Because God has made promises to you and he is faithful. He has promised to write the law on your heart (10:16) and work in you what is pleasing in his sight (13:21); he has promised to remember your sins no more (10:17); he has promised that we will be perfected for all time by a single sacrifice (10:14); he has promised never to leave us or forsake us (13:59); and he has promised to bring good from all our pain (12:10). And so he keeps his word.
But that does not provide you with a sufficient focus for the day. God did not create you to curl up under the covers and hope in God all day in bed. Without some effect on your life, hope in God would be invisible and bring no public glory to God's power and wisdom and goodness and trustworthiness. If the act of hoping in God were all that he created you to aim at, then verse 24 would be wasted words. But they are not. God created you first to hope in him, and then to make that hope visible by the effect that it has on your life. And that effect is given in verse 24, and it is to be the aim of your daily life. This why you get up in the morning.
2. Stir Up Each Other to Love and Good Deeds
Let's read it. Verse 24: "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds." Here is the focus for your life. Here is what you aim at from morning till night as a Christian. Notice carefully: it is not what you might expect. It is not: consider how to love each other and do good deeds. That would be Biblical and right. But it's different: "Consider how to stimulate each other to love and good deeds." Focus on helping others become loving people. Aim at stirring up others to do good deeds. And of course the implication would also be that if others need help and stirring, we do too, and so we would be aiming at what sorts of ways we can think and feel and talk and act that will stir each other up to love and to do good deeds. The aim of our lives is not just loving and doing good deeds, but helping to stir up others to love and to good deeds.
3. Consider Each Other
But let's be more precise. There is something in this text that is very hard to bring over into English. The word "consider," ("Let us consider how to . . .") is used one other time in the book, namely, Hebrews 3:1, where the writer say says, "Consider Jesus." That is, look at him; think about him, focus on him, study him, let your mind be occupied with him. "Jesus" is the direct object of the verb "consider." "Consider Jesus." Consider what? Consider Jesus. Well, in Hebrews 10:24 the grammar is the same: the direct object of the word "consider" is "one another." Literally, it says, "Consider one another."
Consider one another. But this is almost impossible to bring over into English with the rest of the sentence, because it would be so awkward. It would have to go something like this: "Consider one another toward the stimulating of love and good works." Now that is terrible English - good Greek word order but terrible English. The best we can do, it seems, is to say, "Consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds."
But I want you to get this nuance of the original so you can feel the force of this as a daily aim and focus for your life. Literally this is God's call on us to consider one another, that is, to look at one another, think about one another, focus on one another, study one another, let your mind be occupied with one another. And the goal of this focus on others is to think of ways of stimulating them to love and good deeds.
Let's take teenagers, for example. There are a lot of teens at Bethlehem who are alive to God. You have tasted his love for you and experienced the power of his forgiveness. And you want to do his will. But, like most everybody else, you get up many days, and feel aimless. What's the point? Why school? Why work? And you slump through the day trying to feel good with music and food and friends. But it doesn't feel like there is any point to it all, or any focus.
I urge you to hear God's word in Hebrews 10:24. When you get up in the morning, "Consider - think about, ponder, deliberate, meditate, mull over - other people, with this conscious goal: what can I do today so that they will be stirred up to love and to good deeds? Now there is a reason to live and a focus for every day that will never be boring. Every day is new and different. People change. Their circumstances change. You change. But the call remains the same: consider, consider, consider these people you will be around today. What are they like? What am I like? What will the situation be like? What helps a person become loving? What is the origin of genuine good deeds? This is a reason for living that is focused enough to be practical and big enough to last a lifetime.
Get Together and Encourage One Another
So let's look at the text to find the answer to how we go about this. Verse 24 gives the focus and aim: "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds." Then verse 25 gives us instructions how. It says, " . . . not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another." Two things. First, don't neglect to get together.
Second, encourage one another. When I was growing up I heard this text referred to most often as an argument for regular attendance at worship services. "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together - come to church regularly." And that is not a wrong application of the text since one of the most important kinds of encouragements and exhortations that we get is from the preaching of God's word in the power of God's Spirit. (Hebrews 13:22 calls the book of Hebrews a "word of encouragement.")
But in the context, the kind of coming together in view seems to be one where the members "encourage one another." Verse 25 is explicit: come together and encourage one another. The "one another" implies that there is something mutual going on. One is encouraging another and another is encouraging one. Each is doing or saying something that encourages. If you ask what that corresponds to in our church, I would say the closest thing is the small groups - which is why I regard this ministry as so utterly crucial. I am a great believer in preaching. There is something about the Word of God that begs to be heralded and trumpeted and exulted over - as well as discussed and taught. But I have no illusions that preaching is enough in the life of a believer. The New Testament - and especially this book of Hebrews calls us again and again to a kind of mutual ministry that involves all the believers in encouraging others.
So I ask you to take stock of your life: where are you in verse 25? There are two groups: those who gather to encourage each other, and those who have formed the habit of not gathering. See that little phrase in verse 25: "Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some." Non-participation in a small group can be habit-forming. How are you doing?
David Livingston is listed on the back of the worship folder as "Pastor for Cell and Adult Ministries." That means he is there to help you break the habit of non-participation in small groups. God is calling you, through this word, to break a habit of non-participation and to strengthen a habit of participation in small group togetherness where you encourage each other. It's not the only way to stimulate others to love and good deeds, but it's the way emphasized in this text.
What Kind of Encouragement?
Which leaves one last question: What kind of encouragement stimulates others to love and good deeds? It's not obvious to some that this question has anything to do with God. Lots of people think that love and good deeds are a good thing to seek after, and many would say that encouraging others is the way to do it - and they might not even be Christians. Or they might be Christians who put little focus on God. For example, in yesterday's newspaper, one church was described like this: "While [the pastor] spoke of sending out missionaries, the feeling was that his congregation existed to heighten the self-esteem of its members." Whether or not that's an accurate description of that church, the point is this: a lot of churches would try to stimulate love and good deeds that way.
But it's not the Biblical way. The key to encouraging love Biblically is given in verse 23: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." The key to love, in the New Testament - the kind of love that magnifies God and not man - is hope rooted in the faithfulness of God. Embrace your hope! Cherish your hope! Because God is faithful. He keeps his promises. Without this kind of hope, sustaining you day by day through all the disheartening frustrations and crushing disappointments, you would not have any strength or energy or joy to stir anybody up to love and good deeds. But if you bank on God, not on yourself, you always have something encouraging and hope-giving to say, namely, "God can be trusted, God can be trusted. I have no strength, but God can be trusted."
Resources for a Difficult Situation
Let me close with an illustration that comes nine verses later. How would you try to encourage and sustain the love of your small group if some of them were thrown in jail in a hostile environment? That's what happened here. And the rest of the group knew that if they went to visit them - a small group meeting in the jail - they all would be in big trouble. Where would you get the resources - the courage and grace to risk your life and possessions - to go encourage your brothers and sisters in prison?
Look at verses 34-35 for the answer: "You showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property." So they did go to visit them and did get in big trouble. Where did they get that courage to love and encourage love? Next phrase: " . . . knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one." That is, because you held fast to the confession of your hope. You embraced your hope. You cherished your hope in God above the present value of home and things, and even life. "Therefore," verse 35 says, repeating verse 23, "do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward." This is what encourages you to risk your life, and this is the message to take to them. It will stimulate love in them because it did in you.
In summary then:
1) Make the aim of your life to consider others - study them, know them, figure them out - to the end that you stimulate them to love and good deeds.
2) Be sure that you do this by getting together often with other believers for the specific purpose of encouraging each other.
3) And let the heart of that encouragement be reminders of how great our hope is in Christ and that God can be trusted.
And as you see the end of the age drawing near, verse 25 says, do this all the more, not less. Why? As Jesus said, "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved" (Matthew 24:12).