We won’t endure alone. We need one another. And the book of Hebrews is very clear on this point. In Hebrews 3:12–14, we are commanded to “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.” It’s a great text with an important point. If we are to endure to the end, we need one another as we fight to see Christ as better than all the false promises of this world. Here’s Pastor John, applying this text.
If the essence of deceit, sin, hardness, unbelief, falling away, eternal destruction is that God is less to be desired than blank, what are you going to say? “He’s better. He’s better. Christ is better. His way is better.” And there are a thousand experiential and biblical ways of showing that he’s better. That’s what you’re going to say. Hebrews 11:26 illustrates this with the truth that even “the reproach of Christ” is better than “the treasures of Egypt.
If that’s the positive thing we’re going to say, the negative is also true: “You’re going to die if you don’t turn around.” You’re going to say, “The pleasures of Egypt are fleeting. Don’t go there. You will perish in the Red Sea if you go there. You’ll die in the wilderness if you go there.” And we will warn them.
Warning with Compassion
I have a letter here. This was sent to me. I love to save letters. (This was back when people wrote letters.) It was handwritten by a young woman who was attending Bethlehem Baptist Church in the eighties. And she was living in fornication, and her conscience was bothering her, and she came to see me. We drew that out, and after a little while, I said to her, “You know, don’t you, that if you continue in this you’ll go to hell?” Here’s what she wrote seven years later, in 1992.
I wonder whether you remember a very much younger me, sitting in your office and telling you I was afraid God would have to use a car accident or some other awful event to get my attention. You pointed out that the consequences of my deliberate choice to continue sinning would be nothing short of hell itself. No one had ever before told me I was headed for hell, missionary kid that I was, “saved” at age 6. . . . It was a turning point in my life, and I have wanted to thank you and tell you that, ever since.
I assured mom that a warning such as that 1985 conversation made me feel the more loved, after I heard what you really think of it, in listening to your message. That you cared enough to tell me, a stranger at the time, means more than ever with the echo in my ears. Your compassion came through to me.
You say, “He’s better.” And you say, “If you don’t turn and fight this, you’re going to perish.” You say that to your roommate. You say it to your child.
I have one more story and a closing word. I see Tom Steller sitting back there. I love Tom Steller. Few people have strengthened my hand in the Lord more than Tom for 37 years — longer actually. And we’ve done a lot of things together. You’ll remember this one, Tom.
There was a woman in the eighties who was struggling with such terrible depression. And she was suicidal. It was scary. We were young and we didn’t know much, but we made her promise us (we were in this together), “You will not hurt yourself without calling us. You promise?” “I promise.” “All right.”
So late one night, I get a call, and I let Tom know. I said, “Look, you must promise me, promise me right now or I’m going to call the police, that you’ll meet us at the church within fifteen minutes.” Tom and I both lived close by to the church, and so did she. That building is gone now, but I can picture where we sat in the 1914 building. And we sat with her how long, Tom — two or three hours? The darkness in that room spiritually was awful. You could just see it. It was like a huge, heavy, wet, dark blanket. Everything about her was oppressed.
And we exhorted her and gave promises to her and prayed with her and sat in silence with her. And God lifted that darkness. You could see it lift. That woman is in this church ministering today. And I believe, Tom, we saved her. We did. God Almighty used us, with words and prayer, to save her both from physical and probably spiritual destruction.
God’s Horizontal Mercy
I’ll leave you with one picture of what you’re called to do. In 1 Samuel 23, David’s life is in the balance. The people of the town of Keilah have betrayed him. And the Lord tells him that people will surrender him to Saul. So, he escapes and leaves Keilah (vv. 12–13). At the end of the chapter, the Ziphites treacherously tell Saul quietly where David is (v. 19), and Saul comes after him (v. 25). David finds out, and he escapes by the skin of his teeth (vv. 25–29).
I’ve tried to imagine the pressure of doing ministry like that: pressure, stress, tension, discouragement. And you want to ask, “Is it worth it to be the Lord’s anointed?” And you will say that: “Is it worth it to be a Christian? Is it worth it to be a pastor?” How are you going to survive in those moments? How did David survive?
Well, I think the chapter is purposefully arranged this way: between the betrayal and the treachery, right in the middle here, is verse 16: “And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God.”
Have you got a friend like that? Be that for each other. Be that for each other. We can’t survive without God’s mercy horizontally mediated to us. So, “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’” (Hebrews 3:13), “lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). That’s serious. It’s a glorious calling.