After his discussion of Jesus and Moses, the author of Hebrews offers a brief exhortation based upon the experience of Israel. He alluded to Psalm 95 and Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness in 3:7-11, concluding with the Lord’s judgment on that generation: “they will never enter my rest.” Israel had already experienced God’s great salvation in Egypt (the Exodus) and his continuing provision for them in the Wilderness. But they lost sight of the goal (the Promised Land) and some rebelled and wanted to return to Egypt.
The writer encourages his readers to avoid this “sinful, unbelieving heart.” Heart does not mean the emotions since the “heart” refers to a person’s will. Just as some wanted to give up and return to Egypt, it is possible there are some readers who are considering giving up on the Christian church and returning to the Synagogue. Their “sinful and unbelieving heart” deceives them into thinking worshiping Jesus in the Synagogue is a way to avoid persecution. The writer of Hebrews will later describe this return to Judaism as “falling away” in Hebrews 6.
A solution to the possibility of unbelief in the Christian community is for believers to “encourage each other daily.” This is an active effort on the part of the whole community of believers to help each other in their Christian walk. There is a positive aspect to this word (encouragement), but also a negative aspect, a pushing toward spiritual excellence which may take the form a more pointed exhortation.
The modern church tends to consider the pastor as a professional exhorter. It is the Pastor’s job to encourage and exhort the congregation, as long as he doesn’t get too personal and finished before the football game starts. Half an hour on Sunday is fine for most people; do not go longer than that and certainly do not mention “sin”!
Yet his text says the community ought to encourage the community. Mutual encouragement, but also exhortation – a sort of positive peer-pressure that encourages growth and development of a deeper relationship with God and each other. The writer of Hebrews describes a whole church talking to each other and trying to keep each other from sin, a network of accountability that is virtually unknown in the modern church.
What are the believers to encourage? To avoid the same sort of rebellion Israel experienced in the wilderness. They were deceived into thinking a return to Egypt was not only possible, but preferable to pressing on through the wilderness to the land God promised to them.
Sin is deceitful and seductive. Satan does not appear as a slobbering evil dragon demanding your soul, but rather as an angel of light. Satan is the really nice guy with a good plan to help humanity or your family. He takes the truth and twists it into a sin that looks pretty good! Sin is a subtle deception, those are the best kind.
This is the experience many people have with their experience in the organized church. At first, they are very excited about participating in worship or the social aspects of Christianity. Yet when they experience some trials they realize a relationship with Jesus Christ is not as painless as the pastor made it sound. It is then quite easy to put their faith aside or find a new faith to replace it.
The writer is exhorting us to remember what it was like that first moment you experienced Jesus; the first time you read the Bible and really understood it; and found something that applied to clearly to you it was as if God were speaking right to you.