Hebrews 3:7-19 – An Exhortation to Righteousness

This exhortation is based upon the experience of Israel as described in Psalm 95. The thing to avoid is a “sinful, unbelieving heart.  Heart in this case is not the emotions but rather the place of the will.  A “sinful and unbelieving heart” would imply that the person is unsaved.   The writer does not tolerate any within the congregation that are not believers, those persons are under God’s judgement and they are the ones that he is especially speaking to, in order that they do not bring shame to the church by recanting a faith they never shared.

If the unbelievers are Jews that “fall away” by returning to Judaism, how can the writer say that they are turning away from the living God?  The Jews do recognize God.  The point is that Judaism no longer presents the true revelation from God, it is inferior to the revelation that comes through Jesus in “these last days” (from 1:1-3).

A possible solution to the possibility of unbelief in the community of believers is that the “encourage each other daily.” The “daily” exhortation underscores the meaning of the word, this is an active effort on the part of the community of believers to help each other with 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 of a shove!

In the modern church we tend to think of the pastor as a professional exhorter, as long as he doesn’t get too personal or call during dinner or the football game to exhort us.  Half an hour on Sunday is fine for most people (just don’t mention “sin”).  This text says that 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 people to encourage?  That we not be deceived by sin and harden our hearts. Sin is deceitful, it is seductive.  Satan does not appear as a slobbering evil dragon demanding your soul, he appears as an angel of light, a really nice guy with a good plan to help humanity, or maybe to help 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.

But if your community of believers is daily encouraging you not to harden your heart, it is much easier to do the right thing and avoid sin.  I am not sure modern Christian communities are very good at this encouragement.  On the one hand, they can become very legalistic and judgmental, even demanding of their members (to the point of being more like a cult than the Body of Christ).  On the other hand, some churches are so lax in this sort encouragement that there is no call to deal with the flesh, nor any preaching on sin in the life of the believer.  As they say these days, “it’s all good.”

It is not all good, it never was.  Believers need to return to this sort of mutual encouragement for the building up of the Body of Christ. Does is local church always an community? How might this section of Hebrews be used to transform personal relationships?

21 thoughts on “Hebrews 3:7-19 – An Exhortation to Righteousness

  1. I believe it is crucial to encourage and exhort each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Although it is sometimes hard to exhort without being judgmental, I believe it is necessary. It is important to encourage each other in love and compassion. It is important that we constantly remind each other who we are in Christ and who are to be in Christ. Sometimes we get down on ourselves and feel guilty for the sins that we have committed. It is crucial to not let each other believe the lies that Satan tells us. My mom gave me a little devotional about who we are in Christ. Satan is the father of lies. He deceives people into believing that his lies are true. But Jesus intercedes for us; through Christ we are redeemed and are dead to sin (Romans 6:11). We need to know who we are in Christ in order to defeat the enemy. The devotional says: “We need to learn who we are in Christ and confess the same out loud. I am what God says I am regardless of how I “feel” about myself. My feelings cannot change the absolute truth of God’s Word. We need to see ourselves [and others] in the light of God’s Word. Once we have heard and seen God’s truth we are to reckon it to be so.” To defeat Satan and to further The Kingdom we are to encourage each other and focus on the truths of God’s Word.

  2. It seems as if the author of Hebrews is speaking to fellow believers (Heb 3:1) throughout the text of chapter 3. The exhortation (Heb 3:13) to one another seems to be as an encouragement from one believer to another to guard against evil and unbelief that could cause a fellow believer to, “fall away from the living God” (Heb 3:12). The root of of their faith may not be very deep (Lk 8:13). We need to be there for fellow believers who are struggling, who are experiencing “spiritual weakness”, who need a loving hand to help prop them up in their time of quiet desperation. I know first hand what it was like to abandon my faith because of growing skepticism about Christ and the church. I also know what it is like to have a fellow Christian tell me he was “cutting off fellowship” with me because I had lost my spiritual way. It hurt. Phil, I am blessed when you say, “A possible solution to the possibility of unbelief in the community of believers is to encourage each other daily”. The encouragement we give is fueled by 1 Cor 13. Indeed, let us offer this encouragement to everyone we can. Slap the devil down.

  3. There are different emotions that can be lifted in a conversation of conflict. The encouragement in a relationship is a very important aspect to have. As it says in Psalm 95, “’They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’” Even though this is refereeing to the will of that person, they have turned away from the Lord; the body of Christ should still be an encouragement to those who are in need. There are times when non-believers pull one into joining their own, evil ways and that is when the body of Christ needs to be careful and not fall into temptation, but still being encouraging and helpful to others, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). There will be many opportunities that the Lord will bring into our lives and we need to step up and take that chance to share the gospel. There is also a point in time when we are the ones who need encouragement. To take those encouraging words and apply them to our lives so we may pass those words of encouragement along so the Holy Spirit can work not only in one person’s life, but many. I think it is a great opportunity to share God’s love for us, by encouraging others and showing them love.

  4. I notice alot of what P.Long is discussing in this post, in churches today. Why is it so hard for body of believers to be the church in a balanced way? Many are either in the legalistic/judgemental realm or on the opposite side, where “freedom” is taken advantage of and sin runs rampant. As the good proffesor points out, this is very unhealthy, and we must return to “mutual encouragement for building up the body of Christ”.

    Also,Hebrews 3 makes it obvious that God was calling out to his people, and they intentionally hardened their hearts and disobeyed him. They were not ignorant of their sin, I think they knew exaclty what they were doing. God had been very real in their lives and had been blessing them, bringing them out of Egypt and slavery, and they still turned away. “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those that Moses led out of Egypt?”.(Hebrews 3:16). This disobedience seems to expose unbelief in their lives and we struggle with that as well. God has revealed himself to us in ways that we cannot ignore either, and yet many times we still do. “For we have also had the gospel preached to us, just as they did, but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith”(Hebrews 4:2). Yikes! I know the author is not directly speaking to us today, but I think that his/her message is nonetheless very true for us!

  5. It is interesting to think that some of the early church members fell away by returning to Judaism. Commonly we think of people falling away from the faith are falling away morally. It just seems odd that these people were not falling away a totally forgetting any kind of morals, instead the probably grabbed back onto more rules.
    Another thing that grabbed my attention in this section of scripture had to deal with the accountability that the writer of Hebrews wanted to see present in that time. A verse like Hebrews 3:13 tells its readers to “exhort one another everyday… that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
    On the application side of these verses it seems like a good way to exhort or encourage by meeting with other true Christians. This helps people to be honestly accountable to each other which also reminds us of our ultimate accountability to God.

    • Unfortunately, not all churches meet the standard of a “community”, or at least the Biblical standards of a community. Some churches lack the push necessary to challenge each other and to grow, while others lack the support that helps keep people together and from destroying themselves, while still others can even lack both. It is hard to push a wagon up a hill, but if there is no push the wagon is not going anywhere. While you could push the wagon by yourself, the wagon will go up much faster and efficiently if two or three people get involved. The wagon might still make it up that hill on your own, but depending on the hill you might not be in good health by the time you make it to the top. Both support and challenge are necessary for optimal growth.

      However, the “daily” aspect of Hebrews 3:13 is one few churches if any likely aspire to. In a world where work, success, and personal desires take the front seat of interest, there is not much room left for such serious commitment; or at least, that is how it may appear. Even now, there are many ways to meet such a standard, and it is quite a healthy and a beneficial standard to meet. One option is to simply focus on support and pushing our family every single day, when we come home from work or school or wherever we came from, or whomever we speak to on a regular basis. Another option is to support and push from our work environments and school, speaking to coworkers and classmates, especially those that believe. In terms of actual church friends, while meeting every single day might not be a choice one can make, calling them or at least messaging challenging Scripture and giving words of encouragement every day is still an option.

  6. An encouraging community of believers is necessary for the growth of the individual Christian as well as the community itself. Like the article states, the community exhorts and helps itself grow. This can take many forms, however some that come to mind are accountability in regards to sin. The writer of Hebrews appears to be very wary of the possibility of the so-called believers turning back to their sinful self-centered lives. This comes from doubting if their God is really as powerful as He says he is, as their ancestors did in the Wilderness. (Jobes, Pg. 128) The danger of disobedience that is left unchecked by a community is what Hebrews 3:19 describes. If a “Christian” continues to show disobedience, how much of the truth do they actually believe? Are they really just that inconsistent with follow God faithfully or do they not truly believe in Him at all? A Godly community willing to correct and rebuke each other can help realign the Christian in their walk with Christ, especially in the area of belief. “But if your community of believers is daily encouraging you not to harden your heart, it is much easier to do the right thing and avoid sin.” (Long) Once the Christian believes, trusts and obeys God, they can enter Godly rest. This rest is the state in which one recognizes and acknowledges God is the ruler of all and is worthy of Praise. (Jobes, Pg. 130) The Wilderness community desired to return to Egypt and cease trusting God. Why did this happen? A possible cause is the lack of a community willing to encourage, correct and rebuke one another.

  7. Quite a compelling post as it relates to exhortation and the meaning of Christianity today. Many Christians do indeed fall back in their walk and become just like those who returned to Judaism in the post above. Ironically, Hebrews speaks on not turning from God (Heb. 3:12), but the interpretation is clear that along those lines of turning from God there has to be accountability among Christians. The preceding verse explains that we are to “encourage” and “build”, which is exactly what Long is getting at in the concluding paragraphs. No longer can we just get by, by saying “it’s all good”, rather dive in deeper and build relations on why the encouragement aspect is crucial. Those who encourage will reap benefits of having an impact in the kingdom and keeping Christians held accountable. Christianity has become too relaxed and the accountability has been all but lost. There are a few percent of people that are in our congregations that we can pinpoint that are a daily encouragement to us and to our families. Those people are exactly what this analysis points to. Those who not just fill a seat in a pew, but encourage and build up those across the pew from them.

  8. I think that the local church was designed to always be a tight-knit, family-like community but in our humanness, we can often stray from that. Of course, no church is perfect, because it is made up of imperfect people. I think that it is very interesting that in the Scripture it says: “When you hear His voice…” it doesn’t say “if you hear His voice” this implies that we do in fact hear the voice of God. Christ should be the center of every relationship, and a Christlike attitude should be the attitude of every believer. If we applied this to ourselves I think that our churches would be much kinder and Christ-centered places to be.

    • Reading your post Abbi makes me think of what I was a part of tonight. The church I attend just held their small group launch event at all campuses and I was asked to be one of the leaders of the small group I am in. The one constant between all the groups church wide is that no matter what the study might be, small groups are vital in keeping community as tight-knit as possible. Still though, even being a leader, we are not immune to sin or like you described it, humanness. I liked too how you referenced scripture in where it says “When you hear His voice.” I would agree that if we were all to keep Christ at the center of any relationship in life, we could keep the Church and life places that God intended them to be.

  9. Community within a church is so important for spiritual growth. For the past 3 years of living in Grand Rapids that I could not find a group of people, I would call my “church family.” This past week though, I have seen so much brotherly love in church settings. I have been attending a church for the last two Sundays and they have shown me what a true close congregation looks like. They rejoice together and weep together, I did not realize how beautiful that was in a church until I witnessed it. There is a true value that we should put on encouraging each other and calling each other out in sin. I think that is something the church is starting to not do. We say “all have sinned,” but why aren’t we addressing those sins directly? How is someone going to know how to handle a porn addiction, theft issue, lustful thoughts? We need to be keeping each other accountable for those issues. In Hebrews 3:12, It tells us to not fall away from God, that is why it is so vital to continually talk to people in our church community and call them out on their wrongdoings. This is the tough love we all need.

  10. Community is an aspect of the Christian faith often emphasized but not actively achieved. As you have mentioned, community is of extreme importance when considering the work it can do to keep fellow believers on the right track and away from a “sinful and unbelieving heart.” I feel there has been a rather drastic change in the church community even from when I was a child. The church has become somewhat of a place where the individual goes to seek individual fulfillment and spiritual gain. People come into church with the mindset of what they themselves can get out of the service and if they leave feeling they have not gained anything new to put in their individual spiritual arsenal, the service was inadequate. Church is in danger of becoming a solely individual endeavor.
    I believe the community aspect of Christianity to be perhaps one of the most powerful. Like you have mentioned, if a whole body of believers comes together to keep each other on the right track, following God and avoiding sin becomes much easier. Also, by missing out on the opportunity given to us to commune with fellow believers we are in direct contradiction to what God desires of us as stated in verses such as Hebrews 10:24-25; Galatians 6:2; and of course, Hebrews 3:12-13. Community should never be approached in an individualistic way. It is not always about what we ourselves can get but perhaps what we can give to others. After all, as Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
    As believers, building each other up and encouraging each other to continue to follow Christ’s example benefits both our lives and the lives of those around us making stronger the community of believers and thus the Kingdom of God. Therefore, although our intention may not be strictly for individual gain, we too reap the benefits. When this is effectively accomplished trust, love, compassion, and understanding is created between individuals in the body of Christ and it flourishes.

  11. I think the sort of encouragement and accountability that this passage refers to is what I would call discipleship or mentoring. Though I would make some distinction like communal encouragement and exhortation has a different format than being disciplined or mentored by someone. If I was going to encourage my fellow Christians I would probably have to see them almost every day or at least more than 1 to 2 hours every week. Whereas discipleship is more of a one on one basis. However, a similarity to the two could be the need for depth. That is where I pick up the most important aspect of this kind of encouragement. We must know one another in-depth, and well enough to be specific and beneficial in our exhortation. Which also has something to say about the relaistic working size of a congregation. In the end, I would say the local church currently does not have this kind of community and in order for it to be formed, there would have to be some large changes in size, expectation, and participation from congregants.

  12. Crazy to think that just a few chapters ago the author of Hebrews is warning the audiences about the problems with drifting away. Now, just a couple chapters later, he is encouraging the readers to almost pursue discipleship. The author of Hebrews seems to provide encouragement, as well as the ability and the though of providing it to each other, while helping each other in faith. According to P. Long, the writer is encouraging the readers to remember that they are sharing Christ. Also to remember the confidence they had in themselves (P. Long 47). This fact goes hand in hand with discipleship, we are to find the confidence we have in our faith, and share that with our fellow believers. A new believers there is nothing that is more exciting than sharing our faith with others. This is the confidence that the writer is telling the readers about. Remember what you felt when you first believe. Share that knowledge, share that information so that others can feel exactly what you felt.

  13. One of my favorite blog posts I’ve read here on Reading Acts.
    I do wonder about the question proposed: How to encourage one another in a manner close to what the author of Hebrews had in mind.
    There are the extremes of becoming legalistic versus becoming passive. Is there a way to implement such a thing within modern American churches? If it is pushed out as another program or mentorship does it even count as the authentic encouragement Hebrews seems to be getting at?
    Also, does simply going to church count? This blog posts seems to say that it is more than that. Does being involved in the church community count? Our church communities can easily drift into gossip and things far from this sort of encouragement.
    If I had to guess, I’d propose that it is something that must be implemented in a person to person basis – starting with single relationships at a time. Then spilling over into the rest of the conversation as it becomes a way of life for the members. After all, isn’t that part of the purpose for the church?
    I also wonder what this might have looked like for the early church in the Book of Acts in their distinctly different culture, where they went as far as to live in a literal community, sharing all they had.

  14. I believe that all the local churches in the areas was made to be tight and run as a unit always. Some would call it a family like group but in a perfect world we think we live in we can go distance from what really matters real quick. I don’t believe that no church is just this perfect church but it church was built for people that not perfect. Christ should be key in every relationship without Christ nothing will ever run smooth or go as plan as you want it to be without the man above.

  15. I believe that some church communities are crucial and exhort their church members to Christ. They tend to be judgmental and make their church members more like Christ like which in fact they are not doing very a good job with their communities. Churches will give good encouragement, but they will try to force it by not committing sin. When the person is having trouble spiritually, they may or may not be afraid to ask for help because, it depends how the person is from the church community whether he or she is going to say something that will take it the wrong way or give good advice or wisdom. Also, it depends if the person can be trusted with what information the person is sharing. It could happen in some churches. I just do not understand why churches are like that. Some churches will take it too far and overthink it from the Bible or the sermon. There could be misinterpretation when someone explains it from the Bible. There was this church I used to go to with my parents, before my dad turned his life to Christ. I felt my family and I were more welcome and accepted there. They understand our family situation and all. When my dad came to Christ, everything was going well with my family and church. There are certain things that the church did not approve of like my sister was being a single mother. I could not tell anyone in church what was bothering me because I felt like I was going to be judged or someone would tell my secret. Nowadays, it is hard to trust some church communities.

  16. Modern Christian communities really do need help when it comes to this mutual encouragement. There are two extremes, those who are so brutally judgmental and legalistic and then those who hold no accountability at all and accept everything (Long, 2018). When communities handle and “encourage” others in these manners we can find people misunderstanding Christ and his mission. Those who push towards perfection and try to make their communities perfect in the eyes of the Lord see as a result those turning away from the church because of the high standards. Those who aren’t being held accountable are living their lives in sin, and are being deceived to think that everything is ok when it is clearly not. There needs to be an understanding of who Christ is, and understand his superiority and divinity. Looking at Jesus and his ministry should be able to introduce and repeat the exhortation to stay faithful like God wants us to (Jobes, 2011). Hebrews 4:14 talks about how, “since we have a great high priest…let us hold firmly to the faith we profess”. Christians have the opportunity to be a part of a community that allows us to grow and develop in our faith, and when we don’t see this happening it is not a part of God’s plan. That is why it is so important for Christ followers to not only be accountable of their own faith, but to understand that we are sinful people who need accountability in our community so that we can accomplish all that God wants for us. Professor Long talks about how Hebrews describes a church that stays in a community and supports each other, keeping each other from sin and holding each other accountable (Long, 2018). This is what is lacking in modern churches, and it is something that needs to be acknowledged, because if churches keep treating their communities the way they are now, we are going to continue to see the decline of true Christian followers and continue the downward trend of post-modernity that is so prominent in today’s society and culture.

    Jobes, K. H. (2011). Letters To The Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles. Zondervan.

  17. In this postmodern day and age, a growing acceptance of subjective truth has begun to penetrate into our church culture. In the wake of things like the LGBT and metoo movements, some honest and good people have fallen out of favor with society because they looked at somebody the wrong way. I’ve caught my pastor sometimes making cautious remarks “are you with me church?” to guard against this very thing. The writer of Hebrews calls his readers to encourage one another, including correcting and pushing. But in a culture that ostracizes anyone who fails to accept their subjective views, this kind of encouragement has become increasingly difficult.
    How do we as Christians encourage one another in a postmodern world?

  18. Hebrews 3:7-19 talks about as Christians the thing that we need to avoid is a sinful heart of unbelievers. Most of the time when the Bible is talking about the heart, we find that the authors are not talking about the heart itself, but they are more referring to the will of heart other than the emotions. Someone who is unsaved we may see as being sinful constantly and an unbelieving heart. There is a big misunderstanding when it comes to Jews falling away from the Christian beliefs that they are to be unbelievers. Although some Jews may go back to their roots and stay with the beliefs that they grew up with, they cannot be considered as unbelievers because the Judaism theories still recognize that there is a God, and this would be the same God that us as Christians believe in a follow. The only big difference is that Judaism does not follow the true revelation from God that the Christian faith presents to us.

    In the book of Hebrews, we see that the main theme is to encourage one another to stay strong in our faith. We need to see the Christian faith as its own community and with a community it is important that we stay true with those around us and help each other grow in faith. There are times where I see the Christian Community may be a little too pushy with their faith and try to force it on those who don’t really believe. This may cause those individuals to get farther from Christ than they once were before.

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