Coming to the end of Hebrews, one might expect the writer of such a epic letter of hope and instruction to wrap up with a flourish. To say something so profound, so inspirational, that generations to come will walk boldly forward in their faith with the words ringing in their ears.
But the writer does not. Strangely, s/he ends rather anti-climactically, with an encouragement and an admonishment to live together well.
“Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau, who traded his birthright as the firstborn son for a single meal. You know that afterward, when he wanted his father’s blessing, he was rejected. It was too late for repentance, even though he begged with bitter tears.” (Hebrews 12.14-17, NLT)
So, that’s the punch line? The final word? After all this?
Don’t Try This Alone
It is. See, the writer knows something Western Christians forget. The final truth is—we can’t do any of the amazing things in chapters 1-11 alone.
Bold Living prioritizes healthy relationships and cares for them with integrity.
The writer knows what looms ahead for these poeple.
- Things are going to be hard.
- Stress will threaten to fracture them.
- Persecution will tempt them to betray one another.
- Complacency will suck them back into their old life.
- Some will want to pull up anchor and go.
- Some will lose their hope and vision.
So this ending. This is how you hang together. Because to paraphrase Ben Franklin, you’ll hang separately otherwise.
This is maintenance for how to keep the fractures, cracks, and small roots from breaking it all apart. It’s not a sexy ending. But it’s a necessary one.
It’s still true, isn’t it? In marriages, friendships, and churches? If we let the small roots get in, they will crack it wide open.
Lots of stresses from outside still pressures us. Time, competing values, money, other relationships, envy—it all gets in the cracks.
That’s how earthquakes destroy—they don’t break open bedrock. They follow where the weaknesses already are. Where the cracks already exist. Then they widen them and wreak havoc.
Ephesians 4.23 warns us—“Don’t let the devil get a foothold.” I know from experience with rock climbing that a foothold need not be a large thing. It can be a tiny crack. Anything the accuser can leverage and widen to climb into our lives.
What are those little cracks?
“Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”
The first sign of trouble in a relationship is always bitterness. Disagreement happens. Disagreements are healthy. Churches that never disagree are unhealthy places where everyone has to fall in line and no one feels safe.
Marriage that never disagree mean someone isn’t being heard.
If any relationship has no disagreement, there’s a balance of power difference and it’s not a real relationship. We are free, and that means to not be alike.
In every dystopian novel or sci fi movie I’ve ever known, it’s the ones that are all the same we have to be scared of.
But bitterness isn’t healthy disagreement. It’s unhealthy resentment. It’s poison in the cracks. When we see that root, we know trouble is on the way.
- He should know.
- I always do all the work in this friendship/church/marriage.
- How could they not invite me to do that?
- I’m not appreciated, valued, heard.
- All our problems are her/his fault.
We tell ourselves these stories until we believe them ourselves.
And then the relationship falls apart, and we blame the other party.
Bitterness takes hostages, too.
Bitterness becomes gossip as the words in our head become words on our lips. We start to believe our thoughts, and then we tell others. It does as the writer relays—it “corrupts many” as the infection of bitterness spread throughout the body.
- Please pray for my spouse. You wouldn’t believe what she/he did.
- I’m not real sure of their parenting skills. How could we help?
- Do you think the pastor really is doing the best things for us?
The only cure for infection is to get it out. Someone has to go first in honest discussion of what’s happening. Someone has to be willing to lance the wound. Talk about your hurt. Be honest with your needs.
Someone has to pick up the trowel and start patching the cracks.
If Christ has forgiven us, recreated us, made us witnesses, why not let it be us?
“So stop telling lies (to yourself as well as others). Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.” (Ephesians 4.25)
Then, choose to speak words of life.
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4.8)
Perhaps an even bigger tree root, however, is the final one.
“Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau.”
We are our brothers and sisters keepers.
Work together. Watch one another. It’s our part in the body to live like a body, helping one another toward holiness. Watching out that no one is left out.
Work at peace and holiness. They don’t just happen. We’re not supposed to be only friendly and fun. We’re supposed to help one another be holy. It’s our deep calling to help one anther cross the finish line. We are given the job of making sure we all are living in God’s grace. It’s a holy calling, this depending on one another.
It requires time and intention to be in one another’s lives—not intrusively like a Pharisee, but completely, like a brother or sister. We in the Western culture are not so good at this. We value our privacy. We idolize our time. We live in our bubbles. Yet I believe that one of the biggest dangers to living in Christ is simply being apathetic toward checking in on one another’s faith.
My older brother ran cross country in high school. I idolized him, and when he ran, I tried to run along, as far as the track coincided with the observers. I ran, though I couldn’t come close to keeping up, until the finish line. I loved my brother. I wanted to follow him. I wanted to be there when he crossed that line (often first).
I want to be there when my brothers and sisters cross the line. I want to cheer them on. I want to run beside them, pacing them, letting them know I’m there for the whole race, if need be.
That’s the kind of church the writer of Hebrews imagined. That’s what s/he wrote to hold on to. Those were the final instructions, and they were better and more important than we think.