Getting Beyond our Bumper Sticker Theology

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October 3, 2021

Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

CONSIDER THIS

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,”

It’s tempting and would be easy to rip this text out of its context and interpret it through the lens of our time, allowing our own cultural mix of stories, fables, heroes and folklore (aka movies) to tell us what encouragement really means. 

I can already see the refrigerator magnet:

ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER DAILY. . . or the bumper sticker . . . ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER TODAY. 

Upon seeing it we would hasten to pat someone on the back, tell them they could do it, or commend the waiter for doing a good job and feel like we had done it. And while there is always ample need for kind words and thoughtful gestures, let’s not confuse them for what the Bible is talking about when it says, “encourage one another daily as long as it is called today.” 

But, did you see what I did back there with the refrigerator magnets? I left out what may be the most significant word in the verse. Did you see it? It’s the first word. 

BUT. 

Conjunction junction, what’s your function? There is a strategically placed word here. It tells us this admonition to “encourage one another daily as long as it is called today” is in contrast to something that has gone before. It calls us to explore the context. As my New Testament Ninja Bible Teacher, Dr. Ben Witherington III, fondly says, “A text with out a context is merely a pretext for your own text.” If you have been with the Daily Text for any length of time you know this is a “no-fluff-zone” when it comes to the biblical text. We are learning to read well together.  

The context here is fascinating and we will take a day or two to explore it in some depth as it will reveal significant layers of nuanced meaning for us. Let’s look back to v.12

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. v.12

We must encourage one another daily as long as it is called today not because we all need more attaboys and pats on the back. It’s way more serious than that. This cuts to the very core of the human condition. The nature of fallen, broken, human beings can be diagnosed as follows: “a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” Though we have been saved from the penalty of sin by the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, sin still crouches at the door.

And we aren’t talking about mere bad behavior here and the temptation to have a second piece of Aunt Myrtle’s coconut cream pie. Behavior is a symptom. Sin is the disease. We need a far more robust understanding of what sin is and how sin works if we are to truly understand what grace is and how salvation works. Our typical view of sin and salvation is very transactional, and though there is definitely a forensic dimension to sin, it is far more complex and sophisticated. Verse 12 perhaps gives us the most succinct definition of what sin most deeply is: “An unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” This is why encouragement is so essential. Hear the text now with the context:

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,”

Finally, you have undoubtedly noticed what else got cut out of our refrigerator magnet and bumper sticker version—the whole second half of v.13—more critical context:

so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

The human heart is so easily deceived, and sin (aka “an unbelieving heart”) is unbelievably deceitful. Behavior management is not the cure for sin’s deceitfulness. That is like taking cough syrup for lung cancer. The ongoing Holy Spirit chemotherapy for the deceitful sin cancer of an unbelieving heart is thick encouragement. More on that tomorrow. We will be going to Meribah. 

THE PRAYER

God our Father. Forgive me for my flat and thin way of engaging the revelation of your Word. Jesus, as the Word made Flesh, would you be our teacher, causing our hearts to burn as you unfold the Scriptures, the very hear and now wisdom of eternal life. Just as your Spirit inspired the word, may the Spirit now interpret it to my inmost being that it might work itself into every conceivable expression of my life, for my good, for others’ gain, for your glory. In Jesus name, Amen. 

THE QUESTION

How are you resonating with this connection being made between the nature of sin and the call for encouragement? Will you help dig this well, or would you rather go back to the bumper sticker? 

P.S. 

You may have heard me mention banded  discipleship from time to time. This Tuesday, we’re hosting a free webinar called BAND TOGETHER: Understanding What a Band Is and How to Start One. It will be 90 minutes with Mark Benjamin in which you will learn all about Discipleship Bands—including what a band is, why bands are so impactful, and how to start a band yourself. Register here.

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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