See to it, brothers, 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, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
This word translated here as encourage is translated in some versions of the Bible as exhort. Encourage each other daily –or exhort each other daily. In our language there is a slight difference between exhorting and encouraging. Encouraging is when we say something like, “Your doing a good job –keep up the good work.” Exhorting is more like giving warnings and instructions –like, “Be careful here –your getting a little too close to the edge –why don’t you back up just a little and try it again –I’m sure you’ll get it right this time.” The Greek word that was actually used here, parakaleo, means a little of both. It describes someone who comes along side and encourages and strengthens and warns and helps out. It denotes a truly concerned friend who wants you to be successful. And because he is a concerned friend, he is willing to confront issues that might trip you up or cause you problems. This is what we are told we are supposed to be for one another.
There is something else that the writer of Hebrews wants us to understand. It has to do with the purpose of life. The purpose of life is to hold firmly to the faith and not become distracted by and/or hardened by sin's deceitfulness. And, the writer here is saying that this is one of the clear goals of Christian community -to exhort and encourage one another to stay the course, to remain faithful, to hold firmly till the end.
About 80 years ago a group of serious Christians in Germany formed what came to be known as the Confessing Church. You might remember that at this time, Germany was controlled by the Nazis –and the church in Germany was also controlled by the Nazis –and this Confessing Church stood opposed to the national church that was was no longer teaching truth but was instead teaching Nazi political propaganda. The Confessing Church, of course, out of necessity became an underground church.
This underground church started an underground seminary whose goal it was to train pastors who would be disciplined and faithful in the face of heresy and persecution. The main teacher at this underground seminary was a young man –only 29 years old, named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All of the pastors who met to be taught at this seminary knew that they lived on the edge of eternity. They knew that at any time they could be arrested and executed. They knew that it was dangerous to fellowship together with other true Believers. It was dangerous to pray together and eat together and discuss the Word of God. Those were frightening times. Yet, they met together. They had a different view of the church than we do. They viewed church through the eyes of warfare. World War II was literal, of course, –but the church was involved in a spiritual war as well.
Accordingly, young men and women gathered in darkened basements at night time to plot strategies to sabotage the rule of Satan in their country. They plotted to liberate spiritual captives. They saw that by meeting together they were planting explosives of righteousness and truth along the bridges and walls of the devil's fortress. When they left each other they would say, “You and I will die for this cause and hold hands in the resurrection.” And when they met safely again on another day they tearfully embraced and sang songs of thanksgiving because the squad of witnesses had returned safely, sometimes even bringing some liberated captives along with them.
We don’t see church quite like that do we? Eventually, Bonhoeffer was arrested and, ultimately, hung. Before he died, though, while in prison he wrote a book entitled Life Together about the lessons learned at the underground seminary. In this little book, he wrote: “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer… God has put His Word into the mouths of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek Him and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, a Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged…. He needs his brother as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”
We are not living in Nazi Germany. We don’t have to meet underground. We are not in danger of being arrested and executed. But we are in danger of being distracted and as the writer of Hebrews put it, hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Any one of us is in danger of falling away from God through an unbelieving heart. And in this, our obligation to one another in this church is the same today as it was for those brave men and women of whom Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote when he said, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer…” and, “A Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged…. He needs his brother as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”
What would happen, I wonder, if true Christians worldwide made the commitment to true fellowship and truly became an encouraging, exhorting church? What would happen if all of us who believe were committed to making sure that none of our brothers and sisters got confused or discouraged enough to give up? What if each of us decided it is my job to be an encouraging believer as I learn to love the Body of Christ in tangible and meaningful ways and seek the good of the Kingdom before my own?