In our last post, we started exploring Hebrews 3:12-13.

In verse 13, the writer uses a strong adversative and challenges us to the ministry of exhortation. He commands us to keep on continually exhorting one another every day.  We often think of exhortation or the ministry of encouragement like that of a cheerleader who vapidly cheers from the sidelines with a perky smile. In our relationships with others, we often relegate the ministry of exhortation to cheering from a distance with plastic smiles.  We offer casual platitudes and pat each other on the back while never attempting to go deeper into true Biblical exhortation.

            The word used here for “exhortation” is the Greek word “parakaleo” which means to come along side other believers for the purpose of motivating and strengthening them to grow in grace. Exhortation means that we get personally involved down in the trenches of another person’s life. We walk along side of them in their pursuit of holiness by providing counsel, encouragement, and motivation. We must also notice that this ministry of exhortation happens on a daily basis. We are called to exhort one another every day as long as it is called “today”.

Adoniram Judson was a missionary to Burma in the 1800’s whose ministry reached over a million people with the gospel. During a time of Civil War between Burma and England, many were thrown in jail. He was imprisoned in terrible conditions where captives were often hanged by their thumbs as a means of torture. Adoniram survived by daily words of encouragement from his wife Ann. Day by day, she would enter the squalid prison cell, walk past the jeering guards and look her husband in the eye and say, “Don’t give up, Adoniram. God will give us the victory.” She would visit him almost every day with these loving words of encouragement until one day the visits stopped. He was eventually released from prison and went to look for her and found out that she was dying. He found her in a government-assigned tent that was almost as bad as the prison. She was lying on tattered blankets with her body shrunken by disease and malnutrition. He looked into her eyes and she said to him one last time, “Do not give up, Adinoram. God will give us the victory.” Millions of souls were saved as a result of the missionary endeavors of Adoniram Judson. But we often do not here of Ann, his wife.  She could have abandoned her husband and headed back to America, but instead, she submitted ultimately to the will of Christ by supporting him. She is the hero of this story. As the complement to her husband along with her submissive spirit, she was the spark of energy and exhortation that God used to send Adoniram forth in perseverance.

            Day by day we need the encouragement of other believers who will stimulate us to be prepared to fight this battle with our tricky foe—sin.  This word “parakaleo” shows up again in Hebrews 10:24-25 when the writer urges us to not forsake the assembling together as the gathered church. He writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The writer alarms us to the urgency of the ministry of exhortation in light of the Second Coming of Christ. Why is the ministry of exhortation so urgent? Why is there no time to waste in playing with the devil’s bait as Thomas Brooks has reminded us?

The Deceitfulness of Sin

            The writer of Hebrews gives us the reason why we must be urgent, watchful and consistently practice the ministry of exhortation. He warns us that we could become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. By using the word “hardened” he again harkens back to Psalm 95 and its dire warnings concerning rebellion and disobedience.  This word “hardened” was used to describe some of the Jews in Ephesus who scoffed at Paul’s teachings as evidenced in Acts 19:9 which states, “ But when some became stubborn (hardened) and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.”

This word for “hardened” (skleryno) in classical Greek was originally used as a medical term to describe the hardened swelling of a bone.[1] In current medical usage, we have a similar phenomenon called “atherosclerosis” otherwise known as the hardening of the arteries.  This condition occurs when cholesterol and fat collect and calcify in the arteries causing a narrow restriction which eventually prevents the healthy flow of oxygen to our major organs. Too much “sclerosis” or hardening can eventually lead to either a stroke or a heart attack.  Just as bad cholesterol can cause the hardening of arteries, the deceitfulness of sin can cause the spiritual hardening of our hearts.

In Ephesians 4:19, Paul describes the heart of an unregenerate sinner in that they have become callous. This word “callous” is very similar to the word “hardened”. This word “callous” in the original language means to become insensitive to pain. In spiritual terms it denotes a moral apathy whereby lost people are desensitized to sin. They no longer feel any shame or embarrassment at immorality. They are no longer bothered by their own immorality and sinfulness since these things have become their lifestyle. Nothing shocks them.  Persistent, habitual sin has a deadening affect on the human heart.

            What actually causes us to be hardened in our response to the living God? The answer lies in the exceeding deceitfulness of sin. Peter O’Brien says that “sin is viewed as a powerful agent that deceives.”[2] If sin is such a powerful agent of deception, then we must understand how sin actually deceives us. How does sin in and of itself pull the wool over our eyes? What makes sin so exceedingly deceitful?

Find out in my next post…

[1] Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume V, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s, 1967) 1025-1030.

[2] Peter O’Brien argues that the Greek reading of the phrase “deceitfulness of sin” in the genitive case should be understood as objective (= ‘sin deceives’) rather than qualitative (= ‘sinful deception’). Peter O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews: Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2010), 149


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