Text: Hebrews 12:14-16 “Running the Christian Race”
Subject: Why should Christians pursue peace with all men?
Complement: So that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by [it?]1 many be defiled2.
Exegetical Idea: Christians should pursue peace with all men so that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by him [this one] many be defiled.
Purpose: As a result of this sermon, my listeners will be convinced that we are to run the Christian race as a team; and that we are to encourage one another and seek the well being fellow Christians, lest any of us fall short of God’s grace.
Homiletical Idea: The Christian race is individual, but the prize is won by team work.
Mood: Sober encouragement.
14Eivrh,nhn diw,kete meta. pa,ntwn1 kai. to.n a`giasmo,n( ou- cwri.j ouvdei.j o;yetai to.n ku,rion( evpiskopou/ntej mh, tij u`sterw/n avpo. th/j ca,ritoj tou/ qeou/( mh, tij r`i,za pikri,aj a;nw fu,ousa evnoclh/| kai. diV auvth/j mianqw/sin polloi,( mh, tij po,rnoj h’ be,bhloj w`j VHsau/( o]j avnti. brw,sewj mia/j avpe,deto ta. prwtoto,kia e`autou/
My Translation: Pursue [together] with all men salvation2 and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord; watching that no root of bitterness springing up should trouble and by this many should be defiled, lest there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his birthright in place of a single meal.
Introduction: Have you ever noticed that when athletes compete as a team in a relay race, they do not run at the same speed? Though these athletes are champions in the various states, cities, schools they represent; yet some run at a faster speed than the others in the team. But the remarkable thing is that if the team wins the race, it is not won by individual talents alone. Instead, it is won by a collective effort of the team. So despite the fact that these athletes run at different speeds, they only way they can win the trophy is team effort. Although the race is individual, but as a team victory comes by team work.
1. Eivrh,nhn diw,kete meta. pa,ntwn is the first phrase and the central statement of this passage. The NIV broke the entire passage into several sentences. The NASB separated vs. 14 from the rest of the passage, thereby eliminating the subordinate relationships and created two imperatives statements-pursue and see to it. However, the author connected the pursuit of peace and sanctification with three adverbial qualifiers- excluding individual adverbial modifiers to each, for example “with all men,” and “without which.” It is fitting to argue that to the author, pursuing peace and sanctification is the positive side of ensuring that none of the believers, A. Falls short of the grace of God B. Allows a root of bitterness lest it should trouble and defile, and C. acts like Esau by discarding his divine inheritance to satisfy fleshy desire.
Eivrh,nhn “peace” robs translators and modern preachers the wrong way and has led many to assume that the passage is about pursuing a harmonious relationship that are hampered by the resentment among Christians. To make the matter worse is the fact NIV translations reads make every effort to live in peace with all men. Taking the passage literally, it could mean that, but when one considers that the immediate context 12:14-16, and larger context of Hebrews 12:1-29, the word peace takes a different nuance.
2. In the OT peace- ~Alv’ generally speaks of well being such as health and prosperity, which comes gift as a from YHWH. Among the prophets, peace becomes eschatological image of Yahweh’s plan for his people. Hence in Isaiah’s later vision, he sees peace in a spiritual sense, salvation from sin and restoration of all things, see Gerhard Von Rad, Vol. II Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, X vols., gen. ed. Gerhard kittle, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley ; (1964 rpt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993) pp 405-406. In addition to the usage of peace in the OT, the most significant use of peace
This concept is true for athletes, but isn’t it also true with regard to running the Christian race? Isn’t it true that although the Christian race is individual, yet we still need the solidarity of fellow brothers and sisters in the body to run and win the race?
This is what the writer of the book of Hebrews was saying to his audience, who were faced with uncertainties of their newly found faith.3 And is saying to you and I today.
[Example] when we accepted newly Christ into our lives, it was a great experience. We were eager to do anything in the church. We attended every service, helped out in the church, gave of our resources to the church, led souls to Christ. We could not say no to any fellow believer who was in need. But then as the years go by, we begin to realize that Christians are not really perfect people. We are full of flaws, the church is not perfect, the pastor is human and can make mistake, we face the same hardship that non Christians face, the frustration of the lure to go back to the old life sets in. When this happens, you need the encouragement of those who have run the race much longer to carry on, or else you could fall back to the old life.
In Hebrews 12, The Holy Spirit is admonishing the believers through the great cloud of witnesses from the preceding chapter, who have suffered all things to win the prize, not to loose heart in their war against sin and in the race which is set before them. If God allows hardship, they are to understand it as the discipline of the Lord, a sure proof of real son ship. They must know that, while no discipline is pleasant, if it allowed to do its work, it will result in righteousness. The believers must therefore strengthen themselves in their weaknesses, lest the disjointed limb be torn out of joint. They should instead let it be healed. Hence they must pursue peace and sanctification. This peace becomes the ultimate salvation which comes at the end of a life -long spiritual marathon, and the believers are to pursue it together4 with all, and not to allow some among them to fall short, or to become roots of bitterness5, or to act like Esau. This pursuit of peace with all men is not a pursuit of social harmonious relationship with another believer, but in the context of salvation and sanctification6.
(Homiletical idea): He admonishes believers to run the Christian race as a team. Some may fall away due to trials. If they fall away, they will become roots of bitterness and contaminate other members of the body. The writer does not want this to happen because, If they fall away, they may not be forgiven.
The believers are being admonished to collectively run the Christian race.
TRANSITION: In Hebrews 12, the Holy Spirit encourages the converts from Judaism to Christianity to persevere through trials in their new found faith in Christ. They are encouraged to pursue their salvation and sanctification collectively as a team, so that no one is left behind. (Homiletical Idea):He admonishes the Hebrew Christians to encourage each other and be there for each other so that they could win the race as one body. This passage is tells you and I that we are not lone rangers. We have to work as team. We have to ensure that no one named among us falls short of the grace of God. Even though the race is individual, we can only win as a team. We have been admonished, and this comes to us through the Hebrew Christians.
in the NT to reference the salvation that is created by the Messiah. Peace then becomes the end time salvation of the prophets made real in the person of Jesus and made available to those who repent and believe (I am indebted to my college professor, Andrew Sargent, PhD, for this insight during a class lecture many years ago). This concept of peace as eschatological salvation and the admonition to pursue it collectively lest anyone named among believers fall short of the grace of God becomes the interpretive framework for this passage as we shall see.
3. His audience were newly Christian converts from Judaism, who were in kind of dilemma of going back to Judaism as they faced the realities of following Jesus. They have embraced the message of salvation, and have discarded the practices of Judaism. As a result they lost popularity; lost friends, and are contemplating on going back to Judaism.
4. meta. this preposition is not used when the idea of pursuing peace socially is referenced. When pursuing social harmonious relationship is intended, the rabbis use the preposition !yIB; and the Greeks usually use the preposition pro.j especially if it is in the accusative. The author employing the preposition meta. “with” in this passage is in the context of a
collective effort–together. Geoffrey Bromiley, p 114. His audience are to pursue salvation and sanctification together with all in
I. The Jewish converts were admonished to pursue peace and sanctification with all.
A. Some Christians love being where they are in their spiritual journey.
B. They love the company of believers, but they have not let the Spirit of God transform them.
C. They feel safe and secure, in the body but have never immersed themselves in the things of God.
D. Those who are stronger and wiser should join hands with the weak in pursuit of salvation and sanctification, without which no one can see the Lord (vs. 14).
TRANSITION: To the author pursuing peace and sanctification is the positive side of seeing to it that, no one falls short of the glory of God; allows a root of bitterness lest it should trouble and defile; acts like Esau by discarding his divine inheritance to satisfy fleshy desire. You think that it’s warning to the Hebrew Christians, but they are for us today. The writer is not talking about
resentment that hinder unity among Christians, by the phrase “root of bitterness” Read vs. 15.
II. The “root of bitterness” is a person.
A. He is the believer, who when faced by the discipline of the Lord, becomes defiant and in his frustration
renounces the faith he has once cherished.
B. He is the arrogant boaster, who raises his fist in the face of God, and could not allow the discipline of God to produce fruit of righteousness in his life.
C. He is like the foot with gangrene that needs to be cut off so that it does not contaminate the rest of the body (vs. 15).
D. He is the high handed sinner, who tramples the blood of covenant under his feet, and rejects blessing that
5. “root of bitterness” The author is quoting from the larger phrase from the LXX used in Deuteronomy 29:17-18, which provides the thought context for our passage. In Deuteronomy 29, after the revision of the list of the covenant stipulations, and the enumeration of the blessings and curses for keeping and violating the covenant, Moses briefly reminds them of Yahweh’s deliverance from Egypt, and from Sihon and Og, whose land the two and half tribes of Israel- Gadites, Reubenites, and half of Manasseh occupied, and called the assembly in light of these things that Yahweh has done to take the covenant seriously, for only then can they be established in the new land that God promised to Abraham. Moses uses the destruction of the inhabitants of the lands they were to possess to remind Israel that should they not keep the covenant with Yahweh, they will be met with the same fate as the previous inhabitants those lands. The idolatry of the nations whom God has destroyed should serve a deterrent, lest any man or woman should grow haughty toward God and repudiate the covenant; lest such a person become a poisonous root bearing poisonous fruit. Such person is the arrogant boaster who boasts of peace in his rebellion. Intending to destroy the good land in his arrogance. God will single out this person and pour out the curses of the covenant upon this person. God will not be willing to forgive this person. This arrogant boaster is the root of bitterness. The root of bitterness is person. The reader of Heb 21:5 knows Deuteronomy 29:18 and is being encouraged to persevere during difficult trails and not to go back to the old way of Judaism, for if after they have experienced the goodness of the Lord in their newly found faith, reject the new covenant, by going back to the old way, they will be like the one who tramples the blood
of the covenant under his feet. This person may not be forgiven. This one is the person who commits the unpardonable sin- the blasphemy of the holy Spirit. The believers are then encouraged not let such person exist in the body by a collective effort to
pursue salvation and sanctification. Numbers 15:30-31 is another OT text that links the root of bitterness to a person. Other NT
passages that speak of this are Acts 8:9-24; Mark 3:23-30.
The root of bitterness is the high handed sinner, the corrupter is like a leg with gangrene that needs to be cut off. He is an anti-Christ who rejected the saving work of God through His Holy Spirit God has promised to those who persevere. The Holy Spirit does not want anyone numbered among the believers to be this root of bitterness, and so the believers have to look out for one another– get each other’s back
TRANSITION: Like Esau, who despised his birthright, this arrogant boaster, the corrupter, and the reviler may not be forgiven of his apostasy. So the believers ought not to let this believer go down the wrong path. The believers must then strengthen the knees that are disjointed, ensure that no one becomes like immoral Esau, takes for granted the grace of God, and do damage in the body of Christ. We are in this together. No one should be left behind.
III. It seems that these Hebrew recipients are in a kind of dilemma here (vs. 12:4).
A. They have suffered persecution for their newly found faith in Christ, and have begun to shrink in their faith.
B. The author Hebrews is confident that his readers will not be like those who shrink back after tasting the goodness of the Lord.
C. He is confident that his readers will persevere and receive their reward.
D. The Holy Spirit is confident that you and I will hold fast to our confession and not go on sinning; and that no one among us becomes root of bitterness.
TRANSTITION: The believers are to press on like the Heroes of the faith, and not be like Esau. They are to pursue peace and sanctification together with all, making sure that no one acts like Esau, who sold his inheritance for fleshy appetite. The believers are not to let their period of trials cost them their reward. They should not let the fleeting worldly pleasures hinder them the heavenly blessing which awaits those who persevere to the end. We must run as a team. We must look out for each other. Though we run individually, the prize is won by collective effort.
When we look out for each other, we ensure that no root of bitterness exists among us. When we pursue peace with all, we avoid anyone among us being like Esau. When we persevere in times of trial and help those among us who struggle in their walk with God, we ensure that no one falls short of the grace of God. Homiletical Idea: We are in this together and together we will be victorious.
Benediction: may God who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light endue us with the power and boldness to encourage one another so that no one numbered among us will fall short of the grace of God. Amen!
Von Rad Gerhard , Vol. II Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, X vols., gen. ed. Gerhard kittle, trans., Geoffrey Bromiley; (1964 rpt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993) pp 405-406.
Greek New Testament.