THE DILIGENT COMMITMENTS OF PEACEMAKING

StriveI use and choose the word diligent carefully. It’s all about those first three words, make every effort in Heb. 12:14. The ESV translates the Greek, strive. It means to run after something or follow someone. Luke 17:23 uses it literally where Jesus warns His disciples about the danger of following after false teachers. The commentator Matthew Poole cast it as a fierce, unwearied, constant pursuit.

It makes for a fitting synonym for a huge word in Eph. 4:3—eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In Hebrews 12:14 it functions as the main verb, a present tense command—continually, keep on striving—and, as such, colors three commitments the writer prescribes as necessary for us to run the race with endurance (Heb. 12:1-2). The three commitments are—peace with all, holiness before God, and care of believers. In this post, I want to address just the first.

Commitment #1: Peace with all (14a). Make every effort to live in peace with everyone. Remember that this letter was written to persecuted believers in the first century. They were largely Jewish people who had left behind their Old Covenant ways. They had decided to follow Jesus as members of the New Covenant inaugurated by His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Dr. Donald Barnhouse used to say: Hebrews was written to the Hebrews to tell the Hebrews they were no longer to be Hebrews.

The writer sent the letter to exhort them to go the distance—make the finish line as followers of Jesus, their great High Priest (Heb. 8:1). Persecution, even of the most extreme kind, does not take the church and her people off the hook from pursuing the blessedness of the peacemaker (Matt. 5:9).

What’s striking in my mind in this verse is the scope of the call to peacemaking—with everyone. What does he have in mind? I think everyone means just that, everyone, even our persecutors! Why do I say that? For one thing, the way Jesus taught in Matt. 5:44-45.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Consider as well the way Paul taught in generalities in Gal. 6:10: So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (emphasis added). But note also how Paul exhorted in specifics related to peacemaking as a way of doing good in Rom. 12:18: If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all (emphasis added). He simply allowed for no exceptions in calling us to peacemaking.

Richard Phillips, in his commentary on Hebrews, cites a story related by Watchman Nee in order to illustrate this point:

A Christian who had a rice field on a hill had to hand-work a pump to bring water up from the irrigation stream that ran at the base of the hill. Beneath him was a neighbor who made a hole in the dividing wall so that when the Christian tried to pump water into his field it drained down into the neighbor’s. The Christian became understandably frustrated at this repeated theft. Consulting his Christian friends he asked, “What shall I do? I have tried to be patient and not retaliate. Isn’t it right for me to confront him?” The Christians prayed, and then one of them noted that as Christians they surely had a duty to seek more than justice for themselves, but to live in such a way as to be a blessing to others. Armed with this advice, the Christian pursued a different strategy. The next day he went out and first pumped water into his neighbor’s fields and then went on to do the additional labor for watering his own fields. Before long, this procedure brought the neighbor out to ask why the Christian would act in this way, and as a result of the relationship that ensued the neighbor became a Christian himself (p. 556).

Even the persecuted church has peacemaking commitments incumbent upon it as it runs the race set before it, nothing short of peace with all. How much more do the diligent commitments to peacemaking apply to us who enjoy so little in the way of costs for our faith here in the west?

Have you omitted someone from your peacemaking agenda for whatever reason? You may want to reconsider their oversight in light of the all/everyone scope so painfully clear in a passage like this.

After all, if you are a Christian, even when you were His enemy, Jesus made very effort to make peace with you (Rom. 5:10).

How Great Is Our God?

Last October Nancy and I visited a church  we’ve never attended before near our mountain retreat during our annual fall vacation.

The pastor preached a message from the book of Hebrews. He concluded from the numerous warning passages in places like Heb. 2:1-3 that believers in Christ can lose their salvation. Controversy notwithstanding and readily admitted, he outright dismissed the doctrine of eternal security placing the responsibility for our future destiny on our own heads.

From there we went immediately to the close of the service with the singing of Chris Tomlin’s tune How Great Is Our God. Normally I sing that song, which I enjoy very much, with passion and energy. After that message however I lacked the usual gusto. The preaching didn’t build my faith in God who keeps His own to the end but rather sought to dampen that faith. Hence my question mark at the end of this blog post title.

I have since recovered by revisiting the rest of Scripture by which we must interpret the warning texts in Hebrews, including chapters six and ten, considering them as means of grace God gives to help Christian’s persevere. For the overwhelming testimony of divine writ is that what God begins He completes (Phil. 1:6). He who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121). The One predestined, also calls, justifies and glorifies – note the past tense in Rom. 8:30 which speaks of future glorification so certain as if it has already taken place. Jesus refers to His own as doubly secure in His and the Father’s hands from which no one may snatch us (John 10:28-29).

Peter speaks of believers as those who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet. 1:5). Jude calls us the kept for Jesus Christ (Jude 1) and ascribes blessing at the conclusion of his letter to Him who is able to keep us from stumbling and present us blameless before the presence of His glory (Jude 24).

The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith calls this doctrine the perseverance of the saints and states this from the Scriptures about it in paragraph two:

It is on no free will of their own that the saints’ perseverance depends, but on the immutability of the decree of election, which in its turn depends upon the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, the efficacious merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and the saints’ union with Him, the oath of God, the abiding character of the Spirit’s indwelling of the saints, the divine nature of which they are partakers and, lastly, the terms of the covenant of grace.  All these factors guarantee the certainty and infallibility of the saints’ perseverance.

Now if my friend in Idaho had preached something of that nature from the Bible during my visit last fall surely my singing of Tomlin’s tune would have been more robust as it normally is!

This day of days during each year I value the biblical doctrine of perseverance more than ever because I observe my spiritual birthday. Thirty-nine years ago today I professed Christ at age twenty in my Pennsylvania living room. I got up this morning all these years later still believing the gospel, still fighting the good fight, still running the race, still keeping the faith, not because of any resolve that resides in me but because of the keeping power of my great God in which I implicitly trust.

I look forward to declaring the same praise a year from now on my fortieth birthday should the Lord grant length of days.

Suddenly I have a desire to listen to some Chris Tomlin.

Seven Benefits of Church Membership from the Book of Hebrews

Recently I finished another edition of Discover OGC, our newcomer orientation series. Over the next few weeks our officers are interviewing various candidates for membership at our local church.

Perhaps you have yet to make this decision. I commend these brief thoughts from Hebrews to your consideration as ample argument for moving ahead with membership. If you have made such a  decision and are a covenant member at OGC or some other local church, I commend these thoughts to you as well as an encouragment that such a choice is in your best interest.

1. It will help protect you from the peril of spiritual drift (Heb. 2:1,3). The writer pleads for greater attention to spiritual realities “lest we drift away” and warns “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” Connection to a church body can be one strategy to counter the tendency to drift.

2. It can protect against the danger of an evil heart of unbelief (3:12-13). “Exhort one another daily . . . lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,” the text says. Membership puts you more readily in touch with people who will do that for you. And, of course, it assumes that you will do the same for them.

3. It will add to the extent of your eternal reward (6:10). “God is not unjust to forget what you do toward His name, in ministering to other saints.” Where will you more readily find other saints to which to minister than in your church where you are a member?

4. It puts you in a place where mutual provocation can take place (10:24-25). Love and good deeds continually require external stimuli, the kind which comes from not forsaking assembling together but exhorting one another more and more.

5. It enables the pursuit of sanctification (12:14). We are to pursue peace with all and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. No one grows in a vacuum. We need each other to achieve Christ-likeness. Mark Dever calls church membership “an assurance of salvation cooperative.” We need each other in covenant community to help promote the assurance that we are indeed saved based upon some degree of evident sanctification in our lives manifested within the church and among its membership.

6. It more readily exposes you to examples worth imitating (13:7). Hebrews assumes the necessity of leaders whose lifestyles set a pace worth emulating.

7. It offers you the benefit and profit of glad spiritual oversight (13:17). How are you to ensure adequate shepherding of your life if you do not readily “arrange yourself under” (the literal meaning of the Greek for submit) spiritual leaders and gladly receive their spiritual ministrations on your behalf? Notice how often the writer emphasizes the assumption that you have spiritual leaders who rule over you – vv. 7, 13, and 24.

Don’t give in to modern evangelicalism’s pervasive plague of individualism. Covenant to become a member of your local church. The stakes are too high to neglect this gracious provision of God on our behalf.