We had just moved into the area, bought a house, welcomed our first baby, and settled into a new church. The house was definitely a fixer-upper, but we were determined to start practicing hospitality, so we had a steady stream of company, including a dear lady who sat next to me in the alto section of the choir. She and her husband came for dinner one August evening — I remember the timing because I had made a blueberry pie for dessert, and we spent some time talking about the local blueberry festival as I cut into the pie and noted that it was . . . o.k. My blueberry pies are always a little too juicy for my liking, but . . . oh, well.
I remember a lot of details about that dinner and dessert, but here’s what I don’t remember: when or how I learned that my new friend happened to be one of the judges for the Festival’s blueberry pie baking contest. She certainly didn’t tip her hand at the dinner table that evening, and I was certainly thankful that I hadn’t known that particular detail as I served that sorry-looking pie.
We have strong feelings when we hear the word “judge,” and our minds always go immediately to the negative: Too juicy. Was the crust flakey enough? Were the berries too sweet?
Reading Hebrews 4:12, this familiar verse brings to mind the ability of God’s Word to judge, to discern, and to expose my inner heart. I picture it slicing through all my mixed motives, all my flabby excuses, and finding nothing but badness at the root, but there’s more to it than that . . .
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (NASB)
According to the prophet Jeremiah, we all could use a little help in the matter of judging our own heart’s motives, and looking at the placement of Hebrews 4:12 within the author’s arguments for entering into God’s rest, it becomes clear that the Word of God can play an essential role in protecting the reader from the same fate as the nation of Israel.
Hebrews 3:19 reveals that the disobedience that kept the people of Israel out of the Promised Land was unbelief, specifically, disbelieving the Word of promise, mercy, forgiveness and welcome which they had received from God, (Hebrews 4:2). Hungry for cucumber salad with a side of leeks, they bemoaned the presence of tall-guys in Canaan, and their sin of unbelief was passed down through the centuries, resulting in the New-Testament-era camel-swallowing and speck-picking that Jesus condemned. Warren Wiersbe diagnoses their misstep with his usual clarity:
“The Israelites criticized the Word of God instead of allowing the Word of God to judge them — and they lost their inheritance.”
Therefore, the message of the Holy Spirit through the writer of Hebrew is this:
Beware lest this happen to you!
Take the Word of God to heart!
Hold yourself before the Truth and be diligent in your knowing, in your trusting, and in your believing.
God’s Word is “living and powerful.”
It is “sharp and piercing.”
It will turn a spotlight on motives that you would rather keep private.
It will expose attitudes that do not support your public persona.
But this is only one aspect of the Word’s working.
As we soak mind and heart in the truth of Scripture, as we read its promises (God’s promises), we find evidence that supports firm belief in those promises. The more soaking, the more belief, so that when the two-edged sword does its work, what it finds is:
A trustful leaning into the promises of God like oxygen.
An awareness of sin’s deceitfulness and a soldierly accountability for the “thoughts and intents” of one’s heart.
So the warning stands: fear unbelief!
But the promises also stand.
Let the Word of God lead your heart toward the evidence of God’s power and blessing.
Photo credit: Jon Ottosson
Thanks for joining us in our study of The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. My Sunday school class and I will be landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book. These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday. It’s not too late to catch up by reading Hebrews 1 -4, and, if you’re interested, last week’s blog post.
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