Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill to men (Luke 2:14).
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled (Heb. 12:14)
This latter verse above was my father’s favorite. In his last months while he lay in the nursing home with one leg amputated due to diabetes and his mind clouded with Alzheimer’s disease, he could still quote the King James Version of this verse: Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man will see God. He had reached a point in his life when that which was deeply rooted in his spirit was all he knew. He did not know his wife of more than fifty years, nor his children, nor his friends, but if we started to quote a scripture verse, he could finish it. If we sang his favorite gospel songs, he could sing them along with us—remembering the words.
One day the aide took him to the activities center to attend a Christian service to be conducted by some believers from a local church. At one point during the service, they asked for testimonies and Dad volunteered. They brought the microphone to him and he “preached” for nearly thirty minutes. What he said was coherent and convincing—as if he had presence of mind. The aide reported how awesome the experience was—how even her tears were flowing and her body tingling as she listened. It was an act of the Spirit of God, for Dad’s spirit was reborn and that which would last eternally had already taken over his temporal faculties. He didn’t know the people closest to him but he knew Jesus! The peace of God which passes understanding was keeping His heart and mind in Christ Jesus. His roommate, on the other hand, was in the same condition with Alzheimer’s disease, only he was not born again. He would become angry and curse loud and long. The peace my dad experienced never picked up on the angry spirit. Instead, he would continue to rejoice in the Lord with his, “Amen! Praise the Lord!” Although he had many reasons to do so, he had been diligent during his cognizant days not to let any root of bitterness spring up. That same peace was keeping him in the days prior to moving on to his eternal home.
Before the writer of Hebrews challenges the people to pursue peace, he exhorts them to strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed (Heb. 12:12). These words are addressed to persons worn out with persecution, sickness, affliction, simple fatigue and stress which result from a barrage of everyday problems and difficulties. The writer paints a picture of these people as totally discouraged with their hands hanging down and their knees shaking and wobbling. We’ve all be in that situation at one time or another.
Earlier in the same chapter, the writer gives us biographical clips of those wonderful heroes of faith and exhorts us to remember them as examples. They have gone before us and now are a great cloud of witnesses. They had to endure discrimination, misfortune, and hardships. Many of them never realized their dreams and goals yet they didn’t give up pursuing them right up until the time of their departure from earth. As we anticipate our eternal reward, we should remember their testimonies. Most likely, if we could but hear into the heavenly sphere they would be saying things like: “Let the story of our lives be a witness to you that you may endure to the end!” “It will be worth it all when you get home!” “Do not be weary in well-doing for soon you will reap if you don’t give up!” “Don’t become weary and faint in your minds!” (See Gal. 6:9).
It’s true that following God’s instructions often brings harassment, but press on! Remember what Jesus said to Peter: Satan desires to have you that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith not fail..and when your trial is over and you have the victory, strengthen your brethren (Luke 22:32).
Yes, what we’re going through at this time may seem grievous to us as it did to them, but we don’t allow it to cause us to miss what God has in store for us. The author of Hebrews exhorts the Jewish Christians and us to encourage ourselves with the testimonies of those precious saints who have gone on, and to be assured that we have a hope beyond the grave.
In this passage of Scripture from the letter to the Hebrews, we are commanded to do four things: Lift up our hands and knees; Make straight paths for our feet and for the lame; Follow peace and holiness; and Look diligently so we won’t be defiled.
Lift up your hands and knees
If we follow the Bible reference list for “lift up”, we will see that the Psalmist continually reminds himself, us, and all the saints of God, to lift up our hands, heads, and our countenance. In so doing, our attention is directed away from the mundane to Jesus, our Savior and Helper, our eternal King. The Apostle Paul writes to Pastor Timothy: I want men everywhere to pray lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting (1 Tim. 2:8). In the very act of lifting up the hands, something happens inside us. We cease being bitter, unforgiving, angry and easily offended. We accept God’s will for our lives and acknowledge that we can’t possibly understand His thoughts or His ways. We live in harmony with ourselves and with God.
The statement, lift up the hands that hang down and the feeble knees, is not a mistake. Yes, we can also lift up our feeble knees. The word used for lift up means to rebuild and/or restore. It is literally like the rebuilding or restoration of a fallen structure. That’s why Paul can also say lift up…the knees. How can you lift up feeble knees? They must be restored. Revigorated. Strengthened. Then, and only then, can we continue to walk in obedience to the Lord rather than standing still, or worse yet, fainting in the way.
Make straight paths for your feet and for the lame.
We know the way; Jesus is The Way. We know the path. He has left the directions in His Word. We dare not turn, nor even look to the left or the right. The way is straight and narrow…few there be that find it, but we can be among the few. It’s important because the lame are following us—those who cannot walk alone and need someone to lean on until they get strong enough to walk alone. They need to see us standing straight, tall, not bowing to the pressures, not having weak knees and limp hands. If those who are hurting are to be healed and get turned around to go in the right direction, we must first be certain we are walking straight: make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.
Follow peace and holiness
The Psalmist says: No one can ascend unto the hill (throne) of our Lord unless he has clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:1-6). No wrath, no bitterness—just faith and peace. We must pursue peace and let it rule our heart. We cannot let the circumstances steal our peace. No matter what all men are like, we cannot become fretful. This peace is not referring to a relationship between people, but a state of time as in the expression, a time of peace. Originally, it meant an interlude in an everlasting state of war. Isn’t that exactly what we are involved in—an everlasting state of war—especially in our minds and in our culture? In the midst of this daily war, we experience a peace inside in our minds and emotions that lets us know we are in the Kingdom of Peace, where Jesus is King.
In the Old Testament, the word peace is used mostly to mean well-being and prosperity. The Shalom (peace) greeting is not a wish, but a gift—which is either received or rejected. Our modern day equivalent, “God bless you,” is the greatest gift we can give someone. In the New Testament, however, the word peace (eirene) refers to salvation—the power which protects us. This peace is neither agreement with others nor the absence of disagreement, rather it is the knowledge that one’s sins are forgiven and their ticket is purchased and secured for heaven.
Peace on earth, Goodwill to men?
When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the Shepherds on the hillside in Judea, we heard the words peace on earth, goodwill to men. How we have misconstrued this message! It did not mean that with the coming of Jesus there would now be absence of war on the earth. No! The message of peace was that Salvation has come; the Kingdom of peace. Peace—a feeling of rest from the guilt of sin. Peace—a state of reconciliation with God. Peace—a salvation of the whole man for eternity.
We think today the same way the people did on Palm Sunday when they cried Hosanna as Jesus was passing by. “Help us!” they were crying out. They wanted peace from the bondage imposed on them by the Roman government. They did not understand that the King of kings could bestow on them a peace that would carry them through any and all battles of life. He did not come to give a temporary peace—a utopia in which there would be no suffering, no need to work, no disagreements or arguments, no conflicts. He came to give a peace with God—a peace that would allow us to sleep at night with a clear conscience. That was the peace on earth—or in earth, because it would be the Kingdom of peace in our hearts where He would be King of our lives.
However, it does us no good to pray or sing, “Let there be peace on earth” for Jesus said there will always be wars and rumors of wars. He said He did not come to bring peace, but a sword. The Sword that He gives us is His Word—the Sword of the Lord. If we fight all of our battles with the Word of God, we will have peace that lasts eternally. Jesus knew we would be rejected, reviled, and worn out, so He gave us the tools, the formula, the prescription, and the roadmap for peace.
Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul says, If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18). Paul knew, as we know all too well, that it is impossible to be at peace with some people. No matter how hard you try, they keep stirring up conflict. In essence, he says, “Do what you can, then if your attempts at peace fail, you will realize it isn’t your fault.” This is not, however, a license to do nothing about it! Nor can we let circumstances, pressures, afflictions, diseases, and difficulties, steal our peace. Follow peace—salvation. Hang on to it. Go where it leads. When we follow God’s instructions, it may be grievous at the time, but before long we’ll begin to recognize the peaceable fruit of righteousness—rewards by which we are made happy and at rest with our obedience.
Not only are we to follow peace, but also we are commanded to follow Holiness without which no man shall see God. Holiness is separation; being set apart. It means we aren’t like others who try to get revenge. Instead we follow God’s peace plan and do good to them who despitefully use us. Our God will come with recompense. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. I will repay. Let’s not be led astray by false doctrines, but live a life of purity and detachment from the things in the world that have no eternal value
In the opening scripture, the author is writing to Hebrews who understand Hebrew. In Hebrew to see God meant to enjoy Him, and without holiness of heart and life this is impossible. None of us can be fit for heaven if we don’t come to a place on earth where we enjoy the heavenly lifestyle!
Look diligently so as not to be defiled
The writer commands us to look diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble us and thereby many be defiled. We must take this command personally and watch out that no bitterness gets into our heart because of what we have to go through. If bitterness takes root, it will choke out the word in our life and we’ll no longer reside in the Kingdom of Peace.
We can’t be paranoid, but we should be constantly on guard. We must watch and pray. Watch out for people who are falling from grace—people who are sliding away, people who are getting cold or getting out in left-field with false doctrine. If we’re not watchful, they might become a root of bitterness (poison) springing up in our midst to trouble us and before we know we get dragged into their bitterness. It’s contagious. We have to learn to avoid people who have this disease. Just like one patch of weeds in the garden can take over the whole crop if not totally removed, these roots of bitterness can cause a whole group of people to go astray.
The Hebrews called every species of poison a bitter. Here, it is used metaphorically for a bad man or a man holding unsound doctrines and endeavoring to spread them in the Church. They will trouble you—alluding to the effects of poison taken into the body. What happens to us when we eat something that is rotten, poison, tainted? Our whole system is disturbed. Sometimes the consequences of poison taken into the stomach are so severe that we experience violent vomiting, gastrointestinal problems, and perhaps even fatal changes in the blood system. The blood itself—representing life—becomes bad. Most likely, this is what the author is referring to when he says, thereby become defiled, corrupted, or contaminated. Bad example and false teaching have corrupted thousands, and are still making desolation in the world and in the Church.
Citizenship in Peaceville belongs to those individuals who receive God’s grace and His favor.
(c) East of Bethlehem, C. Yvonne Karl, Brentwood Press, 2003. Chapter 9. This book is out of stock and out of print but is occasionally offered as a used book on amazon.com, alibris.com, abebooks.com, thriftbooks.com, ebay.
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