Have you ever had the experience of getting knee-deep in a project only to realize that it is not going to work out the way you thought it would? I once watched a YouTube video on how to repair my TV and thought, “Seems easy enough.” However, when I got the back off of the TV and tried to follow along with the video, I quickly realized I had absolutely no clue what I was doing or how to proceed. What the video—with no words and only a pair of dexterous hands performing the operation seamlessly—made look so easy was way (and I mean WAY!) beyond my skill set. I should have known. While I can write a sentence, I’m pretty much inept when it comes to anything requiring tools. I just didn’t think it through. I also have the tendency to forget to look at all the ingredients on the list before beginning a recipe. I’ve had to do a last-minute grocery run more often than I’d care to admit. I hope you can relate. Even the most detail-oriented person goes off half-cocked once in a while. (Right?)
Of course, there are some things that even the most impulsive among us would never do without careful consideration. We test-drive a car before we buy it; we interview an employee before hiring them; we take time to think over a job offer before accepting; we look at a house and investigate the neighborhood before making an offer on a home; we visit a church and talk to the pastor before choosing where to worship. And we should do all of these things; it would be foolish to neglect them. The book of Proverbs tells us over and over that a fool rushes into things, while the wise person is slow and thoughtful. Likewise, the epistle of Hebrews invites us to do some thinking.
The author of Hebrews spends nine and a half chapters on what we might call “gospel indicatives.” He builds doctrine on top of doctrine, Old Testament reference on top of Old Testament reference, reason after reason for why Jesus is better than anything his readers have ever known. In the front section of the book, we learn about Moses and Melchizedek, Sabbath rest, the sanctuary, and the sacrificial system. Finally, halfway through chapter 10, the author starts to give the application with three rapid-fire imperatives in verses 22-25. We’re to draw near to God’s throne, hold fast to the Gospel, and consider something:
“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
The word consider here means “to observe, notice, or contemplate.” Jesus uses this verb a couple times in His teachings, telling His listeners that they go after a speck in their brother’s eye while never stopping to consider the log hanging out of their own eye. (Matt. 7:3; Luke 6:41). He also tells those prone to worry to “consider the ravens” and lilies and how their heavenly Father takes care of them (Luke 12:24). The word also pops up in James as the writer exhorts his readers not to be merely hearers but doers of the Word. He tells them that they consider their faces in a mirror (James 1:23) and then take action based on what they see. All of these uses show us that the author in Hebrews is calling us to think carefully about something. But what exactly is that?
The writer is exhorting us to ponder how to stimulate one another. Other translations use the phrase “stir up.” This word carries with it the idea of sharpness. In fact, the Greek word is paroxysmos, from which we get the English term paroxysm—a sharp spasm or jolt of pain. However, while a sharp pain in the chest may provoke you to quickly call 911, the sharpness in Hebrews 10 is something positive. In this case, the sharpness is a stirring up to sacrificial (agape) love and good deeds.
The writer’s point is plain. We must plan out how we’re going to spur our brothers and sisters on to good works. It’s interesting that he goes here with his application. We’re used to Paul’s familiar exhortations, such as “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4) or “Be kind to another” (Eph. 4:32) or “Let no corrupt communication proceed from your mouth” (Eph. 4:29). We often see lists of sins to put off and virtues to put on in Paul’s epistles. Why don’t we see more of that here? Of course, different authors emphasize different things (and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has something to do with it as well), but I think it also has to do with the context the writer is addressing.
He’s spent much ink trying to convince his readers not to forsake their faith in the midst of persecution. He’s made a multi-layer argument that Jesus is better than anything they had in Judaism. He’s the fulfillment of what they were supposedly looking for under the Old Covenant. “He’s so much better!” the writer pleads. “Don’t turn back; draw near!”
The context today isn’t that much different. We may not be tempted to rejoin a Jewish synagogue, but it’s all too common to read about someone abandoning the faith. In fact, just a few minutes ago, I checked the news and was greeted by the headline that yet another of a prominent Christian figure has admitted that he no longer believes in God. That’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us to think carefully about how to stir up one another to love and good works. No, I’m not responsible for the “deconversion” of anyone else. That’s entirely between that person and his or her Creator. However, in another sense, I am responsible, particularly for the brothers and sisters in my local church. I am accountable to them. I am obligated to intentionally find ways to give them reasons to love God, their neighbor, and their enemy; and to do good deeds. The writer of Hebrews tells us that this doesn’t happen by accident. If I don’t carefully consider how I’m going to do it (and of course then do it), I’ll never get around to it. Rarely, do we accidentally stumble into godliness.
So, whom do you need to “stir up” today? Maybe start under your own roof and then work out from there. Choose a person and then contemplate a strategy. Will it be a text? An old-fashioned note? A coffee or ice cream date? A game night? A Zoom call? A socially distant walk? Even in our “new normal,” we’re at no loss for options. The real question is whether we’ll do it. In fact, I think I’ll go text someone right now…