Chapter 12: 12-17
“Therefore, strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. 14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 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; 16 lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. 17 For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”
We learned last week that God disciplined us because He loved us. He longs to make us better and to see the image of Jesus formed in us as a permanent and natural reaction to life as it comes. Could you imagine how different we would be in our lives if we naturally reacted to the circumstances of life like Jesus did, and to do so without having to think about it?
These verses are based on the understanding, appreciation and trust in God’s discipline. The reactions here that we are going to explore are those that one would see if one were trained really hard. But these are metaphors, and it is our spiritual fitness that concerns God.
- Things Will Hurt, verse 12
Any kind of training hurts. When we want to go one way, and we are forced by a trainer to go another, there is pain. We can all remember what it was like to go to the gym for the first time, or to walk that half-mile for the first time, or to walk those stairs for the first time. It hurt. Things were sore; we had pain in places that we did not even know could hurt. Well, spiritual training is much the same way.
If you have ever watched a professional boxing match, or any match for that matter, you can tell when one of the participants is tired; his hands drop. In football, we would look for the guy who had his hands on his hips; he was tired, and we could run at him. Well, in spiritual training, we also can get tired, and we can have pain as we get into spiritual shape. BUT if you keep with it long enough, the pain will go away, you will get ‘fitter,’ and you can push yourself even further.
- Spiritual Fitness, verses 13-14
As we get fitter, it is not that we just have to stop doing things, but we have to now pursue things. We have to actively begin to seek out growth. There comes a point in life where you are now acting like Jesus; you are pursuing peace and seeking holiness.
Notice that we are to pursue peace with all people. This does not mean we will always attain it, but it is to be our goal. Peace, even with people that hate us and don’t think about God the way that we do. When we add seeking holiness to this, we are able to see God in all things. We can see Him in our lives, and we can have security that He is there and that He is actively for us.
These are the actions of maturing Godly people. Sadly, too many of us know people, yes, God’s people, who are always looking for a fight. They can pick a fight with anyone; they are literally a fight looking for a place to happen. These folks do nothing to help the cause. This is not to stifle debate; debate is healthy and wholesome when it is done right. But trust me; no one has ever been argued into Heaven.
- Don’t Return to Bad Habits, verses 15-17
We cannot fall from grace in the idea of losing our salvation. So, obviously, this is not what we are seeing here. Paul, and through him, the Holy Spirit, is encouraging the readers not to return to old habits. In particular, returning to the legalistic rituals that cannot save anyone. Nor can those rituals make us more spiritual.
Anyone who has been in a church for any length of time has heard all the rules: don’t touch, don’t taste, don’t look, and on and on. Jesus fought this ritualistic lifestyle of the Pharisees and Sadducees when He lived in and around Jerusalem. They were trying to earn their way to Heaven; they could not. But in much the same way, a saved person cannot become more spiritual by keeping more and more rules. We go back to living a life of rituals and not a life of grace.
I do not drink alcohol; it is not permitted at all, according to 1 Timothy 3 for Pastors, also called elders. I would prefer that Christians, in general, stop drinking alcohol, but I am not to be ritualistic about it. If I find a brother/sister who drinks, and they ask, I can state and prove clearly from the scriptures that elders, the Old Testament priests and Kings, are not to drink alcohol; it clouds our judgment. And if we are to be ready at a moment’s notice to serve others, one cannot do that while under the influence of alcohol, I do not care how little you have had. There are some who come to other conclusions; they are free to do so. It does not affect their salvation, and most are still trying to serve the Lord. There may be things that I do that they would frown upon.
But a return to the legalistic and ritualistic lifestyle that plagued the first churches of the New Testament, and plagued even Peter on occasion, is not a sign of spirituality; it is a sign of regression. Do not return to the habits, and by doing so, miss the wonder of God’s grace in our own lives and the lives of those around us. As well, when we are legalistic, we are less likely to treat others graciously. One further consequence of legalism is that we can become bitter when we see others moving along in the grace of God and we are stuck in our legalism. The first church experienced this, and the legalistic people tried to kill them all, all the while claiming to serve God. Let that sink in.
Like Esau, bitterness can blind us to what we have and cheapen God’s blessing on our lives. Esau was first born and entitled to certain blessings, but he traded them for food. He did not value the position that God put him in; he sold it cheaply. It was God who made sure he was born first. Often, we can be born again, saved and on our way to Heaven, but we do not appreciate the wonderful grace with which our salvation was offered. We do not appreciate that no one ever got to God by earning their way.
Grace, grace, God’s grace was all there ever was and all there will ever be. Bitterness robs us of the wonder of God’s daily grace; it robs us of the wonder that we are ‘children of God’ (1 John 3:1). Please don’t return to the bad habits; live in God’s matchless grace always.
God bless you,
Dr. Sean Gooding
Pastor of Mississauga Missionary Baptist Church
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