Hebrews 3:7-19 – Don’t harden your heart!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 22, 2012 AM
The comedian Bill Cosby used to tell the story about his preschool children whereby he would ask them to “Come here… come here… come here… COME HERE!” Of course they ignored him. He said it was as if they were “brain-dead.” In fact he went on to say that preteen boys could be the worst. His son gave himself a reverse Mohawk haircut. When Cosby asked him why he cut his hair that way, his response was, “I don’t know!” Well, guess what, Christians sometimes can be just as “brain-dead” in their faith walk with the Lord. We know what we should be doing, but the very thing we know we should not be doing is exactly what we do. And then, when we suffer from the choices we made, we wonder why!
The Apostle Paul would write, “In fact, I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate…. Instead of doing what I know is right, I do wrong! (Romans 7:15, 19 CEV) The writer of Hebrews addresses this very issue with his sermon. When we rebel against God and do what we know we should not do, we will suffer the consequences of our actions. Hebrews gives us the example of the Israelites at Kadesh Barnea where they utterly failed to follow God. The writer warns his readers: “Don’t harden your hearts!” Let’s discover why and how we can escape the same fate of the Israelites.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that…
I. We harden our hearts when we refuse to listen to God! (Vv. 7-9, 15)
“So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did… As has just been said: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.’” (Hebrews 3:7-9, 15 NIV)
1. All throughout Scripture God tells his people to listen and Hebrews tells us that “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Listening to God means acting upon what you have heard in the way he desires. When we refuse to listen to God, our hearts, our spiritual selves become harden. Notice what God calls not listening to him – “rebellion.” The Israelites rebelled against God when they “tested and tried” God. Now we certainly live under grace, but the issue here is not one of losing one’s salvation, but rather what occurs when we fail to heed God when he speaks to us! God speaks to us in various ways through the Holy Spirit: through his Word the Bible, through our circumstances, through fellow believers such as the church, and through prayer. Instead of listening to and following God as they should have the Israelites “tested” God by continually griping, by not being satisfied where God brought them, they harden their hearts and were disobedient. Imagine doing this for 40 years! Far from being an ideal period of Israel’s history it was a time marked by tragedy and defeat! The writer quotes from Psalm 95 and interestingly we discover that the people were first invited to “sing for joy to the LORD… shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation… come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song… bow down in worship”, and to “kneel before the LORD our Maker!” (Psalm 95:1-6) As the “the people of his pasture” and the “flock under his care” we are to listen to God. Like the Psalmist David, the author of Hebrews knew that we harden our hearts when we refuse to listen to God!
EXAMPLE: Parents of preschoolers know that you simply cannot tell an immature child to do something once and expect them to do it. We also know that children do not always listen to what we are saying to them. They may hear with their ears, but not in their actions afterwards. We know that true listening is seen when the hearer not only listens but also responds to what they heard. James would admonish us to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive [ourselves]. Do what it says.” (James 1:22 NIV) Hebrews teaches us that we harden our hearts when we refuse to listen to God!
The writer of Hebrews continues by telling us that…
II. We suffer the consequences when we harden our hearts! (Vv. 10-11, 16-19)
“That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’… Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:10-11, 16-19 NIV)
1. The law of physics teaches us that for every action there is an opposite reaction. The same is true for the spiritual laws of God as well. We reap what we sow, in fact we learn “that is why [God was] angry with that generation”! There are consequences for our sinful disobedience. When God speaks to us and we refuse to listen, we harden our hearts and we become insensitive to God! Like the Israelites our “hearts are always going astray”, and we deliberately refuse to know or understand the ways of God! Sadly, many Christians then wonder why they do not have the peace of God that is promised. We cannot enter into the rest of God when we have “heard and rebelled.” The Israelites died in the wilderness for their disobedience! For forty years they wandered in the desert until all that sinful generation, those that disobeyed God, had died! How sad when Christians blame God for their consequences instead of their continued sin! The author of Hebrews wants us to realize that we display our “unbelief” our lack of faith and trust in God when we have more confidence in our sin than in what God can do in our lives! When God’s people deliberately refuse to heed God’s voice in their lives, they will suffer the consequences of their sin! Now do not think I am saying that we always experience suffering in our lives because of hidden sin, because that simply is not true, however, we suffer the consequences when we harden our hearts!
EXAMPLE: We’ve all heard, “It’s not my fault!” from a child who has been caught doing something they should not be doing. Why would they try to excuse their defiance when they are caught in the act of their disobedience? Like all of us they want to escape the consequences. Adults use the same excuse for the very same reason when they are caught in their sin! Having pastored for 27 years I have heard many folks use many excuses for their sin condition yet all of them boil down to the same plea of “It’s not my fault!” Blaming it on friends, parents, society or upbringing still distills down to the same exclamation: “It’s not my fault!” Even the very first couple, Adam and Eve, used the same excuse. And when we use this as a means of escape our hearts become increasingly hardened by the sin we do. Hebrews reminds us that we suffer the consequences when we harden our hearts.
Finally, the writer of Hebrews tells us that…
III. We harden our hearts when we do not discipline one another! (Vv.12-14)
“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (Hebrews 3:12-14 NIV)
1. What can we do? The answer is truly simple, we should “see to it, brothers, that none of [us] has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God!” The problem is when believers insist on continuing in their sin! It displays an unbelieving heart! We may say we believe with our mouths, but our actions and attitudes say otherwise! We have forgotten what we are to do as a church and as fellow believers; we are to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of [us] may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Paul reminds us that we are to “encourage one another and build each other up” and “we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14) The idea here is one of continued discipleship. The problem is that today’s church does not see itself as a body of Christ but rather a spiritual way station instead. Too many see the church as a place for them to enjoy God instead of a community directly responsible for one another’s spiritually. Paul would admonish Titus, a young pastor, “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” (Titus 2:15 NIV) Christians today refuse to allow themselves to be “encouraged” through the discipline or the “rebuke” of fellow believers. We want encouragement but we do not like to be confronted for our sinful condition! When we do not allow ourselves to be placed under the authority of a local church we become spiritually prideful. We are telling God we can “go it alone” and we do not need his church, his body, because we know best. We increasingly harden our hearts when we do not discipline one another!
EXAMPLE: As children we hate discipline, but it is the only way we can mature and make good choices for our lives as adults. The problem begins when society teaches that discipline is wrong and children should be indulged. We have forgotten that discipline involves both encouragement and correction. I remember being trapped where a parent unsuccessfully tried to get their child to behave. They tried talking with the miscreant, they tried bribery, empty threats, and to cajole their outlaw into good behavior. Of course none of it worked because the child knew nothing would happen. This notion has infected the church as well. We dare not say anything negative that might sound strict to degenerate Christians. Many churches no longer have membership because there is no need to have membership if you never disciple your members! Many in the church therefore have sin-hardened hearts. Church is about being indulged instead of serving Christ. We discover from Hebrews that we soften our hearts when we encourage one another!
Dear Child of God have you become so calloused in your sin that you disdain any rebuke from your fellow believers for your ungodliness? Are you ashamed of what you do when you are away from the house of God? Hebrews teaches us that: We harden our hearts when we refuse to listen to God! We suffer the consequences when we harden our hearts! We harden our hearts when we do not discipline one another!
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.