Hebrew’s Study 9
When some students go off to college they will stumble. They will choose too many parties and their grades will begin to drop. However, when they remember that their tuition is being paid by their parents, and when they remember the fearful presence of their father, then they are usually motivated to pick up the books again.
Is this an appropriate fear? I think it is generally accepted that this kind of fear is very useful.
We see how fear fits in that example, but what about in our faith? Is fear allowed with a faith built on the gospel of grace?
We have already answered this implicitly because we have been considering the fearful wilderness example for the past two weeks. We looked at the fearful nature of sin. We looked at the fact that this fear should strike the Church like the fear of black widow spiders.
Gospel fear has a profit and a purpose.
The Kinds of Fear (v.1)
Fear of insecurity:
The first kind of fear is the fear of insecurity. The people of God know the promises of God but are insecure about those promises being fulfilled for them. The Israelites in the wilderness struggled with this fear. They knew God was powerful. They knew God was faithful. However, they were insecure. “Would God be powerful or faithful to us in particular?”, they asked. This cannot be the fear mentioned in the passage before us. For, the fear in this passage is a command. The author is not commanding them or us to be insecure or timid toward God’s promises.
Fear of reverence:
The second kind of fear is the fear of reverence. Moses in Deuteronomy speaks of this fear. ““If you do not carefully observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD, then the LORD will bring upon you and your descendants extraordinary plagues—great and prolonged plagues—and serious and prolonged sicknesses.” (Deuteronomy 28:58–59). The LORD YOUR GOD is Yahweh Elohim and was meant to remind the people of God of the one who created the heavens and the earth, and the God who redeemed them through the use of plagues and or signs. Being in the presence of Him who Is, causes a great fear of reverence. The author could be commanding this fear. This fear should always be present.
Fear of diligence:
The third kind of fear is the fear of diligence. The NT writers appeal to this kind of fear quite often–Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” (Philippians 2:12)–“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;” (2 Peter 1:10)–“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue,…” (2 Peter 1:5–7)–“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, (1 Peter 1:13)–Conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 1 Pe 1:17.
The fear commanded in the passage is the fear of diligence. Combining this with the passage from last week. He is saying, “It is your obligation to give a fear of diligence to the example of the wilderness, the deceit of sin, the pernicious punishment, and the danger of unbelief.” The question now is, “For what purpose?” What is the purpose of fearful diligence?”
The Purpose of Fear (v.1)
“Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.
The purpose of fearful diligence is to keep us from even the appearance of falling short of the promised rest (v.1).
The meaning of rest:
The immediate promised rest for the Israelites was their rest in Canaan. However, the author intends far more than that earthly rest. As you can see in verse 2, the author draws an exact comparison between those in the NT age and those in the OT age. What is that comparison? To both the gospel was preached! Both those in the wilderness and those in that Hebrew congregation and we here at Severn Run, are given the same promise of rest, the same gospel. These particulars are not developed here. They will be in the upcoming chapters. Right now, the rest is peace with God the Father through Jesus Christ.
This is the remedy of the Adamic fall. Adam sins. Adam is ashamed and hides. God curses Him. Adam’s children despise God. Being united to Christ, God shows up in the garden and says to you, where are you? You say I am hiding. He replies, why? You reply “”I am ashamed. God says, “Is my Son your high priest?” You say, “Yes.” Then, God responds, “In Christ you have no shame. I accept you perfectly. I am your Father. You are my child.”
The fear of diligence puts you in a mindset of making sure you don’t even appear to fall short of that rest.
I suspect some become confused thinking that the Christian’s assurance of salvation is being called into question. First, remember chapter 3:1. He refers to this congregation as “brethren” and “partakers of the holy calling”. These are two designations that strengthen their assurance. Assurance of salvation is not the emphasis. Notice the word, “seem.” The author wants this congregation to be so shaken by what happened to their Fathers that they don’t even appear to entertain the same attitudes and actions.
The fathers in the wilderness felt the pangs of hunger and decided that God was an incompetent provider. This author says, if you suffer want, then don’t even entertain such a thought, but with fearful diligence work to avoid that evil. The fathers in the wilderness daydreamed of better days from their past and they envied the prosperity of the ungodly. This author says, if you have a humble income and are not as well off, then don’t even seem to tolerate such a thought, but guard your thoughts with nervous watchfulness.
Remember the example of Noah. God promised salvation to Noah, and so Noah had an assurance of salvation. Yet Noah was moved with the fear of diligence and prepared an ark (Heb. 11:7). John Owen developed this idea, saying,
Apprehending the severity of God, believing his threatenings, his mind was influenced into that fear which put him with diligence on the use of those means whereby he and his family might be saved and preserved.
The same may be said of Moses. Moses was certain of the salvation of Israel from Egypt. Yet, he still instructed them to blood their door lintels. And they did with a fearful diligence. Who in their right mind would want to even appear to not have blood on their lintel in a time like that?
Imagine painting the lintel. If Someone just put a brush stroke of blood on the door, wouldn’t you say, “Cover every square inch. Don’t even give the appearance. Don’t give the angel of death even the thought that we are not under the blood of the Lamb.”
The last question we need to ask is how do we exercise fearful diligence? How do we profit from fearful diligence?
The Profit of Fear (v.2)
For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.”
Fear profits the Church by aiding her in assimilating God’s Word.
Verse 2 reveals a plaguing human condition. They heard the gospel, but it did not profit them because it was not mixed with faith. The Church can have a mixing problem. Mixing here refers to the assimilation of God’s Word particularly the promises.
Just as the rose assimilates food from the soil and increases in size, vitality, and beauty, so too are God’s people to assimilate or integrate the Word into themselves. “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Peter 2:2–3). Thus, God’s people can mouth the milk of God’s word but will either spit it out or never swallow. The picture is absurd. Imagine eating dinner with someone and when they eat they put food in their mouth, they chew but never swallow. It is absurd, but the author warns us that we engage in this absurdity with God’s Word. Or, here is another image: You have food on your plate, but you don’t eat it because it is not appetizing to you.
Do you struggle with that? If you have two plates and one plate has God’s promises and the other has promises from this world, which food is more appetizing to you? Don’t we have a mixing problem? The Spirit knows this and thus, gives us the fear of diligence to re-evaluate our hunger and digestion of God’s promises. Are God’s promises still on the plate? Are God’s promises still in your mouth?
Fear until you eat!
Fear until you swallow!
Gospel fear has a profit and a purpose. The Fear is a fear of diligence.The purpose of fearful diligence is to keep us from even the appearance of falling short of the promised rest. The profit of fear is to aid you in your mixing problem. Fear stirs you up to digest God’s promises.
Ways to promote the fear of diligence
Remember that our unbelief can awaken God’s temporal punishment. Ananias and Sapphira in unbelief lied to the Holy Spirit and they were killed.
Remember that unbelief is the cause of all your pain and sorrow. Why snuggle with something that has caused you so much personal pain? Remember that it is still in your old nature to move back in with unbelief. Stir yourself up by remembering the pain and sorrow and abuse of unbelief.
Remember that unbelief is the cause of the eternal ruin of those we love. Why would you tolerate the very thing that causes the eternal ruin of those you love. Why not rather hate unbelief.
Remember that arrogance, entitlement, and complacency led to withering. Laziness with your faith is the opposite of a fearful diligence. Motivate by remembering that arrogance, entitlement, and complacency always leads to decreased fellowship with Christ and decreased fellowship leads to malnutrition. You may not see your malnutrition yet, but it will sneak up on you. Spiritual poverty will come upon you like a thief. If you gave flowers for Valentine’s day, I am sure they were beautiful. However, they are probably wilting now, because they have been snipped from their source of life. When you aren’t connected with your source of life you too will wither.
“Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.” (Hebrews 4:1)
- Take some time to think through gospel threats with Mark Jones.
- Threats are simple one kind of motivation supplied by the Spirit. However, oftentimes, God’s people don’t heed the threats. Why don’t you heed the threats? Is it an intellectual or willful problem?
- Want to hear what you just read? Find the podcast here.