14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. (Hebrews 12:14-16)
In this passage the writer of Hebrews admonishes God’s people to live together centered on life in God instead of turning aside. Two decisive verbs capture our attention in this section.
The first of those is “make every effort.” The believers are to make every effort to live in peace together and also to be holy or to be sanctified. As we discussed last week, there is a call to Christian unity in the peace of the Lord that requires effort and hard work. We have to help one another and stand together in the long endurance race of faith. It is not easy because we will grow weary and sometimes are wounded, but that is why we are called to make every effort. This is not contrary to the grace of God but our strength for the effort comes as an overflow of God’s grace.
This unity is fueled and sustained by holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Holiness is essential to unity and we cannot sacrifice holiness on the path to unity. Otherwise, we are not talking about Christian unity but something else. Holiness means that we are increasingly reflecting the presence and character of God in our lives. To become holy means that we are turning away from sin and being increasingly re-formed to look more and more like Jesus. This is a work of God in us by the power of the Holy Spirit that will continue until the day that we are with the Lord face to face.
Holiness requires us to “make every effort”; not that we make ourselves holy, but we make the effort of putting ourselves steadily into the place where God can have His way in us. It is firstly a decision of the will, and secondly action within our lives. This is not opposed to God’s grace, but it is both our response to God’s grace and preparatory to God’s grace having its way in us.
The second of the decisive verbs in this section is “see to it.” “See to what?”, we might ask.
First, see to it that no one in the community falls short of God’s grace. Help one another. Walk together. Encourage one another. Correct one another. This is what it means to be the body of Christ. We are not in this for our own growth alone, but for serving one another as the body of Christ. This is why Paul the Apostle writes to the Philippians:
“if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:1-4)
Just as the Apostle Paul finds joy as he sees the believers live in such tangible unity and care for one another, so, too, the writer of Hebrews calls them to see to it that God’s grace makes its way into each and every one of their lives together.
Secondly, they are to see to it that no one gets off course through sexual immorality or godlessness. Esau is given as an example of someone who just loses their way through godless living, eventually losing the birthright and blessing of God – something that he could not get back.
Brothers and sisters, if we see someone losing their way in sin, we need to gently, but decisively, address it. The writer calls out sexual sin because it was pervasive in the culture of the day but also because it is one of the clearest and most basic manifestations of a life that is at odds with God’s way. This does not mean that sexual sin is weighted as worse in the grand sense, but it is a sign that the same sort of godlessness decried in Esau is happening in us. We should not approach one another with condescending judgmentalism but with humility and grace. The goal of addressing such sin is not condemnation but encouragement and the strengthening of God’s grace in our lives matched by growth in holiness throughout the community.
At its heart these verses call us not to walk away from the essential faith in Jesus Christ. Verse 15 say see “that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many,” which is a reference not to bitterness but to idolatry – a turning away from God – that gripped God’s people during the Exodus. The warning in these verses calls us to stay on course with God and not to lose our way through sin. Make every effort…see to it!
[This is excerpted from my message, “Make Every Effort,” on Hebrews 12:14-29.]