Some times God’s spokesmen in Scripture tie things together that I wouldn’t think of as fitting with each other. Such is the case in Hebrews 12:14-17. “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 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. 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. Afterward, as you know, he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.” Remember the writer of Hebrews was likely a preacher who had worked with these people over some period of time and is now separated from them. I suspect he may be an older man now and has heard that there is trouble in the church and many are actually thinking of going back into Judaism. So his pleas to the people are very personal and have direct application to what he has either known of them from the past or has heard from someone who knows them well.
It is out of that background that he pleads with them to make every effort to live in peace. When people are unhappy with where they are spiritually, it is extremely common for them to look for and point to what they see wrong with everyone else. In any situation, or any church, if we are looking for what is wrong we can find it. Peace and unity among us never comes naturally or easily. It always requires effort on our part. Paul pleaded with the church in Ephesus to “Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The Hebrew writer followed the same path by pleading for them to extend themselves, to reach out and stretch every muscle to have peace. Why is it so difficult to live in peace? Think about every situation you find yourself in normal life. In the home with your wife or husband, or with your children, think of your job and the people you work with on the job and think of church and the people you worship with regularly. Is it easy to have peace in any of these situations? Have you noticed how often someone says, “I just couldn’t work with those people any longer. It was just some kind of conflict all the time.” Too often we hear the same person a few years later saying the same thing about the new place where they are working. Sometimes we all need to take a long look inside to see if it may be us that causes the problems with getting along with others.
But notice the Hebrew writer ties the plea for peace with being holy and declares “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” How do these two things fit together? How does holiness affect our ability to have peace? We easily grasp the concept of peace. Holiness is not so easily grasped. The word “holiness” comes from the same root word as words like “saint”, “sanctified,” or “Hallowed.” They all refer to something that is set apart or separated. In most Biblical uses of the word it is the idea of being set apart for God and for his use. It can refer to being set apart from a way of life such as immoral living. But is more commonly used in the sense of being set apart for God. When God said to Moses and later Joshua to take off your shoes for the place where you are standing is “Holy Ground” it didn’t mean the dirt was special. It was holy because it had been set apart for God’s use. The Sabbath is a holy day because it is set apart for worship and devotion to God. Israel was a holy nation because they were set apart as God’s people. In the same way the church or kingdom of God is called a holy nation in I Peter 2:9. Jerusalem was called a holy city because it was set apart as the place for the temple and God’s dwelling. When we are living holy lives the point is that we have dedicated ourself to God and determined that we will follow His guide and be one that belongs to Him.
To maintain peace as God’s people we must be holy people determined to follow God’s lead in life. It isn’t about having our way, looking for what fits us, or trying to find a church that teaches what we believe. It is about looking for what God calls us to be and finding a church determined to know God and His will and to follow it even when it isn’t the way I’ve always thought it should be. A church that never challenges our beliefs or actions isn’t following God’s lead. Our teaching of His word should help to mold us into the image of Jesus all the time.
But notice the application the writer made concerning these big points of having peace and holiness in our life. We must take pains not to fall short of God’s grace or allow bitterness to take hold in our life. It is interesting that in Galatians when Paul challenged the churches of Galatia about their teachings that were turning away from grace and the gospel of Christ it was because they were leaving freedom and Jesus to go back under the law of the Old Testament. They were binding things like circumcision on people and pleading with them to go back under the Old Testament laws. Oddly these were gentiles that had never been under the law to begin with. At least these in Hebrews were Jews who had become Christians. But now, under the New Covenant of grace and mercy, they are thinking of going back under the law that put them in bondage and no one was able to live up to. To follow Jesus is to follow grace. It is to have freedom. It isn’t about deserving God’s blessings. It is devoted to following Jesus who paid the price for our sins to be forgiven. Oddly, he tied becoming bitter with the leaving of grace. When we start trying to live by law and regulations, instead of on the grace of the Lord Jesus, it leads either to discouragement in that I realize I can’t live up to the law, or it leads to arrogance in that I think I am living up to it and can’t see the sin in my life but can see it clearly in the lives of others. The result of such arrogance is to become bitter toward others and often toward God himself. Every time we fail in such cases we tend to blame either God or someone else for the failure. Such bitterness often leads to immoral behavior with it.
He tells of the example of Esau whose values were so mixed up that he sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. His poor sense of values, caused him to lose out on the blessings and even when he wanted to receive the blessing he couldn’t get it. His whole thinking became clouded. He thought about what he wanted and needed and not what God was wanting from him.
It is too easy for us to lose our sense of what really matters in life. We can move from the dependence on God and recognizing that it is only through His grace that we can be right with him. We can stop seeing His wonder, love and goodness and start thinking that we are good, and we deserve his blessings. When our values are confused we start moving away from grace and moving toward laws and regulation. It becomes all about what we want and not about what God wants from us. In order to keep peace with God and others, it is vital that we live holy lives that place dedication to the Lord and following his guide about everything else. Jesus seemed constantly to say, “I didn’t come to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Is that your attitude? Is it my way of looking at things? The disease that kills the church is “I” disease. Everything is about what I want, I think, I feel and I believe. The focus should always be on “what does God want,” “what does He think” and “how does he want us to live and think in the world?” When our focus is all on Him and His will it is easy to have peace and holiness in Christ.