PROVOKE ONE ANOTHER

HEBREWS 10:19-25

FEBRUARY 28, 2010

 

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            Take out your bible, and follow along with me as we tackle our next one another passage in our One Anothering sermon series.  The one another passage for today pops up in verse 24, but I want to read the entire section in which it is contained.  I call this section the “salad” section of the Book of Hebrews because it contains three “let us” directives.  What we are going to read marks a turning point in the Book of Hebrews.  Up until this point, the Book of Hebrews has been filled with heavy theology about Jesus being our high priest, but here the author turns from theology to practicality, and the third “let us” in this passage is our one another directive for today.  In that vain, “let us” begin reading in chapter 10, verse 19.

 

            Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened up through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

 

            The Book of Hebrews is one of the most fascinating books in the New Testament because there is so much we don’t know about this book.  For instance, we don’t know who wrote it or when it was written or specifically to whom it was written.  We don’t even know where the recipients were living or precisely what circumstances called forth this epistle.  Consequently, an air of mystery hangs over the Book of Hebrews.

            But there is one fact we are sure about.  That fact is revealed in the very title of the book itself—The Letter to the Hebrews. This book was written to Jews who had come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  They were Hebrews by birth and Christians by faith.  And in that sentence is the story of this book. 

            To be Hebrews by birth meant that they had entered into the world of Old Testament ritual.  They knew and obeyed the Law of Moses. They kept the dietary laws. They sang the Psalms of David.  They observed the feast days and tithed their income. They read the prophets and kept the Sabbath day holy.  They were Jews through and through.

            To be Christians by faith meant that they had heard and believed the Gospel message.  They had seen that Jesus was the promised Messiah and they had trusted in that great fact.  They now believed that all of the Old Testament pointed toward the coming of Christ.  And having made that step of faith, they identified themselves with the fledging congregation of Christians.

            It was not an easy step to take.  Their Jewish friends accused them of treason against Moses. Their families urged them to come back to the synagogue.  Their faith was on the firing line every day.  Compromise was easy, convictions hard to hold.

            They were tempted to give up their open identification as Christians and lapse back into Judaism.  Many of them had already done it.  Many of them were thinking about doing it. 

            It is against this backdrop that we read the words of our text—And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

            Let’s unpack these words.  Let’s begin with the word “consider.”   “Let us consider how to provoke one another.”  That word “consider” means to “fix the mind on.”  It’s the idea of radar locking onto an object.  It’s the idea of focusing on something in order to produce a strategy for obtaining it.  Think of a parent.  Parents often take time contemplating, focusing, strategizing on how they may motivate their children in a certain direction.  How can I get my kids to pick up their clothes off the floor?  How can I motivate my kids to to be generous?  How can I teach my kids to be thoughtful of others?  Parents take time thinking, strategizing, considering such things.  Likewise, we are to consider, spend time strategizing, contemplating, how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.  

            Second, note the word “provoke.”  What does is say in your version of the bible?  What is your word for “provoke?”  Some translations have “spur,” some have “incite, some have “stir.”  The Greek word translated here as “spur” or “incite” or “provoke” is almost always used in the New Testament in a negative sense, as if you were poking or prodding someone, and it produces an involuntary reaction, like my kissing Trudy when I haven’t shaved and I’m all prickly and she sort of recoils a bit, or when you go to the doctor and he or she checks your reflexes by tapping your knee and your foot springs into action.  But here the sense is positive.  We are to find a strategy which will motivate others to love and do good deeds without them even thinking about it.  They’ll just naturally do it.

            Third, note how the writer mentions two areas for provocation, spurring, inciting—love and good deeds.  Love moves in the area of attitude, whereas good deeds move in the area of action.  That is to say, we are to provoke people into a positive way of thinking and a positive way of living.

            Of course, how do we do that?  In a practical sense, how do we go about provoking one another to love and good deeds?  Well, some obvious things comes to mind.  First, we spur, incite, provoke others by commending them for what they are already doing. 

            The story is told of a little second grade boy who was trying out for a part in the school play.  The day came for the auditions and his mother took him to school and waited for him to come out.  She was nervous because she knew he couldn’t sing, couldn’t act, couldn’t dance, and couldn’t memorize very well.  So she was surprised when he came out after 45 minutes with a big smile on his face.  “How did it go, honey?” “It was great, Mom. Guess what? I’ve been chosen to clap and cheer.”

            In truth, that could be said about all of us.  We have all been chosen by God to clap and cheer for our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.  They need to hear it and we need to do it.  I don’t know about you, but when people appreciate me, it motivates me.

            Second, we provoke others to love and good deeds by setting a good example.  Have you seen the Liberty Mutual commercial, about people doing the right thing?  It starts with a man putting his arm out and keeping another man from stepping out into traffic, and someone witnesses that good deed, and that person, in turn, then helps a woman with a stroller get off a bus, and someone at the bus stop sees him do that, and then we see the guy at the bus stop at work helping another get something off a shelf, and a female coworker sees that and she in turn, on the way home, keeps a ball from going into the street, and a guy passing by in a pick up truck sees her do that, and then we see him next at the airport and he helps a stranger get a piece of luggage off the baggage carousal and another woman sees him to that, and she helps someone else in another scene and on in on it goes, and the commercial ends with the words, “When people do the right thing, they call it being responsible.  When it’s an insurance company they call it Liberty Mutual.”

            The commercial taps into something.  We can provoke others by example. When people see us doing something positive, it can be contagious.  They, in turn, may do something good as well.

            Third, we can provoke others through mentoring.   That’s today’s term for it.  Better yet, maybe today’s term for it is “coaching.”  You get a “life coach.”  In days gone by, at least in church circles, they called it “discipling.” 

            I came across a great sermon title the other day.  It read, “Older People: The Future of the Church.”  The Apostle Paul touched upon this in his letter to Titus.  Listen to these words.  I’m reading from the second chapter.  You don’t need to turn there, you can check it out later, but he addresses older women.  Listen to his words.

 

            Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, so that the word of God may not be discredited.

 

            For Paul, older women discipling younger women, impacted the future of the church.

            I think of the who pastor went up to an older gentleman living in Gardiner, Montana.  The older gentleman had a small home and a huge garage.  The pastor noticed a few Chevy Corvairs parked outside the old man’s garage, and he asked about them. The man told the pastor that he had one from every year they were produced, and he planned to restore them all.  The pastor chuckled to himself, because this older gentleman with all the Corvairs was in his early 80s.  But the pastor said he learned something that day.  He said he learned the importance of having something to look forward to—a purpose or a responsibility.   We’re never too old to have goals.  We’re never too old to make a contribution.  Like that sermon title suggested old people are the future of our church.  Their job is to mentor the next generation of Christians.  But it’s not just old people who are called to do it.  Jesus said to all of us, “Make disciples of all nations.”  We are called to do the very same thing.

            Fourth, we provoke others by meeting together.  We cannot do this, we cannot provoke one another, if we are not with each other.  You see, the problem with the Hebrews was some people who were supposed to be in church, were not in church.  That’s my one and only concern about putting my sermons on our web site.  In fact, I hesitated about giving permission to record the messages.  I fear some folk might say to themselves, “Why not just sleep in or watch TV and listen to the sermon at a later time during the week?  Why go through all the bother of getting showered and dressed and driving to the church?”  In fact, do you know why I prefer to preach sermon series instead of jumping around the bible using the church lectionary?  I prefer to preach a sermon series because you, hopefully, want to hear what comes next.  I don’t like to miss an episode of Castle or NCIS or The Mentalist.  I like to follow what happens to the characters, but then again, I have a DVR and I can record the episodes, in fact I do, and watch them when they are more convenient for me.  I watch them when the fit my schedule. 

            We have just watched two weeks of the Winter Olympics.  And I swell with pride whenever an American wins a gold medal and they play our national anthem.  We live in a great country, and we have a lot of things going for us, but there is one thing about our country that is not so hot, at least from a Christian perspective.  Our nation seeps with an attitude of individuality, and it seeps over into our relationship with God.  We hear people say, “I don’t need the church.  I can do it on my own,” and I understand that.  If it weren’t for the people in the church, my job would be remarkably easy, but the Bible clearly teaches us that when we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we also enter into a relationship with Christ’s people, and we need to be present when Christ’s people gather so that we can provoke one another to love and good deeds.  And some people we can provoke with a feather and others may take a cattle prod, but we need to be present to do it. 

            Some of you may recognize the name Henrietta Mears.  For many years she was the Director of Christian Education at the Hollywood Presbyterian Church.  She spurred on numbers of people to love and good deeds, and she was an inspiration for a whole generation of Christian leaders.   Henrietta Mears was a wonderful student of human nature.  These are her words: “Whenever I meet a new person, I imagine them wearing a sign across their chest which reads, ’My name is _________. Please help me feel important.”

            Let’s help people feel important.  Let’s let them know that they matter to us, they matter to God, and they can make a difference in their families, and in their neighborhoods, and in their place of business.  Let’s spur them on to love and good deeds.