Amplified: SINCE ALL this is true, we ought to pay much closer attention than ever to the truths that we have heard, lest in any way we drift past [them] and slip away.
Barclay: We must, therefore, with very special intensity pay attention to the things that we have heard.
NLT: So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Phillips: We ought, therefore, to pay the greatest attention to the truth that we have heard and not allow ourselves to drift away from it. (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: On this account it is a necessity in the nature of the case for us to give heed more abundantly to the things which we have heard lest at any time we should drift past them. (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: Because of this it behoveth us more abundantly to take heed to the things heard, lest we may glide aside
FOR THIS REASON: Dia touto: (Heb 2:2-4; 1:1,2; 12:25,26)
Whenever you observe a term of conclusion like "for this reason", "therefore", etc, always take a moment and ask the natural question "for what reason?" You will usually be led to read the preceding verses (the immediate context). What attitude/action is the author calling for in his reader's in view of this truth ("this reason")?
So first, what is this reason (if you have time make your own observations of Hebrews 1 before you read the following notes)? Jesus is superior to prophets and angels and because of this superior revelation, the reader must make an appropriate response. As the writer of Hebrews will do throughout this epistle, after presenting a doctrinal truth, he makes a direct application of that truth to the experience of his readers. This passage presents the first of those many applications.
W E Vine says for this reason "looks back to what the preceding chapter has declared of the deity and glory of the Son of God, and to the fact that through Him God has spoken (Heb 1:1). His transcendent majesty demands the greater heed to the messengers through whom He has spoken.
Newell says for this reason "means, because of all that has been spoken in Chapter 1 of the glorious person of the Son of God; and His infinite height above His creation; especially, as the argument proceeds to declare, that to us God hath spoken through the Lord. This refers evidently to the Four Gospels, and to the Acts; as we saw in Chapter One."
A W Pink adds that…
Therefore, signifies, for this cause: because God has vouchsafed (granted or furnish often in a gracious or condescending manner) so excellent a Teacher (His Son), He must be the more carefully attended unto. The "therefore" looks back to all the varied glories which set forth Christ’s excellency named in the previous chapter.
Because He is God’s "Son," therefore give heed.
Because He is "the Heir of all things," therefore give heed.
Because He "made the worlds," therefore give heed; and so on.
These are so many grounds on which our present exhortation is based. “Therefore is equivalent to, ‘Since Jesus Christ is as much better than the angels, as He both received by inheritance a more excellent name than they—since He is both essentially and officially inconceivably superior to these heavenly messengers, His message has paramount claims on our attention, belief, and obedience’,” (Dr. J. Brown). (Hebrews 2:1-4 Christ Superior to Angels)
It was usual with the prophets to preface their utterances with a “Thus saith the Lord,” and thereby arrest the attention and awe the hearts of their hearers. Here the writer refers to the Person of the Lord Himself as the argument for hearing what He said. In short, the new revelation in Christ is superior to the old. You have received a revelation superior to that given in the old testament, and it has been given to you through One Who is superior to the angels. Now you must respond to this truth!
It is noteworthy that Hebrews 2:1-4 forms a "parenthesis", interrupting the discussion of Christ’s relationship to angels, which is resumed in He 2:5-note.
A T Robertson - Because Jesus is superior to prophets and angels and because the new revelation is superior to the old. The author often pauses in his argument, as here, to drive home a pungent exhortation.
The author often pauses in his argument, as here, to drive home a pungent exhortation. The revelation spoken in the Son is the final and complete revelation, given through Christ Who is superior to prophets and angels.
The author gives a strong exhortation to his readers to respond to what they have just read in Hebrews 1. In a sense we see sound doctrine flow seamlessly into serious invitation. If you are a teacher, remember that to be effective, you must do more than present biblical facts. Using sound doctrine as your foundation, you must also warn, exhort, invite. And so we note that by the time the writer of Hebrews gets to chapter 2 he is impassioned and concerned the salvation of his hearers. Thus he exhorts his readers to respond to what he says. In short, as any good Biblical teacher, he not only seeks for Christ to be seen as superior but also to be accepted as Savior. His invitation includes both exhortation and warning, what to do and what happens if you don't respond.
In the last chapter of Hebrews the writer sums up his message, writing
I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. (see note Hebrews 13:22)
God’s Word demands a response, and a faithful teacher of the Word teaches for a response.
Matthew Henry explains the writer's method this way: The apostle proceeds in the plain profitable method of doctrine, reason, and use, through this epistle. Here we have the application of the truths before asserted and proved; this is brought in by the illative particle therefore, with which this chapter begins, and which shows its connection with the former, where the apostle having proved Christ to be superior to the angels by whose ministry the law was given, and therefore that the gospel dispensation must be more excellent than the legal, he now comes to apply this doctrine both by way of exhortation and argument.
MacArthur - Hell is undoubtedly full of people who were never actively opposed to Jesus Christ, but who simply neglected the gospel. Such people are in view in these four verses. They know the truth and even believe the truth, in the sense that they acknowledge its truthfulness, its rightness. They are well aware of the good news of salvation provided in Jesus Christ, but are not willing to commit their lives to Him. So they drift past the call of God into eternal damnation. This tragedy makes these verses extremely important and urgent. (Hebrews Commentary. Moody)
Wuest - The exhortation is to give more earnest heed to the New Testament message, and the warning, against letting that truth slip away. The nature of the sin of Adam was a careless, indifferent attitude towards the commands of God. The particular word which is translated “disobedience” in Romans 5:19 (parakoe) means literally “to hear alongside,” thus, “a failing to hear, a hearing amiss.” But this failure to hear is due to a carelessness in paying attention to what God had to say. Back of that carelessness is the desire to have our own will. Under pressure of persecution, these Jews were discontinuing their attendance upon the Christian assemblies (Heb 10:25), and giving less and less heed to the New Testament truth. The reason for this failure to attend earnestly upon the truth of the new dispensation was that these Hebrews were desirous of getting out from under the persecution to which they were being subjected from apostate Judaism. Entrenched and apostate ecclesiasticism was trying to take these Jews away from the visible Church and bring them back to the temple. Thus does sin lead us to take the easy road, tempting us to sell our birthright for a mess of pottage (Heb 12:16, 17). (Hebrews - Wuest's word studies from the Greek New Testament)
W E Vine has an excellent outline of this warning section:
This portion follows in close connection with the subject of the first chapter. Having shown the glories of the Son of God and His superiority over angels, the writer draws therefrom a warning that to neglect the salvation provided through Him will incur far more serious consequences than in the case of those who transgressed the word of the law spoken through angels. For this salvation has been proclaimed by the Son of God Himself and has been confirmed by His followers and by the Holy Spirit.
Christ’s Superiority in the Gospel Message, to the Part Taken by Angels in the Giving of the Law
(1) The Salvation and its greatness (Heb 2:1, 2).
(a) The duty to be done (Heb 2:1).
(b) The danger to be averted (Heb 2:1).
(c) The reason-a contrast: (Heb 2:2).
(i) The recompense for transgressing the Law
(ii) The recompense for neglecting the Salvation
(2) The Salvation and its proclamation (Heb 2:3, 4).
(a) Spoken by the Lord (Heb 2:3).
(b) Confirmed by the Apostles (Heb 2:3).
(c) Testified to by God (Heb 2:4).
WE MUST PAY MUCH CLOSER ATTENTION: dei (3SPAI) perissoteros prosechein (PAN): (Dt 4:9,23; 32:46,47; Josh 23:11,12; 1Chr 22:13; Ps 119:9; Pr 2:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; Pr 3:21; 4:1, 2, 3, 4,20, 21, 22; 7:1,2; Lk 8:15; 9:44)
Thus we are bound to pay all the more heed to what we have been told, for fear of drifting from our course. (New English Bible)
THIS IS NOT
Must (1163) (dei from deo= to bind, tie objects together) means this is necessary (binding) or needful. Dei marks a logical necessity and not a moral obligation: we must rather than we ought. It therefore speaks of an obligation out of intrinsic necessity or inevitability. It is necessary that this happen. It is continually (present tense) necessary… to pay close attention.
The verb must is very strong and emphatic and calls for the reader to take responsibility, giving us an exhortation to perform a specific duty.
Why? So we do not drift. The verb is in the active voice meaning that we must decide to do it. It is a choice we must make. To fail to do so can have eternally damning consequences!
When the Son of God speaks to people, every consideration makes it appropriate that we should attend to what is spoken. Truth demands a response: “Now what are you going to do about this?” We can know all the truth there is to know about Jesus Christ and yet go to hell if we never make Him our own by being made His own.
The writer of Hebrews uses this strong verb must (dei) again in his explanation of how we can "please" God writing that…
"without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must (dei) believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." (He 11:6-note)
We must be sure to understand that it is not the gospel that slips, as the King James Version seems to imply (It reads "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip."). That is not the meaning at all. The Greek and most modern translations make it clear that it is inattentive men who slip. The Word will never drift from us.
Pay… attention (4337) (prosecho [word study] from pros = toward + echo = to have, hold) means literally "to hold toward", to hold (the mind) to, to apply one’s self to, to attach one’s self to. The idea is to "take hold" of something and pay attention to it, "putting your mind on it", especially in the sense of being on guard. It means to turn the mind to something and includes the idea of to act upon what one perceives (cf Acts 8:6; 16:14).
It is noteworthy that 12 of the 24 NT uses of prosecho are in the present imperative which is a command (see word study) calling for continual attention! In the present passage the verb is in the present tense which also calls for continual attention.
Prosecho means to be in a continuous state of readiness to learn of any future danger, need, or error, and to respond appropriately - keep on the lookout for, be alert for, be on one's guard against. Prosecho almost always warns of danger. Prosecho is not a call simply to notice or sense something, but to be on guard against it because it is harmful.
To pay… attention is to apply the mind to a particular subject, to attend to it, to consider it and in the present use is opposite of neglect of a so great salvation.
The Preacher's Commentary adds that "Our author’s antidote for such “drifting” or slipping away consists of earnest heed, intense concentration, thoughtful clarification. By such means the roots of an idea get deep into our consciousness and consciences. (Briscoe, D. S., & Ogilvie, L. J. The Preacher's Commentary Series, New Testament. 2003; Thomas Nelson)
A W Pink in quoting Dr Gouge explains prosecho writing that "The duty here intended is a serious, firm, and fixed settling of the mind upon that which we hear; a bowing and bending of the will to yield unto it; an applying of the heart to it, a placing of the affections upon it, and bringing the whole man into conformity thereunto. Thus it comprises knowledge of the Word, faith therein, obedience thereto, and all other due respects that may any way concern it.
Prosecho was commonly used to describe the bringing of a ship to land. What a striking picture this secular use congers up - Think of our life as a "ship of faith" moving through the fog, avoiding the dangerous reefs by keeping our focus on the Lighthouse on the shore. Clinging with a devotion to the truth about Jesus. Holding the rudder firmly in place towards the safe harbor of the Light of the World.
It is interesting that the two main verbs in this verse (prosecho and pararrhueo) have nautical uses. Prosecho as mentioned above can mean to moor a ship whereas pararrhueo was used to describe a ship that had been carelessly allowed to slip past a harbor or a haven because the mariner has forgotten to allow for the wind or the current or the tide! This verse could be paraphrased
Therefore, we must the more eagerly anchor our lives to the things that we have been taught lest the ship of life drift past the harbor of salvation and be wrecked and lost forever.
What a picture… the ship slowly drifts to destruction because the pilot is asleep at the wheel! How apropos this picture is in regard to how most unbelievers simply drift along "the way (that) is broad (and) that leads to destruction". Many are the drifters who eventually plunge into everlasting torment and separation from God. The point is that the majority of those who enter by the "wide gate" do not go headlong, wantonly and intentionally into hell. Most people who populate hell haven't been the most profane God haters and vile rejecters of His Son. Most of those who are deceived and dead in their trespasses and sins just slowly, almost imperceptibly slip past the harbor of salvation and into the "sea" of eternal destruction. One writer phrases it this way…
There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at its ebb, leads to victory; neglected, the shores of time are strewn with the wreckage.
The writer's point is that his reader must put our mind to the Son of God's teaching on salvation lest we too one day find ourselves having forever drifted past the "harbor of salvation." Salvation once gained cannot be lost. The writer's point is that the reader must be certain that genuine salvation has been gained! Once saved, always saved is valid only if one is truly saved! There are many people who use this neat little saying to justify their bad behavior. "Well, I prayed a prayer and walked the aisle at age 16 and even got baptized the next week." But as the subsequent years demonstrated, this individual was really just a "professor" and not a "possessor" of Jesus. There was never a change in their behavior after their "profession." They continued to live in sin, to love the world, etc. In short there was simply no evidence that they had ever truly been born again. So "once saved, always saved" is a potentially damning deception in these unregenerate individuals. They heed to "see to it" that they do not neglect so great a salvation!
See J D Greear's pithy discussion of the problem of false professions of belief in Jesus in his book "Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart"
Guzik - Give the more earnest heed has not only the idea of hearing carefully, but also in doing what we have heard - and we must give the more earnest heed. (Hebrews 2)
Peter uses prosecho with a similar thought explaining that "we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to (present tense - continually) pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts." (see note 2 Peter 1:19)
Prosecho - 24x in 24 v in NAS - addicted(1), beware(8), give attention(1), giving… attention(1), giving attention(2), guard(3), officiated(1), pay attention(2), pay… attention(1), paying attention(2), respond(1), take care(1).
Matthew 6:1 "Beware (present imperative) of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 7:15 "Beware (present imperative) of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Matthew 10:17 "But beware (present imperative) of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues;
Matthew 16:6 And Jesus said to them, "Watch out and beware (present imperative) of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees."
Matthew 16:11 "How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware (present imperative) of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees."12 Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Luke 12:1 Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, "Beware (present imperative) of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
Luke 17:3 "Be on your guard (present imperative)! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
Luke 20:46 "Beware (present imperative) of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets,
Luke 21:34 "Be on guard (present imperative), so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap;
Acts 5:35 And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care (present imperative) what you propose to do with these men.
Acts 8:6 The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing… 10 and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, "This man is what is called the Great Power of God."11 And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts.
Acts 16:14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.
Acts 20:28 "Be on guard (present imperative) for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
1 Timothy 1:4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.
1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,
1 Timothy 4:1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,
1 Timothy 4:13 Until I come, give attention (present imperative) to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.
Titus 1:14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.
Hebrews 2:1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.
Hebrews 7:13 For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated (gave attendance) at the altar.
2 Peter 1:19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.
Much closer (4057) (perissos) is a comparative adverb which can be translated "all the more", "even much more", "more earnestly," "more superabundantly". And so one could render it "we must all the more pay close attention".
The College Press NIV commentary has an interesting note writing that while "The word “better” could be written across the book of Hebrews; the word "more" should be written across our response. Some things require greater (perissoteros, “far more, to a much greater degree”) diligence." (Girdwood, J., & Verkruyse, P. The College Press NIV commentary Joplin, Mo: College Press)
I like William Barclay's rendition of this section: We must, therefore, with very special intensity pay attention to the things that we have heard.
Why? God has spoken in His Son. We must continually hold to the Words of Truth spoken by the Son Who alone is Truth. There is nothing else to that needs to be said! No more revelation is forthcoming for none is necessary.
Newell - If the Old Testament prophets should be heard, how much more the Lord of glory Himself! He having come to earth, become Man, and speaking to men!
TO WHAT WE HAVE HEARD: hemas tois akoustheisin (APPNPD):
We have heard (191) (akouo) means not just to hear sounds per se but implies hearing with attention or hearing so to speak with the "ear of one's mind". “To hear” implies “to obey.” This verb is more literally translated in this verse as
"to what we have been hearing"
As Pink notes that simply…
To “hear” is not sufficient. There must be prayerful meditation, personal appropriation.
He uses this verb akouo in the next verse writing that "it was confirmed to us by those who heard" which implies that they heard effectively or else they could not have passed it on.
In Hebrews 1 we have just heard the truth about Jesus, as summarized below
Heir of all
One with the Father yet distinct in Person
Upholder of all things by His Word
Purifier from sin
Seated at the Right hand of the Majesty on high
Having a better name than the angels (begotten the Son of God)
God testifying He is His Father fulfilling the Davidic Covenant
Firstborn = His preeminence,
God, Lord, King, Victorious Warrior
Better than angels who serve Him, worship Him, are created by Him & are sent out to serve believers.
Having heard, have you responded? If not, will you respond in faith right now? Or will you be like those the writer records in chapter 4 warning that…
indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard (akouo) did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. (Hebrews 4:2)
Hearing does not necessarily equate with believing. Jesus declared:
Truly, truly (Amen, Amen = trustworthy, trustworthy), I say to you, he who hears (akouo) My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24)
Dear reader don't drift past such a great Savior Who offers a great salvation.
The idea of hearing is a key idea in Hebrews…
Hebrews 2:1 (note) For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
Hebrews 4:7 (note) He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS."
Hebrews 5:11 (note) Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
Hebrews 11:8 (note) By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed (literally "hear under", listen attentively hupakouo = hupo + akouo) by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.
LEST WE DRIFT AWAY: mepote pararhuomen (1PAPS): (Heb 12:5; Matthew 16:9; Mark 8:18; 2Peter 1:12,13,15; 3:1) (Habakkuk 1:6; 2:16)
Most authors agree that this first of five major warning passages alerts the readers to the danger of apostasy, a theme that is echoed in all five warning passages.
- Hebrews 2:1-3
- Hebrews 3:1-4:16
- Hebrews 5:11-6:20
- Hebrews 10:19-39
- Hebrews 12:15-29
Bob Smith in well written online text Basics of Bible Interpretation uses the warning passages of Hebrews to illustrate the importance of considering the cultural/historical context as a guide to accurate interpretation…
We are prone to interpret everything we read in terms of our twentieth century Western culture, since that's the sphere in which we live. It takes a conscious effort to research and absorb some of the data that will make our thoughts conform to the time and culture of the writer. Much of this can be accomplished through the use of Bible Dictionaries, and books on the history and archaeology of Old and New Testament times. Edersheim's The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883) is a classic work on the cultural features of biblical times. Old and New Testament introductions also help us get the feel and flavor of life in Bible times. The bibliography in the Appendix will give you further source materials on this subject.
To illustrate the principle we have before us: it is helpful, when studying the Book of Hebrews, to remember that it was written while the temple was still standing in Jerusalem. This makes clear the need for the strong appeal to these early Hebrew Christians to "go forth to him [Jesus] outside the camp, bearing abuse for him. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come" (see notes Hebrews 13:13; 13:14).
And, "We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat" (see note Hebrews 13:10).
There was strong temptation for these early Christians to be drawn back into the "shadows" of the temple worship forms and away from the reality of Christian faith.
Observing this, we can better understand the strong warnings in the book. After all, it was written to the Hebrews of the first century. Our interpretation should be based on this historical/cultural setting, with application to our contemporary Western scene flowing out of that interpretation. It then becomes obvious that there are many similar situations where modern men and women halt short of true faith, settling for religious ritual instead. The same strong warnings can then be applied properly to present situations. The following outline illustrates how applicable this truth is, almost twenty centuries after its writing.
DON'T MISS MELCHIZEDEK!
We need to advance from the Aaronic priesthood (the Law) to the Melchizedek priesthood, which portrays the adequacy and resources of Christ as our risen, living Lord. In view of Christ's availability to us as our great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, to strengthen us for every test and supply our every need, consider these warnings from Hebrews:
1. THE DANGER OF DRIFTING, Hebrews 2:1-3
The Problem: Inattention
The Possibility: Of drifting.
The Test: Are You Listening?
2. THE DANGER OF AN UNBELIEVING HEART, Hebrews 3:12-4:16
The Problem: Hearing, but not Believing
The Possibility: Hardening of the heart.
The Test: How Well Do You Rest?
3. THE DANGER OF PROLONGED IMMATURITY, Hebrews 5:11-6:20
The Problem: Being Long-Time Babies
The Possibility: Missing the value of Melchizedek's priesthood.
The Test: Are You Really Going Anywhere?
4. THE DANGER OF MISSING REALITY--Seeing just the shadow, Hebrews 10:26-31
The Problem: Failing to Respond to Grace
The Possibility: of spurning the Son.
The Test: How Real Is Jesus Christ to You?
5. THE DANGER OF CONTRADICTION, Hebrews 12:15-29
The Problem: The Practical Denial of Christ's Lordship
The Possibility: Of refusing Him the right to give orders.
The Test: How Well Do You Worship through Obedience to Christ?
(From the online text - Bob Smith's well written Basics of Bible Interpretation)
Kent Hughes is correct when he says that the…
church's experience 2,000 years ago intersects our lives in this way: drifting is the besetting sin of our day. And as the metaphor suggests, it is not so much intentional as from unconcern. Christians neglect their anchor-Christ-and begin to quietly drift away. There is no friction, no dramatic sense of departure. But when the winds of trouble come, the things of Christ are left far behind, even out of sight. (Hughes, R. K. Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul. Volume 1. Crossway Books; Volume 2)
See quotations on the related process - Backsliding.
Distinction Between Drifting and Backsliding - While backsliding is often used interchangeably with drifting, strictly speaking drifting as used in the context of Hebrews 2:1 (the only place parrheuo is used in the NT) speaks of the danger of missing the "mooring" of Jesus and as a result "drifting" off into a Christ-less eternity. As commonly used a backslider is supposedly a true believer who begins to "drift" from his or her moorings in Jesus. While they too are in "danger" (God will discipline them - Heb 12:5-11), that danger is not in the loss of their salvation. All of us in a sense were "drifting" toward eternal disaster prior to the day the Spirit of Jesus and the Gospel of Jesus rescued (rhuomai) us "from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom (now safe in Christ) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Col 1:13, 14, cp Acts 26:18). So while I think that drifting in the way described in Hebrews 2 is distinct from the way we commonly use the term backsliding, I am definitely guilty of using the verb drift in my article on Backsliding (where I use drift over 30 times!).
Spurgeon wrote it is as if the writer had said…
Seeing Christ is so excellent in His person, and seeing the Gospel has such a glorious Author, let us take great care that we esteem His person, revere His authority, reverence His ministry, and believe His message; and let us take heed that our memories be not like leaking vessels, suffering the word at any time to slip or run from us.
We have heard them; do not let us forget them. Let them not be like the driftwood which goes floating down the stream. Let us make a desperate effort to retain them in our memories; and, above all, to ponder them in our hearts.
Drift away (3901) (pararrhueo from pará = by, past, beyond + rhéo = flow) literally means to "flow past" and so to glide, to be washed away, to drift away. Figuratively as in the present verse pararrhueo means to slip or drift away from belief. It is a picture of a gradual, almost unnoticed movement past a certain point. It describes that carelessness of mind which, perhaps occupied by other things, is not aware it is losing ground. It is like a ship drifting without anchorage and so drifting away from its moorings and from a place of safety to one of danger.
Pararrhueo is used only here in the NT and twice in the Septuagint (LXX)…
Proverbs 3:21 My son, let them (in the immediate context, "them" is God's wisdom, understanding and knowledge!) not depart from your sight; Keep sound wisdom and discretion
Isaiah 44:4 And they will spring up among the grass Like poplars by streams (pararrhueo - running or flowing) of water.'
Pararrhueo was used to describe mooring of ships (to moor a ship means to make it secure with cables, lines, or anchors) and the drift caused by winds and tides if ships are not moored.
Kent Hughes - I have experienced this firsthand while fishing the tidal inlets of the California coast, when winds or surging tides have imperceptibly slipped the anchor from the seabed so that it hung suspended, and I, intent on my fishing, unknowingly moved several hundred yards and almost foundered on the rocks! Such dangerous drifting is not intentional, but comes rather from inattention and carelessness—which was precisely the problem with the pressured little church. They had become careless about their moorings in Christ. At first, in calm waters, that was not noticeable. But as the storms of opposition rose, some of them were drifting farther and farther away from Christ toward the shoals of shipwreck in their old world of Judaism." (Hughes, R. K. Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul. Volume 1. Crossway Books & Volume 2)
The Greek writer Xenophon used pararrhueo to describe the river flowing by a certain place. It was used to picture the snow slipping off from the soldiers' bodies, of a ring slipping from one's finger or of a thought slipping out of one's memory. This verb thus presents a vivid picture of individuals who let themselves drift away from the haven of the gospel of Christ. One need not be violently opposed to the message to suffer loss but just to "drift" away from it!
Ray Stedman - The danger highlighted is that of a great loss occurring unnoticed. The cause is not taking seriously the words spoken to them. Inattention or apathy will rob them of their treasure. With these words, the writer reveals his shepherd’s heart, since he is not content with instructing the mind with intriguing doctrine. He also longs to reach the heart and move the will to action… It is not necessary to openly renounce the gospel. One can remain lost by simply and quietly drifting away from hearing it, or hearing it with no comprehension of the seriousness of its message." (Hebrews 2:1-4 Great Danger in Ignoring the Son)
B F Westcott explains that "The idea is not that of simple forgetfulness, but of being swept along past the sure anchorage which is within reach. The image is singularly expressive. We are all continuously exposed to the action of currents of opinion, habit, action, which tend to carry us away insensibly from the position which we ought to maintain." (The Epistle to the Hebrews; the Greek text with notes and essays. London: Macmillan)
Guzik writes that "If we do not give the more earnest heed, we will drift away. Drifting is something that happens quite automatically when we are not anchored to anything solid. If we are not "anchored" in the superiority of Jesus, we will drift with the currents of the world, the flesh, and the devil. One doesn't have to do anything to simply drift away… An ungodly farmer died, and they discovered in his will that he had left his farm to the Devil. In the court, they didn't quite know what to do with it -- how do you give a farm to the Devil? Finally, the judge decided: "The best way to carry out the wishes of the deceased is to allow the farm to grow weeds, the soil to erode, and the house and barn to rot. In our opinion, the best way to leave something to the Devil is to do nothing." We can leave our lives to the Devil the same way - doing nothing, drifting with whatever currents will drive us. (Hebrews 2)
A W Pink writes that drifting (or not drifting) speaks of not persevering (or of persevering) explaining that "Perseverance in the faith, continuance in the Word, is a prime prerequisite of discipleship, see John 8:31 ("Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine"); Col 1:23 ("[You will be presented before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach] if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard… ), etc. Many who heard, and once seemed really interested in spiritual things, “concerning the faith have made shipwreck” (1Ti 1:19).
PREDISPOSITION TO "SPIRITUAL DRIFTING"
Ponder the following thoughts regarding some issues that predispose one to "drifting" through life:
1). The passing of time. A slow drift, given enough time, will carry you to another continent and its dark uncharted waters. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians
Behold now is the acceptable time. Behold now is the day of salvation. (2Co 6:2)
2). Familiarity with truths about God and Jesus (a common trap in "Christian" America). We all have a tendency to begin to regard the things we become familiar with as commonplace. The initial venture into the mysteries of Christ may be exhilarating, but repeated exposure to the truth may eventually result in "vaccination" which then even prevents one from getting the real "disease"!
3). Busyness. Busy people can soon be weighed down by all the cares of life. A snowflake is a tiny thing, but when the air is full of them, they can bury us. Even so, the cares of each day can insulate us from the excellency of Christ, and result in our continuing to drift toward destruction. As someone has wrote:
It is strange: but life’s currents drift us
So surely and swiftly on,
That we scarcely notice the changes
And how many things are gone.
Matthew Henry explains the danger and propensity for drifting writing that…
the great loss we shall sustain if we do not take this earnest heed to the things which we have heard: We shall let them slip. They will leak, and run out of our heads, lips, and lives, and we shall be great losers by our neglect. Learn, (1.) When we have received gospel truths into our minds, we are in danger of letting them slip. Our minds and memories are like a leaky vessel, they do not without much care retain what is poured into them; this proceeds from the corruption of our natures, the enmity and subtlety of Satan (he steals away the word), from the entanglements and snares of the world, the thorns that choke the good seed. (2.) Those meet with an inconceivable loss who let gospel truths, which they had received, slip out of their minds; they have lost a treasure far better than thousands of gold and silver; the seed is lost, their time and pains in hearing lost, and their hopes of a good harvest lost; all is lost, if the gospel be lost. (3.) This consideration should be a strong motive both to our attention to the gospel and our retention of it; and indeed, if we do not well attend, we shall not long retain the word of God;
will soon be forgetful hearers.
Mike Yaconelli tells a cow story that illustrates the subtle nature of drifting…
“I live in a small, rural community. There are lots of cattle ranches around here, and, every once in a while, a cow wanders off and gets lost… Ask a rancher how a cow gets lost, and chances are he will reply, ‘Well, the cow starts nibbling on a tuft of green grass, and when it finishes, it looks ahead to the next tuft of green grass and starts nibbling on that one, and then it nibbles on a tuft of grass right next to a hole in the fence. It then sees another tuft of green grass on the other side of the fence, so it nibbles on that one and then goes on to the next tuft. The next thing you know, the cow has nibbled itself into being lost.’ (Morgan, R. J. Nelson's complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes. Page 41. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers)
F B Meyer described drifting writing that…
Gradually and almost insensibly we lose our watchfulness over our thoughts; our relish for the society of God’s people; our delight in God’s house; our interest in the salvation of others; our sensitiveness of conscience as to the conventionalities of trade or society. We do not realize it; we are not specially concerned; we have no idea that the white ant is eating out the substance of our furniture, and the dry-rot undermining the rafters of our house. Strangers are devouring our strength; grey hairs are indicating our decay—to all eyes but our own. We grow grey almost imperceptibly; the strength of our manhood is very slowly undermined; the degrees of spiritual declension are as the fall of the year through the last days of summer. But it need not be if we would regard ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word. (Meyer, F. B. Our Daily Homily. Vol. 4, Page 190. Pleasant Places Press)
The best defense against slipping away is to flee for refuge and lay hold of the hope (Biblical hope is not "hope so" but a confidence that God will do good to us in the future) set before us a hope which is like "an anchor of the soul… both sure and steadfast". (Hebrews 6:19-note) (see topic The Blessed Hope)
Vance Havner wrote that…
We need a heart warming… The early Christians did not need a shot in the arm every Sunday to keep them going. They knew Jesus and they upset the world and worried the devil and gave wicked rulers insomnia and started something the jails couldn’t lock up, fire couldn’t burn, water couldn’t drown, swords couldn’t kill…You may belittle experience and speak of the dangers of emotion, but we are suffering today from a species of Christianity as dry as dust, as cold as ice, as pale as a corpse, and as dead as King Tut. We are suffering, not from a lack of correct heads but of consumed hearts!
Someone has wisely written:
"Use well opportunity, drift not with the tide; killing time is not murder, it's suicide!"
Indeed, eternity will magnify that which we have done in time.
Dr Robertson McQuilkin the godly dean of a seminary (who retired at an early age in order to care for his debilitated wife) did not want to drift (although it describes a believer who does not finish well, the truth of his poem is applicable to the careless, drifting unbeliever)
I fear the Dark Spectre may come too soon
—or do I mean, too late?
That I should end before I finish or finish, but not well.
That I should stain your honor, shame your name, grieve your loving heart.
Few, they tell me, finish well…
Lord, let me get home before dark.
(From “Let Me Get Home Before Dark,” 1981)
"The idea is in sharp contrast with giving earnest heed. Lapse from truth and goodness is more often the result of inattention than of design. Drifting is a mark of death: giving heed, of life. The log drifts with the tide: the ship breasts the adverse waves, because some one is giving earnest heed."
Adam Clarke comments on "drift away":
"Lest at any time we should leak out.” This is a metaphor taken from unstanch vessels; the staves not being close together, the fluid put into them leaks through the chinks and crevices. Superficial hearers lose the benefit of the word preached, as the unseasoned vessel does its fluid; nor can any one hear to the saving of his soul, unless he give most earnest heed, which he will not do unless he consider the dignity of the speaker, the importance of the subject, and the absolute necessity of the salvation of his soul."
F B Meyer explains drifting…
Men ruined by drifting: — Life’s ocean is full of currents, any one of which will sweep us past the harbour mouth even when we seem nearest to it, and carry us far out to sea. It is the drift that ruins men: the drift of the religious world; the drift of old habits and associations; the drift of one’s own evil nature; the drift of the pressure of temptation. The young man coming from a pious home does not distinctly and deliberately say, “I renounce my father’s God.” But he finds himself in a set of business associates who have no care for religion; and, after a brief struggle, he relaxes his efforts and begins to drift, until the coastline of heaven recedes so far into the dim distance that he is doubtful if he ever really saw it. The business man, who now shamelessly follows the lowest maxims of his trade, was once upright and high-minded. But he began by yielding in very trivial points to the strong pressure of competition; and when once he had allowed himself to be caught by the tide, it bore him far beyond his first intention. The professing Christian, who now scarcely pretends to open the Bible or pray, came to so terrible a position, not at a single leap, but by yielding to the pressure of the constant waywardness of the old nature, and thus drifted into an Arctic region, where he is likely to perish, benumbed and frozen, unless rescued, and launched on the warm Gulf Stream of the love of God. It is so easy, and so much pleasanter to drift. Just to lie back, and renounce effort, and let yourself go whither the waters will, as they break musically on the sides of the rocking boat. But, ah, how ineffable the remorse, how disastrous the result! Are you drifting? You can easily tell. Are you conscious of effort, of daily, hourly resistance to the stream around you, and within? Do the things of God and heaven loom more clearly on your vision? Do the waters foam angrily at your prow as you force your way through them? If so, rejoice; but remember that only Divine strength can suffice to maintain the conflict, and keep the boat’s head against the stream. If not, you are drifting. Hail the strong Son of God. Ask Him to come on board, and stay you, and bring you into port.( F. B. Meyer, B. A. in The Biblical Illustrator)
The danger of drifting illustrated…
In the early part of this century, an American ship was wrecked off the Scilly Isles near the coast of England. The sea had been calm and the weather clear, but the vessel was caught in a treacherous current that slowly lured it off its course. Before the captain and the crew realized what had happened, the ship had crashed into the rocks.
The compass of God's Word
will keep you from spiritual shipwreck.
Another illustration on the danger of drifting …
The danger and deceitfulness of slowly drifting is illustrated by the story of the English explorer, William Edward Parry, who took a crew to the Arctic Ocean. They wanted to go farther north to continue their chartings, so they calculated their location by the stars and started a very difficult and treacherous march north. They walked hour upon hour, and finally, totally exhausted, they stopped. Taking their bearings again from the stars, they discovered that they were farther south than they had been when they started. They had been walking on an ice floe that was moving south faster than they were walking north. How many people think their good deeds, their merits, and their religiousness are taking them step by step to God, when in fact they are moving away from Him faster than they are supposedly walking toward Him. That is the tragedy of drifting from what we have heard. They awake one day to find, like Parry’s crew, that all the time they have been moving in the wrong direction. A person should never be satisfied with religious feelings, with coming to church, with being married to a Christian spouse, or with church activities. He will be drifting into a hell unless he has made a personal commitment to the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The job of the preacher is to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.
Riddle: How can a man drift too far and still be saved?
Read the testimony of a man who drifted too far and yet was saved…
Seven-year-old Roger Woodward along with his seventeen-year-old sister was enjoying a boat ride on the Niagara River. They were guests of a man from Niagara Falls, New York, and were boating above the falls. But when the boat developed motor trouble and capsized, all three were thrown into the river. The man went over the falls and was killed. Roger’s sister was plucked from the river about twenty feet from the edge of the falls by two tourists. But Roger went over the falls wearing nothing but his swimming trunks and an orange life preserver.
The “Maid of the Mist” tourist boat was just turning away from the falls when the crew spotted him, floating in the basin. Pulling him from the water, they rushed him to the hospital where he remained three days with a slight concussion and was released.
Thirty years passed and Roger Woodward returned to Niagara Falls to give his testimony at the Glengate Alliance Church. The audience was hushed as he told his miraculous story, the panic he felt as he drifted helpless toward the precipice, the anger he felt because no one on the shoreline could help him, the flashbacks he experienced as he inwardly said goodbye to his parents and his dog and his toys.
He said, “It wasn’t the hand of fate [that saved me]. It wasn’t the hand of luck. It was the Spirit of the Living God that saved my life that day and saved my sister and gave us hope that one day we could come to know Him.” (Morgan, R. J. Nelson's complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes. Page 654. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers)
ARE YOU DRIFTING?
BEWARE OF THE HAZARD!
Drift - In the 1923 silent movie Our Hospitality, comedian and acrobat Buster Keaton performed a daring stunt near a waterfall. A retaining line, called a “holdback” cable, hidden in the water and attached to him, kept him from being carried over the falls.
During filming, the cable broke, and Keaton was swept toward the falls. He managed to grab an overhanging branch, which he clung to until the crew could rescue him. The dramatic scene appears in the finished film.
Drifting into unintended hazards can make for exciting film footage. In real life, however, dangers of this kind are usually marked with warning signs to prevent people from venturing into harm’s way.
Similarly, the Bible has provided us with warning signs about drifting from the safety of God’s Word. “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (Heb. 2:1).
When we don’t cling to God’s Word through study and reflection, it’s easy to drift. Like a swift stream, the attractions of this fallen world draw us toward sin. But as we meditate on Scripture and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we learn the reality of our spiritual anchor and are kept secure—even in the dangers of the world’s current. --Dennis Fisher (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
The Bible stands like a rock undaunted
’Mid the raging storms of time;
Its pages burn with the truth eternal,
And they glow with a light sublime. —Lillenas
© Renewal 1945 Haldor Lillenas.
The compass of God’s Word will keep you from spiritual shipwreck.
Spurgeon has these expository comments on Hebrews 2…
As if our apostle had said,—Seeing Christ is so excellent in His person, and seeing the gospel has such a glorious author, let us take great care that we esteem His person, revere His authority, reverence His ministry, and believe His message; and let us take heed that our memories be not like leaking vessels, suffering the word at any time to slip or run from us.
That is to say, because Jesus is so great, because the truths which he came to reveal are so infinitely important, “therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip; “for, sometimes, we seem to let them slip. We grow old; our mind is dull; our heart is occupied with other matters, and we let these heavenly things leak out, or drift by us, as if we were not concerned in them.
We have heard them; do not let us forget them. Let them not be like the driftwood which goes floating down the stream. Let us make a desperate effort to retain them in our memories; and, above all, to ponder them in our hearts.
It is well to give heed to what you are now hearing, but it is also important to give heed to what you have heard. Oh, how much have we heard, but have forgotten! How much have we heard, which we still remember, but do not practice! Let us therefore listen to the words of the apostle here: “We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip;”— as it were, slipping through our fingers, and flowing down the stream of time to be carried away into the ocean of oblivion.
Whoever strives to withdraw from obedience withdraws from grace. --Thomas à Kempis
If thou wilt fly from God, the devil will lend thee both spurs and a horse. -Thomas Adams
Withering is a slow process, barely perceptible at first either to one who is being withered or to those who look on. -Donald Grey Barnhouse
It is possible to be diligent in our religion, yet distant in our relationship. -John Blanchard
A declining Christian must needs be a doubting Christian. - William Gurnall
If you find yourself loving any pleasure more than your prayers, any book better than the Bible, any house better than the house of the Lord, any table better than the Lord's table, any persons better than Christ, or any indulgence better than the hope of heaven—be alarmed. - Thomas Guthrie
Taking it easy is often the prelude to backsliding. Comfort precedes collapse. -Vance Havner
Collapse in the Christian life is seldom a blowout. It is usually a slow leak. - Paul E. Little
We are all constantly backsliding but for the grace of God. - Dick Lucas
Backsliding is caused by slack abiding. - Ernest Plant
If we know anything of true, saving religion, let us ever beware of the beginnings of backsliding. - J. C. Ryle
It is a miserable thing to be a backslider. Of all unhappy things that can befall a man, I suppose it is the worst. A stranded ship, an eagle with a broken wing, a garden covered with weeds, a harp without strings, a church in ruins—all these are sad sights, but a backslider is a sadder sight still. - J. C. Ryle
It is dangerous to backslide in any degree, for we know not to what may lead. - C. H. Spurgeon
It may be hard going forward, but it is worse going back. - C. H. Spurgeon
Most observers classify this present section of Hebrews as the first of the five major "warning" passages in Hebrews.
THE FIVE WARNING PASSAGES
|He 2:1, 2, 3, 4 (notes)|
|He 3:7-4:13 (notes)|
|He 5:11-6:12 (notes)|
|He 10:19-39 (notes)|
|He 12:14-29 (notes)|
In his book The Way Into the Holiest, F B Meyer entitles Chapter 4
"We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip."-Hebrews 2:1.
SALVATION is a great word; and it is one of the keywords of this Epistle. Heirs of salvation (He 1:14-note); so great salvation (He 2:3-note); Captain of salvation (He 2:10-note); eternal salvation (He 5:9-note); things that accompany salvation (He 6:9-note); salvation to the uttermost (He 7:25-note); and his appearance the second time without sin unto salvation (He 9:28-note). Sometimes it is salvation from the penalty of sin that is spoken of. The past tense is then used, of that final and blessed act by which, through faith in the blood of Jesus, we are forever placed beyond fear of judgment and punishment; so that we are to the windward of the storm, which spent itself on the head of our Substitute and representative on Calvary, and can therefore never break on us. "By grace have ye been saved through faith" (Ep 2:8- note.). Sometimes it is salvation from the power of sin. The present tense is then employed, of the long and gradual process by which we are set free from evil, which has worked itself so deeply into our system. "Unto us which are being saved the word of the cross is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18, R.V.). Sometimes salvation from all physical and other evils is implied. The future tense is then summoned into requisition, painting its splendid frescoes on the mists that hang so densely before our view, and telling us of resurrection in our Saviour's likeness and presentation in his home, faultless, with exceeding joy. "We know that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1Jn 3:2-note). "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed: the night is far spent; the day is at hand" (Ro 3:11, 12-note). In the above passage the word "salvation" includes the entire process, from its beginning to its end; though perhaps it is especially tinctured with the first thought mentioned above. And if we follow out the figure suggested by the rendering of the first verse of this chapter in the Revised Version, we may compare salvation to a great harbor, past: which we are in danger of drifting through culpable neglect. "We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them." "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation!"
I. CONSIDER GOD'S SCHEME OF SALVATION AS A GREAT HARBOR
After a wild night, we have gone down to the harbor, over whose arms the angry waves have been dashing with boom of thunder and in clouds of spray. Outside, the sea has been tossing and churning; the cloud rack driving hurriedly across the sky; the winds howling like the furies of olden fable. But within those glorious walls, the barks which had put in during the night were riding in safety; the sailors resting, or repairing rents in sail and tackle, whilst the waters were unstirred by the storm raging without. Such a refuge or harbor is a fit emblem of salvation, where tempest-driven souls find shelter and peace.
It is great in its sweep. Sufficient to embrace a ruined world. Room in it for whole navies of souls to ride at anchor. Space enough for every ship of Adam's race launched from the shores of time. He is the propitiation for the whole world." "Whosoever will." Already it is becoming filled. There a vessel once manned by seven devils, a pirate ship, but captured by our Emmanuel; and at her stem the name, Mary of Magdala. And here one dismasted, and almost shattered, rescued from the fury of the maelstrom at the last hour; on her stem the words, The Dying Thief And there another, long employed in efforts to sap the very walls of the harbor, and now flying a pennon from the masthead, Chief of Sinners and Least of Saints. And all around a forest of masts, "a multitude which no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues."
It is great in its foundations. The chief requisite in constructing a sea-wall is to get a foundation which can stand unmoved amid the heaviest seas. The shifting sand must be pierced down to the granite rock. But this harbor has foundations mighty enough to inspire strong consolation in those who have fled to it for refuge; the promise, and as if that were not enough, the oath, of God (Heb. 6:17-18). Hark, how the storm of judgment is rising out there at sea! "If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?" Fear not! there is no room for alarm. The waves may wash off some mussel-shells, or tear away the green sea-lichen which has incrusted the moldings on the walls; but it would be easier to dig out the everlasting hills from their base than make one stone in those foundations start.
It was great in its cost. By the tubular bridge over the Menai Straits stands a column, which records the names of those who perished during the construction of that great triumph of engineering skill. Nothing is said of the money spent, only of the lives sacrificed. And so, beside the harbor of our salvation, near to its mouth, so as to be read by every ship entering its enclosure, rises another column, with this as its inscription: "Sacred to the memory of the Son of God, who gave his life a sacrifice for the sin of the world." It seems an easy thing to be saved: "Look unto me, and be ye saved." But we do not always remember how much happened before it became so easy-the agony and bloody sweat; the cross and passion; the precious death and burial.
It has been great in its announcement. The Jews thought much of their Law, because of the majesty of its proclamation. Spoken from the inaccessible cliffs of Sinai, with its beetling crags, its red sandstone peaks bathed in fire; while thunders and lightnings, thick clouds and trumpet-notes, were the sublime accessories of the scene. It was the authorized belief also that the Law was given through angels (Deut. 33:2, Acts 7:53, Gal. 3:19, Heb. 2:2). And the thought that these strong and sinless beings were the medium of the Almighty's will served, in the eyes of all devout Hebrews, to enhance the sanctity and glory of the Law. Compared with this, how simple the accessories of the words of Jesus! Spoken in sweet and gentle tones, falling as the soft showers on the tender grass, and distilling quietly as the dew; not frightening the most sinful, nor startling little babes, they stole as the melody from silver bells, borne on a summer wind into the ears of men. The boat or hill-slope his pulpit; the poor his audience; the common incidents of nature or life his text.
But in reality there was a vast difference. The announcement of the Law was by angels. The announcement of the Gospel was by the Son. If the one were august, what must not the other have been! If the one were made sure by the most tremendous sanctions, what should not be said of the other! Proclaimed by the Lord; confirmed by Apostles and eye-witnesses; testified to by the Almighty himself, in signs and wonders, and gifts of the Holy Ghost how dare we treat it with contumely or neglect? Or, if we do, shall not our penalty be in proportion to the magnitude of our offense? "If the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them."
It will be great in its penalties. The tendency of our age is to minimize God's righteous judgment on sin. It seems to be prevalently thought that, because our dispensation is one of love and mercy, therefore there is the less need to dread the results of sin. But the inspired writer here argues in a precisely contrary sense. Just because this age is one of such tender mercy, therefore sins against its King are more deadly, and the penalties heavier. In the old days no transgression, positive, and no disobedience, negative, escaped its just recompense of reward; and in these days there is even less likelihood of their doing so. The word spoken by the Son is even more steadfast (i.e., effective to secure the infliction of the punishment it announces) than the word of angels. My readers, beware! "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God!" (see notes Hebrews 10:28; 29)
II. THE DANGER TO WHICH WE ARE MOST EXPOSED
"Lest haply we drift away" -
For every one that definitely turns his back on Christ, there are hundreds who drift from him. Life's ocean is full of currents, any one of which will sweep us past the harbor-mouth even when we seem nearest to it, and carry us far out to sea.
It is the drift that ruins men. The drift of the religious world. The drift of old habits and associations; which, in the case of these Hebrew Christians, was setting so strongly toward Judaism, bearing them back to the religious system from which they had come out. The drift of one's own evil nature, always chafing to bear us from God to that which is earthly and sensuous. The drift of the pressure of temptation.
The young man coming from a pious home does not distinctly and deliberately say, "I renounce my father's God." But he finds himself in a set of business associates who have no care for religion; and, after a brief struggle, he relaxes his efforts and begins to drift, until the coastline of heaven recedes so far into the dim distance that he is doubtful if he ever really saw it.
The business man who now shamelessly follows the lowest maxims of his trade was once upright and high-minded. He would have blushed to think it possible for such things to be done by him. But he began by yielding in very trivial points to the strong pressure of competition; and when once he had allowed himself to be caught by the tide, it bore him far beyond his first intention.
The professing Christian who now scarcely pretends to open the Bible or pray came to so terrible a position, not at a single leap, but by yielding to the pressure of the constant waywardness of the old nature, and thus drifted into an arctic region, where he is likely to perish, benumbed and frozen, unless rescued, and launched on the warm gulf-stream of the love of God. It is so easy, and so much pleasanter, to drift. Just to lie back, and renounce effort, and let yourself go whither the waters will, as they break musically on the sides of the rocking boat. But, ah, how ineffable the remorse, how disastrous the result! Are you drifting? You can easily tell. Are you conscious of effort, of daily, hourly resistance to the stream around you, and within? Do the things of God and heaven loom more clearly on your vision? Do the waters foam angrily at your prow as you force your way through them? If so, rejoice! but remember that only divine strength can suffice to maintain the conflict, and keep the boat's head against the stream. If not, you are drifting. Hail the strong Son of God! Ask him to come on board, and stay you, and bring you into port.
"How shall we escape, if we neglect?" - He 2:3-note
The sailor who refuses lifeboat and harbor does not escape. The self-murderer who tears the bandages from his wounds does not escape. The physician who ridicules ordinary precautions against plague does not escape. "How then shall we escape?" Did the Israelite escape who refused to sprinkle the blood upon the doorposts of his house? Did the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath-day escape, although he might have pleaded that it was the first offense? Did the prince who had taken the Moabitess to wife escape, though he bore a high rank? Did Moses and Aaron escape, though they were the leaders of the people? No! None of these escaped. "Every transgression and disobedience received its just recompense of reward." "How then shall we escape?" Is it likely that we should escape? We have neglected the only Name given under heaven among men by which we can be saved. We have added contumely to neglect in refusing that which it has cost God so much to give. We have flouted his only Son, our Lord; and our disrespect to him cannot be a small crime in the eye of the Infinite Father. "How shall we escape?" No, if you neglect (and notice, that to neglect is to reject), there is no escape. You shall not escape the storms of sorrow, of temptation, or of the righteous judgment of God. You shall not escape the deserved and necessary punishment of your sins. You shall not escape the worm which never dies, nor the fire which is never quenched. Out there, shelterless amid the rage of the sea; or yonder, driven to pieces on the rocks: you shall be wrecked, and go down with all hands on board, never sighted by the heavenly watchers, nor welcomed into the harbor of the saints' everlasting rest.
As Christ emerged from the cross and the grave, where he had purged our sins, it seemed as if words were addressed to him which David had caught ages before: "The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool" (He 2:13-note; Psalm 110:1). This is the interpretation which the Apostle Peter, in the flush of Pentecostal inspiration, put upon these words (Acts 2:34). And, accordingly, we are told, "He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God " (Mark 16:19). "He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (He 2:3-note).
"He sat down." Love is regnant. The Lamb is in the midst of the Throne. Behold his majesty, and worship him with angels and archangels, and all the throng of the redeemed. Prostrate yourself at his feet, consecrating to him all you are and all you have. Comfort yourself also by remembering that he would not sit to rest from his labors in redemption, and in the purging away of sins, unless they were so completely finished that there was nothing more to do. It is all accomplished; and it is all very good. He has ceased from his works, because they are done; and therefore he is entered into his rest. And that word "until" is full of hope. God speaks it, and encourages us to expect the time when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power; and when death itself, the last enemy, shall be destroyed (1Co 15:24, 25, 26).
W M Taylor on Drifting…
The influences against which we are warned by the words of my text are those of currents which are flowing just where we are, and which may operate so insidiously that we may not know of their effect until, perhaps, it is too late to resist their power. Of these currents I will specify three.
I. Take first the age current, or what a recent essayist, borrowing from the German, has called the "time-spirit."
Every epoch has its own special tendency. These vagaries will pass away, even as the fleecy clouds remove from the summit of Mont Blanc; but Christ abides, like the grand old mountain, with its majestic mantle of stainless and eternal white. Hear Him, therefore. Hear Him, and keep fast hold of His sayings; so shall ye partake of His stability.
II. The second current to which I would refer is that of the place in which we dwell.
Every city has its own peculiar influence. I do not hesitate to say that it is a less difficult matter to be an earnest Christian in some cities than it is in others. But the principles of the Gospel are not shifted by the tendencies of any place; and when we measure ourselves by them we may always discover how it is with us. Let us not take it for granted that because we are making some effort in the right direction, therefore we must be going forward. These efforts may not be enough to neutralise the forces of the current, and we may be drifting backward after all.
III. There is, thirdly, the personal drift—the drift in each of us individually.
Let us not be self-confident here, or imagine that there is no fear of us. That imagination is itself the beginning of the personal drift. Distrust yourself, therefore, and trust only and always in the Lord. Anchor on to Christ; that is the sure preventive of all such drifting as I have been seeking to expose. (W. M. Taylor, Christian World)
FOR IF THE WORD WAS SPOKEN THROUGH ANGELS: ei gar o di aggelon laletheis (APPMSN) logos: (Deuteronomy 32:2; Psalms 68:17; Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19)
Spurgeon - They could not trifle with the angels' message without receiving just punishment from God. Much less, then, can we trifle with Christ's gospel. We have not an angelic saviour; but God Himself, in the person of His Son, has deigned to be the Mediator of the new covenant. Therefore, let us see to it that we do not trifle with these things. See, brethren, the punishment for disobeying the word spoken by angels was death; what, then, must be the penalty of neglecting the great salvation wrought by the Divine Redeemer himself? He who does not give earnest heed to the gospel treats with disdain the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will have to answer for that sin when the King shall sit upon the throne of judgment. Trifle not, therefore, with that salvation which cost Christ so much, and which he himself brings to you with bleeding hands. And, oh! if you have hitherto trifled with it, and let it slip, may you now, be brought to a better mind, lest haply, despising Christ, the “just recompence of reward” should come upon you. And what will that be? I know of no punishment that can be too severe for the man who treats with contempt the Son of God, and tramples on his blood; and every individual who hears the gospel, and yet does not receive Christ as his Savior, is committing that atrocious crime.
If (1487) (ei) is referred to as a condition of first class, which means that what follows is assumed as true. The word spoken through angels did in fact did prove unalterable. If you broke that law, that law broke you. If a person in the Old Testament committed adultery, worshiped false gods, or blasphemed God, he was stoned. The law was inviolable and punishment for breaking it was sure and certain. The law punished every sin. And that punishment was fair. (just recompense).
Wuest - The Greek word “if” represents a fulfilled condition, not an hypothetical case. The idea is, “in view of the fact that.”
Pentecost explains that…
Through angels -- stresses the important truth that the law did not originate from the angels but from God. As shown below both Stephen and Paul indicate that the Law was ordained by angels.
Stephen… speaking to a Jewish audience says that it was…
In Deuteronomy we read…
Josephus, the Jewish historian, wrote that "And for ourselves, we have learned from God the most excellent of our doctrines, and the most holy part of our law, by angels or ambassadors; for this name brings God to the knowledge of mankind, and is sufficient to reconcile enemies one to another.
Lest we become too embroiled in a discussion of the relationship of the angels and the law, remember that the writer's main concern in this section is for those who have heard the gospel and neglect the great salvation it offers. Those who hear the news of this great salvation and show little concern, care or interest in it (even making light of it) are in grave danger of drifting away from it. Practically speaking, we all know those who have heard and heard and heard and yet showed little regard for the gospel. The writer would seem to imply that they are in danger of drifting like these Hebrew hearers.
Wuest - The word spoken by angels is the First Testament (Acts 7:38, 53). The agency of angels shows the limits of the dispensation of law. The setting aside of the First Testament, means the abolition of man’s subordination to angels. Such subordination is inconsistent with man’s ultimate destiny to sovereignty over all creation. The word spoken by angels was steadfast, proved sure, proved inviolable, held good.
PROVED UNALTERABLE: egeneto (3SAMI) bebaios:
William Barclay has an interesting rendering:
Unalterable (949) (bebaios from baino = fit to tread on = having a firm foundation) means sure, fixed, standing firm on the feet, steadfast, maintaining firmness or solidity. This word connotes validity, in the present context indicates the confirming evidence of the divine word, thus adopting the technical sense that the bebaios had acquired in the secular legal sphere. In classical Greek from the 5th cent. B.C. bebaios acquires the meaning of firm, durable, unshakeable, sure, reliable, certain. Bebaios describes that which is dependable. In practice, though not originally, bebaios is close to pistos (4103) (trustworthy, dependable, reliable, faithful).
Bebaios is used in secular Greek in a technical sense for a legal guarantee, obtained by the buyer from the seller, to be gone back upon should a third party claim the thing! Thus in classic Greek bebaios described a warranty deed somewhat like a guarantee one might have today on an automobile or similar product.
It is worth noting that the most frequent usage of bebaios is in the epistle to the Hebrews (click for the five uses) considering the fact that some of the Jewish readers were teetering on going back to Judaism and needed a firm foundation.
The word spoken through angels is beyond doubt. It is guaranteed. It has been made firm and reliable so as to warrant security and inspire confidence.
The word of God is firm within itself and provides a foundation upon which one may build his present and his future. Even better than Triple AAA bonds in the investment world. A sure word that is reliable and in which we can confidently place our trust. In the context the Word warns of just recompense by God which is sure to come to pass. So don't drift!!! Don't neglect His Word spoken thru His Son!!! The one who does so will not escape… What? Wrath of God.
Albert Barnes says that bebaios here means that
EVERY TRANSGRESSION: pasa parabasis: (He 10:28; Ex 32:27,28; Lev 10:1,2; 24:14, 15, 16; Nu 11:33; 14:28-37; Nu 15:30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36; 16:31, 32, 33, 34, 35,49; 20:11,12; 21:6; 25:9; Dt 4:3,4; 17:2,5,12; Dt 27:26; 1Co 10:5-12; Jude 1:5)
Transgression (3847) (parabasis [word study] from para = beside + baino = step) literally describes a going aside, a stepping over the line and is used metaphorically to denote transgression or violation of a divine law. It refers to the crossing of a line which has been clearly drawn and therefore reflects willful breaking of laws. It is an overt sin of commission or of intentionally doing something one knows is wrong. There is a line drawn by knowledge and by conscience, so to speak, and one intentionally steps across this line, thus willfully committing sin. The Law of God does not make men sinners, but their stepping over that "line" does make them transgressors. They are already sinners because they are born "in Adam" and thus inherit their sin nature from their spiritual "father" Adam (Ro 5:12).
Jamieson explains that "transgression--by doing evil; literally, overstepping its bounds: a positive violation of it." "disobedience--by neglecting to do good: a negative violation of it"
AND DISOBEDIENCE: kai parakoe:
Disobedience (3876) (parakoe from para = beside + akouo = hear) is literally "hearing aside" and was originally used of flawed hearing, then what might be called half–hearted listening, and finally the attitude of purposefully filtering out what the hearer did not want to hear. It is about closing one’s ears to God’s voice and as such describes an active disobedience which follows this inattentive or careless hearing.
William Barclay explains that parakoe "begins by meaning imperfect hearing, as, for instance, of a deaf man. Then it goes on to mean careless hearing, the kind which through inattention either misunderstands or fails to catch what has been said. It ends by meaning unwillingness to hear, and therefore disobedience to the voice of God. It is the deliberate shutting of the ears to the commands and warnings and invitations of God."
The root word parakouo means to neglect to hear, disregard, be disobedient (Mt 18:17). In the OT disobedience is frequently described as a refusing to hear (Jer 11:10, 35:17, Acts 7:57) Carelessness in attitude is the precursor of a disobedient act. (Ex 15:26; 19:5,8; Ex 23:22 these preceding verses emphasize positive "just recompense" Josh 1:18; Isa 28:12; 30:9; Jer 32:28; 35:16)
Vincent adds that parakoe is found "only in Paul and Hebrews, is a disobedience which results from neglecting to hear; from letting things drift by. It is noticeable how often in OT obedience is described as hearing, and disobedience as refusing to hear
DISOBEDIENCE is a sin of neglect, of omission-doing nothing when we should do something.
TRANSGRESSION is a sin of commission and is active sin,
Disobedience is passive sin, but both are willful and both are serious.
RECEIVED A JUST RECOMPENSE (PENALTY): elaben (2SAAI) endikon misthapodosian: (He 10:35; 11:6,26)
Just (1738) (endikos from en = in + dike = judgment, punish, vengeance) means in the right, equitable: just; that which conforms to right.
The only other use of endikos is by Paul in Romans 3…
B F Westcott observes that "The necessity of heedful care is grounded on the certainty of retribution. This certainty is proportional to the authority of the revelation. (Westcott, B F: The Epistle to the Hebrews)
God is often accused of being unjust when His punishment seems to us to be out of proportion to the wrong committed. But God, by His very nature, cannot be unjust. Under the Old Covenant He punished severely those who were determined to live without Him and to defy Him. He removed them from among His people for the sake of those who were pure and holy and wanted to live for Him. His judgment on the people of Israel was severe because they knew better. Remember that punishment is always related to light. The more light we have, the more severe our punishment. Jesus made this principle very clear when He reproached Chorazin (about 2.5 miles north of Capernaum), Bethsaida and Capernaum, all cities that had been greatly exposed to the light of His presence, His teaching, His miracles and yet had refused to believe (see Mt 11:20,21, 22, 23, 24, cf Jeremiah's charge in Jer 6:16). Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum had been exposed not only to the light of the Old Testament, but to the very light of the World, the Messiah Himself (Jn 8:12, 9:5, 12:46, Jn 1:4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, Jn 3:19, 20, 21, cf Isa 9:2, Mal 4:2, 2Ti 1:10-note). The more truth about God that you know, the greater will be the punishment for not obeying what you know. Jesus instructed the disciples to note that…
In short Jesus is teaching that there are degrees of punishment in hell -- the greater the light, the greater the accountability. The writer of Hebrews reiterates this truth with a similar warning in Hebrews 10…
The person who knows and understands and believes the gospel, but drifts away from it, will experience the severest punishment there is. So in this context the writer presents the "seeker unfriendly" message concerning the greater the judgment for hearers who do not become (by grace through faith) doers of the word, truth which should serve as a powerful motivation for accepting Christ.
Recompense (or penalty) (3405) (misthapodosia [word study] from misthos = reward, wages, pay + apodidomi = render, give back) describes a recompense or retribution (the dispensing or receiving of reward or punishment). So in context the writer is saying there will be a payment of wages where the "work" here refers to transgression and disobedience (cf Ro 6:23 - wages of sin = death).
The only other uses of misthapodosia are also in Hebrews…
Notice that these other two uses speak of the work of obedience and thus the wages of faithfulness which are reward in heaven. In sum, it costs to disobey but it pays to obey and both have temporal and eternal consequences.
G. Campbell Morgan writes that "The "therefore" ("for this reason") of these words carries us back to the arguments of the previous chapter, and on to those of this chapter. The Hebrew people maintained, and rightly, that their whole religious and national economy had been ministered by angels. The writer agreed, but proceeded to show the superiority of the Son of God to the angels, and the consequently greater authority of the speech of the Son, to that of the word spoken by angels. That superiority being granted, it follows irresistibly that we should give the more earnest heed to what He has to say. The conclusion is so self-evident that we are almost inclined to wonder that there was any need for so solemn a warning. We shall find an answer to that wonder in the writer's description of the peril, and in the contrast which he makes between the word of angels and the message of the Son. Note this contrast first. The word spoken by angels was steadfast, and disobedience brought a just recompense. The word of angels was the word of law, stern, inflexible. The message of the Son is that which can be summarized in one word, "Salvation." It is the word of grace, compassionate, unfailing. That in itself is one reason why the foolish heart of men may fail to give earnest heed to it. Then again the peril is that of drifting. The figure is that of a boat, which caught by unseen currents, may be carried out of its course. This is so easy a thing to do. But it ought not to be. The message of Salvation, spoken by the Son, should make an even stronger appeal than that of law uttered by angels." (Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible) (Bolding added)
I read recently that the Tour de France bicycle champion, Lance Armstrong, and his wife are divorcing. The article stated that at this point, he does not have another woman in his life. Rather, his many hours spent pursuing his bicycle career have left no time for his marriage.
I would predict that 25 years from now, Armstrong will look back at his life and say, “I was a fool to sacrifice my family for my sport!” But at this point, the fame and fortune are blinding him to the more satisfying value of a lasting, loving marriage relationship.
It’s easy in life to get caught up in matters that seem very important at the time, but in the light of eternity will shrink into oblivion. Because we all have only so many hours in our day, our focus on these seemingly important matters also means that we neglect matters that are huge in light of eternity. When these things nag at our consciences, as invariably they do, we justify our current priorities by saying, “Someday I will attend to these eternally important matters, but right now, I’m too busy.” But such procrastination can be eternally fatal!
The one sure fact of human existence is death. As George Bernard Shaw observed, “The statistics on death are quite impressive: one out of one people die!” Since we all have to face death, you would think that we all would live in view of eternity, but we don’t. Other pressing matters come up to divert our attention: “I’ve got to get through school.” “I’ve got to get established in my career.” “I’ve got to get the kids raised, and then I’ll have some time.” Many of these pressing matters are good and important, but they easily can crowd out the most important thing. As a result, even we who know the truth of the gospel are always in danger of drifting spiritually.
The author of Hebrews has spent the first chapter extolling the supremacy of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has not mentioned a word of application or exhortation to this point.
But now, as a concerned pastor, he pauses in his argument to apply what he has written. Our text is the first of five warning sections in this letter. These warnings are addressed to professing Christians who were in the church. By using the first person plural pronoun, “we,” the author identifies himself with his readers. He faced the same temptations that they faced. He was not in an ivory tower, exempt from these pitfalls. Like every faithful pastor, he was exhorting himself first, even as he exhorted his congregation.
The danger that he was confronting was this: You are either drifting with regard to your salvation because of neglect, or you are growing because of deliberate effort and attention. But nobody grows by accident.
Since we have encountered such a great salvation, we must be careful not to drift away from it.
There are three main points:
1. The salvation Christ offers is indescribably great.
He calls it “so great a salvation” (He 2:3). He gives us four reasons that this salvation is indescribably great.
A. Salvation is great because it is the one thing that every person needs more than anything else.
In church circles we toss around the word “salvation” so of-ten that it loses its true meaning. But verse 3 contains another word to alert us to the significance of the concept: “escape.” “How shall we escape…?” An escape points to a situation of great peril. You don’t need to be saved unless you are in grave danger of perishing. Our soldiers in Iraq rescued Jessica Lynch from hostile enemies. They saved her so that she escaped further torture and perhaps death.
Outside of Jesus Christ, every sinner (that is, every person, since all have sinned) is under God’s just condemnation. Breaking God’s holy law incurs a just penalty (He 2:2), namely, eternal separation from God in hell. “The wages of sin is death” (Ro 6:23). God’s wrath abides on the one who does not obey Jesus Christ (John 3:36). As Jonathan Edwards pictured it in his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” every sinner is like a spider dangling by a thread over a fire. Only God’s mercy keeps us from falling into the eternal flames.
Salvation does not mean, as one popular TV preacher put it, “to be changed from a negative to a positive self image” (Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation [Word], p. 68). Salvation does not mean that Jesus helps you fulfill your dreams. Salvation is not about Jesus improving your marriage or giving you peace and joy. God’s salvation isn’t a nice thing to round out your otherwise successful and happy life. Salvation is about Jesus rescuing you from the wrath to come! And since every person is in imminent danger of facing that wrath, salvation is every person’s greatest need!
B. Salvation is great because it comes to us from none other than the Lord Jesus Himself.
“For this reason” (He 2:1) points back to chapter 1, where the author has extolled the supremacy of Jesus, God’s eternal Son. He is God’s final word to us, the heir of all things, and the creator of the universe. He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature. He upholds all things by the word of His power. He made purification for sins and now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high (He 1:2, 3). He is far superior to the angels, who worship and serve Him (He 1:4-14). “For this reason,” because Jesus is the glorious Son of God who went to the cross to secure your purification from sin, your salvation is indescribably great.
As I said, there is not a word of application in chapter 1. Rather, chapter 1 sets forth the doctrine of the exalted Person of Jesus Christ in relation to the Father and to the angels. It is only after the author has set forth this doctrine that he gives this first exhortation. Sound doctrine must always be the foundation for practical application.
And yet we live in a day when many pastors
I’ve heard things like, “Doctrine is divisive.” Or, “People don’t need theology or biblical content. They need to know how to get along in their marriages and how to deal with life’s problems.” So pastors are giving sermons (if you could even call them that!) that are devoid of doctrine. Frankly, many such sermons could easily appear in Readers Digest without much modification!
But our author wants us to see the connection between the great doctrines about Christ in chapter 1 and his exhortation here:
“For this reason…” (He 2:1). Our salvation is indescribably great be-cause it comes to us from none other than the eternal Son of God who left the Majesty on high to become the sacrifice for our sins. He announced this good news during His earthly ministry (He 2:3). His teaching shows us the way to be reconciled to God. Having offered Himself for our sins and rising from the dead, He is now back at the right hand of God, awaiting the time when His enemies become His footstool (He 1:13). How can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation!
C. Salvation is great because eyewitnesses confirmed it as true.
Salvation is only great if it is true. If it’s just someone’s fanciful idea, with no factual basis, it may be nice, but it certainly isn’t worth suffering the loss of your property or shedding your blood for (He 10:34; 12:4). This great salvation was not only “at the first spoken through the Lord,” but also “it was confirmed to us by those who heard” (He 2:3). That statement seems to place the author, along with his readers, in the category of those who did not hear the gospel directly from Jesus Christ, which would exclude Paul from being the author. Those who hold to Pauline authorship say that this is just an editorial “us.” But whoever he was, the point is the gospel that Jesus proclaimed comes to us from those who directly witnessed His earthly ministry.
The gospel is not the best ideas of a bunch of religious philosophers speculating about how they think we can be reconciled to God. The gospel is a matter of revelation and historical fact. Jesus really lived. His teaching and miracles are truthfully recorded in the gospels. He died on the cross and was raised physically from the grave before He ascended bodily into heaven. Many eyewitnesses saw these things and recorded them for us. If they were fictional stories, those in that day who read these accounts would have laughed the apostles out of town. But rather, these witnesses held to the truth about Jesus, even when cost them their lives.
D. Salvation is great because God Himself confirmed the message by miracles through the apostles.
God testifies through these witnesses “by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His will” (He 2:4). He is referring to the miracles performed mostly by the apostles as recorded in the Book of Acts. The terms, “signs, wonders, and miracles” are basically synonymous, but have different nuances. Signs point to the fact that miracles have spiritual significance. When a lame man is healed or a dead man is raised, it points to something beyond the bare fact. These are pictures of how God powerfully acts to save souls. Wonders emphasize the human response of awe and amazement when we witness God doing the humanly impossible. Various (= “manifold” or “many-colored”) miracles (= Greek, dunamis [word study]) focus on God’s power displayed in numerous ways.
Gifts [lit., distributions] of the Holy Spirit are given “according to His will.” This emphasizes God’s sovereignty in bestowing spiritual gifts as He sees fit for His purposes (1Co 12:11). As Paul ex-plains in 1 Corinthians 12, not everyone has the same gifts, but as in the human body, so in the body of Christ each member has a vital function for the overall health of the body.
Many claim that the church should receive and exercise the miraculous gifts (miracles, healings, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, word of knowledge, and prophecy) to the same extent as the early church did. Others argue that such gifts entirely ceased with the close of the New Testament canon. It seems to me that those who emphasize such gifts overlook God’s purpose for them. He gave these gifts to confirm the gospel. If you study miracles in the Bible, you will find that they are not uniformly distributed. They occur in clusters at critical times in history.
It would seem that these gifts had diminished by the time He-brews was written. Otherwise the author would not have referred to the miracles done by the apostles. Rather he would have called attention to the ongoing phenomena in their midst, which would have strengthened his point. Even in Paul’s ministry, there seems to be a chronological tapering off of such miracles. In Acts 19, even handkerchiefs carried from Paul to those who were sick brought healing. But at the end of his life, he didn’t tell Timothy to claim healing for his stomach problems by faith, or to wait until the handkerchief arrived. He told him to drink a little wine (in modern terms, “take your medicine”; 1Ti 5:23). Paul didn’t heal Trophimus, but left him sick at Miletus (2Ti 4:20).
So it would seem that these miraculous gifts are not God’s normal way of operating in this era. But we should not restrict His ability to perform miracles if it is His sovereign will. With regard to speaking in tongues, Scripture clearly teaches that the genuine gift is miraculously speaking in an unlearned foreign language. It definitely is not jabbering in nonsense syllables! That fact alone eliminates about 99 percent of what goes under the guise of speaking in tongues in our day. Paul gives a number of other guidelines that should govern the practice of this gift, but which most charismatic churches ignore (1Co 14:27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34).
To sum up the first point: because every person desperately needs salvation, because it comes to us from none other than God’s exalted Son, because it was confirmed to us as true from those who were with Jesus, and because God confirmed their testimony through miracles, it is indescribably great.
2. Because God’s salvation is so great, the consequences of neglecting it are terrible.
The author does not specify here what we would face if we neglect this salvation. But all we have to do is read ahead (He 10:27), where he gets more graphic: If we don’t escape, we face “a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (see also He 12:25, 26, 27, 28, 29). Some may be thinking, “How can these frightening warnings apply to Christians? Aren’t believers eternally secure?”
One of the mistaken ideas that the author of Hebrews con-fronts in this and in every other warning section is what we could call “the myth of the carnal Christian.” This idea was popularized by Lewis Sperry Chafer’s He That is Spiritual [Dunham] and by the Schofield Reference Bible (note on 1Co 2:14) early in the 20th century. It was later picked up by Campus Crusade’s booklet, “How to Be Filled With the Holy Spirit.” The idea is that there are three classes of people: the natural man (unbeliever); the spiritual man (the Spirit-filled believer); and, the carnal man (the believer who is running his own life, not subject to the Holy Spirit). For the sake of time, I cannot go into many of the problems with this classification (see Ernest Reisinger’s booklet, “What Should We Think of the Carnal Christian?” [Banner of Truth]).
But one problem is that it gives false assurance to the person who says, “I believe in Jesus as my Savior, so I am going to heaven. But I am not submitting to Him as my Lord.” For the author of Hebrews, either you are holding fast to your confession of faith in Christ and are striving against sin, or you are drifting spiritually and are in danger of frightening judgment. Those are the only options.
True believers may drift and may get entangled in sin. But when they are confronted with the truth, they will turn from their sin and pursue holiness. If they do not turn from it, they have no basis for assurance of salvation. The longer they continue in sin, the more reason they have to question whether their profession of faith was genuine. But no one has the option of saying, “I’m just a carnal Christian. I’m living for this world now, but when I die I’ll go to heaven.” That option does not exist.
The author sets forth the consequences of neglecting salvation by contrasting the Law with the gospel.
A. The Law imposed some frightening penalties for disobedience.
“The word spoken by angels” refers to the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Old Testament does not state directly that angels gave the Law to Moses, but it implies such (Deut. 33:2; Ps. 68:17) and the New Testament confirms it (Acts 7:38, 53; Gal. 3:19). That Law imposed frightening penalties for sin. Any defiant disobedience was punished by stoning to death (Nu 15:30, 32-36; Josh. 7:1-26). Sometimes God sent punishment directly from heaven, such as when the ground opened and swallowed up Korah and his fellow rebels (Num. 16), or when God sent plagues among the people (Nu 16:46, 47, 48, 49, 50; 21:6, 7, 8, 9; 25:8,9). In these judgments, God was not being cruel; He was acting in justice (Heb. 2:2).
B. The neglect of the gospel will bring far worse consequences.
The argument is from the lesser to the greater. Greater revelation imposes greater responsibility. If the Jews under the Law were punished for their disobedience, how much more will we come under God’s judgment if we associate with God’s people, but turn our backs on the great salvation that is offered through the death of God’s own Son? That is his argument and appeal.
We err if we think that the demands of the gospel are less ex-acting than those of the Law. We also err if we think that grace means that we can be sloppy about God’s standards of holiness and He just shrugs His shoulders. That is a dangerously wrong way to think! As the author states (He 10:29), “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” To drift away from the gospel after you’ve been exposed to it is to turn away from God Himself, who sent His Son so that we could have His gift of salvation. You don’t want to do that!
3. In spite of the greatness of God’s salvation, we all are in danger of drifting away from it.
As I said, the author uses “we” to include himself as vulnerable. The immediate cause of the Hebrews’ drifting was that they were facing trials and the threat of persecution. Whenever we are there, we need to be on guard. We are then most in danger of drifting. But even at other times, drifting is easy because all it re-quires is neglect.
A. The cause of drifting is neglect.
Usually drifting is inadvertent. If you’ve ever steered a boat, you know that if you do not deliberately keep it on course, you will drift with the currents. The stronger the current, the more you have to give constant attention to keep the boat on course. Since we live in the strong current of this evil world, we all are prone to drift with the culture.
It does not take active rebellion or defiance against God to go to hell. Simple neglect of salvation while you attend to other things will do the trick nicely. The Greek word “pay attention” (He 2:1) is used in the parable Jesus told about the king who invited guests to his son’s wedding party: “they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business” (Matt. 22:5). There’s nothing inherently sinful about farms and businesses-unless they cause you to neglect the king’s invitation! Someone put it this way: “What must I do to be lost? Nothing!” Just drift through life, paying attention to other things.
B. The antidote to drifting is paying attention.
“We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard” (He 2:1). If you attend a church where God’s great salvation is pro-claimed from week to week, pay attention to the message! Don’t tune it out and think about what you’re going to do with your week. Don’t yawn and think, “I wish the would be more interesting.” Pay attention to this great salvation!
Start with the basics: Are you giving deliberate effort to seeking God and His salvation? How much attention have you given to understand the gospel? Do you pore over Scripture as you would read a will if you thought a rich relative had left you an inheritance? Do you read and study God’s Word as His treasure entrusted to your soul? Is spending time alone with God in His Word and prayer a priority in your schedule?
How much effort do you put into such a great salvation? Do you set some spiritual goals to help you grow? Do you look for solid books to read that will help you know God better? Do you listen to sermons from godly men that help you become more godly? Do you cut out of your life anything that would divert you from such a great salvation?
It’s wonderful to fall in love and get married. I highly recommend the experience! But marriage is a relationship and relation-ships take time and effort to maintain. I don’t care how deeply you were in love when you got married, if you neglect your marriage and devote your attention to other things, your marriage will fail. Marriage is a wonderful gift from God and is worth the time and effort it takes to maintain and deepen that relationship.
But salvation is a far greater gift than marriage, because it has to do with our eternal destiny! Don’t let it drift! Don’t neglect it! Don’t get distracted with other things, even with good things! Be-cause our salvation is so great, we must pay closer attention to it, so that we don’t drift away from it. You are either drifting with regard to your salvation because of neglect, or you are growing because of deliberate effort and attention. Which is it for you?
What are some practical ways to keep the greatness of salvation before you at all times?
Agree/disagree: A professing Christian who is in sin has no basis for assurance of salvation.
Should we seek the miraculous sign gifts in our day? Give biblical support for your answer.
Some teach that the Christian life does not involve our effort. Does this view reflect the biblical balance? Why/why not?