Neglect and Unbelief and Their Remedy
By Matt Wireman
As promised, here are some of the notes I mentioned I would give from my sermon as we continue to think about Hebrews warnings to us as Christians to press into knowing and loving Jesus. If you missed it or want to hear it again, please check it out at SoundCloud I have heard from a number of you that it was helpful in recalibrating your hearts and eyes to be fixed on Jesus and not on your circumstances. I do pray we as a church take these warnings seriously—never presuming that we are not at risk of neglecting our faith or not believing God in the midst of all he is doing.
Six Ways We Neglect Our Faith
First. We often don’t do it deliberately. We don’t set out to disobey. Sure, sometimes we do. We know what we ought to do and deliberately choose. But the risk we all have in the Christian life, which is an odyssey, is to have our hearts stolen away from us. To have our eyes shifted away from what is true and right. We slowly train our hearts with our eyes, our minds, our thoughts. Over time we are conformed into the image of what has our heart.
Second. Instead of taking ownership of our lives and the call to follow, we look around us and think that much of life happens to us. We are the passive recipients. We need to take an active role in our faith. It can’t be a faith of yesterday or from college or from when you were a child. It has to be Today. Set the oars. Set the anchor!
Third. We focus on the wrong things. Whereas we saw last week the original hearers were at risk of focusing on angels and religious symbols, we too can put a lot of stock in spiritual things and coincidences. Eyes diverted from NorthStar.
Fourth. We presume that we are not at risk. How many stories have we heard of someone who simply stopped going to church and stopped hanging out with their friends and who we saw just last week and they’re not the same anymore?
Fifth. We think we’ve arrived. We probably would never say this out loud, but we can begin to think that we know. Parenting: Check. Bible reading: check. Theology: Check. This often comes out in our conversation as complaining or criticizing. “I can’t believe they’re doing that. Why did they choose that curriculum? I can’t believe the teacher said that! That outreach idea is dumb. If they do that, that’s a deal breaker!” Instead of listening and coming from a place of humility, we slowly begin to think that we have the answers. Our pride fuels our assumptions and our vision of the world.
Sixth. We look outside of or depend on something other than God’s Word. The Christian publishing world is ripe with books on any subject. Of course these books can be helpful. I’m reading one now. But the problem creeps in when instead of finding delight and joy and peace in God’s Word spoken to us. The Creator of the World has given us his Word!
Three Characteristics of Unbelief
1. Very similar to Neglect, but different in that unbelief stems from not trusting the One who says the words. If I were to tell you to do or not do something based on my study of nuclear physics, you would rightly question what my conclusion was because I’m not trustworthy when it comes to nuclear physics.
2. We can also harden our hearts by presuming on God’s ways. We often can scoff or get frustrated when things are not the way we think they should be. God ought to give me a husband or wife or child. God ought to help me get that job promotion. God ought to…We let little judgments and presumptions on God to creep in, we drift, and we feel comfortable with it. We get calloused to the fact that we are indicting our Creator with the way he runs the world. We think that the criticisms of life are just the way we are. And if we’re not careful, they will be the way we are. Critics and hard-hearted.
3. We can get hard-hearted when we get used to God’s grace and mercy. For forty years, Israel wandered in the desert. They were fed with Manna from heaven and water from a rock. They were sustained and their shoes did not wear out. God led them in a cloud and a pillar. They saw God talking with Moses. And instead of inspiring awe, they got used to them. // No less with us who have heard and tasted the definitive Word of God. We can hear the Word preached. See the Word offered to us at the Table. Receive the Benediction. And simply.Get. Used. To it. // One way to combat this is to simply slow down and reflect on what is happening. We can get caught up in what’s next, when God is saying: Do not worry about tomorrow. Today. Today. Today if you hear his voice.
But what’s the solution Hebrews offers us for both Neglect and Unbelief? Yes, Jesus is the answer. BUT In our passage, what’s the remedy? It’s embedded in the warnings. V. 3b-4 Signs. Wonders. Gift distributed by the Holy Spirit. What are these gifts? They are the offices and spiritual gifts to the church that Paul talks about in Ephesians 4. What is the purpose of these gifts that Jesus distributes? Eph 4.12: To Equip until we all become mature.
And then in ch.3.12. What’s the Remedy? V.13: Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called Today. Each time we gather together, we have the opportunity to snatch someone away from neglect, complacency, sadness, depression, unbelief. It doesn’t mean we slap a smile on everyone’s face. When they say, “Man, I’m really struggling!” We don’t say, “Hey man, it’ll get better!” Rather, it would be better to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Rather, “I’m sorry to hear that. Tell me why?” And then, “Do you just need someone to listen or do you want some advice?” // In other words, we are seeking to serve each other rather than presuming we know the right answer.
So many churches are filled with people who are not taking this solution seriously. Walk around a typical foyer in our city and you’ll hear people talking about the latest renovations to their house or football or the weather. It sounds no different than a rotary club or cocktail party! It’s not that these conversations are dumb or unimportant. But when the theme of our conversation never gets to the level of exhorting each other to know and trust and love God, we have missed the boat.
How did Odysseus pass through the waters of temptation of the Sirens? His men tied him to the mast. They secured him fast to the mast of the boat. When he was tempted to jump into the water to be consumed by the Sirens, his men fastened him with more bands.
May we as a church take our responsibility and privilege more seriously. As long as it is called Today. May we Exhort. This is the same word used for the Holy Spirit: The Comforter. The Exhorter. When we speak into each others’ lives, we manifest God’s Spirit to each other to reach the shores of salvation.