Therefore, Lift Your Drooping Hands
3 Consider [Jesus] who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
Hebrews compares the Christian life to running a race, a race God set before us, a race marked by God’s will, a race we must finish to receive the prize. But it’s also a race that requires endurance. The Christian life isn’t a short sprint. It’s a marathon, a marathon with many obstacles. God says run this way, but the world says to run another way. Satan works to deceive you. Enemies persecute. The broken world leaves us undone. Then there’s our own struggle against sin.
Put it all together, and it’s not hard to see, this race is impossible to finish in our own strength. We find ourselves weary, struggling to run, maybe even wanting to quit. God wrote Hebrews for you. It’s written for runners who are weary, and for some who are wayward due to that weariness. Hebrews exists to keep you on course, to strengthen your heart, to keep you enduring the race until the very end.
Four Exhortations Built on Gospel Truth
Today we look at four exhortations [screen]. All four grow from the rich soil of gospel truth he preached in verses 3-11. They aren’t bare commands. Verse 12 begins with “therefore.” The commands stand connected to verses 3-11.
And what did we see there? When we face hardships—no matter how those hardships come—these gospel truths stand firm. To begin, Christ has gone before us. Christ endured hardships far worse than we’ll ever face. If God sustained Christ through his sufferings, he’s able to sustain us when we follow in his steps. Our hardships won’t be too much. God is faithful to sustain his children.
Then also, God the Father disciplines the one he loves. Experiencing hardships in the path of obedience doesn’t mean we’re cut off, that God’s done with us. Rather, hardships come by our Father’s loving design. He uses them to discipline us. They conform us to his holiness. God will grow the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
When facing hardships, that’s good news! “Christ has gone before us. God the Father loves us. I’m not abandoned like an orphan. I’m his child. God’s training me to image his holiness. His aim is a harvest of righteousness in Christ’s kingdom.” Knowing that good news, we can’t help but respond in four ways.
1. Strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees.
Number one, “strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees.” The ESV adds lift, “lift your drooping hands,” to fill out the picture. But there’s only one imperative—strengthen. Drooping hands, weak knees—the image is that of a weary runner. Elsewhere in Scripture, “drooping hands” portray a kind of “helplessness induced by fear.”[i] In light of persecution, maybe that’s here as well. Their hands hadn’t always drooped, their knees weren’t always weak. It happened over time. The struggle against sin, persecution from others—it’s hard. But with the gospel word of verses 3-11, we have every reason to strengthen ourselves.
Perhaps you recognize these words: “strengthen your drooping hands.” They come from Isaiah 35:3. Israel suffers in exile. The Lord’s discipline rests on them heavily. Nations persecute the faithful. Their sins have earned them nothing but a barren wilderness. Then good news comes. God will save. God will judge their persecutors. The Lord’s glory will beautify everything. The land itself will sing. God will transform their wilderness into a flourishing garden. So Isaiah says: “Strengthen the weak hands…make firm the feeble knees.” Meaning, “Yes, exile is painful, it’s barren. But don’t give up. I’m not finished with you. I’m bringing you a new garden-paradise.”
In other words, new creation hope compels their endurance. So also here. Remember verse 11? “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness…” There’s your flourishing garden. God is at work through your hardships; his goal is new creation realities. Does that strengthen you? It’s hard to hang on when suffering feels meaningless. But if that’s his goal, “Wow! All of a sudden, my legs have more strength! My hands can fight a while longer. This race is heading somewhere glorious!”
Are you among those saying, “I don’t know if I can keep going, Lord? If it happens again, I don’t think I can forgive like you want me to. Lord, I don’t see how I’m going to last if my strength is already this far gone. Lord, what you’re asking of me is pushing me to the point of breaking inside.” Are your hands drooping? Knees weak?
Strengthen them with gospel hope. Jesus’ sufferings, the Father’s love, new-creation hope—let them strengthen your soul. Take them in like refreshing cups of Gatorade along the marathon. Only with God, the fluid station goes with you—he is the Living Water. He’s always there to give us what we need. Strengthen yourself—not because you’ve got the wherewithal to finish. Strengthen yourself, knowing that God will give all you need; he’s faithful to you in the race.
Notice this too: past hardships are no excuse for present sluggishness, apathy. When we experience hardship—especially wrongs done to us—we can get stuck in self-pity rather than strengthening our hands. Some of these Christians were victims of ridicule, public shaming, imprisonment. Others had their property plundered, left with nothing. They were victims of unjust treatment. Yet these gospel truths are enough. He doesn’t hesitate telling them to strengthen their hands. We need to use wisdom when to say that to others stuck in the cycle of self-pity. But it needs to be said. If you’re a victim of someone else’s sins, you too need to strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees. Don’t give up. You’re not alone. God is with you. He is able.
2. Make straight paths for your feet.
Second exhortation comes in verse 13: “make straight paths for your feet.” Here’s the purpose: “so that what is lame may not be put out of joint [i.e., dislocated] but rather be healed.” Some of these runners are about to put themselves in a worse state than they’re in currently. Quite likely he has in mind those who are on the verge of apostasy, of rejecting Jesus. Crooked paths have harmed their ability to run. If they continue down crooked paths, it will render them unable to run at all.
So for your protection and your healing God says, “make straight paths for your feet.” That’s from Proverbs 4:26-27—also the Fighter Verse a couple weeks back: “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” Only two paths exist—the straight path of wisdom/uprightness that leads to life, or the crooked path of the fool whose feet go down to death. To make straight paths for your feet means that you do what is right and avoid evil. Then you keep doing right and avoiding evil. It’s a path you walk daily.
What are some ways in Scripture that make someone’s path crooked? In Deuteronomy 32, Israel’s path became crooked when they chased after strange gods, when they made other political powers their hope. Valuing anything more than God will make your path crooked. Also, when you compromise integrity to ensure your political hopes are realized, you’re walking a crooked path.
In Proverbs 2:15, those who are devious in their ways walk a crooked path. In Proverbs 6:12, a crooked path includes the one who winks with his eye, signals with his feet. He’s not a straightforward man. When you sow discord/strife, your path is crooked. In Proverbs 28:6, the crooked path seeks wealth using ungodly means: “better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.” In Micah 3:9, it’s those who detest justice—they build cities with blood; they oppress the poor; they give judgment for a bribe; they say nice religious things for personal gain. Or, Philippians 2:14-15, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation…” When we grumble, we’re acting like a crooked generation.
Crooked paths may be true of those rioting in the streets. Crookedness may characterize our current President as well as those trying to replace him. Crooked paths may surround us all day long at the office. But these things shouldn’t be true of Jesus’ church. We must make straight paths for our feet. We must abide in what is good and right and true. This takes vigilance and relentless integrity. It takes special attention to God’s word and relating it to your values and your practice.
Are there ways your path has grown crooked? Where are you compromising? Maybe you have good ends, but have your means become corrupt? How are you actively renouncing crooked ways? Have godly men or women been telling you to walk this way, but you’ve chosen another path? Watch out. You’re endangering your soul. Allowing your feet to shift toward evil will sooner or later mean you can’t run anymore. Don’t let that happen. Make straight paths, so that what is lame may be healed.
3. Strive for peace with everyone.
Third exhortation. Verse 14, “strive for peace with everyone.” Glance back at verse 11. Notice the goal of the Lord’s discipline: “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” The Lord brings discipline into our lives to produce righteousness that leads to peace.
If there’s one thing we’re all familiar with, it’s a lack of peace. Riots linger. For one injustice comes another. Cities burn. Citizens fight. Marriages fall apart. Children despise parents. Parents are harsh with children. The rage we disapprove in others we soon find in ourselves. It’s obvious: true and lasting peace cannot be found in the world or in ourselves. Peace must come from outside both.
The Bible’s answer is that it comes from God through Jesus Christ. Hebrews 13:20 calls God “the God of peace.” Wherever God rules the result is peace. Peace has less to do with the absence of strife and more to do with the presence of God blessing the world with his perfect rule. In fact, the Old Testament looked forward to a day when such peace would cover the earth. The peace offerings under the Law taught Israel that peace with God is costly. Better blood was needed to solidify peace with God and peace with one another. The prophets foresaw a Prince of Peace. He ruled a kingdom of peace.
Into this context steps Jesus, the embodiment of peace itself. He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” In Hebrews 7:2 he’s the better Melchizedek—not only King of Righteousness, but King of Peace. At the cost of Jesus’ life, God reconciles sinners to himself. The result is that they’re also reconciled to one another in peace. Jesus speaks peace to those who are far, and peace to those who are near. For those united to Jesus, God creates a new humanity now ruled by the Spirit and his word. He calls that new people the church.
But here’s the thing: we’re only a foretaste of the coming peace. The peace is not yet complete, not yet fully realized in our relationships. We must pursue it. Romans 12:18 likewise says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” You’re not responsible to achieve peace with everyone—not everyone will follow Christ; not everyone will obey the truth. But you are responsible to work at it, to strive for it, especially in the church. And notice, you don’t get to choose which people. He says pursue peace with everyone. Not just the people you like. Not just the ones who are more mature. God says everyone in the church!
Why? Because not pursuing peace with everyone would make us living contradictions. We can’t say, “Jesus is Lord! He’s our God! We love his kingdom of peace,” and then treat others contrary to his peace. That’s hypocrisy. Insofar as it depends on you, are you pursuing peace with everyone? Let’s just begin here, because these are the relationships right in front of you. How are you actively striving for peace with fellow believers? If there’s unresolved tension, how are you drawing near to resolve it? Where peace already exists, how are you working to preserve it and cultivate more of it?
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9). We pursue peace because that’s what our heavenly Father is like. He brings various circumstances and people into our lives—sometimes people who may even grate against our personality—but he does it to make us more like him. The God of peace wants us to bear his image in pursuing peace with others.
How will you go about that? Will it be a letter/card this afternoon? Will it be taking your wife’s hand and apologizing for that harsh response? Will it be showing hospitality to that family where disagreement persists? Will it be calling your daughter to apologize for not being a peacemaker? Will it be working to rebuild trust with those you’ve wronged? Pursue peace with everyone. In a world full of strife, the church has an opportunity to display true peace. We’re the only people who truly possess peace in Christ. But O how much work there is to do in practicing it.
4. Strive for holiness.
Final exhortation. Again in verse 14: “[strive for] the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Verses 15-17 then tell us how to strive for the holiness. It gives us a few examples of what striving for the holiness looks like as a church.
Before we get there, however, I want to clarify a few things in verse 14. For starters, let’s talk about holiness. Just by saying that word, some of you have images of “bunned hair, long skirts, and black stockings,” to use an image from Jerry Bridges.[ii] But any true understanding of holiness will begin with God. God is holy.
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts,” cry the seraphim in Isaiah 6. There we get a glimpse of what God’s holiness entails. He is high and lifted up, seated upon his throne. The train of his robe fills the temple. God’s holiness is his “majestic otherness,” to use the words of David Wells.[iii] God’s holiness also includes his “moral otherness.”[iv] How does Isaiah respond to seeing God’s glory? He curses himself: “Woe is me…” God’s holiness illumines all. It reveals right from wrong, righteousness from evil. To use David Wells again, “Holiness in God is everything that sets him apart from the sinful creation, and it is everything that elevates him above it in moral splendor.”[v]
So when you hear holiness, the first thing that should come to your mind is God’s majestic and moral otherness, his set-apartness from the world in transcendent splendor. For you to strive for holiness, is for you to strive for the life set apart exclusively for the Lord. It’s a life reflecting the moral otherness of your Father’s character. Don’t forget the father-son dynamic from verse 10. “He disciplines us for our good that we may share his holiness,” his set-apartness. The Father is already at work to make you holy. You need to join him in that work.
Holiness doesn’t come automatically. We must work at it. And I will tell you, it takes serious effort, because our culture wants you to look just like them. Our culture doesn’t like it when your moral otherness makes their wickedness stand out. You know who else doesn’t like that? Self-righteous Pharisees who reduce holiness to a few external do’s and don’ts—it gives them something to boast in, while ignoring a heart for God. The pursuit of holiness begins with a heart captivated by God’s holiness; it will not be content with a holiness fabricated by man. What a calling we have!
Even more amazing: all throughout Hebrews, we’ve learned that sinful people have no access to the holy God. God’s holiness will not tolerate sin. How, then, can we pursue holiness with God, if our sinfulness separates us from him? He sends his Son to sanctify us, to make us holy in his presence. Look at 10:10, “by that will we have been sanctified [made holy; set apart] through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” That work is so complete that he also says this in 10:19, “we have confidence to enter the holy places…” Meaning, into God’s presence. It even changes our fundamental identity: in 3:1 he calls the church “holy brothers.” In Christ, that’s what you are.
At the same time, he then proceeds to warn them about sin. And here we’re commanded to pursue holiness. So are we already holy? Or do we need to become holy? Yes! Yes to both. In Christ you are already set apart for God. And now that you are set apart for God, live that way. Become what you are. Love what is holy. Hate what is evil. Live in a manner that reflects your Father’s moral otherness. Live in a way that tells others, “My God is awesome in moral splendor, and he made me his child.”
The holier we are, the more useful we are. 2 Timothy 2:1, “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” Now, if you find yourself indifferent to that pursuit, verse 14 says you will not see the Lord. Meaning, you’re not saved. People made holy by Christ, love holy things. They’re not perfect this side of Christ’s return. But we can expect progress. Pursuing holiness is a necessary result of truly knowing God, being set apart to him.
So, what does that look like as a church? How can we pursue holiness together as a body? He’s already told us a few ways to pursue holiness as individuals. 12:2, lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us. We also pursue holiness by looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Another way we pursue holiness is by enduring hardships as the Father’s discipline. He’s working through hardships to make us sharers in holiness. But what about pursuing holiness corporately? What about as a church? Here are a few ways…
One, we pursue holiness together by taking care that no one fails to obtain the grace of God. ESV has “see to it.” Another translation is “taking care.” Same word appears in 1 Peter 5:2 for elders caring for the flock. Just like a shepherd must take care of the sheep with vigilance, you and I must take care of one another with vigilance.
Search for the word grace in Hebrews and you’ll find that he’s talking about God’s free and extravagant generosity in Christ toward sinners. It’s by grace that Jesus tasted death for everyone. Because of his work, we can draw near to the throne of grace. It’s the grace of God offered in the new covenant.
We don’t want anyone, not one person, failing to obtain the grace of God. That means, through some fault of their own, they forfeit God’s grace. They cease turning to God’s grace for eternal life. Instead of coming to the throne of grace for help, they turn to other things in this world and eventually walk away. If you discern even the slightest shift away from the grace of God in the gospel, I hope you run after me. I hope you run after each other. Holiness cannot be achieved apart from the grace of God offered in Jesus. So keep watch over one another with earnest care, so that we don’t forfeit grace.
Here’s another way we pursue holiness together. Verse 16, by taking care that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. Now, you might be thinking, “I know some really bitter people; and their bitterness affects others negatively.” That’s not exactly what he has in mind.
The phrase “root of bitterness” comes from Deuteronomy 29:18-20. Listen to this: “Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.”
This is the opposite of the peaceful fruit of righteousness. The root that bears poisonous, bitter fruit is the person who says, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” That’s sobering: there’s no forgiveness where that attitude persists. Under the new covenant, it’s the person who says, “O what the heck, even if I do it, Jesus will forgive me,” and he charges away into sin. “I’ll be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart, though I pursue strange gods, though I ignore his commands.” That attitude reveals a heart that doesn’t know God truly.
If we let that kind of person persist in the church, his/her presence will cause trouble and defile many. Which is the opposite of holiness. So, not only should we rebuke and warn and correct anyone with that kind of heart; it’s for the good of the church’s holiness to discipline that individual. To plead with them not to go there, to restore them to a right way of thinking. We cannot let a “root of bitterness” defile the church. To tolerate it is to create a setting where people excuse sin and belittle the glory of God and treat the cross of our Lord Jesus as no big deal. Let’s have a church, and let’s pray for a church, where such roots won’t even begin to crop up.
Finally, he gives us one further example of what it looks like to pursue holiness together. Verse 16, by taking care that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. All we really know about Esau’s sexual immorality is that he went and married not one but two Hittite women (Gen 26:34-35). This was before taking yet another wife later on (Gen 28:8-9). Esau was also “unholy.” Other translations use “worldly.” Rather than pursuing God in his holiness, Esau showed more interest in worldly things.
That becomes very evident in the way he despised his birthright. As the oldest—and even more, the oldest son of Isaac—his birthright entailed the promises of God’s kingdom. Yet he sold it for a single meal (Gen 25:29-34). His actions displayed that he preferred lintel soup over the promised Seed. He wanted his cravings satisfied immediately. His god was his belly; and that meant terrible consequences.
“Afterward,” it goes on to say, “when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” When it says “though he sought it with tears,” the it isn’t the repentance; it’s the blessing. He sought the blessing with tears. That’s from Genesis 27:34-38. He wanted the blessing but he was rejected. His tears were those of worldly sorrow, not godly sorrow. He found no chance to repent. Esau is like the person we read about in 6:6, the one for whom it’s impossible “to restore them again to repentance.” It’s not because God wasn’t able to. It’s that God chose not to. It was a judgment against Esau.
Esau’s example stands as a warning to us all. He is the exact opposite of what we found in earlier pictures of faith (Heb 10:34; 11:26). Remember the church in 10:34 that willingly endured the plundering of their property because they knew they had a better possession and an abiding one. Or Moses in 11:26 who considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. True faith finds more pleasure in God and the treasures of Christ’s kingdom than it does in any earthly thing. Esau looked at all that and said, “Big deal; I want soup! I want money! I want people to like me! I want 10 seconds of sexual thrill! I want respect, now!”
Take care that no one is like Esau. Give no ground to sexual immorality or worldliness in your life. Beloved, don’t trade the kingdom for the temporary thrills of this life. Pursue holiness, so that you will see the Lord. The pleasures at his right hand are forever. The splendor of God’s holiness awaits us.
[i] John N. Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 683.
[ii] Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1978), 15.
[iii] David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 104.
[iv] Wells, God in the Whirlwind, 112.
[v] Wells, God in the Whirlwind, 103.