Hebrews 12:12-17: Make Level Paths

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

Hebrews 12:12-17 NIV

On Sunday, our pastor reminded us that the Bible is an Eastern book and in reading it through our Western eyes, we sometimes miss deeper meaning. For example in our English language we don’t have a plural form of “you.” So when we read “strengthen ‘your’ feeble arms and weak knees” we may not see the emphasis on community. Let’s look at a few examples –

  • 1 Corinthians 3:16: Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? This verse is not specifically about you the individual but in context would read, “Do you not know and understand that you [the church] are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells [permanently] in you [collectively and individually]?” Paul is addressing divisions in the church and he is emphasizing that the church is “one” temple … unity in the church is essential!
  • Romans 15:5: May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus – reading in context, and recognizing the plural form of “you” this verse might be translates, May the God of endurance and encouragement grant all of you or you all to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus –
  • Philippians 1:6: … being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus – again, reading in context, this is a prayer for a group of people. We can and do appropriate the verse individually, but this is just one of many examples of the plural “you” that is hidden from our Western eyes.

It’s that in our already individualistic Western culture, reading “you” instead of “you guys” can reinforce our me-first worldview rather than challenge it. What do we do, then? How can we read the New Testament well without learning Greek? The best safeguard against such misreading is to pay close attention to the literary context.

Ryan Martin, TGC article

So what does all of this mean for the study in Hebrews 12? It means when we read the applications that the author of Hebrews makes, we need to read them with community in mind! We are given six (6) commands …

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

As a community we support those whom self-serving leaders have marginalized. There are those who are waiting for God’s final redemption but who are fearful, have lost hope, feel weak. As believers growing in enduring faith, overcoming suffering, learning from God’s discipline, we offer encouragement to our brothers and sisters. “Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” Romans 15:1 MSG

“Make level paths for your feet” 

This phrase makes me smile. My husband and I walk often in our neighborhood. The sidewalks are uneven, and I have a tendency to stumble on the uneven ground. My husband has started pointing out uneven spots in the sidewalk to keep me from stumbling! I know he would level the path physically for me if he could but since that is not possible, he does the next best thing. As a community of believers, our lives are examples for the weaker brother and sister – we don’t want to cause them to stumble. So we are careful about our freedoms in Christ as Paul taught, “Let us stop judging one another. Instead, decide not to put anything in the way of a brother or sister. Don’t put anything in their way that would make them trip and fall.” (Romans 14:13 NIRV)

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy

As believers we are already made holy, and have peace with God. That’s our right standing, our positional standing with God. As the Spirit’s sanctifying work is appropriated in our lives, we seek to live in peace with everyone. We aim for “harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (Romans 14:19 NLT)

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God –

In Hebrews, we have seen several warnings about turning back, away from Jesus. We are responsible as a community to live lives that invite others to see and experience the grace of God. We don’t want to be a stumbling block to a brother or sister, or cause others to turn away from God! Instead, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24 NLT

See to it … that no bitter root grows up –

Be careful of bad attitudes that have the potential to be contagious. Be quick to repent, to forgive. Speak only that which edifies, builds up. In the Message, Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.” James 1:19 MSG

See that no one is immoral, or is godless like Esau –

Interestingly, the author of Hebrews points out that even though Esau sought the blessing with tears that he carelessly sold for a pot of stew, he could not change what he had done. There are a number of times in Scripture where we are warned not to presume on grace. While God honors a repentant heart, there are missed opportunities for blessings! As Paul teaches, “dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” Gal 6:1 NLT

Out in the highways and byways of life,
Many are weary and sad;
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
Making the sorrowing glad.

Tell the sweet story of Christ and his love,
Tell of his pow’r to forgive;
Others will trust him if only you prove
True, every moment you live.

Give as ’twas given to you in your need,
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed,
Unto your mission be true.

Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing.
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray.
Make me a blessing to someone today.

Ira B. Wilson, 1909
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