So, Now What?

One of the things about criticism, especially accurate criticism, that determines the quality of it, is encouragement. That may sound peculiar, but I’m not sure how else to put it. Encouragement following criticism, or as part of it, helps frame the mind around a positive purpose. That is, perhaps, the most important ingredient to criticism, a positive purpose. Cynicism is not true criticism.

The writer of Hebrews doesn’t just tell his audience to, “buck up and take it with a smile.” He explains that difficulties are proof that we are legitimate children (12:8). Which is great, but who wants to be children of suffering? And, let’s say I do accept the challenge to “suffer with a smile” (which he never says to do), what do I do during the suffering? Well, it’s like an airline emergency response:

1. Put on your own “mask” to protect yourself:

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Hebrews 12:12-13 NASB

At first, it may sound like the writer is asking his audience to take care of those “other” weak ones, but as he continues, it becomes clear he’s speaking of taking care of themselves. The verb, to strengthen (or rebuild, look it up here), is an active imperative, which can imply helping another, or transitive action. It’s the following statement about “paths for your feet” that make clear the writer is referring to helping themselves.

And this is necessary for us. If we neglect this step, we are in danger of being a plank-eyed minister to others, and that is no help at all. Not that we have to be perfect before helping others, but we do need to exercise to be able to avoid the impairments that prevent us from being useful to others.

For instance, I don’t help others with areas I know I’m already in danger of failing. Why set myself up for failure? And there are areas I struggle, and probably will for the rest of my life. On the other hand, having had some success with other areas of my walk with my Master, I can be of service to others helping them succeed as well.

Basically, I need help in some areas, and can help in others. One way we strengthen those impaired limbs is to recognize, and deal wisely, with our weaknesses (brag in them, as Paul says). Only then can we help others is areas our Savior has made us strong (gifted us?).

2. Help others with their “mask”

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

Hebrews 12:14-17 NASB

Service is a foundational discipline of a disciple of Jesus. If we are not of service to others, then we squander the gift given us by our Creator and Savior. We endanger our walk with the One who loves us passionately, enough to suffer agonizing death on our behalf, in our place. We must give back what our Master pours into our lives. He does so for the specific purpose of using us in His Kingdom.

The writer lists it this way:

  1. “Pursue” peace with all men/people
  2. “Pursue” sanctification (the process of being “set apart” for our Creator)
  3. “Oversee” that no one fall short of our Creator’s grace
  4. “Oversee” that no root of bitterness springs up, defiling many
  5. “Oversee” that there be no “immoral” or “godless” person among us

What sometimes happens is that people will skip the first one, and dive into the “overseeing” part. I numbered it on purpose. Do number one first, then 2, and so on. And notice that “sanctification” is a process pursued in the context of a group. It’s not solely personal.

When a “body” of disciples is characterized by these 5 activities, then they will be, as a group, moving toward the throne of Jesus. But they will be suffering as they go, being disciplined by our Father as beloved children. Yet, even so, they will be driving on toward the curtain to the Most Holy Place, to finally reach the foot of their Savior and Intercessor, Jesus. Can you imagine a better pursuit?

So, let us put down the torches and pitchforks, leave off storming the castle of our neighboring church, and practice the love for our fellow disciples that was shown to us by our fellow Savior. How about we give that a shot? That root of bitterness should be weeded, it’s not a garden plant, trust me. Or, trust Nicodemus, the writer of Hebrews.