************ Sermon on Hebrews 10:24-25 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 9, 2016
"Am I My Brother's Keeper?"
In March 1964 the New York Times reported on the following story:
For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks. Twice their chatter and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out, and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.The article ignited outrage against the 38 residents. Ministers and others proclaimed that it was an example of society’s moral decay.
The article detailed why some of the witnesses hadn’t acted. One said that he "didn’t want to get involved," while another said, "I was tired. I went back to bed."
I My Brother's Keeper
A This is nothing new. Go back to the beginning of time. Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:8-9). The question implies a negative answer. "Am I my brother's keeper?" "No. Of course not. What a ridiculous notion. I am not my brother's keeper!"
B Do you know what is the Bible's answer to this question? I've told you before about God's "one another plan." These are passages in the Bible that tell us what we are called to do for "one another" within the fellowship of believers. There are over fifty such passages in the New Testament. Let me highlight some of them:
Love one another Jn 13:34-35, Gal 5:14Telling us what? Telling us we have a responsibility towards one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Be devoted to one another Rom 12:10
Build up one another Rom 14:19; 1 Thess 5:11
Be kind to one another 1 Thess 5:15
Accept one another Rom 15:7
Serve one another Gal 5:13
Have concern for one another 1 Cor 12:25
Confess your sins to one another James 5:16
Forgive one another Eph 4:32
Pray for one another James 5:16
Don't judge one another Rom 14:13
Don't slander one another James 4:11
Submit to one another Eph 5:21
"Am I my brother's keeper?" Do you know what is Hebrew's answer in our text for this evening?
(Heb 10:24-25) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (25) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Telling us what? Telling us we have a responsibility towards one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
We have a theological name for this. We call this "the communion of saints." We will confess together what the Catechism says about this later in the service.
C Do you want to see this in action? Look at the early church as we see it in the book of Acts. We are told of seven men full of the Spirit and wisdom who were chosen as deacons. Their job was "the daily distribution of food" to the widows (cf Acts 6:1-7). From where did they get the food or the money to buy the food?
(Acts 2:44-45) All the believers were together and had everything in common. (45) Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.Acts is showing us what a Spirit-filled church looks like. And why did the early Christians act this way? Because they knew they were their brother's keeper. Because they knew they had responsibilities for one another. Because this was their response to Jesus as access and advocate (cf Heb 10:19-21).
(Acts 4:32) All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.
(Acts 4:34-35) There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales (35) and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
Do you want to see brotherly keeping in action? Christian History magazine (issue 101) describes the Roman Empire in the second century: Roman roads, public baths and gymnasiums, Hellenistic culture, the beginnings of democracy, the military muscle to ensure peace. If you were healthy, this was a golden age. But woe to you if you were sick or poor. Because compassion was not a well-developed virtue among the pagan Romans; in fact, mercy was discouraged, as it only helped those too weak to contribute to society. The result? Sick or elderly slaves were left to waste away on Tiber Island. Unwanted children were often left outdoors to die from exposure or abandoned on the steps of a temple. Almost without exception newborns with disabilities were exposed in this way. The chronically ill and poor could be seen everywhere in the streets, baths, and forums -- many of them homeless and begging.
The only exception to this policy of neglect were Christians. For instance, a terrible plague broke out in 250 A.D. and lasted for 15 years. At that time, Christians gave aid to their persecutors, cared for the sick, and buried the dead left in the streets. The rich among them donated funds and the poor volunteered their service -- making no distinction between believers and pagans.
In 251, Cornelius, bishop of Rome, wrote that the church in Rome ministered to 1,500 widows and others in need. Think of all the time and money spent on benevolent work. It was enormous!
And why did the early Christians act this way? Because they knew they were their brother's keeper. Because they knew they had responsibilities for one another. Because this was their response to Jesus as access and advocate (cf Heb 10:19-21).
"Am I my brother's keeper?" "Yes," says Hebrews. "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb 13:24).
II Let Us
A Exactly who is Hebrews speaking to here? Who is it that has a responsibility to the brothers and sisters of the faith? Who is the brother's keeper? Is this ministry confined to the deacons and elders and pastors? Is this the ministry of leaders in the church? Is Hebrews talking to the extroverts?
We are on the third "let us" statement that we find in Hebrews 10. Jesus is our access and advocate. Therefore, let us draw near (vs 22). Therefore, let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess (vs 23). Therefore, let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (vs 24). "Let us ... Let us ... Let us ..." Do you hear the pattern? Each time it is the first person plural. Us. We. Not you. Not me. But us, we. This is the responsibility of all of God's people. This duty has been given to every Christian in the local church. So, if you are a Christian, this is your work that Hebrews is describing.
B What qualifies you to be your brother's keeper? You don't need special training. You don't need to go to school. This is not a skill-set you are born with. Rather, it is a gift of God's grace. Are you a Christian? Well, then, you are your brother's keeper. Everyone who has been born of God loves the people of God and ministers to the people of God.
A "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb 13:24). Note that word "consider." Jesus tells us to consider the plank in our own eye when we look at the speck of sawdust in our brother's eye (cf Lk 6:41). We are to consider ravens and lilies when we worry about food and clothing (cf Lk 12:24,27). We are to consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess (Heb 3:1). It is all the same Greek word. Consider. Focus. Keep your attention riveted upon.
Consider how you may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Consider how you may be your brother's keeper. Consider. In other words, you need to think this through. You need to give this your time. You need to focus on this. You need to be thoughtful about this. You need to plan this. It isn't something spur of the moment, spontaneous, off the top of your head. It is deliberate action on your part. Instead of asking, "Who is going to minister to me?" you need to ask "to Whom does the Lord want me to minister?" And once you figure out who needs your ministry, you make your plans.
B When we consider, what exactly is it that we need to focus on? We need to focus on one another. To spur one another on toward love and good needs, we need to consider each other. We need to consider needs, circumstances, concerns, cares, illnesses, blessings, weaknesses, temptations, family, heartaches, job situation, and anything else relevant and important to the lives of our brothers and sisters so we can minister to each other in this way.
IV In the Church
A "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb 13:24). Where are we to do this? When are we to do this? Verse 25 answers these questions:
(Heb 10:25) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
I want you to notice that verse 25 gives both a negative and a positive answer. The negative answer: don't give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. Think of those Hebrew Christians who were going back to Judaism; they gave up meeting together. Church history tells us that others gave up meeting together because of persecution, family disapproval, work and business, or just plan neglect. Isn't this amazing? In the first century already, only one generation after the death and resurrection of Jesus, there were Christians who don't show up for worship. Exactly like today. Too many people today think they don't need the church. Which means they don't think they need to participate in this ministry as either a keeper or a keepee. Hebrews would say they are denying the communion of the saints.
According to verse 25, our ministry to and for one another cannot take place unless we meet together. I cannot be my brother's keeper if I am not in worship. And, someone cannot be my keeper if I am not in worship. Or, to put it positively, I am my brother's keeper when I come to church and when he comes to church. And, my brother is my keeper when I come to church and when he comes to church.
A In our last point I want to answer the question of how we do this? How are we to spur one another on toward love and good deeds? How are we to be our brother's keeper?
Notice the word "encourage" in verse 25: "let us encourage one another." Encourage, exhort, comfort, help, counsel, strengthen, urge, appeal. The Greek word includes all of these meanings. The emphasis is on something verbal. We encourage each other by what we say. We spur one another on toward love and good deeds by the words of our mouth. We offer words of support, comfort, affection, consolation, and encouragement.
This is why we need to give careful, thoughtful consideration. Without careful thought we can so easily put our foot in our mouth. Without careful thought we can so easily hurt. Without careful thought we can so easily offend.
What is it that we are to say to one another? What is the word of encouragement we are to give each other? What Hebrews has been saying about Jesus as our access and our advocate. What we all need to hear, what we all need to say, is "We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus." And, "Jesus represents us before the Father's throne to make sure our salvation is brought to completion." We are encouraged when we hear the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
Though the emphasis in the Greek is on the words we say, we also encourage one another by our deeds. Providing a meal, offering our company, opening our home, showing hospitality, being welcoming. All of this spurs on your brothers and sisters.
B Notice the goal of the encouragement. Notice the goal of being our brother's keeper: love and good deeds. Our acts of love produces love in others. Our good deeds results in good deeds in others. Authentic Christian fellowship produces more authentic Christian fellowship. Brotherly affection gives birth to brotherly affection. Encouragement leads to encouragement. It feeds on itself. Like a ripple in a pond, it keeps going and spreading until all are infected with our enthusiasm and encouragement.
C Notice the why of the encouragement. Notice the why of being our brother's keeper: Hebrews mentions the approaching Day. The Day of the Lord. The Day when Jesus returns. The Day when Jesus' work as our access and advocate is finally done. The Day when we enter fully into the Lord's promised Sabbath-rest.
What is so important about the Day? On that Day the books are opened. On that Day we need to give an account for every word and deed. On that Day the Lord will look us over. On that Day the Lord will check out our love and good deeds. On that Day the Lord will ask if we have been our brother's keeper. On that day the Lord will put us under His microscope.
What will He find on that Day in Trinity URC? In our Reformed tradition we are quick to mention our sin. But, as your pastor, I give thanks to the Lord for your love and good deeds. I thank the Lord that in Trinity URC we are the brother's keeper. I thank the Lord that we are so quick to encourage one another.
"Am I my brother's keeper?" Do I have any responsibility towards my brothers and sisters in the faith? "Yes," says Hebrews. It is my job and your job to to spur one another on toward love and good deeds because Jesus is our access and advocate.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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