It seems that the more one reads a particular passage, chapter or book of scripture the more difficult it becomes to get inside the mind of the writer. Often, a cursory reading of, let’s say, an epistle can help us get a sense of the writer’s thought process and emotion. However, when we read with intention, those initial conclusions can often be found to be with little merit.
Studying the book of Hebrews as left me with many such conclusions. The more I read, look at each word used, and the construction of the author’s sentences, the more I find myself scratching my head and wondering, “What did he mean by using that phrase or that specific word?” One good example was in Hebrews 12 – an oft quoted passage:
“…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…(12:1b-2a)
What stood out to me in this passage was not the usual laying aside of every encumbrance, but “the sin which so easily entangles us.” If you read popular commentaries on this passage most commentators will draw an equal emphasis on the encumbrance and sin. Some will consider the two equal. However, the author says we should lay aside the sin which so easily hamstrings us. “THE” sin is the critical issue. Often, in fact in a majority of cases, sin does not have the article either in the book of Hebrews or other NT books. Yet, the author seems compelled to use an article here. Why? Because there is something specific in his mind and on his heart. Something that will find its counterpart in this phrase: “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” The sin is apostasy and the way to avoid it is through endurance.
Another passage that stimulated my thought process was in Heb. 12:14 “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Why does the author combine the pursuit of peace with sanctification? Who are the “all men?” Are they the community of believers or did the author have a broader view of mankind in mind? Why does he again use an article with the word sanctification? Normally it does not have one, so what is the purpose here? How can peace with men and sanctification find their end purpose in seeing the Lord?
We know that Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God (Matt. 5:9).” Is there an echo of this beatitude in what the writer of Hebrews is saying? Is pursuing/making peace an evidence of sanctification and thereby a means to the intimate presence of God in our lives? Yes. Is that the intent behind the point the writer of Hebrews is trying to make? I believe so if we consider his comment about “peace with all men” being the community of believers and not general mankind (v.15). Can pursuing peace with mankind be an extension or application of the text, certainly, but I don’t believe that’s the main thrust here.
But what about the sanctification? The writer is not talking about something that is in process, as we usually think of sanctification, but rather a position. Sanctification is a noun here, not a verb. It is similar to the author’s idea of “faith” as seen from chapter 11 through 12. Sanctification is not something we do, it is who one is in Christ! Just like faith is an abiding hope and trust in God. The action behind the word sanctification is seen by the author’s consistent use of such terms as endurance and perseverance. Without enduring to the end, persevering through it all, there is no sanctification.
Pursue peace and THE sanctification without which NO ONE will see the Lord. Odd bed fellows to be sure.