60 – Hebrews 12:12-17: Spiritual Fitness

Hebrews 12:12-17

“Therefore, strengthen your tired arms and weak knees. Let none wander from straight paths, but encourage all to run steadily onward, so that feeble limbs will not be dislocated but grow healthy instead. Strive to live in peace with everyone and pursue holiness, apart from which no one will see the Lord. Keep a watchful eye on each another so that no one forfeits the grace of God. Allow no root of resentment to spring up, trouble you, and contaminate those around you. Let no one be immoral like Esau, who sold his inheritance for a single meal. For you know he was later turned away when he attempted to claim his father’s blessing. He found no way to undo what he had done, though he sought it with desperate tears.” 
The part of the spiritual race the readers had already completed had left some of them spiritually exhausted. The writer continues to strengthen their faith, raise their spirits, exhort them, and urge them to progress. Believers will fortify themselves as they:

<> Remember the heroes of the faith (12:1).
<> Lay aside every heavy sin (12:1).
<> Run the race of life patiently (12:1).
<> Keep their eyes on Jesus (12:2-3).
<> Accept God’s discipline (12:5).
<> Clear the path for themselves and others (12:13).
<> Pursue a peaceful lifestyle (12:14).
<> Pluck out roots of bitterness before they sprout (12:15).

v. 12
“Wherefore” connects the previous passage concerning divine correction with the conclusions that follow. The writer calls them to duty and gives reasons for fidelity. Those who have become discouraged and despondent in this difficult race are encouraged to strengthen their resolve and persevere. As a runner becomes weary, so Believers may falter under severe trials and testings. Those facing opposition and persecution were in danger of giving up the race altogether.

The writer quotes Isaiah, who encouraged the people to energize their weak hands and fortify their feeble knees (Isa. 35:3). Returning to his footrace analogy, he reminds them runners use their arms and legs to the best possible advantage. He may also be alluding to Ezekiel, who said “every heart shall melt and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall fail, and all knees shall be as weak as water” (Ez. 7:17). This imagery is also used by Eliphaz when he praised Job for “strengthening impotent hands”. Job’s words supported those who had stumbled – yet had built up and made strong their faltering limbs (Job 4:3-4).

The arms and legs of a runner are vital to his success. When he begins to tire, his arms are the first part of the anatomy to show fatigue. Knee-joints must also retain their strength in order to maintain a long stride. The concept of the hands being “lifted up” (anorthoo) means “to set right; straighten; to rectify, to invigorate, to restore to the proper state.”  Medical writers of the first century sometimes used this term regarding dislocated bones, but here it refers to hands that are relaxed or dangling. “Weakened knees” affect the legs that will eventually become stiff and useless.

Discouragement can have a paralyzing effect. We are not only to lift up our own hands, but the hands of any who flag in their zeal for God. The courageous should help those who have become disheartened. Depression is the Believer’s worst enemy for it is the prelude to apostasy.

v. 13
“Straight paths” are level and free from obstructions. Such roads (trochia) are made smooth by the constant activity of chariot and cart wheels. When we run, we should leave a clear path for others to follow. Metaphorically speaking, this pictures a holy lifestyle that keeps others from stumbling or falling. The more fatigue affects a runner, the greater the potential for injury. Erratic steps cause athletes to get off track.

“Lame” (cholon) is better translated “dislocated.” It can also refer to limping or hesitating between two opinions, as Elijah challenged the wavering Israelites (I Kgs. 18:21). The readers of this epistle are admonished to not handicap themselves by vacillating between Judaism and Christianity. Believers who are “limping” have become spiritually weak and are in danger of faltering. Those who courageously persevere are in a position to encourage others toward spiritual maturity. Faintheartedness can lead to failure, but the attitude of stronger Believers can help revive those who are weaker.

v. 14
The writer here interjects a simple admonition for Believers to be gracious, courteous, and considerate. We are to “follow peace,” for those who make crooked paths for others will never know peace (Isa. 59:8). “Follow” (diokete) means “to earnestly endeavor to acquire.” It is a term used regarding the eager pursuit of game which tends to elude the hunter. We must spare no effort to heal broken relations with others, regardless of how contentious they may be. “All men” include even our persecutors. Hostile thoughts stunt spiritual development (I Jn. 4:20). Living with bitterness is self-destructive, for antagonism and vindictiveness have no place in the Kingdom of God. Although mending relationships with some individuals may be difficult, it is well worth our best efforts to “seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14). As much as possible, we should live peaceably with all men (Rom.12:18 & 14:19). Our conduct must complement our calling. We are not left without examples to follow, for our heavenly Father is “the God of Peace” and His Son is the “Prince of Peace” (Heb. 13:20 & Isa. 9:6). 

We are to pursue both peace and holiness, for they are closely related to each other. The goal of every Believer is to see Christ (I Jn. 3:2 & Rev. 1:7). But apart from a life of sanctification, no person will see Him. No passage in God’s Word suggests that wealth, fame, education, or titles are prerequisites to enter heaven. Holiness is the only requirement for all who plan to walk golden streets.

v. 15
Those who lag behind in this spiritual race are susceptible to relapsing into unholy lifestyles. To “look diligently” is a call for oversight concerning the spiritual well being of others. The writer admonishes his readers to stay alert, lest they lose the ground they have gained. To “fail” (husteron) in God’s grace means “to lack; be deficient; to come short of.” Paul used this same word when he told the Romans “all have sinned and come short (husteron) of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). 

Despising God’s grace can occur after bitter roots of resentment begin to spread. The readers had already suffered persecution, loss of personal property, and incarceration. This created fertile soil for the roots of negativism. Some Believers were in danger of becoming bitter toward God – or of falling from grace altogether. Below the surface and unseen, roots continue to spread. Healthy spiritual fruit cannot be produced in a field of evil weeds. The author’s imagery seems to be borrowed from Deuteronomy where Moses warns the children of Israel against the idolatry prevalent in Canaan. He cautions them against infectious roots that produce bitter and poisonous fruit (Deut. 29:18). To allow the unsavory roots of bad attitudes and bad doctrines to develop can lead to apostatizing from Christ. Those who commit this unpardonable sin cannot be restored, for God has abandoned them to follow their own paths (Rom. 1:28-32). No Believer crosses the boundary line of God’s grace accidentally. 

v. 16
Because fornication was a danger in the early church, Paul warned the Thessalonians to strictly avoid it (I Thess. 4:3). Holiness is diametrically opposed to sexual immorality. The writer’s reference to it is directly linked with the life of Esau, for he married two Hittite women. This was a source of great disappointment and grief to his parents, Isaac and Rebecca (Gen. 26:34-35). Although these marriages were not classified as fornication, such unions bonded Esau with women from idolatrous nations. His selection of foreign wives and the frittering away of his birthright combine to reveal his true character. 

To be “profane” (bebeelos) is to violate that which is holy. One who is bebeelos carelessly tramples upon what is sacred, with no regard for its spiritual value. The use of the word here refers to one who decides to disregard God-given privileges. In order to illustrate one who fell short of God’s grace, the writer selects the story of Esau. He was the firstborn. As the primogeniture, his birthrights included:

<> the special blessing bestowed by the head of the household
<> the claim to the promises made to Abraham and his descendants
<> the privilege to be in the ancestral line of the Messiah
<> the superior favor and status which ranked him above all other siblings
<> the right of the firstborn to inherit a double portion of paternal property

For a common and simple meal, Esau flippantly sold that which he should have cherished most. By living life in the present, Esau spurned not only his past heritage but also his future blessings. By exchanging his birthright for a bowl of beans, he made a definitive statement concerning how he viewed spiritual things. The “morsel” (one small meal) shows how very little patrimony meant to him. Esau literally said “Let me gulp down some of this soup” (Gen. 25:30). He told Jacob the birthright held no value for him (Gen. 25:32). Genesis informs us Esau simply ate the food, went his way, and despised his inheritance (Gen. 25:34).

Esau was not the victim of a cleverly-devised plan of entrapment. Jacob did not steal this birthright: his brother sold it to him for almost nothing. Those who attempt to exonerate Esau should remember he confirmed this transaction with an oath (Gen. 25:33). To do so evoked God to witness the pact. By sealing the bargain before God, Esau also sealed his fate. With his own words, he permanently traded the temporal for the eternal. He further proved his indifference by making no attempt to reverse the agreement until years later. Because Isaac’s blessing upon Jacob was irrevocable, what Esau lost was irrecoverable. 

v. 17
The phrase, “you know” affirms the readers were well aware of Esau’s sad story. By combining passages from Genesis 25 and 27, the author shows the close connection between Esau’s attitude toward his birthright and its permanent loss. In Esau’s eyes, the advantages of his birthright were only dim shadows in a distant and uncertain future.

“Repentance” (metanoias) simply means “to change one’s mind.” Although Esau regretted his actions, he never displayed true repentance. It is not recorded that Esau ever prayed or sought God’s forgiveness. His tears were apparently shed for what he irretrievably forfeited. It seems he was sorry only for the consequences of his hasty decision. 

Esau believed he was entitled to the blessing anyway, despite his past attitude and his oath (Gen. 27:34). But there was simply no way to rectify his situation. The writer uses this story to show that repentance after apostasy is impossible. Esau’s story serves as a warning to all who are tempted to trade immediate carnal gratification for their future spiritual inheritance. A flagrant denunciation of Christ’s sacrifice is irreversible (Heb. 6:6 & 10:26).


Hebrews 12:12-17

1. According to Hebrews 12:15, what can spring up and defile us?
2. According to the last few words in Genesis 25, what was Esau’s attitude toward his birthright?
3. In Hebrews 12:14, the writer stresses the need for harmonious relations between Believers. What does John say concerning the person who says he loves God, yet hates his brother? (I John 4:20)

4. Who did Jesus say would be called “the children of God”? (Matthew 5:9)

5. According to I Thessalonians 4:3, what is God’s will for every Believer?

6. According to I Corinthians 6:9-10, what will fornicators and adulterers not inherit?

7. What is the proper way to deal with flirtatious people at the workplace?

8. At what point does flirtation become sexual harassment?

9. What options are available to stop people from flirting with you on the job?

10. List some of the dangers of treating the things of God lightly.
List some spiritual things people may treat cheaply.


Maxim of the Moment

Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.