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Hebrews 12:14-17


“Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord. [15] See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and by it, defiling many. [16] And see that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for one meal. [17] For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected because he didn’t find any opportunity for repentance, though he sought it with tears.” (HCSB)

 Norway and Russia have argued for years about Norway’s 1920 sovereign claim of the Svalbard Islands located 500 miles north of the Mainland.  In 1977, Norway set up a 200-mile zone around them as a part of their territorial claim, something Russia doesn’t recognize.  This region in the Barents Sea is rich with fish and is estimated to hold 40-million barrels of oil.  Norway allows fishing in the area, but does not allow fishing vessels to use fine-mesh nets that catch undersized fish. 

On October 15, 2005, Norwegian Coastguard officials boarded the Elektron, a Russian fishing vessel and placed them under arrest for fishing with illegal equipment.  With two Coastguard officials aboard the vessel, the Elektron was following the Coastguard ship towards a Norwegian port when the Russian vessel broke away and began heading toward Russia.

 Immediately, the Coastguard Ship changed course and began a two-day hot pursuit of the vessel that now held the Coastguard personnel captive.  Before long, the Norwegian Navy and the Russian Navy were involved in the dispute and all the loose ends will probably be tied up in court or some diplomats’ office in the future.

 What do you think was going through the Coastguard Captain’s mind when he learned that the Russian Vessel was breaking toward Russia with two of his personnel aboard?  Do you think it took him long to give the orders to change course and began pursuing the Russian vessel?  I don’t think it even took a split second.  Undoubtedly there was no question in his mind, he gave the orders and the Coastguard was in hot pursuit of the renegade vessel.

 With the same determination—the determination of a hot pursuit, we are to pursue peace and holiness.  Just like the Russian Vessel, these things will elude you if you don’t feverishly pursue them.  The natural default for most people is neither peace nor holiness.  Think about it.  It is much easier to be mired in conflict and be at odds with others than it is to do the hard work of working out your issues.  In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul urges two faithful women to learn to get along with one another.  He writes, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. [3] Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (NASB)  Apparently these were two good women who had fallen short of God’s grace.  That’s an odd phrase isn’t it?  The writer of Hebrews wrote, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God.”  It isn’t that they lost God’s grace; it is that they did not achieve its ideal in their life.  Perhaps they thought as others do that God’s grace goes to them, but didn’t understand that it should also flow through them to others.  If we are pursuing peace and holiness, His grace will flow through us to those who’ve wronged us.

  As you know, Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness and to give forgiveness.  We should allow His grace to flow through us just because He told us to, but have you ever thought about the benefits of forgiveness?  In his book, The Progress Paradox, Gregg Easterbrook quotes several recent studies about forgiveness.  Here are some of the findings. 

Being a forgiving person is essential to leading a contented life. Even when someone wrongs you, feeling fury or experiencing hate only causes your life to descend into unhappiness and resentment, then you are the one who suffers, not the person you are angry at. 

People who do not forgive the wrongs committed against them tend to have negative indicators of well being; stress, depression, cardio-vascular disease, so they only hurt themselves.

People who forgive, as a group, have fewer episodes of clinical depression and better social support (friends and family) than the unforgiving.  Forgiving people are better at making friends than those who carry grudges. 

Older people are more likely to forgive than the young are.  This suggests that the ability to forgive is a form of wisdom learned during the passage through life. 

The older people who forgive have better overall health indicators than those who nurse acrimony.  The benefits of forgiveness seem to benefit with age.  An older person with a forgiving attitude may be rewarded with fewer stress disorders, longer life and other health benefits.

Even though grace flows through you, not to you, it can’t flow through you without benefiting you.  Verse 15 continues by saying, “and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and by it, defiling many.”  If you do not pursue peace and holiness, not only will you fall short of the Glory of God, but you will also run the risk of planting a root of bitterness that will cause trouble and defile you and others around you.  Growing up in the country, I am well aware that you can cut down a tree only to have it grow back if you don’t get rid of the roots.  The same is true with pulling weeds.  It isn’t enough to chop them down; you have to get them up by the roots if you want them to be gone forever.  The writer of Hebrews was exact here, he advises us to beware of bitterness because it isn’t a fruit, it is a root.  In other words, it can be a permanent problem.

Isaiah 38:15 says,”What can I say? He has spoken to me, and He Himself has done it. I walk along slowly all my years because of the bitterness of my soul,” (HCSB) Look at the language here.  “I walk along slowly all my years.”  When a root of bitterness takes hold, it is a permanent problem that will wreck your life.

Acts 8:22-23 says, “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. [23] For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” (HCSB)  Again, notice the strong language, “poisoned by bitterness.”  If you have a bitter soul, it poisons your entire outlook and keeps you from seeing clearly.

The remedy to this lifelong problem is a grace-filled moment that becomes a lifetime habit.  Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” (HCSB)

 Pursuing peace and holiness includes extending God’s grace to others, but there is more than just being a forgiving, kind person.  In verse 16, the writer of Hebrews continues with “And see that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for one meal.”  Not only are we to pursue something, we are also to flee from something—we are to flee from immorality.  2 Timothy 2:22 says, “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”  (KJV)  Notice the same pattern is present; there is something to run from and something to run after.  Paul says to run from youthful lusts, but to chase righteousness, faith, charity, peace, etc.  With the determination of the Norwegian Coastguard, pursue peace and holiness and with the energy of the Russian fishing vessel, run for your life from immorality.

 Here’s where it gets personal.  What are you running from and what are you running to?  Some people run to immorality and run from holiness.  At every turn, they reject the ways of righteousness while looking for opportunities to sin.  Is that you? 

 Or are you in hot pursuit of peace and holiness while you are running from immorality?  If not, why not turn your life around right now?  Today, why not make a decision to change the entire direction of your life and run from the wrong things and run toward the right things.  The choice is yours.

Impact Preaching: A Case for the
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