Unless you’re totally sleepwalking through life, something’s got your attention. Is it the daily news, spinning out of Washington? The latest stats on your favorite team? The number on your bathroom scale? What’s coming soon on Netflix? Your Facebook feed? The contents of your bank account?
I grew up in a weather-obsessed family, and every day I check the hourly forecast before heading out—even if I already checked it the night before (which I nearly always do). Most days it’s a pointless activity, affecting only what time I choose to do my hikes and walks. But this obsessive connection to weather is in me, and I doubt I’ll ever shake it.
Today the weather looks good. So let’s keep hiking.
After overwhelming us, in chapter one, with reminders of Christ’s absolute authority, the Hebrew writer launches into chapter two with these words:
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
More careful attention.
From the subtext of Hebrews, plus a few specific verses (5:12; 10:32-35), it’s clear the intended audience for Hebrews isn’t baby Christians, but believers who’ve been around for a while: seasoned believers, in danger of losing their salvation through neglect, laziness, or flat-out disobedience. And it’s this group that needs the reminder. We must pay MORE careful attention to what we have heard…
We often think it’s young Christians, new in the faith, who need lots of Bible study to get on their spiritual feet. And they do.
But too many ‘mature’ Christians, unmotivated or distracted from reading their own Bibles, carry an attitude that once they’ve read the Bible through, once or twice, they’re set for life. They’ve covered the basics. Going forward, they get tidbits every Sunday from the pastor’s sermon. Maybe they listen to Christian music and taped sermons during the week. Which is fine—but not nearly enough!
If you call yourself a Christian and you’re older than a year in the faith, I want to ask you this question: How well do you really know the Bible?
Can you, off the top of your head, quote (or paraphrase) at least six verses about repentance? Holiness? Identifying sin? The requirements for church leadership? Suffering and perseverance? Real life examples of early conversions?
If you can’t, and you’ve been around for years, what does this say about your true interest and attention? Are you in danger of “drifting away”? Would the writer of Hebrews include you on his ‘endangered species’ list?
Drifting away is pleasant and easy. We do it every night as we lie on our pillows, waiting to detach from the day’s concerns and fall into the consequence-less world of dreaming. I love that kind of drifting, and look forward to it every night. If you’ve ever nodded off on an air mattress on a hot summer day, you know how effortless it is to let the water carry you away—until you wake up alarmed, looking for shore. We drift away when we’re tired, or when our guard is down, giving in to the path of least resistance. But spiritual drifting is not like dreaming; the consequences can be deadly.
The writer goes on:
For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?
How indeed? If there’s one clear message from most Old Testament stories, it’s this: God isn’t kidding about sin and disobedience. When he gave commandments in the Old Testament and people disobeyed them—even unwittingly, at times— the punishment he promised was certain. He let an entire generation of rebels wander the desert for forty years, denying them entrance to the promised land, because of their sin. The writer’s argument here isn’t, Well, isn’t it great that God is so much more lenient now, but rather, How much MORE do we need to be diligent!
Yes, the saving work of grace was done for us on the cross. But the call to obedience and gratitude is that much greater BECAUSE of what Jesus has done. We’re called to a higher truth, a higher understanding of who God is and what he desires from us. We’re called to holiness and devotion, in growing measure.
If I sound a bit scoldy here, it’s because we’ve reached that tone in this letter. I think the Hebrew writer does a brilliant job of mixing warnings with insight and inspiration, not simply telling us what to do—pay more careful attention—but WHY we should. Jesus is worthy of our everything. Paying attention to the Word, HIS word, is the least, and the best, we can do for him. And each of us needs to figure out what that means in our own life.
For me, it means this. Having a perfunctory knowledge of the Bible isn’t enough. Listening to sermons and spiritual music isn’t enough. Reading a verse a day, or scanning a five-minute Christian devotional, isn’t enough. Having read the Bible through once or twice, or even many times, isn’t enough, unless we’re still doing it.
Paying close attention means having a GROWING understanding of Scripture, even if we’ve been Christians for decades. Especially if. It’s so, so easy to drift away, blissfully unaware that our faith, which needs regular feeding through the Word, is shrinking and hardening while we pay attention to other things.
I picture this passage, Hebrews 2:1-2, like the first rocky patch on our hike. We got some lofty views early on, and now we almost stumble, scrabbling over stones that break our pace and make the hike challenging. The rocks are there to grab our attention. To wake us up. To remind us that ignoring this great salvation, or taking it for granted, comes at a great cost.
If we’re not careful in navigating these stones, we’ll twist our ankles, maybe even break some bones, ending our hike for good. Or we can take it more slowly, paying more careful attention, from this step forward.
The choice is yours.