This study begins with an exhortation regarding the obligations of a mature believer in Hebrews 12:12: “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble.” Since discipline from the Lord is intended to help believers to bear “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (v. 11), the stronger, more mature believer has an obligation to help strengthen the weaker believer. This weaker believer would be someone who is struggling in their faith because of a constant barrage of difficult and harsh circumstances. Their faith is eroding, they are overwhelmed, and being tempted to fall away. The writer of Hebrews uses three illustrations of the human body as a means of helping us to understand how it is done. I believe this is a continuation of the thought in 12:1, to run the race with endurance.
The weaker believer is pictured as a marathon runner who is running out of gas and is barely able to stand, let alone run. In a race, “hands that are weak,” or “hands that hang down,” are an indicator that the runner is tired and about to give up. When we read, “knees that are feeble or tottering,” picture legs that are unable to run properly. It becomes the privilege as well as the obligation of the mature believer, the one “running the race with endurance,” to identify those that are weak, and impart some strength to them. And then, when making “straight paths,” the more mature one will enable the weaker one not to veer off course and drop out, but rather to finish the race.
In Hebrews 12:14, the writer now deals with the mature believer’s obligation to himself. “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Peace with all men is a two-way transaction, which brings to mind what Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” The sanctification without which no one will see the Lord is positional sanctification—that which all believers in Messiah receive upon salvation. One pursues that through practical sanctification, seeking to live holy lives in Messiah as He conforms us to the image of Himself.
Lastly, in verses 15–17, the writer sees three dangers that might challenge believers. The first is a failure to continue to grow toward maturity. There is a danger that a believer might become so preoccupied with negative situations and circumstances that he will not take refuge in God’s grace to enable him to endure the adversity. Therefore, that believer might face a second danger, that is, he may become embittered. That “root of bitterness” would not only affect the believer, it would very likely influence others to become bitter, as well.
Finally, this would likely lead to a third danger, best illustrated by the life of Esau. In order to satisfy his physical appetite, hunger, Esau voluntarily surrendered every privilege to which he was heir as a son. The physical gratification from the food he received from Jacob was very brief, whereas the benefits he would have received, had he held on to the promised blessings, would have been eternal. The decision he made to exchange God’s blessings for physical gratification determined Esau’s future. The comparison is that these Jewish believers who are being warned, like Esau, were willing to exchange incredible spiritual blessings of a mature faith in Messiah for physical gratification, in this case momentary relief from persecution and suffering. Just as Esau found no place for repentance, Isaac could not withdraw the blessing on Jacob and give the blessing to Esau. Immature believers who go back to the traditional Judaism of the day have been warned that they will lose blessings available to them in this life and rewards in the life to come.