When God inquired into Abel’s whereabouts, Cain famously asked: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). Cain assumed that the answer was self-evidently: “Of course not.” He was wrong—at least, from the perspective of the early Christian leaders who wrote what has become our New Testament. Against the modern, Western trend to regard our faith and practice as something that we are free to work out privately between ourselves and God, these early Christian leaders would challenge us to lower the privacy screens we place between us and our sisters and brothers in Christ, both so that we can watch over them and so they can watch over us.
The members of the house churches addressed by the Letter to the Hebrews had experienced considerable pressure from their non-Christian neighbors to back off from their commitment to this new “cult” (that is, the Christian faith!). They wanted them to take up again the practices that bound them to their non-Christian neighbors and reinforced the values of the larger society, whether close observance of the Jewish law and the proper boundaries between Jews and Gentiles or a return to the social and religious activities of the Gentile population. The Christ-followers had met this pressure head-on in the earlier days of their faith journey (Heb. 10:32–35), but over time the shaming and sidelining were beginning to take their toll—to the point that some of their number had already visibly drawn back from Christian fellowship and from association with this unpopular movement (Heb. 10:25).
The member of Paul’s team who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews well understood the value of social reinforcement of a believer’s commitment to discipleship within the Christian assemblies for increasing the likelihood of that individual withstanding the social deterrents from without. And so he gives these instructions:
Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. (Heb. 3:12–14)
It’s helpful here if we look a bit behind the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) at the author’s actual words. The opening command is something more like “Watch out,” or “Be on the lookout.” He also uses a plural form of the command, so his audience would hear something along the lines of “Y’all be on the lookout lest any one among y’all” exhibits these symptoms. In other words, he is very clearly commending the spiritual care of each individual member to all the other members of these assemblies. He gives all of us together the responsibility for facilitating the perseverance of any one among us. Though we face different social pressures in North America than those faced by the congregations addressed by Hebrews, the need to watch over one another and the need to “exhort one another”—to keep one another focused on the priorities and goals that God’s work in and through our lives sets before us—remains constant.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Can you recall one or two episodes when a timely word or conversation with a brother or sister in the Lord helped you to continue in a direction toward godly goals rather than lose heart or, perhaps, even turn in a direction that would not please God?
- Can you recall, similarly, one or two episodes when you intervened healthfully in this way for a brother or sister in the Lord?
- By contrast, can you recall an episode in which, looking back, you would now have wished that a brother or sister was watching out for you more closely—or you for a brother or sister—so as perhaps to have avoided a detour in a faith journey?
Closing Prayer for Session Seven
Lord Jesus, we thank you for the family that you have given us, that you have entrusted to our care, and to whose care you have entrusted us. Help us to watch over one another in love more and more effectively. Lead us to take the time and make the opportunities to check in with one another and to discover if a sister or brother is in need of some particular help or intervention. Give us the wisdom we need to offer timely counsel, support, and assistance in a manner that can most readily be received. Give us also the humility to accept the same from our sisters and brothers when we stand in need of their care. We ask this in your name. Amen.
If you’re ready to take community life to the next level, get the foundational study that will lead you into this deeper understanding of the Christian life. One Another by David deSilva paints the New Testament vision for our relationships, interactions, and interventions with one another in a local Christian community. This vision impels us to encourage and support one another, offering reinforcement for holy living that, according to the apostles, we owe one another as the people not only welcomed into relationship with God through Jesus Christ, but given as gifts to one another for this very purpose.
- Group leader training
- Small group studies
- Sunday school classes
- Discipleship bands
In these pages you’ll:
- Gain an appreciation for how we thrive in community
- Wrestle with our command to receive from and contribute to others’ faith
- Understand the biblical teaching on God’s people, the body of Christ
- Be challenged to abandon individualistic versions of the Christian faith