Hebrews 12:1-17

HEBREWS 12:1-17
This passage is not directly about sexual intimacy. So – why are we studying it if our topic is intimacy? Let me explain.

Hebrews 12:16
“See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau” – this phrase connects with Hebrews 13:4“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

The phrase “sexually immoral” translates one Greek word in both passage – πόρνος – “pornos” – from which we derive the English word, “pornography.”

We all know the story of Esau despising his birthright (Genesis 25:19-34). Esau treated his place in the family, and all its responsibilities and privileges, flippantly. Instead of behaving responsibly, he abdicated his role and satisfied his stomach. Again and again, Esau demonstrated his lack of concern for his family responsibilities. His actions revealed deep character flaws.

The writer of Hebrews mentions Esau as a warning to his readers. He seems to be condemning reckless and irresponsible behavior in 12:16-17. In 12:16 and 13:4, the writer also mentions sexual immorality. Commentators disagree about why this word is used in 12:16 in connection to Esau. Three options have been pursued by scholars:

  • Pornos” simply refers to sexually immoral behavior and has nothing to do with Esau. The writer simply mentions it and then moves on to Esau’s sin. (This is the view I take)
  • Pornos” is to be viewed more broadly than just sexual immorality and taken to mean that Esau was “unfaithful” to God in his behavior, much like an unfaithful spouse.
  • Pornos” refers to Esau’s behavior as a sexually immoral person. This is not stated in the Biblical account but is mentioned in the Jewish Hagadah. Perhaps the writer was familiar with this Jewish teaching and how it portrayed Esau as a morally corrupt person.

I tend to choose the simplest interpretation. That would be the first one on the list above. The writer is referring to sexual immorality. He is warning the readers to protect the church from this type of behavior. He uses the same word in 13:4 and it certainly is referring to sexually immoral behavior.

Now this word “pornos” refers to a person who indulges in fornication and/or sexually immoral behavior. More specifically, it refers to a person who engages in sexual activity with someone other than their spouse. It is never used positively in the New Testament. In fact, Paul warns the church at Corinth to not associate with sexually immoral people (1 Corinthians 5:9). He also instructs the church to flee sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18). And – as we read already in Hebrews 13:4 – God will judge the sexually immoral.

So, while the entire text of Hebrews 12 is not specifically a treatise on sexuality and intimacy, it includes this one statement that connects to the broader context of the New Testament. A form of this word “pornos” is used over 40 times in the New Testament. As I mentioned, it is never presented positively. Again, the word refers to sexual intimacy outside the bonds of marriage between a husband and wife.

This is particularly challenging to us when the views about sexual morality are so lax in our culture. The belief that pre-marital sexual activity is wrong is no longer the prevailing view in our culture. Some would argue it never was! However, there is no question the views on this issue have changed dramatically in the past generation or so. Some of us are old enough to remember Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s twin beds in their bedroom! Things have changed!

And – the statistical information bears this out. According to an article in The New York Times, we have crossed a threshold in America with respect to pre-marital sexual activity:

It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage. Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America:

-Among mothers of all ages, 59 percent are married when they have children.

-But in the “women under thirty” category, for the first time a majority of women (53 percent) are unmarried when they give birth.

-The rise in these births to unmarried women comes largely from couples who are living together. Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t provide the stable homes that most children  need. Nearly two-thirds of these cohabitating couples split up    by the time their child reaches 10.
-Jason DeParle and Sabrina Tavernise, “For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage,” The New York Times (2-18-12)

Notice the statistic for new mothers under the age of 30 – 53% of them are not married when they have children. Again, our culture does not share the view that sexual activity beyond the boundaries of marriage is morally wrong. The evidence is in. In the age group under the age of 30, unmarried parents are in the majority now. Pre-marital sexual activity is more the norm than the exception. Further, notice the statistic that points to the instability of these homes as most of these co-habiting couples are no longer together by the time their child reaches the age of 10. Sobering reality!

Hebrews 12:1-3
This chapter opens with a brief reference to the “witnesses” from Hebrews 11. These first verses point the reader to Jesus. He is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He is worthy of our focus. We are to focus our eyes on Him. He is our example in every respect. His humility in obedience to God’s plan should encourage us to follow in His steps.

Our obedience to God’s plan for our lives is exhibited when we demonstrate our willingness to abandon our sinfulness like a runner sheds a warm-up suit. We also prove our diligence by running the race with perseverance.

As we compare our need for humility and obedience to Jesus – we are reminded that He died on the cross for us. He made the ultimate sacrifice for our sakes. Again, this should encourage us to be obedient and humble in our walk with Him.

With respect, to sexually immoral behavior, we should demonstrate a willingness to recognize how it hinders our progress as believers and abandon it for the glory of God. Our example is Jesus. He humbled Himself and obeyed the commands of God.

Hebrews 12:4-13
This section of the chapter deals with the parental role God plays in our lives. God is working in our lives to help us move beyond what imprisons us or hinders us from spiritual progress. He disciplines us when we disobey. He only does this because He loves us. He is not trying to discourage us. He is attempting to help us grow and mature in our faith. His disciplining hand is not meant to just invoke pain – but to teach us valuable lessons from a loving Father.

Hebrews 12:14-17
Here is the exhortation to holy living. The examples given in Hebrews 11 should encourage and inspire us to live holy lives. Jesus is our best example. He is the author of our faith. He is the focal point of our affection. We are to follow Him. When we fail, we may experience the discipline of God the Father. He is trying to lead us into a deeper and more meaningful life with Him. He doesn’t want us to be hindered by our own sinfulness.

Finally, we are to live holy lives. We need to experience God’s grace in its fullest measure. We are to both receive and give grace. If we don’t fully experience God’s grace, we can be susceptible to bitterness; either because we don’t fully accept our own forgiveness or because we don’t forgive others. We are to avoid the root of bitterness because it wreaks so much havoc.

And – followers of Jesus are not to be sexually immoral. We are not to be cavalier about the commands of God. Esau was disrespectful of God’s desires and he was judged for it. God expects better from us.