Make sure 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. And make sure that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for one meal. (Hebrews 12:15-16 HCSB)
In the early church, the apostles appointed men to keep watch over the flock (Acts 20:28, 1 Ti 3:2). The Greek word for this is episkopos(G1985), lit., an overseer” (epi, “over,” skopeo, “to look or watch”). They were to be the human shepherds for the flock of God.
Christ Himself is called an episkopos
For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25 HCSB)
The phrase from Heb 12:15-16 translated as “Make sure” (HCSB), “Looking diligently” (KJV) “See to it” (NASB) is the verb form episkopeō. This is the work of a shepherd. The work of over-seeing.
No one falls short of the grace of God
This phrase is identical to Romans 3:23 which asserts that all have fallen short of the glory of God. An overseer has the responsibility to guide the flock to the grace. I can picture a flock of sheep crowding around the feeding trough. The weak are crowded out. They are falling short. The shepherd steps up and pushes aside the stronger sheep and brings the weak ones to the grace.
In the age of the mega-church where a pastor leads a flock of thousands how does this happen? Such a pastor is so busy that he cannot possibly know what is going on in the weak of the flock.
We live in the era of the self-made sheep. We want sheep who are strong. Sheep who will show up and do the right thing. Sheep who will listen to the shepherd on video. Sheep who will feed themselves.
They come and they go. In the front door and out the back. Too weak to take care of themselves they are easy prey. We encourage them to join a small group but most will not. Most small group leaders are just sheep themselves having no idea of their mission to be a shepherd.
The Root of Bitterness
In the midst of the flock a root of bitterness springs up. The sheep start eating this poisonous bitter root and many are defiled. The overseer has to check the pasture looking for such roots and removing them before they can take hold. This picture comes from Deuteronomy 29:18.
Be sure there is no man, woman, clan, or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations. Be sure there is no root among you bearing poisonous and bitter fruit. (Deuteronomy 29:18 HCSB)
Among the flock there are those who say – “Check this out, a new root! Look how tasty it is!” Why would the sheep listen to this?
Because eating the bitter root is so much easier than worshipping the true God. Inevitably, false worship is easier than true worship. The false worship appeals to our pride telling us how we can have what we want. We can be like God. We don’t have to submit, in fact we are god! If this root take hold, it will defile many.
More Feeling, Less Doctrine
Why do we have to be so hung up on doctrine? It is so divisive. Why can’t we just have a big party with some great music and worship together. It feels so good. This is how we know the truth right? A feeling? A burning in my soul? A new taste?
Doctrine has become the dirty word of the modern evangelical church. We have left behind the structure of denominations to become a theological “big tent” where everyone and every idea is welcome. We avoid teaching the difficult portions of scripture and keep to the easy parts because we don’t want to offend anyone. A flock that is run this way will likely be large but will also eat almost anything including a root of bitterness.
Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths. But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:2-5 HCSB)
didaskalia – Instruction, doctrine is the fence that keeps the wolves out. It keeps the sheep in. It keeps them safe. Feeding on the food God has for them and away from the bitter root.
Esau was a man’s man. A tough outdoorsy type. He wanted what he wanted. He was a pornos – immoral man. He was the firstborn. He had a blessing coming to him but he sold the birthright to satisfy a physical desire. He traded something of immense worth for a single meal.
For all our advances as a society we are still prone to pornos. Just this morning a friend on Facebook wrote “I’ll admit it. I like pornography.” Why not? We are awash in images of beautiful young bodies. Who doesn’t want to look at these images? Such a person is bebēlos.
This word is very interesting. It comes from two base words which mean to cross a threshold. Such a person is accessible. An unlocked door. Open to anything which wants to come inside.
Esau couldn’t imagine that any future blessing was more important than satisfying an immediate hunger. This made him very vulnerable. The shepherds were instructed to make sure that there were not any sheep like this in the flock. How? Kick them out? Teach them? Anything is better than allowing them to continue as they are.
The battle for our hearts and minds rages continually. The flesh wants what it wants and we will either be an open door trading away the eternal blessing for the single meal, the single orgasm or we will say no recognizing that this would be a terrible trade.
God help me to lock that door. Amen.