Hebrews 2:1 – Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
How many times have I read the Book of Hebrews? I do not know. I was raised in a Christian home where I read the Bible. I moved form my pastor father’s home to the home of another pastor and lived there for three years. I went from there to seminary where I studied the Bible pretty intensively. I have been pastoring now for 35 years and I suspect that I have read the New Testament hundreds of times. I believe the Bible is the Word of God and that it is true. But more than that, for the purposes of this little piece of writing, the Bible is powerful. It is, in a later section of Hebrews, said to be sharper than a two edged sword and able to divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is light. It is God speaking to us. It equips us for every good work. It has everything we need for life and godliness. And yet. There it is. And yet, God has so ordered things that even after reading it and memorizing it and knowing its contents and intents and accomplishments, it still needs to be constantly read and re-memorized and studied. Even those texts that have been studied so many times before. Even those texts that we could recite in our sleep.
God has made us in such a way, and sin has marked us so indelibly, that if we leave off consulting the Word of God, even after we have read it hundreds of times, we can drift away. Even after preaching it for thirty-five years, we cannot assume that we will do what it says. The opening verse of Hebrews 2 tells us that we must pay careful attention to the things that we have heard, lest we drift away from it. Are we supposed to contextualize the verse so much that we miss what it says to us? This is God telling me that I can drift away if I do not pay close attention to myself. Drift away, even after 35 years of preaching? Even after having memorized a lot of it from simply reading it so much? Even after knowing the Greek and the point of the texts and how they make sense in a senseless world? Yes, even after all that.
If we rest on our past performance, no matter how complete, influential, studied, or accurate, we will drift away from the teachings of the Word of God. History bears this out. Who can say how many preachers, missionaries, students, scholars, … have, after decades of faithful service, began, for whatever reasons, to drift away from consulting and studying and reading and praying over the Word – fell away? The number is incalculable, I suspect.
Get into the Word of God – again – and again – and again. If you find that you do not need to do that, you are already drifting away. If you would never say that you do not need to get into the Scriptures constantly and yet do not do as you say – you are already drifting away. If you skim over the familiar bits, the difficult bits, the boring bits, because you know what is being said, or you know you won’t get anything out of it anyway or you know that it will put you to sleep – you are already drifting away. If you only read your favourite bits or the parts that prove the validity of the theological school that you have latched yourself onto. If you read out of habit, out of fear of being one of those Christians who no longer reads his Bible, or out of pride – you are already drifting away. If you shake your head at the falling away of others with an attitude that knows you would never do such a thing, you are already drifting away. If you love to talk about how stupid or careless or faithless others have been to fall away, you are already drifting away. If you read just to preach or get a study done for others to pay attention to, then you are drifting away.
Hebrews 2:1 does not say, read your Bible. It does not say that you should get your four chapters a day completed – or ten – for the really self sanctified. It does not say take good notes, write a journal of your readings or share your insights with an anxious on-line community. It certainly does not say study it to show that you are the one who is right or so that you can win the next argument or wow others with your ability to bring up the right text or reference no matter what the topic of discussion. It does not say that this will fuel up your efforts in writing the book that you just know the world needs to read. It does not say a ton of stuff. It says – pay attention to what you have heard. It says anyone can drift away. You – with all your knowledge. You, with all your education, experience, insights, understandings, spiritual gifts, abilities of exegesis, exposition, and expertise. You, who have stood faithful while others fell by the wayside. You who have been called to help the doubting, the fearful, the hopeless. You, who, in the words of Tevye, can solve problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes. You are in danger of drifting away.
The scariest part of drifting away from the truth is that it can happen without the drifter knowing it. This text does not say what the obvious signs of drifting away will be. But it can happen without ever leaving a church, or ceasing to serve in a ministry, preach the Gospel, be part of a vibrant living church or be part of leading others to Jesus Christ. The churches of Sardis and Laodicea were still open and filled with people when Jesus told them that they were absent of any redeeming qualities worth mentioning. The priests of Malachi’s day had no idea how they showed that they did not love God and even despised His name. There will be people who will stand before the judge of all the earth and give reason why they should be allowed entrance into the Kingdom – and they will be wrong. They drifted without even knowing it.
We are called; we are all of us called, to pay careful attention to what we have heard so that we will not drift away. How I need to see that before this text gives me the duty to preach to those who sit under my preaching week in and week out, it gives me the duty to examine myself before I enter the pulpit. Pay very careful attention to what you have heard out of the Scriptures. Even you can succumb to the temptation to hold on a little less tenaciously and wake up some morning and find that you have drifted. And when that happens you may just have the attitude that most drifters have – you will think that you have grown into your driftedness and have been rescued from the foolish things that you had heard. You will rejoice at your new found liberation.
Pay closer attention.