Lay Hold on the Hope Before You
1, 2. Why should you seriously consider the matter of laying hold on your hope?
THE apostle Paul wrote that “we actually become partakers of the Christ only if we make fast our hold on the confidence we had at the beginning firm to the end.” (Hebrews 3:14) He also spoke of our need “to lay hold on the hope set before us.”—Hebrews 6:18.
2 You may have become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses recently and are zealously sure of your convictions. Or you may have been a Christian witness for decades and feel solid in the way of the truth. In either case, likely each of us can call to mind some people we know who have ceased walking in the way of the truth, even as occurred in the first century. (Philippians 3:18; Acts 20:30) Some may gradually have lost their faith, become preoccupied with material interests or given in to temptation and sinned.
3-5. How can the book of Hebrews be of help with regard to our hope?
3 How can we prevent that from happening to us? Let us reflect on counsel in the book of Hebrews. We will see how appropriate this is for our time, by the faithful endurance of many modern-day witnesses of Jehovah who have been strengthened by such counsel.
4 Hebrews was written to Christians who were “partakers of the heavenly calling.” They were anointed with God’s spirit and had the solid hope of following Christ the forerunner into heaven. As you can imagine, ‘this hope was an anchor for the soul, both sure and firm.’ Still, Paul called attention to the need “to lay hold on the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 3:1; 6:18-20) If they had such a need, how much more now do the anointed remnant and the “great crowd” who expect to survive the coming “great tribulation.”—Revelation 7:9, 15.
5 In Hebrews Jehovah alerts us to dangers such as ‘drifting away,’ ‘falling away,’ ‘becoming sluggish,’ ‘shrinking back to destruction’ or ‘begging off.’ (Hebrews 2:1; 6:6, 12; 10:39; 12:25) The book offers fine counsel to help us to show “industriousness so as to have the full assurance of the hope down to the end” and to be “the sort that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.”—Hebrews 6:11; 10:39.
“Not the Sort That Shrink Back”
6. What had Hebrew Christians faced, yet what need did they have?
6 Evidently many of the Hebrew Christians had experienced persecution. They “endured a great contest under sufferings,” such as being exposed in a Roman theater or jeopardizing themselves by coming to the aid of those in prison. (Hebrews 10:32-34) Nonetheless, they had to work at not being “the sort that shrink back to destruction, but [being] the sort that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.”—Hebrews 10:39.
7. (a) How might the prospect of persecution affect a Christian? (b) What should you ask yourself?
7 So there is the danger that a Christian might develop a fear of opposition, causing him to “shrink back” or compromise. How about us? We may have had a limited amount of opposition, such as from schoolmates or fellow workers. Even physical abuse, as from an unbelieving mate or parent, has come to some. Yet in many lands it is rather unusual for a Witness to be severely persecuted because of his faith. This can make him less prepared for intense persecution and more liable to “shrink back” when it comes. Let us ask, ‘Might I, after having lived a comfortable life, be tempted to shrink back if I were seriously threatened, such as with the loss of my home, employment or access to my family, or with imprisonment and physical abuse?’
8. What advice about coping with persecution does Hebrews offer us?
8 When commenting on showing faith under adversity, Paul urged us to consider how Jesus endured. (Hebrews 12:2, 3) Then Paul reminded us that if severe persecution comes, we should view it as a form of profitable discipline. Of course, God is not causing the persecution; he is merely permitting it. Still, persecution can train us or help us to improve in needed Christian qualities, such as endurance, patience, loyalty and trust in Jehovah.—Hebrews 12:4-11; James 1:2-4.
9. (a) How do we know that imperfect humans can endure persecution? (b) What occurred with some sisters in a communist land during the 1960’s?
9 Lest we feel that only a perfect man could endure, as did Jesus, Hebrews highlights imperfect men and women like us who endured through faith. (Hebrews 11:35-40; 12:1) The “cloud of witnesses” who have endured by faith have been added to in modern times. In August 1982 a Swiss journal printed an article relating one woman’s experiences with Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned at a women’s labor camp in a communist land a couple of decades before. Here is the gist of some of her comments:
Only the larger churches have partial freedom because they preach what the State permits. It is not so with the smaller faiths meeting in homes. The most persecuted are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many Witnesses in whose homes copies of The Watchtower were found have been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. It can be understood, then, why the camp authorities were exasperated when the Witnesses somehow kept getting literature in quantity. Every prisoner had been stripped naked and searched, and their clothing was searched to the last thread. Also, any prisoner working in the fields was watched by armed guards and searched upon coming back through the gate. Still the literature appeared. It was as if angels at night flew over and dropped it. Most of the Witnesses were younger women. The first imprisonment would be for 5 to 7 years, the second conviction for not less than 10 years. The Witnesses were the worst off in the camp. When more than three of them met, they were ordered to disperse.
10. Hebrews helps us reach what determination regarding persecution?
10 Concerning the ancient examples of faith under persecution, Hebrews says that “the world was not worthy of them,” but that Jehovah will see that they are “made perfect” in the earthly Paradise. Who could ask for more? So let us take to heart both ancient and modern examples of faith. Rather than ‘shrinking back to destruction,’ we must be determined to “have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.”—Hebrews 11:38, 40; 10:39.
Let Us Not “Drift Away”
11. How could ‘drifting away’ be a danger for someone who has been a Christian for quite a while?
11 As Hebrews shows, another danger is ‘drifting away.’ (Hebrews 2:1) Consider how that might occur. A person—it could be any of us—became a Christian and was admirably filled with enthusiasm. He readily shared in the field ministry even when he had only limited Biblical knowledge. (Acts 3:1-9; 8:39; 13:48, 49) After some years his excitement should have matured into ardent zeal and deep devotion. Has it? Does he view the Christian ministry as a means to display his love for God and to aid others, as he himself was aided? Or has it become a routine, a chore? If he has children, does he regularly and enthusiastically urge them to be full-time ministers? Or does he mention it only casually and with less conviction than what he says about their getting advanced schooling, having a high-paying job or acquiring an elegant home?—Revelation 2:4.
12. (a) Hebrews offers us what recommendation so we can avoid ‘drifting away’? (b) What questions might we consider as to paying attention to the Word?
12 A step to avoid ‘drifting away’ is our ‘paying more than the usual attention to the things heard.’ (Hebrews 2:1) Some of the Hebrew Christians failed in this. After learning the “primary doctrine about the Christ,” they did not “press on to maturity.” When they ‘ought to have been teachers,’ they were still on elementary things. (Hebrews 5:12–6:2) What about us? Are we merely “coasting” or are we progressing through attention to personal study? Do we try to read part of the Bible daily? Do we study Christian publications with genuine interest, even conversing with others about new things we learn? Are we helping our children to progress beyond the ‘milk of the Word’? Can they explain from the Bible the truth about the soul, resurrection, Trinity, Paradise earth, and so forth? Are they doing that in the field service, not remaining at last year’s level?—1 Peter 3:15.
13. Our imprisoned sisters set what pattern as to study, suggesting what for us?
13 Concerning imprisoned Witnesses, the article related:
In their little free time they applied themselves to memorizing Bible passages. Also, they worked at learning foreign languages, particularly English, French and German. The literature they acquired was sometimes in these languages, and those who learned them could thus translate the material for other sisters.
Though few of us are forced as they were to work long hours on a restricted food supply, are we as industriously using our free time to give “more than the usual attention to the things heard”?
Do Not ‘Fall Away’
14. What can befall even persons who have long been Christians?
14 After urging us to continue progressing, Hebrews warns that those “who have once for all been enlightened” can ‘fall away,’ perhaps to the point of being beyond repentance. (Hebrews 6:4-8) Yes, Christians who have long served God, even anointed ones who have “become partakers of holy spirit,” might be drawn toward something tempting in the present system.
15. How have some fallen away in connection with sex and with business activities?
15 A number have fallen away through the desire of the flesh or the desire for wealth. (1 John 2:16) Of course, sexual desire is involved when youths give in to premarital sex. But consider another aspect. Some married persons have grown tired of their mate and met up with another person who seems more attractive, makes more interesting conversation or is more successful in this world. Sadly, this has led to divorces and immoral remarriages. Others have “fallen away” to material pursuits, being drawn into business practices that are clearly dishonest or that ignore the government’s licensing and tax requirements. (Matthew 22:21) Or they have promoted pyramid-type monetary ventures or get-rich-quick schemes that tempt people to take greedy advantage of their brothers. (Compare Acts 20:33; 2 Thessalonians 3:10, 11.) These endeavors, aside from their often eclipsing Kingdom interests, have sometimes resulted in hard feelings and disputes, if not charges of fraud. The Bible has been proved true: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare.”—1 Timothy 6:9.
16. The imprisoned sisters set what good example in resisting temptations?
16 If we humbly recognize that we are not so strong that we could not fall, then we should be determined not to give in to the beginnings of temptation and sin. (Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 10:12) The sisters in the labor camp provide us with a good example:
Some of them were taken, one by one, to a large city where there were stores, movie theaters and other entertainment. For example, two of the secret police led a sister into a store with plenty of food on display. They told her, ‘Choose what you want.’ She said that she didn’t need anything. It was awful to show shelves of fresh bread and pastries to a worn-out person who had had little to eat for years. Similar temptations were tried at the department stores and theaters. Though they kept her there for a few weeks and promised freedom if she would abandon the faith, nothing availed. They were able to break down only one sister. Months later she came back to the camp, having put on weight and now dressed in fancy clothing. She gave a two-hour lecture to her former sisters, who did not even greet her. Apparently the secret police thought that this was a very ingenious effort and that the sisters would line up and renounce their faith. They got the opposite result.
17. How should we feel about temptations that we face?
17 Do you feel that you could have been resolute in the face of those temptations? But what about the temptations you do face? Paul wrote: “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God; but keep on exhorting one another each day, as long as it may be called ‘Today,’ for fear any one of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12, 13) To avoid falling away or drawing away, we need to concentrate on “today.”
Manifesting Faith “Today”
18. Why did the Israelites fail to enter into God’s rest?
18 Paul based his comment about “today” on a quotation from Psalm 95:7-11. (Hebrews 3:7-11) As that passage mentions, the Israelites had hardened their hearts during the days of Moses. The Israelites, after hearing the report of Joshua and Caleb about the Promised Land, manifested lack of faith. (Numbers 13:17–14:38) Even though they there could enjoy peace and blessings during God’s ongoing rest day, the Israelites, with hardened hearts and unbelief, refused to move into the land and live there. So God had them wander in the wilderness for 40 years.—Hebrews 3:17-19.
19. When and how can we enter into Jehovah’s rest?
19 God’s great Sabbath Day, or rest day, continues. (Genesis 1:31–2:3) Paul wrote that “a promise is left of entering into his rest.” (Hebrews 4:1, 9) Hence, we Christians can now enter or remain in that “rest.” How? By exercising faith, not in the Joshua of ancient times, but in the Greater Joshua, our leader Jesus. We also need to cease from works of unbelief, such as those manifested by people who do not truly believe that a New Order will ever come. Their lives center on recreation or pleasures. They may want to “be somebody,” such as by acquiring a position or a title. Or they may pursue a philosophy of being a “nice” person.
20, 21. (a) What works do we need to avoid? (b) What good work should we share in, as exemplified by the imprisoned sisters?
20 If we do have faith in Jesus and what lies ahead for God’s people, we should show that by our activities. Paul wrote: “The man that has entered into God’s rest has also himself rested from his own works.” (Hebrews 4:10) Hence, instead of works of unbelief or those in which a person tries to justify himself, we must have works reflecting our faith.
21 A prime Christian work is speaking about Jehovah God and his Son. Concerning Jesus, Paul urged: “Let us hold onto our confessing of him.” (Hebrews 4:14) Naturally, we can and should do that in Christian meetings as we make public declaration there of our hope. (Hebrews 10:23-25) But that “public declaration” should include confessing to outsiders our beliefs and hopes. Really, we should feel compelled to make “a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to [God’s] name.” (Hebrews 13:15; 1 Corinthians 9:16) The author of the article mentioned earlier tells of a conversation with one sister:
I said the authorities are putting all of you in prisons, not because of your beliefs, but because you preach to others. If you would sit alone at home and quietly pray, no one would know. She replied, ‘That is true, but our obligation is to speak to others and to gain new brothers and sisters. We cannot be self-centered and prepare just for our own life on earth during the millennium. All people have to know about what life then will be like.’
22. What conviction based on Hebrews do you have?
22 You can see that a key point in Hebrews is that we must “do our utmost to enter into [God’s] rest, for fear anyone should fall in . . . disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11) We can have the deep satisfaction of being in that rest right now, as well as the assured hope of continuing in it when all alive on earth worship God. There is no question about Jehovah’s willingness to bless and preserve those who, through faith and obedience, enter into his rest now. He is “the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Hebrews 11:6) If there is any question, it is about us. Yet even we need not be in question. By our faith and endurance, and with God’s help, we can “lay hold on the hope set before us.”—Hebrews 6:18.
Have You Benefited?
□ What particular counsel or lesson did you draw from Hebrews?
□ How can you benefit from the example of some imprisoned sisters?
□ What does Hebrews 2:1 urge you to do to avoid drifting away?
□ How can you enter into God’s rest?
[Blurb on page 22]
Many Witnesses in whose home copies of The Watchtower were found have been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment
[Blurb on page 23]
The Witnesses were the worst off in the camp. When more than three of them met, they were ordered to disperse
[Picture on page 25]
The Israelites heard Joshua and Caleb’s report but showed lack of faith. So they could not enter into God’s rest in the Promised Land