Paul's warning to the Hebrews here is a bit stronger than what he says in Philippians 1:27. He says there, "Let's all with one mind strive together to keep the faith of the gospel." Here he says, "Give earnest heed to the doctrine, to the gospel, to the things we heard, because we're in danger of losing it!" He feels he must frighten them, saying, "Don't you remember that under the Mosaic dispensation people were punished very severely for neglecting what they had heard? Every transgression and disobedience received a just reward. How much greater under the dispensation through Christ, the Son?" He is quite serious. Work hard. Be diligent. Make your calling sure!
It is about this same time that Peter and Jude add their voices to his. The brethren were undergoing a rough time because false ministers and false teachers were in the church, and like us, they also had to fight off the pressures from the world to conform. It takes great effort to resist both in the church and out in the world. When there are problems among us, it is tough. When we must also resist all the downward pulls outside in society, it is a difficult, sore trial. Thus, Paul uses particularly strong language to motivate them to stand up, face the problem, give it their all, and vanquish it.
Are we in a similar circumstance? Perhaps some of the details are different; the deception has taken a somewhat different form (this time we do not have to contend with Gnosticism, per se). However, there is enough similarity that warnings here, as well as in the books of Peter, John, and Jude, make a lot of sense. Certainly the results, the fruit of false teaching, are the same: apostasy, falling away, confusion, distrust (especially of those who have been given a measure of authority, the ministry), scattering, and disunity. The apostles, then, are speaking to us.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
What had happened to the people to whom the book of Hebrews was written? They were losing—indeed, had already lost—much of their former conviction. Though they had plenty to believe in relation to God, as Paul shows within the epistle, their conviction was dissipating through neglect. They were not working out their salvation (Philippians 2:12); thus, they were losing it!
Conviction is the opposite of superficiality. This does not mean a superficial person cannot be religious. Rather, he may appear religious outwardly, but in terms of a true, inward transformation of the heart, he is lacking, as seen in the absence of zeal in seeking change or in real application of righteousness.
In Paul's judgment, the Hebrews had lost the internal certainty that what they believed was right, trustworthy, and so important that they should willingly give their lives to it. They were allowing other concerns like business, social, and entertainment matters too much time and attention. In the world, the forces of hostile skepticism are everywhere and constantly pressuring a Christian from every angle. The Hebrews' works showed that they were steadily retreating before that pressure.
This world is the Christian's largest, broadest field of battle, and nearly constant influences designed to drive a wedge into our carnality emanate from it. What happens if we neglect the right use of God's gift of faith? Hebrews shows us that a Christian does not immediately "lose it," but as he slowly spirals downward, spiritual life becomes merely an intellectual position to be held, not a striving after righteousness. God becomes merely an object of intellectual thought, not a motivation for change of behavior and attitude to imitate Him. Church attendance and religion become intellectualized but not experiential. That is how Laodiceanism (Revelation 3:14-22) becomes a reality in a Christian's life. This is especially likely to occur when a Christian group is economically comfortable.
God's gift of faith is intended by Him to be intellectual, practical, and motivational. This brings us back to the many examples Paul uses in Hebrews 11 to illustrate how faith is most profitably used. He provides an orderly arrangement of instruction from basic definitions and builds toward the more difficult principles.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)
Because God has spoken to us by His Son, and because His Son is so great and so glorious, and because the subject which is addressed is of such infinite importance to us and to our welfare, He says we ought to give the more earnest heed to it.
Earnest is an important word. It means "abundantly," "more exceedingly," "much more frequently," or "more super-abundant" heed. Paul is saying to pay attention intensely to what God is doing in our lives!
We should pray and study with great care and concern lest we should let God's Word slip, which means to "let it [God's Word] run out"—to leak out like a barrel with a cracked plug. The barrel is full, and it very slowly starts to leak.
Another analogy would be to "drift away." Envision a rowboat tied to a pier, but the rope loosens and falls into the water. Someone on hand could reach down, grab the rope, and retie it. But if this simple task is neglected, then the boat, which had been floating right next to the piling, slowly drifts away. Soon it will be ten feet away, then fifty feet, and in time it is on the horizon where the water is rough. Paul instructs us not to let that happen. Do not let it drift away! Pay attention! If we become superficial in our prayer and study, then our once keen vision of God will begin to blur.
If those without God's Spirit who heard God's Word died in the wilderness as punishment for disobeying God, how much greater will be our punishment for drifting away? To us, God says, "Pay attention!" Our chance for salvation is now! If we are not successful, then our hope is lost! Paul advises us to see the scope of what God is doing in our lives. We must constantly remind ourselves of His purpose for our calling. We must pray and study with that purpose at the forefront of our minds.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Don't Take God for Granted
These verses are similar to Proverbs 21:16: "A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead." The person who is neglecting his salvation is not deliberately setting his mind to turn away from God or His way of life. He is simply, through neglect, allowing himself to drift in that direction. He does not plan to go that way; he gets distracted by things in his life—by hobbies, work, rearing children, and a great many other things. No matter what it is, he allows himself to neglect what has been given to him.
The metaphor used here is of a boat that has slipped its mooring and is drifting within the harbor. Just drifting with the current.
Both of these verses point to a major problem we see in the end-time church of God. We may call it Laodiceanism, and that is a very nice "tag" to put on it. We can comfortably say the word, but are we aware that a Laodicean is a drifter? A Laodicean is somebody who is hanging on to the best of both possible worlds, as he sees it. He has one foot in the church and one foot in the world, and he does not realize that he is drifting.
This is the kind of person that God says He finds unpalatable—one He will spit out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Examples of Divine Justice
The author provides a penetrating insight into the attitude of the Ephesus era of God's people. This epistle was written somewhere around the mid-60s AD, some thirty years before the book of Revelation. We can assume from the book of Revelation that spiritual conditions did not improve—in fact, that things gradually became worse. Rather than the people recapturing what they had been devoted to before (in response to the exhortation of the apostle Paul, which appears now as the book of Hebrews), they continued to drift apart.
John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ
These Hebrew Christians were neglecting what they were given. William Barclay's translation of the first clause of verse 1 reads, "We must, therefore, with very special intensity [the opposite of "apathy"] pay attention to what we have heard" (our emphasis). The wonderful message that these people had heard was drifting from their minds.
This word "drift" (or "slip" as translated in the King James Version) is used of a thing that is negligently, carelessly, or thoughtlessly lost: of a ring that slips from one's finger; a thought that is slipped into a conversation; or a boat that drifts away from the dock because the knot in the rope securing it slips. In Greek literature it is used of an idea that slips from one's mind. In this word picture is a major warning for us today—as we enter the most distracting, enervating, and fearful time in man's history.
There is another illustration here that is equally compelling. It is of a man on a long journey who is carrying over his shoulder a goatskin, which was used in ancient time to carry water. He intends to use the water in that bag to refresh and reenergize himself, whenever he needs it. However, the goatskin is cracked, and the water is slowly dripping out unobserved by the traveler. The water is "slipping away." When he becomes thirsty and reaches for the goatskin to take a drink to refresh himself, he finds that his bag is empty. Nothing remains.
It is reminscent of the Ten Virgins and their oil (Matthew 25:1-13). Half have none when they need it, for it has run out. They have been negligent in buying it from the sources that they could have gotten it from, whenever they had the time. But now the Bridegroom approaches, and they have no oil, a kind of oil that cannot be transferred from one person to another. So, they must go out in desperation to find some on their own—but it is too late.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today
It is necessary for us to seek recurrent nourishment from the Word of God, and it is available only through an enduring relationship with the Creator. This spiritual relationship, like any human relationship, is multifaceted. Yet, quite simply, we as individuals and as a body neglected our relationship with God, and the result was division and scattering.
The world's spiritual junk food gradually became the source of our spiritual nourishment. It invaded our attitudes and behaviors, systematically weakening us as it produced the spiritual disease we call Laodiceanism. It deceived us because we outwardly appeared to be in good health. We judged that we were spiritually rich and increased with goods and had need of nothing. However, the reality was that a spiritual cancer was eroding our spiritual health. He who looks on the heart saw that we were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. When the test came in the form of false doctrine, He found us lacking in spiritual strength and scattered us.
We can reduce this process to simple principles. Matthew 6:24 reminds us that it is impossible to serve two masters equally well. As time has shown, we were serving the self and the world rather than God. He revealed our spiritual weaknesses, and they have greatly diminished us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Seven)
Jesus Christ, the living Head of His church, here warns against neglect—drifting away. Neglect is not deliberate. It is not willful. It is not intentional sin. It is something that happens because of familiarity, or distraction, caused by one having too many things going in one's life.
It says that we are to "give the more earnest heed." We are warned not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). In the message to the Hebrews, the Sabbath plays a central role. We can already begin to see in chapter 2 that part of the problem these people had was that they were neglecting the things they had heard.
It was not deliberate or willful. But they were people who were drifting away. They were not making the effort towards perfection. God noticed this because it was His church, His sons and daughters, and He cares! So He sent them perhaps the strongest message in the entire Bible. Hebrews 10 is arguably the most powerful chapter in God's Word. From what we see, the Sabbath was being neglected. We have to "give the more earnest heed" so that we do not lose sight of the things that were given to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Hebrews 2:3: