27/10/02 10.30 a.m. Hebrew 5:11-6:12
Christian author Eugene Peterson, who recently spoke at Lichfield Cathedral, wrote : "It is not difficult in our world to get a person interested in the message of the Gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness."
In today's reading the Hebrew Christians are warned against failing to grow in their faith, a message that is true for every believer.
Let us look at the features of the immature believer:
They are slow to learn, verse 11. 6:12 infers this is due to laziness. The Christian faith can be hard work. It demands that we put every aspect of our life under the control of God, although we are helped by the Holy Spirit. Our old, selfish nature will not like this and will rebel. The world, the devil and his followers will be threatened by this and seek to undermine our faith. This may result in direct conflict, but it may also take the form of distractions. As the parent of a strong willed toddler I am able to get something out of her grasp, but the task is a lot easier if I can distract her. Either mentally or by giving her something else to hold. Similarly the devil and his followers will try to distract Christians by giving them something to concentrate upon other than God, or giving them something else to focus upon, even taking the time and energy that should be devoted to the worship or service of God.
12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!
These immature Christians have been believers for a time and ought to have acquired enough knowledge and experience to be able to teach others about the faith. However, they have not even grasped the basics. The elementary teachings listed in verses 1 and 2 of Chapter 6. 1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
Six doctrines are mentioned: 1. repentance. The change of mind that causes one to turn away from sin and/or useless rituals (see NIV text note). 2. faith in God. Which accompanies repentance. As repentance is turning away from the darkness of sin, faith is turning to the light of God and trusting in Him. 3. instruction about baptisms. Probably refers to different baptisms with which the readers were familiar, such as Jewish baptism of people who had converted from other religions, John the Baptist's baptism, and the baptism commanded by Jesus (Mt 28:19). 4. laying on of hands. Sometimes followed baptism (Ac 8:16-17; 19:5-6). Otherwise laying on of hands was practiced in connection with ordaining or commissioning (see Ac 6:6; 13:3; 1Ti 5:22; 2Ti 1:6), healing the sick (see Mk 6:5; 16:18; Lk 4:40; Ac 28:8) and bestowal of blessing (see Mt 19:13-15). 5. resurrection of the dead. The resurrection of all people in the last days (see Jn 5:25-29; 11:25; 2Co 4:14). 6. eternal judgment. The destiny of those who reject God's saving grace and persist in their sinful ways.
Some of these things may not be fundamental to the Christian faith today, such as laying on of hands and different types of baptism practiced at that time. But the other four issues, repentance, faith, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment are teachings that any believer should have understood when they first came to faith. If anyone here is unclear about any of these issues please have a private word with me so we can have a further chat to clarify what the Bible teaches.
13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.
These infants of faith have not understood the basics of Christianity, never mind moving on to teaching about righteousness, verse 13. The word for 'righteousness' refers to a holy or innocent character and actions. So this is referring to how the believer should act. Once a person has found out about Jesus and responded in penitence and faith they should discover how God wants them to behave, then obey this. You could say this was a move from justification to sanctification. This is the (14) solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
The growth into maturity clearly occurs over a period of time ( constant use ) and involves discerning what is good, God's will, from what is evil, what is contrary to God's perfect will. 'Constant use' implies that this is a practical action, rather than declaring that something is evil before going ahead and doing it!
One discipline that some Christians use is a spiritual check list, going through questions based on the Bible that challenge us to follow the ways of God. I have copied one such list which is very challenging and focuses on many different areas where believers can depart from God's will. I will give these out as you leave and invite you all to prayerfully and patiently work through the questions to see if there is anything that needs amending. ( see end of sermon )
This shows us again that our spiritual journey is a continuing one. We are to keep going and keep growing. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. Faith is referring to radically relying upon Christ. Patience concerns longsuffering or forebearance, the ability to keep going through difficulties whilst being calm. The Christian faith, as we saw earlier, will involve spiritual warfare and suffering. We should expect this and, according to Jesus, even rejoice when these things happen ( Matthew 5:11f ).
The writer then addresses the case of people who appear to be Christians yet do not continue to live according to God's will.
4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
There are various theories about the meaning of these verses. Some think that they refer to believers who lose their salvation. However, this would be in opposition to other Scriptures that teach of salvation that cannot be lost, ( e.g. John 10:27-29; Romans 8:1 ).
Another theory is that it is a hypothetical argument to warn immature Hebrew Christians (5:11-14) that they must progress to maturity (see v. 1) or else experience divine discipline or judgment (see vv. 7-8). However, it is not a real situation or one that could happen, one wonders what type of warning it really was!
I favour the final theory which is that it refers to professing Christians whose sin proves that their faith was not genuine (cf. 1Jn 2:19). This view sees chs. 3-4 as a warning based on the rebellion of the Israelites in the desert. As Israel could not enter the promised land after spying out the region and tasting its fruit, so the professing Hebrew Christians would not be able to repent if they adamantly turned against "the light" they had received. According to this interpretation, such expressions as "enlightened," "tasted the heavenly gift" and "shared in the Holy Spirit" indicate that such persons had come under the influence of God's covenant blessings and had professed to turn from darkness to light but were in danger of a public and final rejection of Christ, proving they had never truly come to faith (see 10:26-31).
Jesus told the parable about the sower and the seeds to show that a true believer will produce good fruit, and that other, short-lived responses to the word does not make someone a true disciple. Those who have a knowledge of, and have experienced the Christian faith yet have failed to live and grow in that faith are compared to those who crucified Jesus. Exposing him to pain and public ridicule.
The blessing that awaits productive believers and the judgment that awaits professing Christians who fail to produce fruit in keeping with their repentance is illustrated in verse 7. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
This may seem severe so, although some of the readers' faith may not be genuine, the writer encourages his readers in the last few verses.
9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case - things that accompany salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
There is a confidence that God has been at work among the Hebrew Christians. Changed lives and works of love (v. 10) suggest that many of these persons were indeed genuine in their faith. Yet there is also a warning not to be complacent and to continue earnestly and patiently in the Christian faith. It is that perseverance that will prove that someone's faith is genuine. Not possessing certain spiritual gifts, using Christian jargon, going regularly to church, being born in England, being baptized or confirmed, having spiritual experiences or whatever...
The need to focus on what is to come is a recurring theme in this letter. We see it in verse 11, in order to make your hope sure. , and verse 12, those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
The motivation for continuing to live the Christian life is the inheritance and hope that is in Jesus. It is a hope that is certain. An inheritance that is a gift and, therefore undeserved. We enjoy some of the blessings of salvation in this life, but when Jesus returns and collects those who are truly his, they will enjoy perfect resurrection bodies and intimate fellowship with God, with no more sin, death, suffering or mourning in a regenerated universe.
A minister received a phone call from one of the oldest members of the congregation, but one of the most faithful. Aunt Martie, as all of the children called her, just seemed to ooze faith, hope, and love wherever she went. This time, however, there seemed to be an unusual tone to her words.
"Preacher, could you stop by this afternoon? I need to talk with you." "Of course, I'll be there around three. Is that OK?" It didn't take long for John to discover the reason for what he had only sensed in her voice before. As they sat facing each other in the quiet of her small living room, Martha shared the news that her doctor had just discovered a previously undetected tumour. "He says I probably have six months to live".
Martha's words were naturally serious, yet there was a definite calm about her. "I'm so sorry to ..." but before John could finish, Martha interrupted. "Don't be. The Lord has been good. I have lived a long life. I'm ready to go. You know that."
"I know," John whispered with a reassuring nod.
"But I do want to talk with you about my funeral. I have been thinking about it, and there are things that I know I want."
The two talked quietly for a long time.
They talked about Martha's favourite hymns, the passages of Scripture that had meant so much to her through the years, and the many memories they shared from the five years John had been with Central Church. When it seemed that they had covered just about everything, Aunt Martie paused, looked up at John with a twinkle in her eye, and then added, "One more thing, preacher. When they bury me, I want my old Bible in one hand and a fork in the other."
"A fork?" John was sure he had heard everything, but this caught him by surprise. "Why do you want to be buried with a fork?"
"I have been thinking about all of the church dinners and banquets that I attended through the years," she explained, "I couldn't begin to count them all. But one thing sticks in my mind. At those really nice get-togethers, when the meal was almost finished, a server would come by to collect the dirty dishes."
"Sometimes, at the best meals, somebody would lean over my shoulder and whisper, `You can keep your fork.' And do you know what that meant? Dessert was coming! It didn't mean jelly or pudding or even a dish of ice cream. You don't need a fork for that. It meant the good stuff, like chocolate cake or cherry pie! When they told me I could keep my fork, I knew the best was yet to come!"
"That's exactly what I want people to talk about at my funeral. Oh, they can talk about all the good times we had together. That would be nice. But when they walk by my casket and look at my pretty blue dress, I want them to turn to one another and say, ` Why the fork'? That's when I want you to tell them that I kept my fork because the best is yet to come!"
Several Bible passages give lists of sins for Christians to use in examining themselves. In the verses below, specific sins are listed. Which sins do I need to confess, repent of, and be cleansed by the Lord?
ROMANS 1:28-32 - "Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanders, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (NIV)
GREED (MATERIALISM) -- Do I always desire more? Have I put my pursuit of things, my job, before Christ?
DEPRAVITY -- Literally -- To lead into bad habits. Am I leading others into sin?
ENVY -- Have I fallen into an attitude of envy toward someone else?
STRIFE -- Do I tend to cause strife, conflict, competition among other people or in groups?
DECEIT -- Have I lied even in subtle ways such as exaggeration or withholding truth?
MALICE -- Do I have an active desire to do someone else harm?
GOSSIP -- Have I shared a negative report with those who are neither part of the problem nor part of the solution?
SLANDER -- -- Have I hurt another person's reputation by what I said?
GOD HATERS -- Have I given too much time or attention to the things that compete with my love for God?
INSOLENT -- Have I been boldly disrespectful in speech or behaviour?
ARROGANT -- Am I full of pride and self importance?
BOASTFUL -- Do I talk often about myself and my accomplishments?
CREATIVELY EVIL -- Have I tried to creatively explain away in my mind what I know in my heart is wrong?
DISOBEDIENT TO PARENTS -- Not subject or loyal to authority. Am I subject to the governing authorities?
SENSELESS -- Have I not thought about the consequences of some of my actions?
FAITHLESS -- Do I truly believe God's promises? All of them?
HEARTLESS -- Do I have a heartfelt concern for unbelievers?
RUTHLESS -- Have I been cruel to others?
APPROVED SIN IN OTHERS -- Have I watched violence and immorality and cruelty and other sins in people I knew - and yet, said nothing?
1 CORINTHIANS 6:9-10 - "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanders nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (NIV)
SEXUAL IMMORALITY -- Have I repented of any sexual relations outside of the bonds of marriage?
IDOLATRY -- Have I put anything before my relationship with God?
ADULTERY -- Have I been completely faithful to my marriage partner in thoughts, in words and in actions?
PERVERSION -- Have I repented of any unnatural sexual activity? Is there any pornography in my life?
HOMOSEXUALITY -- Have I repented of any and all homosexual relationships?
STEALING -- Have I allowed any form of stealing to enter my life?
DRUNKEN - Do I drink too much? Have I repented of the use of mind altering drugs?
SWINDLING (CHEATING) -- Have I cheated anyone in any way?
GALATIANS 5:12-21 "The acts of the sinful, nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." (NIV)
IMPURITY -- How pure are my thoughts and actions? Do I always select movies, music, reading material, or television programs that are pure?
INDULGENCE -- Literally -- Excessive indulgence in one's appetites. Have I overindulged in any way?
WITCHCRAFT -- Have I used materials which used to be called "witchcraft", but which are now being called "New Age". (i.e. -- new age books, Ouija boards, tarot cards, palm reading, crystals, dungeons and dragons)?
HATRED -- Have I held onto hatred, bitterness, or unforgiveness toward someone?
DISCORD -- Have I caused disunity or disharmony or conflict among the Body of Christ?
JEALOUSY -- Am I suspicious or resentful of others when they have a lot or when they succeed?
FITS OF ANGER -- Do I have frequent outbursts of anger or temper?
SELFISH AMBITION -- Have I desired to advance myself above others by putting them down?
DISSENSION -- Have I been overly forceful in my disagreements with others?
FACTIONS -- Do I tend to cause splits among people or groups?
ORGIES -- Are the parties I go to the kind that Christ would not go with me or be happy with?
2 TIMOTHY 3:1-5 - "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form of godliness buy denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." (NIV)
LOVERS OF SELF -- Do I think about myself and my rights first, rather than my responsibilities?
LOVERS OF MONEY -- Do I find it hard to part with my money when need arises?
PROUD -- Do I think more of my physical appearance than the state of my soul?
ABUSIVE -- Have I been coarse or insulting in my speech or actions? Do I curse from the same mouth in which I pray?
UNGRATEFUL -- Have I received rich blessings from God -- and, yet spend more time talking about what I don't have, or what may have been taken away?
UNHOLY -- Have I neglected an honest pursuit of a more holy life?
UNFORGIVING -- Are there relationships in the body of Christ in which I need to forgive and work toward reconciliation?
WITHOUT SELF CONTROL -- Am I undisciplined in certain aspects of my life?
BRUTAL -- Have I been cruel and unfeeling?
HATERS OF GOOD -- Do I desire something that is not good?
TREACHEROUS -- Have I betrayed trust, faith, or allegiance? Have I been disloyal to others?
RECKLESS -- Have I been hasty or incautious in action or speech?
CONCEITED -- Do I have an exaggerated opinion of myself?
LOVERS OF PLEASURE RATHER THAN LOVERS OF GOD -- Do I ask, "Will this help me
love God more?", -- or do I ask, "Is it fun, is it pleasurable?" -- In all things?
HAVING THE FORM OF GODLINESS, BUT DENYING ITS POWER -- Am I concerned about
form rather than substance in my spiritual/worship life?
Knowing that God supplies both the desire and the power to do His will (Philippians 2:13), I commit to the following:
1) To hate all sin, as God hates it and to strive with all my heart, to turn from any sins which God reveals in my life;
2) To make it my first priority to seek God every day (Matthew 6:33) and to practice my disciplines which cause me to grow in Him (such as Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, etc.);
3) To love all the brothers and sisters in the faith with all my heart, to seek their best interests, to speak well of them and continually to live in a relationship of reconciliation and love with them (Matthew 23-24).
Signed ______________________________________________________ Date