A MATURING LIFE

 

Week of August 17, 2008

 

Bible Verses:  Hebrews 5:11-6:12.

 

Biblical Truth: Christians are to be moving continually toward greater spiritual maturity.

 

Discern Good and Evil: Heb. 5:11-14.

 

[11]  Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. [12]  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. [13]  For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. [14]  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  [NASU]

 

[11-12]  Their spiritual immaturity is an embarrassment to him and he feels the necessity of attempting to arouse them from their lethargy by warning them again in unequivocal terms of the serious dangers which attend their present attitude. The theme which the author has just mentioned, namely, the priesthood of Christ which belongs to, and indeed constitutes, the order of Melchizedek, is of such importance that he has much to say concerning it. But what he wishes to communicate on this theme is hard to explain because those to whom he is writing are dull of hearing. They have become slack, and their slackness has affected their attentiveness and their capacity to receive and retain solid instruction. They ought by now to be sufficiently advanced in their comprehension of Christian doctrine to be able to instruct and edify those who are still young in the faith.

 

[13-14]  The Greek noun translated infant signifies one who is unable to speak. The word of righteousness indicates the teaching about righteousness which is fundamental to the Christian faith. Solid food is for the mature, for those who have progressed beyond the helplessness of infancy to a position of adult competence and responsibility. Our author explains that the mature persons of whom he is speaking are those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. The mature Christian is equipped to face responsibly the demands and endure to the end the rigors of the conflict by the habitual exercise of his powers. The noun translated senses means the senses of perception which are developed through use and training. No longer a child in the faith, his maturity is displayed in his discernment, by the use of which he is able to distinguish between what is good and what is evil.

 

Be Fruitful and Blessed by God: Heb. 6:1-8.

 

[1]  Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2]  of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. [3]  And this we will do, if God permits. [4]  For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, [5]  and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, [6]  and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. [7]  For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; [8]  but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.  [NASU]

 

[1-3]  The elementary doctrines of Christ correspond to the first principles of God’s word and the incitement to go on to maturity follows on what has been said of those who are mature in 5:12,14. Let us press on means literally “let us be carried forward,” suggesting that it is not a matter of the learners being carried by their instructor, but of both being carried forward together by God. The energy, hidden and inward, of the Holy Spirit is the true dynamic of spiritual growth. The elementary teaching about the Christ or literally “the word (or instruction) of the beginning of Christ,” from which the readers are being exhorted to advance, may best be understood as referring to the first simple presentation of the gospel message. The foundation is described here as consisting of the elementary doctrines of Christ, which are listed under six heads: namely, repentance, faith, cleansing, laying on of hands, resurrection, and judgment. Repentance is the changing of one’s mind and attitude, the reversal of one’s position, displayed in the renunciation of self-adequacy and in turning to God in sorrow for sinfully robbing Him of the glory which is due to Him alone. Dead works refers to the state of unregenerate man and his activities. Faith toward God describes the positive act of trust and self-commitment which follows and balances the negative act of repentance and renunciation. The two acts are inseparably complementary and together form a unity. If repentance is a turning away from the former life of dead works, faith is a turning toward God for newness of life in Christ. Washings is a word usually used of purification ceremonies other than Christian baptism, and it is plural. Thus it is likely that the word refers to something other than baptism. Sometimes there was confusion over ritual washings (John 3:25). It would thus be one of the elementary items of instruction that converts be taught the right approach to the various baptisms they would encounter. Laying on of hands is used in the act of blessing (Mt. 19:13-15) and in the healing of the sick (Mark 6:5, 16:18; Luke 4:40; Acts 28:8). Together with prayer, it seems to have been customary in the ordination or commissioning of persons for various kinds of service (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6). Resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment belong to the eschatological perspective of the apostolic church.

 

[4-6]  The author now returns to the grave theme of apostasy which he has already broached in 3:12 and which he will take up again in 10:26 and 12:25. It is apparent, therefore, that his concern is not simply lest his readers should remain at a standstill on the threshold of the Christian life, immature and unfruitful in the faith they profess (5:11), but, something far worse, lest there should be a relapse into unbelief in their midst. The danger of apostasy, it must be emphasized, is real, not imaginary; otherwise this epistle with its high-sounding admonitions must be dismissed as trifling, worthless, and ridiculous. He is addressing readers whose loss of confidence and whose flagging will to persevere in the Christian race point alarmingly to the possibility of their dropping out of the contest altogether, and in doing so of placing themselves beyond all hope of restoration. Six things are predicated of the spiritual experience of those whom it is impossible to restore again if they rebel against the faith they claim to hold. (1) They have professed repentance. Genuine repentance is a once-for-all turning of the back on the old way of life; a decisive, unrepeatable moment in the transition from death to life symbolized publicly by the act of baptism; and as such it belongs to the foundation on which the new life in Christ is erected. (2) They belong to those who have once been enlightened. The same verb is used in John 1:9 of the activity of the eternal Word who came into the world to enlighten men. The grace of enlightenment carries with it certain responsibilities. (3) They have tasted the heavenly gift which means to experience the blessing which God freely and graciously bestows in Christ. (4) They have become partakers of the Holy Spirit: by the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 2:4 and these gifts are identical with those listed by Paul in 1 Cor. 12:4, which are sovereignly distributed in accordance with the divine will. These spiritual gifts confirmed the truth and power of the gospel when it was proclaimed to those to whom this letter was written. (5) They have tasted the goodness of the word of God: taste implies to experience something in a manner that is real and personal. The good word of God is the good news of the gospel. (6) They have tasted also the powers of the age to come. These powers may be identified with the signs, wonders, and miracles mentioned in 2:4 as accompaniments of the preaching of the gospel. These six blessings have necessarily been discussed separately and in turn, but it is important to realize that they are but different aspects and manifestations of the one great blessing which the reception of the gospel brings. They are components of a unitary experience of evangelical grace in the life of the believer. The reference in the passage before us is not to sin as it manifests itself in the lives of Christians, but to a particular disposition involving a repudiation of grace so grave that it has the effect of permanently severing those who display it from the body of Christ. It is not so much an act as an attitude of which he is speaking; an attitude, to be sure, which will disclose itself in disgraceful acts inconsistent with a profession of Christian faith. A life that once professed obedience to Christ but now openly blasphemes His name and denies His gospel is the mark of the apostate. This sin, then, or sinful disposition, is sin against the light. It is sin committed, not in ignorance, but in the face of knowledge and even experience of the truth; not the sin of those who are ignorant and misguided (Heb 5:2) but of those who sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth (Heb 10:26). The man who rebels as an apostate after professing faith in Christ and entering into the sphere of evangelical blessing is not acting ignorantly in unbelief. But by a deliberate and calculated renunciation of the good he has known he places himself beyond forgiveness and renewal. The sin of apostasy, then, is a grim possibility for persons who through identification with the people of God have been brought within the sphere of the divine blessing. The Hebrew Christians who are being addressed had, to all appearances, been incorporated into the church of Christ; they had professed repentance, been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, partaken of the Holy Spirit, and experienced the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come. But, despite all this, they, or at least some among them, had failed to such a degree to show spiritual progress that it was doubtful whether they had grasped even the first principles of the faith (5:11-6:2). As 10:26-27 shows, willful or deliberate repudiation of the truth they have known would place them beyond the scope of that grace whose benign influences have been shed upon them. The tenses of the Greek participles are significant: the aorist participle (fallen away) indicates a decisive moment of commitment to apostasy, the point of no return; the present participles (crucify and put) indicate the continuing state of those who have once lapsed into apostasy: they keep on crucifying the Son of God and holding him up to contempt. They do this by refusing to believe that He is the Son of God and His death alone is effective for the forgiveness of sin.

 

Our conclusions concerning the first six verses of chapter 6 may be summed up as follows: that verses 1 and 2 relate to the response of repentance and faith to the preaching of the gospel followed by the basic instruction which precedes baptism; and that verses 4-6 describe the irremediable state of those who, having publicly confessed allegiance to Christ in baptism, subsequently turn their backs on the gospel and thereby renounce their baptism and all that is implied by it. Repudiating their profession that Christ was crucified for them and they with him, they show that their true place is with those rejecters who display their hatred by crucifying him. Such apostates are not genuine branches of Him who is the true vine; they do not abide in Him and so they are cut off and cast away. Finally, when the redeeming blood of Christ is applied by the Holy Spirit to the very heart of a man’s being, it is a work of God that cannot fail. This means that those who are genuinely Christ’s do not fall away into apostasy. Where there is a work of God, whether in creation or in re-creation, whether in judgment or in grace, that work, simply because it is God’s work, cannot fail to achieve its purpose in accordance with the divine will.

 

[7-8]  An illustration from nature is now discussed to show the unnaturalness of those who fall away and the reasonableness of God’s judgment. Here are two pieces of ground subject to the same favorable conditions. One responds to these conditions and brings forth fruit; but the other does not and remains unfruitful. The fruitful ground is a type of the true and mature Christian whose fruitfulness honors the blessings which God has showered upon him like rain upon the ground. The unfruitful ground when put to the test shows itself unworthy of those blessings which God has showered upon it, for it yields thorns and thistles [see Gen. 3:17-19]. It is a type of those who have received all the blessings and privileges mentioned in verses 4-6 and yet prove themselves unworthy. They will receive God’s judgment (cursed, burned).

 

Demonstrate Diligence: Heb. 6:9-12.

 

[9]  But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. [10]  For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. [11]  And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, [12]  so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.  [NASU]

 

[9-10]  There is confidence that a genuine work of grace has taken place in their midst. Though the danger signals are plain to see, and even though, it may be, some are already showing themselves to be turncoats, the gospel has not been preached to no purpose. The great principle which gives rise to this confidence is the absolute sovereignty of the God of grace and the indefectibility of His work in the lives of men. It is considerations of this kind which cause our author to tell his readers that he is assured, where they are concerned, of better things, better, that is, than the relapse into infidelity against which he has been warning them, things that belong to salvation rather than apostasy. His confidence in them is bolstered by the recollection of their work and their love on behalf of their brethren in the faith. This confidence is confirmed, further, by the knowledge that serving the saints is for them not just a thing of the past but something they are still doing. As Calvin explains, the author “is clearly not discussing here the cause of our salvation, and therefore no conclusion should be drawn from this passage about the merits of works.” Certainly, the Christian is exhorted to produce good works, as a good tree bears good fruit and is known by that fruit; and the production of good fruit in his life is something for which he is held responsible. But as the principle or root of faith is implanted within the heart by God’s grace, so also the growth and the harvest of good works that spring from that root are to be attributed to the power and the goodness of God enabling him to do what he is commanded to do. Here our author interprets the work and the love shown by his readers to others in Christ’s name as a sign that God was truly at work within them.

 

[11-12]  The author’s deep concern for the spiritual progress of his readers is further conveyed in the Greek verb translated here we desire, the strong sense of which is more effectively communicated by translating it “we long” or “it is our earnest wish” for it is a term charged with intense yearning. The Christian life must be marked by progress and perseverance until the end [Mt. 10:22; Mark 13:13; Rev. 2:26]. Its direction is ever onward and upward and hope is one of its distinguishing characteristics: hope that is securely founded on the promise and the power of God, and which itself is the dynamic impulse that drives us on toward the goal. As throughout the epistle the close association between faith and hope is apparent. The invitation to faith is not an invitation to inactivity but to the perseverance of pilgrimage, for Christ is not only the source but also the goal of our salvation, the end as well as the beginning. Earnestness is demonstrated by endurance in suffering and perseverance in loving service, and is itself the clear evidence of the full assurance of hope.

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.          According to 5:11-14 what is wrong with these believers? What are the characteristics of the spiritually mature here? What is the word of righteousness and why is it so important.

 

2.          There are three main interpretations of verses 4-6. (1) It refers to Christians who actually lose their salvation (but see John 10:28-29; Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 7:25). (2) It is a hypothetical argument to warn immature Hebrew Christians that they must progress to maturity or else experience divine discipline or judgment. (3) It refers to professing Christians whose apostasy proves that their faith was not genuine. Which one do you think is the best interpretation? How does the writer describe the people? What makes their renewal impossible? How have they crucified Christ again? What things can be done to help prevent this?

 

3.          How does the writer address his hearers in verse 9? How does this relate to the preceding warning? What are the things that accompany salvation?  What does their work and labor of love show about these people? Why does this give the author confidence? 

 

4.          How do we show diligence in our spiritual lives? How is this laziness in 6:12 related to 5:11-14? What factors tend to promote spiritual laziness in our lives?

 

References:

The Book of Hebrews, Philip Hughes, Eerdmans.

The Epistle to the Hebrews, Thomas Hewitt, Eerdmans.

Hebrews, Leon Morris, EBC, Zondervan.