- September 9, 2013
- By Matthew Richard / Eastwood Baptist Church, Gatesville
• The BaptistWay lesson for Sept. 22 focuses on Hebrews 5:11-6:12.
Hebrews 5:11-6:12 is a digression from a previous sermon about the priesthood of Christ and his supreme sufficiency over all others. You have heard preachers do this. My first preacher called this “chasing rabbits,” and he did it more than he liked to admit. These digressions are not always mindless ramblings. They often are triggered by something meaningful, and if the preacher is trusting the Holy Spirit over his/her ability to shoot off at the mouth, they can very well be surprisingly edifying and timely.
The trigger (Hebrews 5:11-14)
The trigger that influences the author of Hebrews is an apparent apathy in regards to Christ-likeness. The reason stated in the Greek is “you have become sluggish in your hearing” (v. 11), indicating that this is a rather recent problem of will instead of intellectual capacity. The imagery of requiring milk—used in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3—is utilized here to demonstrate the Hebrews’ lack of maturity. The word “mature” (v. 14) represents the same Greek root teleios, used in the author’s previous discussion about Christ being “made perfect” as our Savior (2:10; 5:9). The focus of this language is not moral perfection, but the completion of Christ’s purpose in his people. In other words, maturity in Christ equals growth and accomplishment in becoming like him, and being able “to distinguish good from evil” (v. 14).
The Hebrews have not matured because they have not wanted to. As an older brother with a difference of five years between myself and my only other sibling, I experienced lots of immaturity. By the time my brother was in his toddler years, I had moved on to a more dignified age. One of my brother’s favorite past times was destroying my room and possessions. I came inside from playing once to find my favorite Batman poster ripped to shreds on my floor, and my brother grinning from ear to ear with shreds of paper still stuck to his hands and fingers.
I hated it when my parents told me, “He’s is just a baby.” I hated it because they were right. Even though his behavior was wrong, it was the kind of behavior you expect out of a toddler. This was not the case for the Hebrews who “by this time … ought to be teachers” (v. 12).
An exhortation (6:1-3)
What will it take to begin growing in maturity? The answer is given in a clear and concise manner that gives a window into some of the “toddler-like” ways of the Hebrews. In verses 1-2, three pairs of “elementary teachings” are listed as elements that they should move on from into maturity: 1) repentance and faith; 2) instructions about baptisms and the laying on of hands; and 3) the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
While all of these teachings have some distinctly Christian attributes—most notably the first pair—all have a history in the Hebrew faith. They should not have been difficult concepts to grasp within a Christian framework. Perhaps, like the Pharisees and Sadducees of old, instead of moving on to mature faith, they preferred to argue over elements already explained to them.
A warning (6:4-8)
One of the things my first preacher liked to say was: “If you were once saved, you are always saved; but that doesn’t mean God won’t give out a spanking when you backslide.” This was a warning that served me well to hear as a teenager. It assured me God loved me infinitely, but it instilled a level of respect for him that kept me from taking that love for granted. As I have grown and matured, I have come to understand this pithy little saying is not expressed in such a nice and tidy way in Scripture. This was not a Bible verse my pastor was quoting; it was a pastoral warning given out of care and conviction.
Such is the warning that follows in verses 6-8 of chapter 6 in Hebrews. Much has been written to try to reconcile these verses about falling away (v. 6) and the impossibility (v. 4) of being brought back to repentance. Most scholars point out these verses are referring to people who deliberately abandon the Christian faith. Even so, it is difficult to harmonize this warning with Jesus’ affirmation that his sheep cannot be snatched out of his Father’s hand (John 10:27-29).
Perhaps a better strategy for understanding this warning is to view it as a pastoral warning. This is not written to Christians plagued by doubt and fear, like those who need to hear Jesus’ words in John 10. It is written to people who lack serious spiritual concern and need to be sharply reprimanded.
The concluding assurance at the end of the passage seems to suggest the author was not speaking pure doctrine in the previous warning. “Even though we speak like this” (v. 9), that is not the way things are with the Hebrews. The author assures them “God is not unjust” (v. 10), and encourages them to persevere “to make your hope sure” (v. 11). More literally, this expression can be translated “toward the certainty of hope.” In other words, the Hebrews could aim for maturity because of the guaranteed hope they had in Christ, not in an attempt to guarantee it themselves.
What is your current faith struggle? To grow in maturity or to be assured of security? Let the words of this “pastoral digression” meet you where you are at today.