“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
I have, many times in my life, sat across from individuals in a “spiritual crisis”. It seemed to them that there was a spiritual need that they must have met. Furthermore, this conversation usually ends with an absolving of the bonds that exist between the individual church and the individual believer. Under the simple phrase, “I think it better for my spiritual growth”, the church is left with one less member and one more stripe in the battle for unity and purity.
This situation is one repeated across the spectrum of Christianity. However, the issue is not one of “spiritual crisis” but milk addiction. The reality of the matter is one in which the individual finds their own desire to gourde themselves on milk more important than a call to feed and teach others. In this text we must see the reality of this.
Here we see a church more concerned with things that are inconsequential than the proliferation of the Gospel of Jesus. In our context the author would say something similar. I can imagine the issues being worship music, communion style, dress at church, or any other litany of issues. The problem arises when individuals elevate non-doctrinal issues to a status that they should not obtain.
Here it would have been issues of tradition and law. The individual complantaint in the Hebrews church would have been obliged to think that tradition and observance of the Law was more important than Christ. However, the author says that is not the problem. The issue in the Hebrew Church is not a pressing need for more law but a pressing need for more Jesus. The author understands an important truth. A valid encounter with Jesus cannot be valid without a desire to move toward being a teacher to others.
This brings light to the fundamental problem facing the church today. People have lost sight of the goal of Christ in us. I think of the great saints of the catholic and orthodox churches. The individuals have been lifted to a status of almost being a god in some rights. However, that was not the point of their lives. We also do the same with Christ. So many people need a rally cry, a cause, or a mission. This is not a bad thing. However, the possibility exists that we have allowed false images to take over our call to Christ.
The issue is one so much tied to discipleship. The health of the church in this book was directly tied to the teachability of the people in the congregation. These individuals were more worried about the sins in other people’s lives and beliefs than they were about there own usefulness to God. Furthermore, as a result they were flirting with the desire to deny Christ as God. We must realize that when we allow ourselves to be more concerned with an issue instead of with Jesus than we in a very visual way are denying Christ to the world around us. We must be teaching others. Christ says, “I will make you fishers of men!” When was the last time we truly lived the life of fishermen? Are we living a life that looks like someone who understands what it means to teach others in any context?
My great fear is complicated by so much. It seems that the Milk addict often times feels completely justified by saying, “my spiritual needs are not being met.” This phrase is considered completely valid despite their total lack of ability to teach others. An individual who does not teach others is a perpetual student and therefore will never graduate to greater things. This should be concerning.
Furthermore, the problem exists of issue driven Christianity. Peoples “spiritual needs” are lowered to inconsequential things (i.e. my spiritual needs are not being met because you don’t agree with me). This should be concerning as well. The question should not be, “are my spiritual needs met?” the question should be in contrast, “Is Jesus being preached to me and by me”. If no, than something must change. Most likely the needed change however is not your locale but your heart and diet.
“For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them. Because they were not united by faith with those who listened”
This speaks to faith. Do we truly believe that the Gospel will save, first us and then others? John MacArthur states on this the following:
“From the human side, the first requirement for salvation is faith. Hearing the gospel is essential, but it is not enough. The ancient Israelites heard God’s good news of rest, but it did them no good since they did not accept it. They did not trust in the God who gave them the good news. It does no good to hear if we do not believe.”
If we do not believe that the Gospel has the power to save us then we will not believe that it has the power to redeem our communities and our peers.This must be seen in order to truly appreciate the situation that existed in the community of Hebrews.
The authoritative point here is this; the church in question was one in which there were many who did not believe the Gospel had saving power. The un-regenerate individuals in the body had poisoned many to think that religious law was their only way of salvation. To a church this is a warning. Paul points this out even more in the book of romans by reminding the readers that circumcision is “of the heart”. His point here being that, “Spiritually an unbelieving Jew is a contradiction in terms.” (Macarthur) Just as a cultural Christian is one likewise.
Paul is pointing out that a pride in practice and ordinance is of no value unless there exists an inward change. If I don’t pay my taxes I do not defend my actions by pointing to the tax code. This action would be foolish, as it would verify my guilt. In 1st century terms; I would not point to circumcision as proof of my relationship to God if my actions showed that no such relationship existed. This action would be pointless, as it would show my guilt. In essence it would show that I had heard the good news, even acted on it in some ways, but never truly advanced into saving faith. This is the point in Matthew 7:22-23 which states:
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness”
These would be individuals with a great wealth of religious abilities and knowledge. They could point to the miracles (the actions just the same as circumcision) but they could not point to a truly changed life. Their actions were a stamp of pride. They had aspects of the Gospel yet in hearing they had not truly been repentant. The people in question were individuals that claimed to posses the law (more importantly its fulfillment in Christ) yet had no true conversion experience.
Now we arrive at the question of practicality. How does this pertain to our current environment? In short the issue is the same. Our churches are filled with individuals who know the ends and outs of the Christian life. However, they have never truly embraced the Gospel of Christ. In many contexts it is more burdensome to walk the Christian life with these types than it is to live in a culture, which is openly hostile to the Gospel. The Devil can quote Scripture just as many unregenerate cultural warriors can quote the same. This must be seen in some ways as the same situation that faced the church of the Book of Hebrews.
With all this in consideration we must understand that the solution is the same in either case. Whether we find ourselves in a culture that hostile to or seemingly embracing of the gospel the answer remains unified. Preach the Gospel by all means. This however remains a difficult task. Many have sought to provide easy programmatic answers to the question of cultural outreach. However, the church in many ways is a reactionary force that inside of its self struggles to make culture. The problem is one that remains perplexing.
“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it”
Here the reader is confronted by a corporate mandate that has individual repercussions. The author makes the statement, Let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it”. It should strike us as interesting here that the writer addresses the whole audience in order to affect the individuals. This should be seen as integral to the opening of this chapter. Furthermore, it should be something that the body of believers takes careful notice of.
I remember growing up in a rather traditional Christian context. In this context there always seemed to be a thrust and emphasis placed on the individuals needs and responses. I do not deny individualism as being part of the Gospel message. Indeed there are individualistic aspects to the Gospel. There is personal care that should be taken by an individual to guard themselves and grow in their walk with Christ. However, we should ask ourselves a question. Where does the line exist between personal relationship and religious selfishness? How many of us have drifted from true religion into selfish pride masked by religiosity.
There is no better example of this than the Pharisees themselves. The issue in large part should be seen as one in which the individual losses effectiveness out of an over idealized perspective on religious purity. The Pharisees were so concerned with personal sinlessness that they had become ineffective in their religious pursuits. The Law had become about them and not about God.
When we think about the reality of Christ we should find great conviction concerning the nature of our actions. Are we more like Christ or more like the Pharisees? Do we walk about with Christian medals strapped firmly to our chest expecting the world around us to laud us for our great moral achievements? If so, we must understand that this will never end well for our relationship with God. The world around us will never respond to religious pride and fortitude. Jesus pictured this for us.
Again we come to the idea of separatism. I think of the movie The Village (Spoiler alert). The individuals in that movie had seen the modern world around them falling apart. They knew that things were only going to get worst. As a result of their concerns they had decided to build a walled off puritan village in which they would raise their children to protect them from the deteriorating world outside their fence. Has the church not acted this way as well? Like the individuals in the movie many have seen the worlds rapid rate of deterioration and sought refuge behind the walls of the church. However, the problem is still there. The world is still falling apart, and Christ still mourns over the great wealth of rebellion that lives there. Do we?
So often, it seems, we live consumed by the ideas of personal holiness more so than the edification and building up of the church. We can quote scripture, talk in christianese, and sing hymns till we are blue in the face but if we do not care for our struggling brother we will always be the same as the Pharisees. They understood the need for personal righteousness yet did not admonish their brothers and sisters who refused to acknowledge the same. There is in this text and for us a call to personal responsibility of one another. We must hold each other accountable no matter the cost. As the author says, “let us fear lest any of you” the emphasis is placed on our reasons to fear the loss of one. However, this should not drive us to be focused on pleasing one over another. This should drive us to greater things than people pleasing.
As people who minister on any level this should be a liberating thing. The notion that a minister of the Gospel must be concerned with pleasing the entirety of their sphere of influence is one that can become maddening. However it seems to be the foundation of many a framework for ministry. It should as well be seen in the mentality of Christ Himself. Christ did not come under the assumption that His ministry was to please everyone. In fact He knew that several people would find Him repulsive. In some sense it is the thing that centers on ones own acknowledgement of the Gospel. When individuals and corporate bodies miss this they will fastly become ineffective in Gospel ministry. The focus will turn to pleasing self by pleasing others. In many rights the individual will think themselves well pleased when those around them are. This is not the hard work of ministry rather it is selfish ambition.
Like a cigarett and an empty coffee cup life without Christ is fleeting. Psalm 6:5 says, “For there is no remembrance of You in death; who can thank You in Sheol”. I am struck this morning by cut of that verse. What do we love? What is it that drives us toward truly living?
I am fearful that we all live so often motivated by the next thing we will partake in. That we are prone to wander as it may be from one fleeting sensation to the next. This even goes so far as our churches. How deep is mine, your faith? Why do we go to church? Why am I a pastor?
Have you ever just sat down and thought about how we answer questions? For me I think many times the answers to my questions come in their negative proposition. For example; here I think to myself… “how does it make me feel to think of never even recalling God?” Its frightening. To think about never waking to his word again, to contemplate an existence where there is no recollection of the love of Christ. Does that frighten you? it should… This is my thought for the day…
Charles Spurgeon once said in talking on Christ’ call to man the following; “You have no belief and no repentance, -come to him, and he will give them to you. Come just as you are, and take “Freely”“. It strikes me as just plain odd that Spurgeon the great preacher of his day would say such a thing as this. How counter to our own concept of all things “christian” does this saying seem to be to our modern interpretation? We so often think that the process of faith in which one must “come” in faith in order to be counted as faithful. More so we carry this into our walk as believers. We do not ask because we don not believe. We do not trust because well, we don’t trust. However, Spurgeon here would scold us. This great man would in short profain us to go inspire of our unbelieving hearts, Spurgeon would say continue on good Christian soldier knowing that in spite of your unbelief God will carry you through. William Cowper in one of his many hymns and poems wrote, “Decide this doubt for me”… Is that not more the faith that we should have? One in which we might acknowledge our own insufficient faith, doubting often, as Cowper proclaimed but all the while pleading with God to “decide” the issue for us. In our modern church we have come to see faith as a standardized test. We think so often that we must ask and answer, seek and find. However, is this the model which we see in our faithful fathers before us? Did Abraham know the land before God showed him? Did Joseph know the Pharaohs graces before his terrible imprisonment? Did Moses know the other side of the sea before it had been split? Furthermore, were those acts defined and sustained by their faith? I would say decidedly no! The fact is that the acts were sustained not by some symbiotic relationship between man and God but rather by Gods power and care. Gods ability to prosper us is not based on our ability to be faithful. We have no faith apart from that given us by God. We call in spite of our trembling voice, we walk in spite of our weak knees, we carry on only because we know in the end God will be glorified and sustain Himself. He has latched our well-being to His glorification, that is why there is a covenant. If He could (and I say that lightly) fail us than His own covenant would be worthless. The greatest grace God has ever given man is that he has bound Himself to us by His word and sealed it with the blood of His own son. If we fail He fails, that is not an option.