“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.
Of late I have been giving great thought to the issues that we face in the modern America. Furthermore, the very nature of the problem is not one confined to only the U.S. but western culture in general. Overall, we might seek to blame any one thing. Our complaints might center on issues from governance, too much internet, or too little of it in the school systems. However, the reality is one in which blame for all of those things lay squarely upon our own shoulders.
The idea to me that we have elevated children to almost idol status seems to have contributed greatly to the social, ethical. moral, and even more important spiritual state of our current culture. I can remember as I grew up being told as a child how wonderfully special I was. I was raised in an atmosphere in which nothing I could ever do was wrong. I think in this sort of upbringing I was in no way the exception. My generation and at the least the one before, and everyone sense has been told of their exceptionalism since birth. However, what have the consequences been of this mentality?
I would submit first to you and most importantly that we have lost the Gospel. The Gospel does not teach the exceptional status of men. In fact the Gospel teaches the opposite. In the pages of scripture we see an exceptional God make an exception and use unexceptional people. This is a stark difference than what we see in todays culture.
As a boy I idealized the west. Americans have always been obsessed with the west. All of us have heard the undying words “go west young man” and thought at least in some regard, “I just might one day”. We in our heads think of cowboys and indians, camping and “roughing it”. Somewhere deep within many of us there is a sense that we could make it. That from our own understanding we could get through the desert and make it to the other side. This however is not the case. In reality many of us would fall, many of us would not make it. We are not superhuman, we are fallible, and at the end of the day we need the comfort of a cool glass of water and a nice game of words with friends on our cell phones (scratch that) smart phones.
Jonathan Edwards postulated in the Book Religious Affections that all men have what he called “affections”. Furthermore, Edwards proposed that these affections were formed as a result of ones inclination to or away from something. Thusly forming ones thoughts on an issue. Edwards connected the soul with ones sentiments, inclinations, and affections. A man might speculate and therefore form a sentiment on an issue. This same man, might therefore, become inclined to or away from such thing. This would then affect his soul.
In continuance of this thought I would also point that what one has affection for one does. A mans soul can be seen at its deepest state by that which is its object of affection. What is the affection of a mans soul? Answer that and either true peace or true pestilence might be found.
What does this say about our culture? What are our affections? The thing that scares me most is that we as a culture have allowed our love for specialness to override our affection toward God. Why do C.E.O.s crush their employees and run off with millions? Why do governments get all the benefits of power without earning the respect of the people? Why do boys turn into men that would prefer a one night stand instead of holding anothers hand? I would submit it is a lack of affection to God and His Gospel and a wealth of affection for only self. I think that even J. Edwards has a lot to say about the very nature of the “specialness” of Christ and His ability to save us even from ourselves.
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…