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Hebrews

Diligent to the End

Hebrews  6

“Dunk ‘em and drop ‘em.”

That’s the accusation often made against the churches of our brotherhood. We are very fond of making new disciples (as we should be), but perhaps not so fond of bringing them into maturity in Christ. Evangelism is great – but we need to remember that Christ’s command was not “Go and evangelize” but “Go and make disciples.” Baptism is not the end; it is the beginning. As Paul makes clear here, we must go on from the elementary beginnings into Christian maturity.

1Therefore 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, 2instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3And God permitting, we will do so.

4It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6if 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.

7Land 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. 8But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

9Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. 10God 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. 11We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. 12We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

13When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”£ 15And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

16Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. 19We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

 

Amateurs

The word “amateur” used to have a definite meaning in sports. It used to mean one who was not paid to play. In our enlightened times, however, amateur has become a Red Queen’s word: it means exactly what we say it means. Noted “amateur” track stars are paid “appearance money.” “Amateur” basketball players (who eke out a poor existence in the NBA) play in the Olympics. The word has taken on different meanings.

One of those meanings is rather derogatory. It means someone who should know his job – and doesn’t. Paul gives us these tests of the Christian amateur:

  • You hear things over and over again – at the same level of understanding.
  • You only listen to a certain set of topics – those for beginners.
  • When someone asks, you have no ready defense of the faith.

If that sounds familiar, watch out!

The loss to the teacher

Since Paul brings it up, may your teacher share with you his troubles with amateurs in the room? This is, after all, not a class for beginners.

  • Amateurs frequently find the lessons over their heads – and that quickly leads to a lack of attention.
  • To get their attention, the teacher must “bring it down to their level” – which quickly bores the rest of the class.

But the teacher must persist (so give the man a little help, will ya?) He persists because the basics are still so important. Unless, of course, he’s looking for applause, in which case what are you doing in his class?

The loss to your classmates

I can put this in simple English: while your classmates know that the basics are valuable, do any of you remember being bored during our trial of Christianity 101? A lot of you complained of it!

What are the basics?

So just what does Paul consider “the basics?”

  • Repentance. The point here is not that you never need repentance. You will need it. The point is that you don’t have to be taught how. By now you should have practiced it a bit.
  • Faith. If you have a constant hunger for the miraculous, or the need to have your faith affirmed, you haven’t been growing in the faith.
  • Ritual. You should by now have figured out things like baptism.
  • Hope. By now, the hope of the Christian – which is the resurrection of the dead at the return of our Lord – should be firmly planted in your life. This I find is the most common failing.

Warning to the mature

This section of Scripture can be frightening to the amateur. It is sometimes interpreted to mean that “the first time you sin after you are baptized, you have no hope of forgiveness.” That is not what it means at all. This section is addressed to mature Christians. So first, we need to know what makes one a mature Christian, right?

The mark of the mature

Let’s see just who Paul is speaking of:

  • “tasted of the heavenly gift” – He’s talking about grace, of course. If you ignore grace – or worse, go out on the theory that the more you sin, the more God’s grace abounds – you can see that you are rejecting the free gift of God.
  • “shared in the Holy Spirit” – note the word “shared.” To reject the “seal” (the guaranty) of God, our comforter in troubles, and the one who makes the church one is rejection of God Himself.
  • “tasted the goodness of the word” – suppose you spend much time in studying the Scriptures, and then, at the last, decide that you need them no more. Are you not rejecting the life found therein?
  • “powers of the coming age” – the Christian knows the power of the Resurrection. It changes our attitude towards death. We see death as the door to eternal life, and freedom from mortal ills. If you have experienced this, and then rejected it, you have thrown your hope away.

Does this mean there is no repentance for the mature Christian? Of course not. What it does mean is that there is no chance to go through the initial stages of Christianity again. We are privileged to know God, to experience his baptism and know his saving grace only because of what Christ did on the Cross. If having become mature we fall away, how could we start again? Would not Christ have to die again for us? It is absurd to think of it.

So then, Christian, as you mature, remember: press on until the end of life. Not only did your Lord undergo death for you, He was humiliated[1] for you. Many of us would rather die than be humiliated; he accepted both for you. If you reject this – especially after having grown mature in this faith – how could you start over? Would you humiliate him a second time?

By their fruits

How do we know if we are mature Christians? “By their fruits you will know them.” This is a pass-fail exam, so to speak.

  • You “pass” if you have the fruits of the Spirit in your life. This is because you “drink in the rain” – the shower of blessings that God gives you. When you do, you produce good fruit – both in your personal life and in those about you.
  • You “fail” if you produce thorns – or sins. Note the progression: when God’s patience runs out, you will be cursed. If cursed, then burned – in the lake of fire.

Confident of Better Things

Our lesson does not end with such gloom, however. Paul tells these Hebrews that he is confident of better things in their case. Having seen the fate of those who fall away, let us look at the joys of those who persist until the end.

God is just

Sometimes we look around and see the rewards of the unjust in this life. We’re tempted to ask, “If that’s what the wicked get, and I get what the righteous get, maybe I’m on the wrong side here.” But remember: God is just. Because he is just, this is what He will do:

  • He will not forget your hard work. No, you cannot work your way into heaven. But your Lord, who sees all things, sees your hard work too. He will reward it when he comes.
  • Nor will he forget the love you have shown to his saints. Remember, a kindness to another Christian is a kindness to Christ himself. It makes sense: those who show love to my children show love to me.
  • Finally, he will not forget your diligence. If you persist until the end, he will know, and he will reward. Keep on keeping on!
Diligence

But how do I keep on keeping on? Paul tells us that too.

  • First, you do it by faith. As your faith matures, God will stretch you more and more. Hang on to that faith; remember that when he stretches you, he is making you stronger for the next trial.
  • Next, you do it by patience. This is not a passive thing. Rather, it is the patience which is ever ready to seize God’s opportunity – but does not moan until the opportunity comes.
  • Your major foe is laziness. Interestingly, the word can also be translated “dull.” Don’t coast downhill when God wants you to be climbing.
Our confidence

Sometimes this looks rather difficult; we tend to see ahead and look only at the bumps in the road. How can we be sure?

  • It is impossible for God to lie. By his very nature, he is truth. But just to make sure you got the message, he made his promises “on oath.” We do that yet today; the oath (or at least the fear of trial for perjury) is supposed to give us confidence in what is said. In this we see the humility of God. There is no one greater than God; God is truth – but so that we might be certain of his promises, he added to them his sworn word.
  • Hope “as an anchor.” The metaphor is a deliberate one. He refers not to the rock as foundation, but an anchor. Those whose faith has been tried know what this means. They know what it is to be “at sea.” When everything else is shaky, you pull on the anchor chain. When you do, you find it is stretched, but firm. Even more of a blessing is this: it’s secure. It is stuck in the Rock of Ages; it will not move.
  • Our hope is the atonement. How do we know this can be so? Because we remember what Jesus did for us in the Atonement. The picture would be clear to the ancient Jew. Jesus has gone into the Holy of Holies (remember the veil of the Temple torn from top to bottom?), just as the High Priest would. In there (in the days of its glory) would be the Ark of the Covenant. The cover of that ark is called the “mercy seat” or the “atonement cover.” It is there that our Lord has presented himself as sacrifice, on our behalf. There is a reason we take communion each week – so that we might remember this.

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” An old hymn, but a true one. Keep on keeping on!


[1] Crucifixion was a humiliating death; it was also a public spectacle. We no longer hang, draw and quarter criminals, but that process approximates the humiliation.

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