Sunday, March 4, 2018

"Building to Completion" (Hebrews 6:1-20)


As impressive as it is, the concrete foundation of our new worship centre will NOT do us any good, unless we build a structure on it, and build that structure to its completion. This is like our spiritual lives – our lives need to be built towards completion … to become mature in faith and spirituality i.e. complete with all of what God wants to implant into our lives. This should be of major encouragement to us – that God loves and values us so much, that He has a daily interest in bringing us maturity.

I remember when we lived in Point Cook, there was a block on Dunnings Road, with just a concrete slab and timber frame, for year after year, with no sign of any further work to be done on it … just laying dormant. What a sad sight that was. And eventually it was pulled down. There is also that house there next to Gei Lin’s place – for whatever reason lying dormant – seeing it stand there half-finished (half-built) is a very sad sight!!

People can be like that too! And, as we are NOT robots on a predetermined course, and as good progress is NOT automatic – we need to take our own responsibility for going forward! This can be a slow process - because there is NO shortcut past our need for healing nor the consequences of our choices.

Yet, standing still is not an option, for in standing still we will inevitably go backwards. If we are resistant to God bringing transformation and newness to our lives, then we will inevitably go backwards. We have read in Hebrews chapter six about the extreme dangers inherent in going backwards. Standing still and going backwards actually contradict the power and effectiveness of the saving work of Jesus on the cross!

It could be … that, at times, we look at how others are tending to walk away from Jesus, and think about how we may go that way too – either by decision, or by neglect, or by consequence. How is it that we can guard against that, and in all ways commit to following Jesus and worshipping God and being open to the Holy Spirit in our lives … come what may!? How can we move from good foundations to the complete building? And how can we be reassured … that we are on the right track?

Solid Food

If we began our reading a little earlier in Hebrews (5:11f), we would have heard about the need to move from consuming milk to solid food. If we remain only on milk, we will remain as spiritual infants. We will likely, then, not have the necessary resources to survive the complexity of what life throws at us. We will also NOT grow sufficiently to be able to teach others concerning the spiritual life, because the necessary depth of understanding has not yet entered us.

As we notice in the first part of chapter six (vs 1-2), there were those who had the foundational teaching, but preferred to stay there and not deepen their understanding. They allowed the ideas to touch their mind but NOT their heart. Their thoughts just revolved around the basics, and they probably argued them back and forth; but rather than moving forward, they preferred to start from scratch again and again. This then becomes much more like religious dogma than a living breathing faith. Such ones are good with the head knowledge, but short on life application.

Many commentators believe that … the early Christians referred to here, were reluctant to move beyond the stuff that remained quite compatible with the beliefs of the religion of their birth, and the Judaism of their upbringing, rather than moving into a full experience of the ‘Good News’ of Jesus (and toward the far more revolutionary move of the Holy Spirit in their lives). They were nervous about breaking free of their own particular status-quo. In so doing they easily regressed back into (the presumed safety of) Judaism. But they were actually putting themselves at risk!

We can so easily get bogged down in religious dogma, and thereby miss the potentialities of spiritual enrichment. And we can also limit the amount of the Gospel message we take on, in an attempt to not upset our apple-cart too much, or alienate any of our family or friends, or upset our level of social acceptance. Yet, sitting on a thin fence is NOT a happy way to live! It’s a tricky place to be! And, we read in verses 4 to 5, there is a huge problem here.

The writer to the Hebrews is probably more alluding to some very callous cases of rebellion, but perhaps we still see some resonance here: people we know who have had a good taste of the Gospel and faith, and then fallen away (many into the pull of popular secular currents). Whatever has caused this – a bad experience, hurt, unmet expectations, bad teaching, or just a personal decision to do so, the ramifications are huge. We know that some people have been promised too much – that ‘come to Jesus and everything will be alright’ kind of comment, that has set so many people up for failure. God is actually NOT interested in making our life comfortable. 

[We know also, that, tragically, some people have suffered under spiritual abuse, and needed to distance themselves from the abusers.] 

Yet, what we have here, is basically a warning to those who choose to walk away, rather than taking up the opportunity to grow to maturity. And this is put very dramatically and passionately, with a very strong pastoral heart: Don’t fall away, or it will be “impossible” for this to be reversed … says the text (v 4). “Impossible”!?! This, I don’t think, means “impossible” by design, but rather, “impossible” by effect – it just works out that way. This is so sad. This is because people often get so hardened against what they once embraced. Because, for them, it didn’t seem to work!

Certain people can become very hostile, stubborn, fixed, seemingly impenetrable. If they, for whatever reason, feel that faith and/or church hasn’t worked for them (according to the expectations they were given), then they can fall into a habit of negativity and rejection. In this way, it is seen as “impossible” for them to return. There is here a major mental resistance to repentance.

While this is their position – we know that God continues, maybe increasingly so, to hunt down the one of the hundred who has strayed, or seek to welcome back the prodigal … who has simply made some bad choices to destructive ends. Yet, ultimately, it will have to be their decision to return, for intimate relationship with God has always been voluntary.

A Digression – supporting those who have fallen away

What do we do for these people – how do we support those who have fallen away (with a view to seeing them return)?

I have a 5-point plan:

  1. We pray – not only for them, but also for wisdom in handling well any conversations around the topic of faith with them; praying also for active opportunities for such conversations to occur in God’s good timing. In this we seek to be sensitive to God’s guidance and timing, and discern whether it is we, or somebody else, who is best suited to minister to a certain person.

  1. We should be flexible in our approach, hearing where the other person is at, and where their problem areas lie, without being judgmental or applying our hard and fast solutions – which may miss the mark entirely. The particular doctrines and presentations of the Gospel message that didn’t work for the person previously, will likely NOT work for them again. We would likely need to vary our approach until we find something that resonates. The goal is to build trust and an open line of communication.

  1. We would likely need to widen the entry points around the love and grace of God, God’s huge capacity to forgive, offering a sense of value, acceptance and a new safe place to belong. We don’t insist they believe this or that (those things that may appear important to us), but rather simply help them to find the embrace of God … in the situation they currently find themselves in. And be very patient … waiting on the Lord. This likely won’t be an even journey, but rather have its ups and downs.

  1. At some point we invite them to explore a new experience of Christian community – whether that is just eating with other people who may be helpful in the situation, or in a gentle church social activity, or in a home group, or in a suitable-style worship service, or to help in some practical thing the church is doing (e.g. working bee or serving some neighbours) – whatever will suit the individual situation the best – where those who are also involved understand the high stakes involved and respect this space highly … with NO unnecessary invasions into their life before a person becomes ready.

  1. We should model in our lives that the Gospel actually works. People, especially those who have walked away, will need to know the Gospel works, that the Gospel works in relationship and community, as they observe this in the lives of others i.e. us! This is before they will accept any of the truths we think are important. This is another, maybe the main, reason … why we need to allow God to build, mature and complete us – as God desires to use us as a channel of Christ’s blessing!

The Path to Maturity

The strength of this warning in Hebrews, and the strong encouragement for ourselves to be prepared to go forward, is highlighted in verse 6. To taste grace and mercy and forgiveness, and then to deem this insufficient … and walk away, is to in effect declare that Jesus should be crucified all over again. This also brings public contempt over the effectiveness of Jesus’ sacrificial service. This is just like saying that a soldier’s sacrifice was wasted in a worthless cause! To worship One, and then to reject that One, is to breed public contempt. So … I couldn’t think of a greater motivation for going forward toward completeness than this!

Later in verse 12 the English word “sluggish” is used to describe one lacking diligence in these matters. Sluggishness leads to stagnation which will always have negative outcomes. We would want to sense the urgency of this scripture, and help others through this … before it becomes terminal. So, reflecting on verses 7 & 8, I would want to be … like that ground that drinks up all of the rain that is falling down on it, producing a crop that is useful to all those for whom it is cultivated. This is so much preferable, don’t you think, to ground that only produces thorns and thistles!?

The question then is – what are the markers of this path to maturity? How, and with what, do we move toward completeness??

This surrounds the dynamic of knowing Jesus well, and he, Jesus, knowing us well. This surrounds an ongoing, never static, reflection on the cross, and the various ways in which this brings us freedom from sin and a peace through which we can endure all kinds of circumstances. This is also about the resurrection … which opens our path to all sorts of new possibilities.

  1. Studying God’s Word in the Bible in conversation with others - it is important to help one another understand the styles of literature within, the variety of authors, what is culturally conditioned and what transcends culture
  2. Receiving teaching from God’s Word with deep reflection and life application - including the helpfulness of taking notes
  3. Involvement in prayer, both personal and corporate
  4. Participation in worship and communion within the ‘Body of Christ’
  5. Being continually open to the Holy Spirit bringing greater giftedness and fruitfulness into your life
  6. Collaborating with others in serving ministries, including the ministry of encouragement (Hebrews 6:10). Verse 10 shows, that despite the dire warnings in this passage, the writer is well aware of those whose loving service shows that they are indeed on the right track.
  7. Becoming an “imitator” of Jesus, being his representative in all contexts (Hebrews 6:12). Imitating those who are already fully faithful, with the example given here of Abraham, really leads us to “imitating” the ultimate example of Jesus.
  8. Thorough complete repentance every time there is a blip in the road. Knowing what ‘repentance’ is … is still a far cry from practicing repentance. And ‘repentance’ is … a complete active turn-around from whatever it is that separates us from God (and others).

Seizing the Hope

In this way we will fully “seize the hope set before us” (v 18). To “seize” something is to focus on it and eagerly take possession of it. Or as verse 11 says it, “… we want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realise the full assurance of hope to the very end”. [It is only with solid food in our stomachs that can we do this!]

“Hope” is ‘confident expectation’ – a ‘confident expectation’ based on the absolute reliability and faithfulness of God. Part of this is also prayerful patience. The promises made to Abraham (referred to here in verses 13-15) regarding being the father of many offspring, seemed, at his and his wife’s age, to be farfetched.

Yet Abraham was faithful and went forward in relationship with God. And this promise eventually began to be fulfilled with the birth of Isaac (25 years later), and then was ultimately fulfilled, many many centuries later, when people from all the nations of the earth came to become disciples of Jesus.

We can have this “hope” … that Jesus knows us, and lives with us, and has taken us behind the ‘curtain’ into the ‘holy of holies’ where God lives. It is in this way that we move forward … from having the right foundation … to … having an anchor for our souls … that surely and steadfastly guards our life, and keeps us steady in any storm. This is maturity and completeness!

From this position of being anchored to Jesus, we cannot be moved (or absent-mindedly drift) in any adverse direction. This is also the “hope” of a purposeful life of serving in community and making a difference for good, bringing with this … eternal promises for ourselves and others.

We have an anchor that keeps the soul,
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll;
Fastened to the rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!
(Priscilla J Owens – 1882). 

Are we grounded firm and deep in the Saviour's love? This is building to completion! 

That's all we need - to be grounded firm and deep in the Saviour's love! 

Then sings my soul, then sings my soul;
How great Your love is, how great Your love is!

No comments:

Post a Comment