We come to a passage of scripture that has sparked more controversy
than any other in the book of Hebrews. But as is the case with
most other heated debates that the scriptures inspire, the point
that inspires the controversy isn't the main point of the passage.
Although we must try to understand controversial issues, we must
not let them obscure the larger point that the biblical authors
- and God - would have us consider.
In Hebrews 5:11-6:12, the writer wants his readers to consider advanced teaching concerning Christ. He is convinced that such consideration will contribute to spiritual maturity in their community. The same is true for us. Considering the deep things of the person of Christ contributes to spiritual maturity.
In the previous section, Hebrews 4:14-5:11, the writer explained that Jesus was called by God to be a compassionate high priest. Twice the writer said that Jesus was appointed by God to be a high priest "according to the order of Melchizedek" (5:6, 10). The writer will explain the meaning of this cryptic phrase in Chapter 7, but first he has a not-so-subtle rebuke for his readers.
The passage is marked off by the word that is translated "dull" in Hebrews 5:11 and "sluggish" in Hebrews 6:12 (nothros). It can also be translated "lazy." The people, the writer says, have become lazy.
The problem: Lazy ears (5:11-14)
(11) Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. (12) For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. (13) For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. (14) But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
The writer has much to say about "him" - Christ.
Immediately, he has much to say about Christ as high priest according
to the order of Melchizedek (Chapter 7). But he says it is difficult
for him to explain these deep things about Christ. The difficulty
comes not in the complexity of the information or in the writer's
inability to present it but in the readers' inability to process
it. They have become "dull of hearing." They've become
lazy. Again, the writer returns to the crucial theme of hearing
- paying attention to what is true (2:1; 3:1, 7-8, 15; 4:1-2,
7). Their perceptive faculties, as they concern processing deep
truth about Jesus, have become dull.
How did this happen? It happened because the people became more concerned with "milk and not solid food." As we will see in Hebrews 6:1, the people wanted to continue laying a foundation of "elementary teaching." The writer and his readers are familiar with the situation, so he doesn't explain it. We are thus forced to attempt to re-create it. My re-creation goes like this: People who had joined the community and seemingly embraced the gospel were abandoning it, probably in the face of persecution. Those who remained, therefore, in an effort to win back the apostates, were concerned with presenting "elementary teaching." As they themselves presented milk, elementary teaching, and not solid food, advanced teaching, they were losing interest in the deeper things of Christ.
If this is the correct re-creation, verses 12 through 14 can be seen as filled with irony. The writer says that by this time, they "ought to be teachers" but that they again need someone to teach them. The reaction of his readers to this might be something like this: "What do you mean? We already are teachers! We're teaching the important truths that are urgent at this particular time: the elementary truths." And then when he says they need someone to teach them the "elementary principles of the oracles of God" and that they themselves need this milk, not solid food, he is likely to get their full attention. This is what he wants, by the way - their full attention. He wants their full attention, not their lazy ears, so that he can explain to them the deep things of Christ. Through the use of irony, he has it!
If verse 12 didn't awaken the readers from their lethargy, verses 13 and 14 are sure to do it. If they are in need of milk, elementary teaching, they are not accustomed to the "word of righteousness" and may not be able to digest it. The opposite of milk here is not solid food, as it was earlier, but the word of righteousness, which can therefore be seen as a description of solid food. The solid food he wants to give them, directly, is teaching about Christ as it concerns his relationship with Melchizedek.
How is this the "word of righteousness?" Those who are in Christ have been declared righteous, but in the ongoing process of sanctification, we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29). This happens as we behold who the Lord is (2 Corinthians 3:18), and the writer of Hebrews wants to show his readers who the Lord is. If they see it, if they see Jesus and appreciate the deep things of his being, they will be changed. Thus the word of righteousness is the word that relates to the deep things of Christ and produces righteousness.
If they themselves need milk and not solid food, they must be spiritual "babes." The readers might respond: "Babes? What do you mean 'babes'? We endured great conflict of sufferings, we were made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, we showed sympathy to prisoners and even joyfully accepted the seizure of our property (Hebrews 10:32-34). Who are you calling babes?"
Spiritually "mature" people, on the other hand, eat "solid food" - advanced truth about the person of Christ. And as they digest this truth, they exercise their "senses" - their spiritual sensitivity increases. They become more able to "discern good and evil." Evil sometimes looks good, and it takes spiritual discernment to tell the difference. Satan disguises himself as "an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). God has "spoken" to us in his Son (Hebrews 1:2), and if we hear that word, we'll be changed into people who grow in spiritual discernment.
The writer calls the readers "babes." Does he mean it? Not really. They may be lazy, but they're not babes. If they have need for someone to again teach them "the elementary principles of the oracles of God," why, in Hebrews 6:1, does he strongly advise "leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ" and not "laying again a foundation" of elementary teaching? Why does he proceed to give them a plate full of solid food, teaching concerning Christ's relationship to Melchizedek, in Chapter 7? In calling them babes, the writer hopes to snap them out of their lethargic state. It has the effect of someone calling another "chicken" to persuade him to do something he fears doing.
Have we too become lethargic? Do we have lazy ears? Have we become resistant to advanced teaching? Have we lost interest in the deep things of Christ? Do we think we know what needs to be known? Have the scriptures become to us essentially irrelevant - not worth the investment. Do we scoff, "Melchizedek! I don't know what that's all about, and I don't care to put for the effort to find out." If we see the words of this book through the eyes of the original readers and understand the writer to be calling us "babes," does it jolt us? Does he have our attention? Does God have our attention? Are we ready to learn? Are we ready to exercise our ears and apply them to the truth? Are we ready to learn about Christ and have that truth transform our lives? Are we ready to learn even about such a complex and seemingly irrelevant person as Melchizedek because he somehow relates to Christ our Lord, Christ who is everything to us?
If so, let us change our diet to meat.
The solution: Advanced teaching (6:1-3)
(1) Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (2) of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (3) And this we shall do, if God permits.
Verse 1 begins with the word "therefore," which likely
relates to the writer's having "much to say" about Christ.
Because he has much to say about Christ, he advises leaving the
elementary teaching about him. He wants his readers to move past
elementary teaching in order to "press on to maturity."
The more basic translation value for the word translated "press
on to" (phero) is "bring." If the word is
translated this way, the writer is saying something like, "Let
us bring on maturity." One brings on maturity in a community
of believers by teaching the deep things about Christ. If nothing
but milk is being taught among the people, they are not growing.
The writer wants solid food to be studied and dispensed by his
readers so that the people grow spiritually.
Therefore, they must stop what they are doing. They must leave behind elementary teaching about Christ. They must not keep laying a foundation of elementary instruction. The elementary foundation that they evidently insist on laying again concerns instruction in six areas: repentance, faith, washings (literally, "baptisms"), laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. The six areas can be seen in three categories comprising two areas each, progressing in a chronological sense, beginning with repentance and ending with judgment.
Repentance and faith comprise the first couplet. These are two separate things, and both are necessary for someone to enter the kingdom of God. Repentance involves a turning away from something. The word repent literally means to change one's mind. Biblically, repentance means changing one's mind about one's lifestyle. Before one embraces the gospel, one must first repent - change his mind about his current lifestyle and turn away from it. But repentance does not equal salvation. "Faith toward God" equals salvation. The first words of Jesus recorded by Mark in his gospel are these: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). Repent and believe. The Apostle Paul said that he declared that people should "repent and turn to God" (Acts 26:20). A two-step process, one involving repentance and faith, is also spoken of in Acts 19:4 and Acts 20:21. Repentance can mean a daily ongoing repentance, of turning away from sin (2 Corinthians 12:21), but it can also mean the initial act of repentance that prepares one to receive the gospel. The latter meaning is in view here. "Dead works," then, would be those connected with a pre-conversion lifestyle, works that accomplished nothing insofar as God is concerned. Faith toward God, then, would be embracing the gospel - God's offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Second, foundational teaching involves baptisms and the laying of hands. If we are to follow the writer's apparent chronological line of thinking, instruction about baptisms and the laying of hands follow teaching about repentance and faith. After one repents and believes, he is baptized. Why does the writer use the plural "baptisms"? He may have in mind instruction about different kinds of baptism - Jewish baptism, the baptism of John, baptism into Christ by the Holy Spirit, water baptism. At first, it was probably necessary to get straight all these baptisms, which all concern initiation of some sort. The first believers in Ephesus were confused about different kinds of baptisms and needed basic instruction (Acts 19:1-7). Laying on of hands signified commissioning of various sorts (Acts 6:6, 13:3; 1 Timothy 4:14, 5:22; 2 Timothy 1:6).
Chronologically, any commissioning would take place after conversion and baptism.
The third couplet is resurrection and judgment. There will be a "resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (Acts 24:15), where the righteous, those who belong to Christ, will inherit the kingdom, and the wicked, those who have rejected Christ, will be judged. Resurrection and judgment, obviously, come at the conclusion of earthly life.
The writer wants to "leave" this elementary teaching. This leaving involves not "laying again a foundation." Does that mean he never wants them to teach about such things? No. It means he doesn't want them to always teach such things. He doesn't want them to abandon the foundation. He wants them to build on it. If they don't build on it, they will not produce maturity in their community.
"And this we shall do," the writer says, "if God permits." What is "this?" It is bringing on maturity, producing maturity among believers in the community. This is done, as we have seen, by teaching advanced truth about Christ. This is what we must do, but it does not necessarily mean that it will produce maturity. That's why the writer adds the provision "if God permits." Growth is dependent on God. Only God changes people. We are called to teach and live and model the truth, but it's up to God to take that truth and open hearts with it. None of us can open a heart.
But we do what we can. We build on the foundation and ponder and convey the deep things of Christ. If all we do in our churches is repeat the simple gospel message over and over again, no one grows. The gospel message needs to be communicated, but if teachers continue focusing all their efforts on it and if people in God's communities keep hearing it, the teachers, the people and the communities will become "dull of hearing" and lazy - unable to process the advanced teaching that God uses to produce maturity. So, let us bring on maturity. Let us study, teach and ponder the deep things of Christ. Let us apply our minds. Let us seek to grasp the truth, striving and agonizing and praying to understand it and have it transform us.
Let us, for example, study the book of Hebrews, which presents perhaps the most advanced teaching concerning Christ in all the scriptures. It is by no means easy. But it presents a compelling picture of Christ - a picture that, if we have eyes to see, will cause us to gasp at its beauty. As we appreciate Christ, we will never be satisfied with milk again. And we will grow.
Resistance to the solution (6:4-8)
(4) For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, (5) and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, (6) and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put him to open shame. (7) For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; (8) but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
We have arrived at the controversial verses in this passage.
The controversy concerns whether one can forfeit one's salvation.
Can one be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, truly regenerate, a true
believer and follower of Jesus Christ, and then completely reject
him and forfeit salvation? And if one can be saved and then unsaved,
is there no hope for his returning to Christ again? Before we
consider these questions, it's important to note that they are
not central to the writer's point. He wants the readers to stop
being lazy, to stop slurping up and dispensing milk, to start
gobbling and serving up meat, to leave behind elementary teaching,
to not continually lay that basic foundation. He wants all this
done so that people will mature spiritually. So, what do these
verses have to do with that?
They obviously have something to do with it, because they begin with the word "for." Specifically, they are related to the writer's admonition to not lay "again" an elementary foundation that begins with teaching about "repentance" (6:1). This becomes clear as we look at Hebrews 6:6, in which the writer, using similar wording, says that it is impossible to renew some people "again" to "repentance."
It's also important to note the shift in pronouns in these verses. Up until this point, the writer as been using the first-person plural "we" and "us" and the second-person plural "you." He has been addressing his readers as "you," and it's possible that sometimes they are included in his use of "we." In Hebrews 6:4-8, he uses third-person plural pronouns such as "those," "them" and "themselves." Then in verses 9 through 12, he returns to "we" and "you." Whoever these people are in verses 4 through 8, the writer does not believe them to be among his readers, for he says in verse 9 that "we are convinced of better things concerning you."
So, why would the writer, in the middle of encouraging his readers to move on to more advanced teaching so that people may mature, begin talking about others for whom a second repentance is impossible? Because there was a disposition among the readers to lay "again" a foundation of "repentance." Why was there this disposition? Because they wanted to renew some people "again" to "repentance." Among the readers' reasons for focusing on elementary truth was that they hoped it would win back those who had fallen away. The writer, who wants them to move past elementary truth, says that if they're focusing on basic material in order to win back those who have fallen away, they're wasting their time. It's impossible to win them back. This is the writer's point in verses 4 through 8, and it should not be obscured by the more controversial aspects.
Nevertheless, we must try to understand them. So, who are these people? What of God have they experienced? Then what did they do, in falling away, so as to make repentance impossible?
They were at one time "enlightened," they had "tasted" of the heavenly gift, they had been made "partakers" of the Holy Spirit and they had "tasted" the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. The writer uses all these words, or their cognates, elsewhere in this letter:
- "Enlightened": Hebrews 10:32.
- "Taste": Hebrews 2:9.
- "Partake" or "share" (metecho): Hebrews 2:14, 3:1, 3:14 5:13, 12:8.
In these verses, the verbs imply legitimate experience of something. For example, in Hebrews 2:14, where it is said that people "share" in flesh and blood and that Jesus "partook" of the same, there is no question that these were legitimate experiences. So whatever the writer has in mind regarding these people, he is likely at the very least describing some kind of powerful experience of the things God.
Later, the writer says that the readers were at one time "enlightened" (10:32). It is likely there that he uses the word as a description of "receiving a knowledge of the truth" (10:26). John says that Jesus is the light that "enlightens every man." Every man is enlightened, but not every man is saved. Enlightened, here, suggests exposure to the truth.
These people's experience went beyond exposure. They "tasted of the heavenly gift." The heavenly gift, considering how the writer uses the word "heavenly" elsewhere (3:1, 11:16, 12:22), is heaven itself, the eternal land that the people of God inherit. This heavenly land is what Abraham longed for (11:16). In tasting this gift, the people had some kind of strong experience of it. But to taste something does not necessarily imply enjoyment of it. The figures in C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" tasted heaven, they actually visited the place, and couldn't stand it. David writes, "O taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8), but it is possible to taste and see, quite wrongly, that the Lord is not good.
They also were made "partakers of the Holy Spirit." Partaking of the Holy Spirit doesn't necessarily mean being indwelt by him. It doesn't necessarily imply regeneration. But, again, it implies some kind of strong experience of the Spirit. These people, having joined the community of God, among whom the Spirit dwelt, would have had some experience of the Spirit. The Spirit was sent to "convict the world" (John 16:8), and in partaking of the Spirit, perhaps these people partook of the Spirit's conviction. Perhaps they felt the guilt of their sin. Perhaps that's also why they fell away, because they grew weary of feeling the burden of sin by being exposed to the presence of the Spirit in the community.
Just as these people had tasted of the heavenly gift, they "tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come." As noted earlier, tasting doesn't equal liking.
They listened to the word, which speaks of Christ. To some people, the word concerning Christ and the gospel tastes bitter. They decide it is not good. It demands the yielding of one's life and radical obedience. To some people, Jesus sounds great at first. But when they truly taste the word and understand its implications, they find it bitter.
Along with tasting the word, the people in the writer's sights have tasted "the powers of the age to come." In the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit, heaven has broken into earth. Part of what the people of God will experience in the heavenly land has invaded earth. Therefore, in this place, we see "powers" from that place. The writer spoke of these powers in Hebrews 2:4, alluding to evident "signs and wonders and various miracles" and "gifts of the Holy Spirit." The word translated "miracles" (dunamis) in that verse is the same one translated "powers" in Hebrews 6:5. So the people who have fallen away had tasted these powers, these heavenly effects that were designed by God, in the broader context of Hebrews 2:1-4, to confirm the validity of his word concerning Christ. The powers were designed to confirm that God's word that people tasted was indeed "good."
These people, then, have experienced quite a bit. They saw all that God was offering them. They were exposed to the truth; they "tasted" the wonders of heaven, God's word and his power; they partook of the Holy Spirit - and then they fell away. They saw what it was, and they said, "No thank you."
These are the people, then, who cannot be won back. It is "impossible to renew them again to repentance." The writer uses a double positive here, "renew" and "again," which simply reinforces the hopelessness of the situation. In saying that it is impossible to renew them to repentance, the writer implies that they at one time did, in fact, repent. But this doesn't necessarily imply conversion. As we saw earlier, repentance is the first part of the conversion process. Faith is part two. These people had repented - they turned away from their former lifestyle and they joined the community of God, taking a good hard look at the gospel. But the writer does not say that they believed it, even though earlier he spoke of repentance and faith in the same breath. The implication, therefore, is that they didn't believe it. They failed to embrace the gospel.
Having once repented but having failed to believe, they cannot be brought back to repentance.
They have returned to a lifestyle of their choosing, and they are now hopelessly lost - "fundamentally and irretrievably unrepentant," as Jack Crabtree of the McKenzie Study Center in Eugene, Ore., puts it. Why is this the case? God has shown them everything he has to show them. He has opened up his treasure chest, and they have looked it over. They have had the advantage of seeing all that God has to offer in Jesus Christ, and they have walked away. God has nothing more to show them. If he were to show it to them all again, they would say, "I've seen it. I don't want it."
In having seen God's offer and falling away from it, "they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to open shame." The word "again" does not appear in the original text. This is not the second time they have crucified the Son of God to themselves. This is the first and final time. In crucifying God's Son to themselves, they reject the benefits of genuine crucifixion and they align themselves with those who crucified Christ. Why was Christ crucified? Because he was a threat to the status quo. The status quo needed to be overturned, Jesus said. So they crucified him, exposing him to shame so that all would know he was a failure and that all would know that one doesn't mess with the status quo. The people who have fallen away would say the same thing. If Jesus wants to mess with their version of status quo, to the cross he must go! In fact, they'll crucify Jesus to themselves if necessary to demonstrate their violent opposition and to warn all would-be challengers that they are the sovereign gods of their own lives and they won't be having anyone challenging their authority. What could cause Christ more shame than rejection by someone who had experienced all his blessings?
The writer explains the plight of these people with an agricultural illustration. Two kinds of ground are in view here. (The word "it" in verse 8 does not appear in the original text. The writer doesn't repeat the word "ground" in verse 8, probably because he has already used the word in verse 7) This is not ground that first yields vegetation and then yields thorns and thistles. One type of ground yields vegetation, and the other yields thorns and thistles. Both types of ground evidently receive frequent rain. The first type produces useful fruit and receives a blessing from God. The second type produces worthless thorns and thistles and is "close to being cursed" by God and, if it fails to produce fruit, will be cursed and burned. There is no hint here that the second kind of ground ever produced fruit. It has received frequent rain, but produced no fruit, just like the people the writer describes in verses 4 through 6. They were exposed to the blessings of life in Christ - they were enlightened, they tasted, they partook -but their lives bore no real fruit because they never really embraced Christ. Therefore, like the cursed ground, they will face judgment.
So, the writer in these verses is not describing people who were once saved and then forfeited their salvation. He is describing people who got a good look at the gospel and all the benefits of life in Christ and then rejected it. They are like the people whom John describes: "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). The writer has already affirmed that certain people are in the present legitimately saved, being part of God's house and being partakers of Christ, "if" they continue in faith (3:6, 14). The wording of these verses clearly states that if there is no continuance, one was never part of God's house and was never a true partaker of Christ. Other scripture affirms the impossibility of God's abandoning one who truly belongs to him (John 10:27-29, Romans 8:38-39, 1 Corinthians 1:8-9, Ephesians 4:30, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). His faithfulness guarantees perseverance.
Despite the security of those who truly belong to God, these verses in Hebrews provide a warning. Jesus said, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Matthew 7:22-23). It is possible to believe one is saved when one isn't. It is possible to have a false sense of security.
Pastor and author John Piper illustrates: "I'll be very personal, to give it its sharpest point. If in the coming years I commit apostasy and fall way from Christ, it will not be because I have not tasted of the word of God and the Spirit of God and the miracles of God. I have drunk of his word. The Spirit has touched me. I have seen his miracles, and I have been his instrument for a few. But if, over the next 10 or 20 years, John Piper begins to cool off spiritually and lose interest in spiritual things and becomes more fascinated with making money and writing Christless books; and I buy the lie that a new wife would be exhilarating and that the children can fend for themselves and that the church of Christ is a drag and that the incarnation is a myth and that there is one life to live so let us each drink and be merry - if that happens, then know that the truth is this: John Piper was mightily deceived in the first 50 years of his life. His faith was an alien vestige of his father's joy. His fidelity to his wife was a temporary passion and compliance with social pressure; his fatherhood the outworking of natural instincts. His preaching was driven by the love of words and crowds. His writing was a love affair with fame. And his praying was the deepest delusion of all - an attempt to get God to supply the resources of his vanity."
A true sense of security comes from perseverance in faith (Hebrews 3:6, 14), a lifestyle of obedience (1 John 2:3), a sincere love for brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 3:14, 4:17) and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16). Paul advises, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13:5). The question is, "Is Christ our highest hope?" or, "Over the years, is he at least looming larger in our lives?" If so, evidence of this hope will surface in our lifestyles. If not, and if such evidence is lacking, there is serious reason for concern. And we should take this occasion to seriously re-evaluate what we really believe. We should repent, we should be horrified, and we should turn to God with all our hearts.
The writer of Hebrews, however, is addressing people who he believes to be legitimately and permanently saved (6:9). How are they - and, by extension, how are those of us who have good reason to believe that we are saved - to apply these verses? Their concern is for those people who have fallen away and, quite probably, for people who may be on the brink of falling away. Their solution to this problem has been to emphasize elementary truth and chase after those who have fallen away. The writer says it's the wrong solution. First, it's wrong because it's impossible to renew them to repentance. It's a waste of time. Second, it's wrong because an emphasis on elementary truth does a disservice to people in the community who need solid food, not milk, if they are to grow spiritually.
It should be noted here that the writer does not say who these people are who have fallen away. He doesn't know what's truly in a person's heart anymore than we do. He knows that some are in this category, that some have seen all that the gospel offers and are now fundamentally and irretrievably unrepentant. So when we see someone apparently "fall away," it's not up to us to make an assessment whether this person is a true believer who is just taking a sabbatical, someone who has seen all that God offers and is now irretrievably unrepentant or someone who did not, in fact, see all that God offers and is therefore not necessarily irretrievably unrepentant. Whatever category a person is in, a headlong pursuit of that person can be an enormous waste if it distracts us from teaching and studying the deep things of Christ. That's the point: Don't be distracted. We shouldn't let anything distract us from our appointment with a plate full of meat!
It's very easy to aim low, so to speak. It's easy, in a church, for instance, to determine the lowest rung of spiritual and biblical maturity and make sure everything is taught at that level so that everyone understands. But if that's the way it's done, no one grows very much. There is a necessary and, in today's biblically illiterate culture, urgent need for elementary instruction. It has an important place, but it must not have a dominant place.
When I was in journalism school, we were told that once we started writing stories for real general-circulation newspapers, we should write them using grammar that an eighth-grader could understand in order to appeal to the widest possible audience, which included adults who could understand nothing greater than eighth-grade grammar. Many of us graduated and proceeded to work for general-circulation newspapers and did just that. But if one of us had gone on to work for, say, the New Yorker, he would have been writing at a level significantly greater than eighth-grade. In our churches, we need both newspapers and the New Yorker, so to speak, and the need for newspapers should not sublimate the need for the New Yorker.
Where deep things are the order of the day, diligence is required.
Ongoing diligence (6:9-12)
(9) But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. (10) For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward his name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. (11) And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, (12) that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
The writer is convinced of "better things" for his
readers than the things of verses 4 through 8, things better than
those that gather around irretrievable unrepentance. These better
things accompany, or, literally, are "having" salvation.
The things of verses 4 through 8 do not have anything to do with
salvation, and they never did. Those people never experienced
salvation. Among the things that don't accompany salvation is
"falling away." The writer believes that the readers
are saved and won't fall away. Saved people don't fall away -
at least not from salvation. Note that he is "convinced,"
or, if the word is translated a little more gently, as it can
be, that he is "persuaded." He doesn't know; he believes.
When it comes to what has really taken place in someone's heart,
we are on shaky ground when we think we can make definitive proclamations.
Why is the writer persuaded as to their eternally secure state? The evidence of their lives and God's justice persuades him. He knows of their work, their love and their ministry. He knows that God will not forget these things. God's justice, or righteousness, will not allow him to. In being righteous, God does what he says he is going to do. Genuine works based on genuine faith will not be rewarded by God eternally.
Note again the implications of these words concerning the eternal security of a believer in Christ. The writer has made three observations about their lives. Two of them (work and love) have taken place in the past. On of them (ministry) has also taken place in the past, but is also ongoing. These three things that have taken place in the past - work, love and ministry - will not be forgotten by God. If it were possible for one to forfeit his salvation, God would forget past work, love and ministry if one were to go on to reject Christ. Regardless of what happens in the future of these people's lives, however, the writer says that God won't forget these things. That means that even past fruit, assuming that it's genuine, is evidence of a salvation that cannot be lost.
Let's consider these three things. These are the things "better" than the things of verses 4 through 8, better than the thorns and thistles of a barren field. These are the things that accompany salvation. Their work and their love, which are in parallel construction, are explained by their ministry. What was their work? It was their ministry, both past and present, to the saints - the holy ones, God's people. This work, this ministry, was rooted in their love for God. They "showed" their love for God by serving his people. Because they loved God, they loved what he loved - his people - and ministered to them (10:32-34).
Love for people is not rooted in love for people. If that is its root, it has root only in itself, and it falls. It is rooted in love for God, even love for his name. This is the work God remembers - work done for his name, work done because people care about God, his name, his reputation and his glory. This work is the antithesis to the "dead works" that call for repentance (6:1).
Having encouraged his readers with these great words, the writer then expresses his hopes for these people, which brings him back to advocating maturity. He wants them to do two things: show diligence and imitate certain others.
He wants them to "show" the "same" diligence. They "showed" their love for God by serving others, and he wants them to continue showing this "same" love, which involves diligence. Ministry - particularly ministry to God's people - enables one to "realize the full assurance of hope until the end." Again, we see love for people as evidence of salvation. If we serve, if we serve because we love God over the long haul, that gives us assurance - assurance that our hope in God is real, and assurance that he is alive in us and will bring us to our heavenly home.
The second thing he wants them to do is to be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. The opposite of such imitation would be sluggishness. He wants them not to be "sluggish," which, as noted earlier, is the same word that is translated "dull" in Hebrews 5:11. The problem is that they had become spiritually lazy, satisfied with a diet of spiritual baby food. Instead, they should be diligent, they should be like people of faith and patience, Abraham being the immediate example (6:13-15). The diligence of showing love for God by serving others, then, involves not only diligence in doing the work but in focusing on the reason for the work. In Hebrews 4:11, the writer wanted them to be "diligent" to enter God's rest. We saw there that diligence was equated with faith (4:3). Work stems from faith.
Through faith and patience we inherit the promises of life in the final age. Faith leads to patience. If we believe in someone, we'll be patient with him. There is a sense in which we already have inherited the promises, but our present experience of them is something of a pledge of the greater experience to come (Ephesians 1:14). Therefore, patience is required. It is only those who wait for the promises who receive them. Only those who understand something of their value are willing to wait for them. Only someone who has faith, who believes the promises are worth waiting for, will wait. If someone understands nothing of their value, he won't wait. He is not a person of faith.
Be not lazy
Finally, then, the writer wants his readers not to be lazy but to be people of faith and patience. They have been lazy, but he wants them to be lazy no more. He wants them to be diligent - diligent to dispense and chew on the meat of the word, which contributes to the development of spiritually mature people of faith and patience. Let us, likewise, be diligent to study, ponder and teach the deep things of the person of Christ.
- SCG, 9-14-96
Copyright © 1997 Discovery Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church. This data file is the sole property of Discovery Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church. It may be copied only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice. This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any commercial publications, recordings, broadcasts, performances, displays or other products offered for sale, without the written permission of Discovery Publishing. Requests for permission should be made in writing and addressed to Discovery Publishing, 3505 Middlefield Rd. Palo Alto, CA. 94306-3695.