Small poster on a door in a church in Leicester
This is my talk from Breakfast Bible Study at All Souls, Langham Place. This term we have been tackling the Letter to the Hebrews and I was looking at Hebrews 5:11-6:20, a warning against falling away. The study included discussion time, so I have left the discussion questions in. Enjoy.
If you work in London and are interested in coming along to Breakfast Bible Study then you can find more information here: AllSoulsBreakfastBibleStudy
Hebrews 5:11 – 6:20
A couple of years ago a relatively humorous story hit the national headlines. Official road signs in Wales are bilingual, so when in need of a new sign the local authority in Swansea e-mailed its in-house translation service for the Welsh version of: “No entry for heavy goods vehicles; residential site only”. The reply came back and officials set the wheels in motion to create the large sign in both languages. The notice went up and all seemed well - until Welsh speakers began pointing out the embarrassing error. Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council had said in Welsh: “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated”. So that was what went up under the English version which barred lorries from a road near a supermarket
Thankfully for us, the majority of warning signs are much clearer. From a skull and crossbones to a man falling off a cliff, there is no mistaking the warning sign. One of the clearest of these I remember from my time in Singapore. A military base was surrounded by hundreds of signs depicting a man with his hands in surrender as another man stuck a gun in his face. It obviously wasn’t a place that we were welcome to enter; that was one very clear warning sign.
So far in Hebrews we have been reminded of Jesus’ Greatness, greater than Moses and the angels, a great high priest. Yet this morning’s passage sticks out as a warning sign. A warning sign for the Hebrews, and a warning sign for us on our journey through this book.
Grow up, Move on! (5:11-6:3)
‘You are slow to learn, you ought to be teachers, you need milk not solid food’, This passage begins with some pretty harsh words from the author, but when we look at the Hebrew Church it was probably fair. They had been Christians long enough but there seemed to have been very little growth. It seems that they were still stuck in the ABC level of faith, the only book on their shelves was ‘Christianity for dummies’ and only the first 6 pages had been well thumbed. There was a failure to understand even the basic principles of the interpretation of the scriptures, leading to wholly wrong thinking about the uniqueness of Christianity. And so the author warns them, you need to advance! Grow up, move on! Many of us have probably been Christians for years, some perhaps for less time, but, no matter what our age or situation, the challenge is to keep moving on. Many of our companies draw up charts of growth, in work there is the constant question of ‘where to next?’ or ‘how am I advancing my career?’, and although this is not the call for us as Christians the danger is that we think there is no need for growth in our faith. We sit happily in the same basic understanding and faith that we had when we first met Christ. Yet, in chapter 6:1 the writer challenges the Hebrews to leave behind the elementary teachings and go on to maturity. You have the basics, now build on them. Should we not do so also?
Discussion time (8mins)
Are we moving on to ‘solid food’? How might we do this?
How are we mapping our growth?
Are we teaching others? Should we be?
Warning, warning (6:4-8)
As you drive down the motorway you see the flashing amber lights, the warning signs above, Maximum speed, 40mp. This, like chapter 5:11-6:3 is the first warning sign. But it is not till the breaks are applied and, as we look out the window, we see the devastation of the crash that we really realise the seriousness of the situation.
Let’s read again verses 4-8
When I was in primary school I did my cycling proficiency, you know, ‘stop at the red light, stick your arm out at 90 degrees before turning, don’t cycle down a one way street, the stuff you learn about how to ride a bike that you forget as soon as you are free to ride one, and that you just completely ignore when you ride a bike in London. On of the things we were told was to always wear a helmet. This instruction, more than any other, fell on rather deaf 10 year old ears. That was until a boy two years above arrived in class with a box full of smashed up pieces of helmet telling us ‘this would have been my head’. It wont surprise you when I say that the following week not one of us turned up without our head protection. Verses 4-8 in this passage, are that same illustration. A warning is often not enough; a real example of the consequences of ignoring that warning is what is really needed.
This lack of progress (verses 5:11-6:3) is bad in itself but is symptomatic of something much more serious. The Hebrews are not simply backsliding but they are in danger of losing their faith altogether. So the writer gives the sternest of warnings. It is important then that we take verses in the context of this whole passage, in fact in the context of the whole of the letter to the Hebrews.
The Bible is full of encouraging passages particularly those that talk of the Perseverance of the Saints. This reoccurring theme can be summed up with two statements; ‘All those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians’ and ‘Only those who persevere to the end have be truly born again’.
This is both a great comfort and an encouragement, yet, when we come to passages like this in Hebrews 6 it seems to get a little confusing. On first reading Hebrews 6 seems to suggest we can lose our salvation. Is this right? In order to understand this we need to look at four things:
First then, what is the purpose behind what is being said? It is important not to take this passage out of context, this is primarily a warning for the Hebrew people not a theological discussion, thus it is also a warning for us, not an opportunity to prove our particular view of salvation. I say it again. It. Is. A. Warning.
Secondly, what is not being said? The author is not talking about falling into sin – whatever that sin is. The author is not talking about falling into temptation, as this falling is purposeful and deliberate. The author is not talking about a rejection of some particular principles of Christian religion by error or false teaching.
Thirdly, what is really being said? It is important to look at the words used in order to understand the passage properly. When the writer says they were ‘enlightened’ we can see that they came to understand the truths of the Gospel. They got it, they understood it! That is clear. However, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily accepted it or believed it, or that they responded to these truths with genuine saving faith. When we are told that they ‘tasted the goodness of the word of God’ and ‘tasted the heavenly gift’ the original language used could easily implies a temporary tasting of something that the taster then might decide to reject. When we are told they ‘shared in the Holy Spirit’ the term shared can be either a close or loose association. The might have been loosely connected to the church and thus have a loosely connected share in the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet it doesn’t need to imply they had the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
The puritan John Owen, sheds some light the confusion in these verses. Speaking of verse 4 he writes; ‘Many are made partakers of Him in spiritual gifts who are never made partakers of Him in His saving graces’. And of verse 5 ‘There is a goodness and excellency in the word of God, able to attract and affect the minds of men, who yet never arrive at sincere obedience unto it’.
Discussion time (8mins)
Is this explanation comfortable? What are some of the challenges?
How is our knowledge of people who have ‘tasted’ something of God’s goodness yet rejected him a good warning for us to seek continuous spiritual growth?
But not you! (6:9-20)
Finally, what about us? Where do we fit in, should we be worried? I think if we are honest we all struggle in our faith, at times we doubt and at times we slip up yet if we have truly responded to the truth of God’s word, if we have the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, if we are truly born again we can be assured of our salvation. As 1 Peter 1:3-5 says;
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
The passage then ends with clear hope and confidence. The writer interrupts his warning with the words (vrs 9) ‘we are confident of better things in your case’.
Better things than just being enlightened, better things than tasting the spirit, better things than answers to prayer, ‘things that accompany salvation’! And this confidence is confirmed in verse 19, ‘We have this hope as an anchor for our soul, firm and secure’. Yes, we are to be active in our faith, showing diligence (verse 11) and not becoming lazy, verse 12. And there is clearly some work in the Christian life: Verse 10 talks of both the work of faith and labour of love, our work is obedience and our labour is love. However our hope is firmly in the reality of the person of Christ, as verse 20 says ‘It enters the inner sanctuary, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high preist for ever, in the order of Melchizedek’.
As we enter the workplace this week, how can we be both active in our faith (verse 11-12) yet dependant on Christ (verse 19-20)?
As we enter the workplace this week, how might this ‘hope, as an anchor, firm and secure’ lead us with confidence?
I have had a sneak pre-print preview of the Olympic edition of Sorted Magazine and it is s-weet. Here are a few reasons why I think it is well worth picking up a box or four:
1. The cover looks sweet (see above).
2. It is only £50 for 50 copies, saving you £125 which could get you this or this or even this.
3. My column is accompanied by a large picture of David ‘Golden Balls’ Beckham. This made my girlfriend very happy.
4. There are three full pages of the legendary Bear Grylls.
5. Jess Ennis.
6. The magazine is a recommended More Than Gold Resource, and those guys are awesome.
7. Rico Tice gives a no-holds-barred gospel message. In case you don’t know, the man is an evangelism machine.
8. Carl Beech always has the last word. And rightly so.
9. There is an interview with some guy called Steve Redgrave. Apparently he is a knight of some sort….
10. There is an ultimate guide to the Olympics. You won’t miss a thing.
11. There are 108 quality pages, more than any edition yet.
12. You are part of something much bigger. Hundreds of Churches are buying these magazines as well as the thousands of copies that are being given away on tubes, in Churches and around Olympic venues.
So fellas, no excuses. Buy a box for your church here, or tell you church minister, events organiser or the chap with the churches wallet.
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3)