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SPIRITUAL GROWTH AND HOPE

Hebrews 5:11-6:20
Key Verse: 6:11

In the previous lesson we learned that we have Jesus the Son of God as our great high priest, who has gone through the heavens and is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. Because of this great high priest we have now the amazing privilege to approach the throne of grace with confidence for any life problem. Jesus was made perfect through his obedience and became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. As we approach the throne of grace, God wants us to receive mercy and find grace in our time of need and to be molded as people of obedience who submit to the will of God, sure of eternal salvation in Christ Jesus.

In today’s passage the author articulates an awareness of the problem of being in the infancy as Christians and deals with the seriousness of their falling away. He urges the readers to leave the infant state and go on to maturity to bear fruit in life. And then he encourages them to have a firm and secure hope in Jesus as an anchor of the soul. It is because one’s spiritual growth and maturity is closely related to one’s hope. In fact, growth is related to hope in many aspects of life. Even in this world those who have a hope or goal to succeed in their studies, careers, or athletic games, can struggle hard for the success or achievement. Let’s think about spiritual growth and maturity and our hope in Christ Jesus.

First, leave the infancy and go to maturity. (5:11-6:12). The author says in verse 11, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.” The phrase “about this” refers to the author’s previous discussion about the differences between Christ’s priesthood and Aaron’s priesthood (4:14-5:10). In that discussion, the author taught us that the priesthood of Christ is infinitely superior to that of the priests of the Old Testament since Christ is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. The writer returns to the topic of Jesus’ priesthood later in the letter, but he interrupts the discussion here in order to exhort and chastise his people for their spiritual infancy and immaturity.

It says, “…but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.” Here the word “slow” and, in 6:12, the word “lazy,” both come from the same Greek word “nothros,” meaning lazy and sluggish in learning spiritual truths. So they no longer tried to learn and understand. In Christian life it is very important to keep a learning attitude in eagerness and humbleness.

Then the author continued in verse 12, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” It is good and necessary to learn the elementary truths of God’s word more and more deeply. Here the phrase “all over again” implies that they did not grasp at all the elementary truths of God’s word. So someone had to teach them the basic truths again. The elementary truths of God’s words can be such as what Jesus said, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn 3:3) and “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 4:6). At this point they should have been able to teach about being born again and how to come to God the Father, but they had to be taught these elementary spiritual realities all over again. Here it should be noticed that teaching the Bible is the natural product of one’s spiritual growth. And through teaching one can be more certain of what he knows and grows in faith.

Then the author says, “You need milk, not solid food. Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” Here the author used the word, “infant.” Spiritual infants are not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. For them, it is like solid food that is hard to digest. They only liked milk and ice cream; they did not like solid food, (“strong meat” in KJV), which is not easy to chew and digest. Yet, we know that when we chew such food again and again, we can appreciate the taste and are provided with lots of nutrition to make us grow strong and healthy. “The teaching about righteousness” can belong to “solid food.” “Righteousness” can be one of the most important words in the Bible. God is righteous; all human beings are unrighteous and are condemned to eternal punishment before the righteous God. But in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, that is Jesus Christ. Whoever believes in him is made righteous and holy. They become holy and righteous children of God having Jesus as their brother, which is really glorious. In this amazing grace of God the righteous live by faith from first to last, and they are persecuted in this world. Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Paul also said to Timothy, “Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim 2:22). A spiritual infant is not acquainted with this teaching about righteousness. A spiritual infant is always centred on himself, what he likes and what is a benefit to him at the present. Even after marriage the infancy remains. One in infancy cannot think of his or her spouse, still living in “I, my, me” world, not to mention Christ-centredness. Even age cannot solve the state of infancy problem. Spiritual infancy causes a lot of trouble in one’s life, a family and God’s community.

The author urges them to leave behind their spiritual childishness and to move into spiritual adulthood by developing an appetite for the solid food. So he continued in verse 14, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” The mature train themselves. How? By constant use/practice. They know the importance of repetition. They hear and meditate on the same word of God again and again until they can accept the word personally to put it into practice. We remember that God gave the Israelites daily bread training in the desert for forty years in order to teach them that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Dt 8:3). And God wants us to be trained to be faithful in prayer (Ro 12:12). And Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:7, “Train yourself to be godly.”

Particularly, they by constant use train themselves to distinguish good from evil. Spiritual infants do not have spiritual discernment. They neither know nor value spiritual relationship. They are easily swayed by worldly influence. They see things from a humanistic view. They build up human relationships. But the mature have developed spiritual view or God’s viewpoint over all things. They know what to accept and what to reject or what to love and what to hate. Paul said in Romans 12:8, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” They engage in spiritual battle. They discern gospel enemies and fight against them. Paul said in Philippians 3:18, “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” The mature are concerned about God’s kingdom and expansion of his kingdom, knowing that this world is a battle ground between good and evil, or between God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom. They strive to grow continually chewing the solid food and digesting it to be formed in Christ-like character and thoroughly equipped for every good work for his kingdom.

Then the author says in 6:1-2, “Therefore 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, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” In our lives the foundation is very important; it is much more so in our Christian life. If the foundation is shaken, the whole life is shaken and ready to be wrecked. The most important foundation is repentance and faith in God. The ancient work, “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (Didache), described these as: murder, adultery, unlawful sexual acts, theft, idolatry, magic arts, sorcery, robbery, false testimony, hypocrisy, deceit, arrogance, and more. We must turn away from these acts that lead to death.

And “repentance from acts that lead to death” is in other translations “repentance from dead works.” All human works cannot save men. They are all dead works. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:17, “…by the works of the law (or observing the law) no one will be justified.” All human righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6). We should watch out for our own righteousness, that is, self-righteousness at each time. Salvation is only in God through Christ Jesus. So repentance from dead works and faith in God is the fundamental truth for all Christians. This foundation should be very clear to each believer.

And in verse 2 “instruction about baptism” is “instruction about washing” in other translations (NASB, ESV). Ceremonial washing and the laying on hands were both integral to Judaism. In order to move on maturity, these Jewish believers needed to leave behind their confidence in ritualistic practices. Washing refers both to the washing of Israel in the past and to the once-for-all character of baptism. The washing of Israel under the law represented the purification of God’s people, while Christian baptism symbolizes unity with Christ and identification with him in his life, death, and resurrection. This Christian baptism was done in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19). This was a distinct mark of being a Christian.

“Laying on of hands” could refer to an initiatory rite associated with baptism, or to prayers for healing the sick, or to the bestowal of blessing during commissioning or ordaining (Mk 6:5; Ac 6:6; Mt 19:13-15; Ac 13:3). Believing the resurrection of the dead is an essential element of Christian faith. Resurrection of the dead is not only for believers, but everyone (Jn 5:28b-29). When Jesus comes again, all people of all nations will stand before him to be judged according to what they have done (Mt 25:31-46; 2Co 5:10). Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mk 16:15). This is eternal judgment. Repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection and eternal judgment are the six elementary teachings of Christian faith. They may seem like advanced teachings, but they are elementary. Our Christian lives should be firmly rooted in these elementary teachings and we should move beyond them to maturity. In verse 3, the author said, “And God permitting we will do so.” Although he taught with a great shepherd’s heart, he depended on God, who alone can open minds and hearts and bring spiritual maturity.

Look at verses 4-6. “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if 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.” These words of warning also warn us to bear God’s grace with a trembling heart and not to fall away. It is unthinkable to crucify the Son of God all over again. So Paul said in Philippians 2:12, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

Look at verses 7-8, “Land 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. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.”

This is an agricultural metaphor. The land is a metaphor of a person’s life. Here two lands are compared after the comparison between the infant and the mature. The one produces a crop and is useful; the other produces thorns and thistles and is worthless. The former receives the blessings of God; the letter is in danger of being cursed and burned in the end. In other words one can be blessed and be a blessing; the other be cursed and be a curse. When one begins the Christian life, no one wants to be cursed and be a curse, but be blessed and be a blessing. We should always recognize that God’s blessing can be turned into a curse, when we do not bear the blessing of God, as we studied in Genesis 3 and as we learned in light of the history of Israel and Christian history. We should also be aware that there is no middle ground in our Christian life. One can be a blessing or a curse.

In this part we pray that we all may leave infancy through spiritual training and go to maturity to be truly useful to God and blessing to others.

Second, take hold of the hope as an anchor of the soul (6:9-20). In verses 9-12, “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. God 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. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” Our practical life of faith and love is related to hope and can make our hope sure. And Christian life is in a sense to imitate good examples of faith and patience.

In 6:11-12, the author mentioned hope and promise, saying, “…in order to make your hope sure” and “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” In this part the author develops this topic of promise and hope. In verses 13-15, “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will bless you and give you many descendants.’ And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” Here this writing in verse 14 is based on Genesis 22:16-17. In Genesis 22 God commanded Abraham to offer his only Isaac as a burnt offering. It was a thunderous and hard command. Yet, God gave this command so that Isaac might not be an idol to Abraham. Amazingly Abraham passed this test and proved that he honoured and loved God more than Isaac. Then God declared, “I swear by myself that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” Obviously, God’s promise meant more than the birth of Isaac; he was just a sign of the promise. God’s promise is much bigger. It is the Messianic hope, which was to send the Messiah through Abraham’s offspring and to fulfill his salvation purpose. After waiting patiently, Abraham received this promise itself as a reward.

Then in verse 16, “Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.” This is the description of the power of an oath in human life. Oaths in ancient Israel’s day were not contractual as they are now. They were not sealed with a signature. Ancient Israelites sealed their oath by their personal word.

Then in verse 17, “Because 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.” God’s purpose is surely accomplished regardless of world situations. To show this God confirmed his promise with an oath. Then in verse 18, “God 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.” The two unchangeable things are God’s promise and his oath: God promised and confirmed his promise with an oath. This description underscores that it is impossible for God to lie. We know that nothing is impossible with God. But here it is stressed that it is impossible for God to lie. What did he promise? What was promised by God is first of all salvation in the context as written in 6:9, “…things that accompany salvation.” This salvation is great salvation (2:3), and eternal salvation (5:9). This great and eternal salvation based on God’s promise is our hope. Later we see that this hope includes receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, while everything is shaken and removed. We have fled to take hold of this hope, giving up worldly hopes. Living in this world it is easy to envy wealthy, famous and powerful people of the world. Our society is very materialistic and consumeristic and money-oriented, excessively pleasure-seeking, and momentarily living. Most people live by sight, seeing only what is present. People lose the concept of good and evil, and so good is called evil, and evil, good (Isa 5:20). The view of gender is distorted. The world seems to be rapidly changing, and even the people whom we have trusted are unexpectedly changing. But the promise of God is unchanging and never changing, for it is impossible for God to lie. So the hope of our salvation is certain and sure. In life what matters in the end is salvation of the soul. It is as Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8:36). And Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” We should take hold of this hope. So in verse 19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” The “hope” is written 7 times in the whole book of Hebrews and here 3 times (3:6; 6:11, 18, 19; 7:19; 10:23, 11:1). In this passage hope is very important. We thank God for this hope based on unchanging promise of God.

Then in verses 19b-20, “It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” This hope is not just the future hope. We can have the foretaste of this hope here and now. We can enter the inner sanctuary, the very presence of God through Jesus our Saviour and high priest. It is related to entering God’s rest (4:10) and approaching the throne of grace through our great high priest (4:16). Again, we have this hope as an anchor for our souls. Whereas a ship’s anchor goes down into the ocean bed, the believer’s anchor goes up into the true, heavenly sanctuary. Because of our great high priest, our souls can be anchored in the living God, firm and secure.

We thank and praise God for the hope of his great and eternal salvation, and the amazing blessing of entering inner sanctuary to meet the living God through Christ Jesus our high priest. This is an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. In this hope may we grow mature to be useful to God and be a blessing to others.

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