Posts Tagged 'spiritual maturity'

BE’s of the Bible, Part 2

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Our second “Be” of the Bible only works if you’re reading the venerable King James Version, and it’s taken from 2 Corinthians 13:11 –

Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11 KJV)

“Be perfect.” This our second Biblical “Be,” and on the surface of it, it’s a scary one. It’s scary because who thinks they can “be perfect?” In fact, when you go to church and sing hymns like this one, being “perfect” seems like an impossibility:

Alas! And did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

If you’re a worm, how can you be perfect? Modern translations help us out with this “Be.” Here’s how the hard-to-find TNIV translates 2 Corinthians 13:11 –

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

“Strive for full restoration?” What does that mean? The always entertaining Message translation looks like this –

And that’s about it, friends. Be cheerful. Keep things in good repair. Keep your spirits up. Think in harmony. Be agreeable. Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure. (2 Corinthians 13:11 MSG)

“Keep things in good repair.” Well, what things? Your car? Your washing machine? If we want to understand this idea of being “perfect,” we need to look at this verse, and in particular the admonition to “be perfect,” within the overall context of purpose behind this letter to the Corinthian church.

A troubled church

Bible scholars view the letter we call “2 Corinthians” as the apostle Paul’s most personal and most pastoral letter. It’s not at all like 1 Corinthians or Romans, but 2 Corinthians contains some of Paul’s most profound theology. At the same time, it’s not strictly a theological treatise. In this letter, Paul reveals more of himself – his feelings and thoughts – than in any other letter.  It was written to prepare the congregation in Corinth for Paul’s third visit and to defend himself and his ministry against the false teachers some in the Corinthian church seemed to have embraced. The key verses of this letter are found in 2 Corinthians 5 –

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. (2 Corinthians 5:11, 12 TNIV)

He and his preaching had been called into question by this church. Any pastor or Bible teacher whose credentials have been called into question or their ministry denigrated by others knows how hurtful that experience is. Paul was hurt by what he heard coming out of Corinth. In the past, he had spent a lot of time with these people. He loved this church. And now it had come to this: He had to defend himself, his associates, and even his preaching in the face of unwarranted and unreasonable criticism.

This letter was written relatively early in the history of the apostolic church, in the early to mid 50’s AD, to a large, metropolitan church made up of believers who had come out of a very pagan culture. Like many large churches, the Corinthian church had its share of problems, including a burgeoning split brought on by leadership problems. Tied to this were frequent immoral practices that were not being dealt with. But at the same time, there was an enthusiastic group of members flaunting their spiritual gifts while another equally enthusiastic group of members were hung up on reintroducing and practicing some old religious dietary laws. Some members were abusing the Lord’s Supper and others were passing around some false teachings regarding the Resurrection. This great congregation, made up of Greeks, Romans, and Jews, was a complete mess by any measurement.

Paul’s third visit

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13:1 NIV)

So to this troubled church, Paul tells them – maybe “warns them” would be a better way to put it – that he’s coming to visit them for the third time. But some members in the church thought he was coming, not so much to see them, but to get something out of them.

Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. (2 Corinthians 12:14 NIV)

He didn’t want their money. He wasn’t looking for a quick buck. He didn’t want to be a burden to them. Paul loved these people and he would spend his own time and money getting to them. These people were in big trouble, and that’s why he quoted from Deuteronomy 19:15 –

One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (NIV)

His was a serious visit. Who were the “two or three witness?” Some think he is referring to this, his third visit. Most scholars think Paul has in mind three people who had witnessed the various sins of this congregation. If that’s the case, then Paul may be thinking of himself, Titus, maybe Timothy, or even the “brother” whose name isn’t mentioned. The point is a simple one, however. At least three people had seen the shenanigans going on in the Corinthian church and it was time for Paul to pay them a visit.

I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others… (2 Corinthians 13:2 NIV)

Yes indeed; this was one miffed apostle! Not only had they almost succeeded in sullying his reputation and that of his friends, but they were bringing disrepute on the whole church by their sinful actions, and it was time for them to be called on the carpet. It was up to Paul to pass judgment on them, according to his own teachings –

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12 NIV)

It was his job, as it is the job of all Christians, to take notice of how other believers are behaving and to “judge” them. That’s not to say we are to judge each other for the purpose of punishing bad behavior necessarily, but for the purpose of encouraging good behavior and to restore those who have fallen into one sin or another. Peter wrote something similar to another church –

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 KJV)

And Paul picked up on this idea –

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5 NIV)

Paul and Peter both say essentially the same thing: Christians ought to judge themselves first, and then other believers within the Church. So before Paul gets to them with his gavel, he wants them to judge – to examine – themselves.

The arrogant Corinthians were demanding proof from Paul that Christ was speaking through him, but Paul turns the tables on them and says they ought to make sure that Jesus was living in them. In other words, were these people even saved? Because their worldly behavior certainly didn’t show it. One Bible scholar put it this way:

The test of the authenticity of their relationship to Christ is the ethical quality of their behavior.

If you’re going to join a church and run around town declaring your faith, then your behavior should correspond to your confession. Apparently the “ethical quality” of the Corinthian’s behavior didn’t measure up to their supposed confession of faith.

Christians ought to be able to detect the presence of Christ in themselves and within the members of their church, and this what Paul want them to do before he gets there.

Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. (2 Corinthians 13:7 – 9 NIV)

Paul’s earnest prayer is that his friends in Corinth should live like real believers should. Verse eight, however, is piece of wisdom every Christian should take note of. Nobody can do anything against the truth. It seems proverbial, but it’s connected to what he’s been saying. Some in the Corinthian church had been dissing him and his ministry and were questioning the Gospel, but nobody can do anything against the truth. There will always be people who will question the Bible, who will mock you on account of your faith, but they can’t stop the truth. Christians should do what Paul did – boldly declare the Word of God and not waste a lot of time defending it. We are to declare the Word of God, not worry about going on the defensive all the time.

Clearly Paul loved this great church. His prayer was that the erring members would be “fully restored.” He wants these people not to be kicked out of the church but to grow up – to become mature believers. He wants them to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

On being perfect

And that’s really what this second “Be” is all about.

This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (2 Corinthians 13:10 NIV)

Paul has all kinds of authority given him by the Lord, but he’d rather not have to exercise it; his hope and prayer is that these people will take responsibility for themselves and their actions, and change or modify their behavior. It was time for these people to put on the long pants and grow up. That brings us to our “Be” –

Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11 KJV)

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV)

“Be perfect,” grow up. Stop acting like baby Christians. The kind of “perfection” Paul is writing about here is a kind of renewed strength or determination to live right and to behave like mature Christians.  “The God of love and peace” will remain in a church when its members strive for maturity; who are encouraging one another; who live in unity and in peace. Apparently, with all the church splits and ecclesiastical discord across the land, a lot of church members have Bibles without this particular, yet essential “Be” in them.

 

Biblical Church Growth, Conclusion

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Here’s what Jesus said about church growth:

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 NKJV)

Our Lord made it crystal clear that it is His church and He is One building it. We forget that. The church you attend isn’t “your church.” The church I pastor isn’t “my church.” All churches belong to the Lord. They form His Body – the Body of Christ. Jesus is interested in His church growing, both in terms of spiritual maturity and in numbers, and He has given His church certain gifts to make that growth happen. Jesus builds His church but He does it through its members as they take advantage of the many gifts the Lord has given. Here is a sampling of those gifts:

Some of us have been given special ability as apostles; to others he has given the gift of being able to preach well; some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; still others have a gift for caring for God’s people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God. (Ephesians 4:11 TLB)

God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, then prophesy whenever you can—as often as your faith is strong enough to receive a message from God. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If you are a preacher, see to it that your sermons are strong and helpful. If God has given you money, be generous in helping others with it. If God has given you administrative ability and put you in charge of the work of others, take the responsibility seriously. Those who offer comfort to the sorrowing should do so with Christian cheer. (Romans 12:6 – 8 TLB)

To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; someone else may be especially good at studying and teaching, and this is his gift from the same Spirit. He gives special faith to another, and to someone else the power to heal the sick. He gives power for doing miracles to some, and to others power to prophesy and preach. He gives someone else the power to know whether evil spirits are speaking through those who claim to be giving God’s messages—or whether it is really the Spirit of God who is speaking. Still another person is able to speak in languages he never learned; and others, who do not know the language either, are given power to understand what he is saying. It is the same and only Holy Spirit who gives all these gifts and powers, deciding which each one of us should have. (1 Corinthians 12:8 – 11 TLB)

There are other spiritual gifts, but these are the ones most Christians are familiar with. God has given all Christians spiritual gifts to be used within the context of a local church. These gifts aren’t used in your office or at the library or in line at the grocery store. If you are a Christian, then you have at least one spiritual gift, but probably more than one, that God wants you to use in your church. When church members are obedient to the Lord in using their gift or gifts in their church, then their church will grow. It has to. God said it would.

Mature and immature members

As a church grows in both spiritual maturity and in numbers, all of a sudden there will be a mixture of mature and immature members in that congregation. It takes time for a Christian to become spiritually mature and we all mature at different speeds. Some Christians never mature. These “babes in Christ” love the Lord, they’re born again, they’ll go to heaven if they drop dead tomorrow, but even though they’ve been saved for 25 years, they’re still immature. Who knows why? These “babes in Christ” are the bane of my existence, and they may be yours, too. What do you do with them?

The Bible tells us that we who are strong must bear with those who are weak. Church growth takes place when strong members understand the weakness in others. For example:

  • There will always be a segment of the church that will be immature. They are the new converts who haven’t had time to grow yet. They are the worldly-minded members who make it to services on Sunday but that’s it. They don’t really have a relationship with the Body of Christ outside of that one, single hour on a Sunday. They are the members who rarely study or even read the Bible at home during the week. There will always be members like this in every congregation, and we who are strong must bear with them and help them to grow. We can’t punish them or ignore them.
  • As a church grows, sometimes things can get messy. Proverbs 14:4, in its own quaint way, gives us a precedent: Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox. Just so.
  • New members may be rough around the edges. Maybe they’ve had no good Christian role models and no discipleship since they found the Lord. Sometimes these new members are part of families that don’t understand what the Biblical roles of husband/wife/father/mother/children should be.

It takes time for Christians to grow and mature in the Lord and we who are strong must work with them. It’s not just the job of the pastor or of the elders. The apostle Paul – a strong member – understood this:

Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:1, 2 HCSB)

Spiritually weak and immature Christians are always, without exception, the cause of problems within a local church. That’s not to say that’s their intent, mind you. Sometimes it may be – some immature members are so because they are troublemakers – but generally speaking, in their ignorance these spiritual infants cause problems arising from their immature state. The solution to this problem are the mature believers in the congregation. As Paul wrote, “we who are strong” ought to be the ones reaching out to those who are weak. We are the ones who are to take the initiative. Paul uses the strongest word possible: obligation. The apostle is not making a suggestion here. Strong Christians are to bear with the shortcomings of the weak in love and understanding.

Does this mean if a weak member is engaging in some sin, we who are strong ought to ignore it? Of course not! Paul’s admonition here must be taken in context. Here is what he is getting at. We who are strong may have no issue with, say, listening to secular music on AM radio. But an immature believer may take issue with it – he may view it as being a sinful habit. We who are strong need to take HIS issue into consideration. When he is present, we refrain from turning the radio on. In love, we respect his feelings on the matter. To do the opposite – to keep the secular music blaring while he is present or to make fun of his belief as being infantile – is viewed as “self pleasing” or selfish.

This is what Paul means by “pleasing your neighbor,” or fellow member of the Body of Christ. In time the weaker member, with growth and maturity, may very well change his views on secular music. In the meantime, because we who are strong reigned in our freedom in Christ (to listen to secular music, for example), we kept a weaker member in church; we didn’t offend him and cause him to leave.

I used the example of secular music, but there are hundreds of things as innocuous as that hackneyed example that challenge a weaker believer’s faith.

Restoration

What if a fellow member has fallen into some sin? Does the church simply write him off? Again, we turn to Paul for a dose of ecclesiastical theology:

Dear brothers, if a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who is in the wrong. Share each other’s troubles and problems, and so obey our Lord’s command. (Galatians 6:1, 2 TLB)

It’s supposed to take a lot of work to be a member of a church! All this caring and respecting; it’s a lot more than just showing up to listen to a sermon. We’re supposed to be watching out for each other’s spiritual well-being. Being a member like that is, as Paul put it, “obeying our Lord’s command.”

To another church, with a whole different set of problems, Paul wrote this pithy admonition:

Dear brothers, warn those who are lazy, comfort those who are frightened, take tender care of those who are weak, and be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14 TLB)

Nowhere in that verse do you see the words “mock” or “cajole.” Instead, we get the impression that, again, the onus is on we who are strong to respect, care for, and love those who aren’t. The tendency is for the strong to expect too much from the weak. No church will grow in that atmosphere.

Don’t get frustrated!

It sounds like the spiritually mature and strong members of a church have a heavy responsibility. They do indeed.

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9, 10 NKJV)

Paul wrote that because from time to time we do get tired. It’s not easy being a mature believer sometimes. It takes constant effort. But if you want your church to grow and if you want to honor the Lord, you’ll do what Paul says. You won’t grow weary. You’ll find the strength in your spiritual gifts.

The problem some churches have is that its strong members get weary. And they get frustrated and they get disheartened. Their solution is to just up and leave. They want to find a church where they’ll be appreciated.

But that’s not God’s solution.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58 NKJV)

Look at the words that describe spiritually mature Christians: “steadfast,” “immovable,” “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” To be “steadfast” means to be “personally faithful,” it means you will “stick to it.” Being “immovable” suggests staying faithful no matter what. It means remaining clearheaded and objective. It means remaining grounded on the Word of God. And “abounding” means that if you are a mature Christian you will always go beyond the minimum requirements. It means you’ll do more than enough.

And you’ll have to. There are plenty of immature believers in our churches and it’s our job to help them grow and mature in the Lord. There are more of them than there are of us. We have our work cut out. But Paul encourages us to keep on doing the work of the Lord; it will pay off.

There is help

…glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. (Ephesians 3:20 TLB)

Whatever you need, God is able to supply in abundance. You need wisdom? He’ll give you more than you think you need. You need strength? He’ll give you more than you ask for. You want to do more for your church and for other believers? God will supply you with what they need.

And that’s why a church that allows the Holy Spirit to move and work within its members is a church that grows, both in spiritual maturity and in numbers.

 

HEBREWS, Part 9

Hebrews 5:11—6:12

The writer to the Hebrews just got finished talking about Jesus as our great High Priest. He compared Jesus to Melchizedek, the king and high priest from Salem. All of a sudden, as if he had another thought, the writer stops and makes this observation:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. (5:11)

1. Disappointed, vs. 11

We get the impression that this man was enthused with his subject matter, but at the same time, the reality of the situation dawned on him: he was excited, but the people who were reading his letter wouldn’t be because they were “dull of hearing.” He knew they wouldn’t get it because instead of being mature believers as they should have been, they were, in fact, immature believers, not at all ready to grasp deep spiritual truths.

There isn’t a pastor or Bible teacher alive who hasn’t experienced this! No feeling can compare to preaching a carefully prepared sermon with excitement and anointing to a sea of blank, glassy-eyed faces. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Immature Christians are a danger to themselves and to others. By not growing in faith, they are literally robbing themselves of great spiritual benefits that come with spiritual maturity, but they rob others, as well:

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. You need milk, not solid food! (5:12)

His readers had once heard the Gospel and received it as a thirsty man drinks cold, fresh water. But, as the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and familiarity with the good news seemed to harden his reader’s hearts. Instead of growing, they were regressing. They were moving backwards, not forward, in their spiritual walk. These Hebrew Christians were not becoming sluggish in their learning and discerning of spiritual things, they had already become so! Christians like this are an embarrassment to the Church, and our teacher shames them: by now, he writes, his readers should be doing the teaching, not him! It could well be that some of his readers had turned into the kind of believers Paul warned Timothy about:

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Timothy 1:5—7)

These believers had lost so much of what they once had, they needed to re-learn the simple ABC’s of the faith. They reverted to their spiritual infancy instead of becoming grown adults. They were wearing the short pants again.

This is a disgraceful state for a believer to find himself in, and he gets there, not due to lack of time, because we get the impression these Hebrew believers had been in the faith for a long time, but to lack of dedication to the Word of God and its application.

2. Failure, vs. 12—14

These three verses are important because they show that the Hebrews were not bad people; but that better things were expected from them. They should have been mature Christians by now. The writer was very concerned that his readers would slip even farther back, perhaps so far back as to deny their faith in Christ.

What makes matters even worse is that without mature believers who are able to teach and disciple immature believers, any church is in big trouble! Discipleship is a key component in a healthy congregation, as is a genuine desire to study and learn the Scriptures. The fact is, where there is no leaning, there are no disciples.

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. (5:13)

Immature Christians—those who are still on pablum instead of eating steak—display their lack of maturity because they are confused; they are not able to discern between moral issues; they are unable to make consistent moral and ethical judgments because they have not developed the spiritual skill of discernment. That the Church is riddled with immature believers is evident by its worldly state today. The phrase, “teaching about righteousness” is what holds a church, a family, and even a civilization together. Where there is no teaching about righteousness, society collapses.

In contrast to these immature Christians are those who are not. Note what the writer says about them:

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (5:14)

The “solid food” refers to the deep spiritual teachings the writer wanted to teach as opposed to the simple ABC’s some of his readers required. A mature believer is one who is constantly learning these deep spiritual truths of Scripture and constantly using them. In other words, they have made the “teachings about righteousness” the norm of their lives. The word “trained” comes from the Greek gymnazo, and has a reference to athletic training. What the teacher is saying is simply this: a mature Christian—the one who enjoys solid food and is constantly exercising—becomes able to spiritually discern “good from evil.” Naturally, if he is able to tell the difference, he will be able avoid the evil and do the good. The immature Christian, on the other hand, cannot tell the difference.

3. Progress, 6:1—3

Now, we know that some of the readers of this letter were immature Christians, still in need of milk, so we would expect the writer of this letter to give them just that: milk, that is, elementary, simple-minded teachings. Instead, we read this:

Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity… (6:1a)

Linking himself with his readers, as is his habit, the writer wants to move on to maturity, leaving behind the elementary, or foundational teachings they should have know well by now. Apparently, some were stuck in laying the foundations of the faith over and over. While the foundations are important, they are just that: the first things you learn that enable you learn more things.

It’s not that we should forget the elemental teachings of the faith, it’s that we should learn them, constantly use them, but move on to learn more and more, always growing in our faith.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Christians are not supposed to learn and re-learn the same things over and over again! What are the things we should know as well as our own names?

  • Repentance from acts that lead to death;
  • Faith in God;
  • Instruction about baptism;
  • Instruction about the laying on of hands;
  • The resurrection of the dead;
  • Eternal judgment.

You can see that all of these doctrines are vitally important to know, but they are things every believer should know early on in their walk with Christ. These are just the basics, essential in living the faith though they may be, but it doesn’t end there. We should know these doctrines, and doctrines like them, so well that they become a part of our ever day lives, thus enabling us to move on to learn new things. According to the Holy Spirit, this is progress.

This is arguably God’s biggest concern for His Church—that we all move toward spiritual maturity. Sadly, the things of life seem to conspire against us in this regard. Pressures and stresses from careers, family, health, and so on cause us to stop our pursuit of the things of God—the things that truly count and instead of “seeking first the kingdom God,” our lives become strategies for survival. Too bad we don’t realize that our failures in this life are due to our failure in becoming mature Christians.

4. Can’t start over, 6:4—8

At this point, the writer refuses to believe that his readers have fallen into apostasy, so he gives us a hypothetical situation:

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… (6:4—6a)

In the Greek, there is no phrase “if they fall away,” rather, there is a single word, parapesontas, “having fallen away.” Christians who have fallen away cannot—it is “impossible”—be renewed. But what does it mean to “fall away?” In this passage, this “falling away” is more serious than merely backsliding. The writer is not describing a weak Christian who has succumbed to a trick of Satan. When the Greek word, pipto, seen here in a different form, is used by itself, if refers to a person on thing falling down, flat on the ground. But when it is used with para, as it is here, it implies a separation between the thing or person and something else; a falling away or falling down from something, or a separation from something. So this is not stumbling in the faith but rather a deliberate separation from it.

In this hypothetical situation, then, the writer says it is “impossible” for this kind of person to be brought back to a state of repentance. What does this mean? Reams of pages of been dedicated to coming up with a palatable interpretation of these verses. Is the inspired writer suggesting one can reject their salvation; literally give back the new life God gave them? Or is he suggesting such a person will remain in a state of spiritual infancy their whole lives?

It seems to us that this is a serious matter and efforts to minimize and dilute its true meaning serve only to take away the power of these verses. It is impossible, says the teacher, to bring these people back to repentance. If they have gone this far, they won’t be interested in re-learning the elemental teachings of the Gospel. Just as God did not permit the rebellious Israelites to enter the Promised Land, so God will not permit those who “fall away” from Him to move on to maturity and enter their “rest.” Richard Taylor writes:

As long as men who once knew Christ are now shaming Him openly by their apostasy, renewal of genuine religious repentance is both a moral and a psychological impossibility.

In other words, the cumulative effects of sin in the life of a carnal, wayward Christian can prevent them from turning back to God; it’s not that God no longer cares about them, it’s that they no longer care about Him.

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. (6:7, 8)

Using a powerful illustration from nature, the author teaches us that blessings from God may be used or misused. Rain is often used as evidence of God’s provision for His creation. Here we have two fields that have been rained on. One field uses God’s provision to produce a “useful crop.” The other field, though, is blessed with the same rain, yet produces only weeds.

Christians are like that; some Christians use God’s rich blessings, like salvation, to produce that which is good, others that which is bad. The application here is obvious! Those believers who use God’s blessings properly will grow and mature in the faith. Those who do not remain in an infantile state; an embarrassment to both the Church and the Kingdom of God.

5. Words of assurance, 6:9—12

So, how many believers are really in this state? It would be easy to look around at the Christian community and conclude that the problem of infantile Christians has reached plague-like proportions! And yet, only God knows a person’s heart. The writer is optimistic about his audience, and so should we be:

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. (verses, 9, 10)

The author is confident that his readers will either resume or continue their growth toward maturity. He is confident of “better things” being forthcoming in their lives; that they will use God’s blessings the right way. As we read these verses, it becomes apparent that our letter-writer wasn’t writing to apostates. His readers, in fact, were workers for the Kingdom; they were Christians engaged in good works for the sole purpose of expressing their love for God.

Why was the teacher so hard them, then? There is always room for improvement in every Christian life. There is an old saying that is appropriate in this instance:

You’ll always hit your target when you’re aiming at nothing.

Too many Christians are living aimless lives. They are vaguely aware that they are heading toward heaven, but they have no spiritual goals to attain. How can you tell if you are growing in the faith if you have no way to measure that growth? Most of us spend more time preparing for work in the morning than we do working on our spiritual lives that same day. Take time to examine your life; see what’s lacking, learn what your strengths and weaknesses are. Make a list of spiritual goals you’d like to achieve and begin working in that direction. Pray and ask God for help and direction. You might be surprised how mature you are today! Or, you may be embarrassed to see yourself still in the diaper.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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