We saw how the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wanted his readers to grow up on solid food, and there is plenty in this letter. First he serves up another severe warning, one of unspeakable solemnity (Hebrews 6:4-8):
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
What is all this? Don’t these people described here seem very mature?
We have said with our writer, it is surely God’s design that we must not remain static—we must move onwards in Jesus. If we stop progressing we will fall over. Even after having experienced such charismatic and transcendent blessings such as those listed in vss. 4-6, one cannot be guaranteed not to fall away from Christ. Believers must keep moving on in Christ or they—we—will become like unproductive pasture, good for nothing, stale, dull, unprofitable, leaving our God-given talents buried and unused. This neglect, this indifference, leads to destruction. In such circumstances, with no goals to move towards completion, people will fall away—salvation is an ongoing process and is to all who obey him. The Word of God is living and active! We must hear him and keeping hearing and obeying him, to the end. So let’s get moving! Our growth depends on eating solid food, habitually. Regularly.
Such dizzy heights in the power of the Spirit (Heb 6:4-6) can be reached and are normal for the believer who drinks of the Holy Spirit. But if we fail to keep our eyes on Jesus, no matter how gifted we may become—and it is certain the writer has in mind former members of their community—there will be a terrible depth of falling with no way back, he warns. Some have turned their back on Jesus even after such blessing—so it’s important, critical, to get moving and not stand still. We have entered our rest in Christ but this is the rest of faith. We are to press on with perseverance from one degree of faith to another. These are shocking words but our author is not alone in his warnings:
See Jesus’ words in Mathew 7:21-23: ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
Paul, in 2 Cor 6:1: As God’s fellow-workers we also urge you not to receive his grace and then do nothing with it.
Galatians 5:4. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
He’s not speaking about agriculture! Our hearts are like soil—good, fertile ground or poorly nourished, neglected? So how is your soil? Does it promote healthy growth towards perfection? Or is it in need of fertilising? Don’t drag your feet …. stay the course.
So, you may well ask, doesn’t this warning run counter to Jesus’ words such in John 10:27-28 …
My sheep listen to my voice, I recognize them, they follow me, and I give them eternal life. They will absolutely never be destroyed, and no one will snatch them from my hands.
We see that tension all through the scriptures! It never seemed to have bothered the Hebrews. Some wise words here from Andrew Murray (1894) are useful …
Truth has two sides. We look at each side as if it were the whole and yield ourselves to its full force.
This is strong stuff, solid food, indeed. However the writer does not push this severe tone with them any further and assures them that he sees them differently:
Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
There are more clues here to show us how these believers were seen corporately, in community, in “one-another-ness”. We please and love God not by going to liturgies and singing praise songs but by diligence in the love and care for one another—serving the saints.
This service to one another must continue in earnest until the end if there are to be appropriate grounds for our full assurance of hope. They are urged to imitate brothers and sisters who have appropriated God’s eternal promises andnot be sluggish. (NIV: lazy). Later, our author will give us a long list of names and acts from the Old Testament as encouragement.
‘Earnestness’ is called for. But, regrettably, for us, there are not that many examples where serving the needs of other believers is seen as the earnest responsibility of one another and not that of an overworked, dedicated full-time church official. How can God’s one-another-ness happen when there are salaried professionals (clergy) who are expected to do it. Clergy all too frequently stand in the way of God’s design because all believers are to grow into maturity by participating in the work of the Lord. That is disobedience of God’s design for Christ’s body with many members. It is by making our own human alternative arrangements to his superior design, by both the leaders and the led, that continues to support this charade. The path to perfection, to maturity is enlivened by each of us together abounding in the work of the Lord.
Paul saw the importance of building on the foundation of Jesus and that it must be done using God’s ‘materials’, or what is built, so sincerely even, will be destroyed in the End (see 1 Cor 3:12-15). We stay in babyhood, we are wasting our opportunities, we are not redeeming the time if we do not do God’s work in God’s way.
This is solid food! So solid, that many readers may be not take it in and inwardly digest it, or may just leave it on the back burner, or may even spit it out. God’s will be done.