The Letter to the Hebrews: a commentary & meditation
"You need milk, not solid food"

Scripture: Hebrews 5:11-6:8
5:11 About this we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God's word. You need milk, not solid food; 13 for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.

6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 with instruction about ablutions, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt. 7 For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned.

Meditation: Why did the author to the Hebrews call his fellow Christians “dull of hearing”, immature, and “unskilled in the word of righteousness”?  Where they indifferent or forgetful of the gospel message?  There is a certain truth in the Christian life: We are either moving forward or sliding back.  No one can stand still or remain indifferent for long without harmful consequences.  A disciple of Christ is either growing in faith or falling back into self-reliance, growing in hope or letting setbacks lead to discouragement and hopelessness, growing in love of God and neighbor or falling back into selfish and hurtful desires.  God’s word has power to heal, restore, and make new.  But the choice is ours: receive God’s word with faith and obedience or chart one’s own course in a sea of wilful chaos and anarchy. We can never stop learning and growing in the knowledge and love of God, unless we refuse.  Do you listen to God’s word with faith and submission, and with an eagerness to grow and be transformed in the likeness of Christ?

What is maturity for the Christian?  It’s not “perfection” in the sense we normally mean when we say that someone or something is “without flaw”.  The scriptural understanding of maturity and perfection has to do with “being complete”, not lacking in what is essential.  The author to the Hebrews says the “mature” are “those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).  A mature Christian is equipped to live his or her life with faith, hope, and love.  He or she has thought through their faith. Faith and reason are not opposed, but build on one another to form a unity.  Augustine remarked that “faith is reason at rest in God”.   The seven-fold gifts of the Spirit mentioned in Isaiah 11:2 include “wisdom, understanding, counsel, and knowledge.”  Do you seek to grow in your understanding of God’s word?

What is the “elementary doctrine of Christ”?  The author to the Hebrews mentions six things.  First is “repentance from dead works”.  Repentance literally means “a change of mind”.  It’s turning away from whatever is contrary to truth, righteousness, and life.  And it involves a change of heart and mind which embraces God’s word of truth and moral goodness.  Second, is “faith toward God” or God-centeredness.  One who lives “by faith” directs his or her life towards Christ and what Christ has accomplished for us in his saving death and resurrection. The third reference to “ablutions” likely refers to the rite of baptism. A Christian must not forget what it means to be baptized into Christ Jesus: burial in Christ’s death from which we rise up by resurrection with him, as a “new creation” (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal.6:15).   Fourth, in the early church the “laying on of hands” always accompanied baptism.  This signified the “blessing” and “impartation of the Holy Spirit to the person newly baptized (Acts 8:17; 19:6).God gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to live as his sons and daughters (John 1:13) and to walk in his way of peace, joy, and love (Gal. 5:22-23).  Fifth is the “resurrection of the dead”.  In order to rise with Christ, we must die with Christ.  Jesus’ obedience transformed the curse of death into a blessing.  “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).  We believe and hope that just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day.  Sixth is “eternal judgment”.  The last judgment proclaims the “blessed hope” of the Lord’s return, when he will come “to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed” (Titus 2:13; 2 Thess. 1:10).  The last judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death (Song of Songs 8:6).

The author to the Hebrews mentions four privileges, or marks of “blessedness” of the Christian life: First, a Christian has been “enlightened”.  The Gospel tells us that Jesus is “the true light that enlightens every man (and woman)” (John 1:9).  The light of Christ dispels the darkness of sin and despair and shows us the way of happiness and union with God.

Second, a Christian has “tasted the heavenly gift.”  What is this gift?  Certainly peace and friendship with God, which we can only have through Jesus Christ.  His death on the cross won for us pardon and adoption as sons and daughters of God.  God’s forgiveness is a sheer gift, not something we can obtain on our own.  In fact the only one who could pay the price for our sins was the only begotten Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.  He freely offered himself as our ransom and he paid the penalty for our sins upon the cross.  He is the mercy of God incarnate.

Third, a Christian is a “partaker of the Holy Spirit”.  God not only redeems us from bondage to sin and death, he fills us with the Holy Spirit that we may share in his divine life and power. All that is his, including his glory, he freely shares with us, his lowly creatures.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is the “guarantee” and “first fruits” of all that he has promised us (2 Cor. 5:5; 1 Cor. 15:20).

Fourth, a Christian has “tasted the goodness of the word of God.”  God’s word is life and truth, and it sets us free from error, deception, and all that would enslave us in sin (John 8:32).  God’s word has power to change and transform us into the likeness of Christ (1 Cor.1:18).

Fifth, a Christian has tasted the “power of the age to come”.  For Jew and Christian time was divided into two ages: the present age of conflict between the kingdoms of light and darkness, and the “age to come” when God would establish his everlasting kingdom in all its fulness.  This present age will end and the new age will begin when the “Day of the Lord” and his final judgment takes place.  The Christian here and now is given a foretaste of the life to come.  The Lord puts in our hearts a longing for his final coming and the full establishment of his reign of peace and righteousness.

How can a Christian “crucify the Son of God on his own account”? The Letter to the Hebrews was written in an age of persecution.  The supreme sin was “apostasy” – saving one’s life by denying Christ.  It’s possible to love one’s life more than Christ. Sin not only breaks God’s law; it breaks his heart as well. To disown the Lord Jesus as one’s Master and Savior is not just a slap in the face of God, it’s literally crucifying the Lord Jesus again, but in a more personal way by turning back on him and rejecting his loving and wise rule in our lives.  The martyrs bear testimony to the enduring and transforming power of God’s love and grace.  “They loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11).  Do you love the Lord more than life itself?  And are you willing to forsake all for him alone?

“Lord Jesus, you became poor for our sake that we might become rich in you.  May we never lose sight of the treasures of heaven and the joy of living in your presence now and forever.”

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(c) 1999 Don Schwager