Hebrews 5:11-6:12

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

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, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. 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.

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.

Observation

  • The writer had a lot to say about Christ being the source of our salvation and His priesthood.
  • It is hard to explain the priesthood of Christ and His being the source of our salvation.
  • The reason it is hard to explain is because the recipients of the letter were dull of hearing.
  • The recipients of the letter should have been able to teach about Christ’s priesthood and His being the source of our salvation.
  • The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews needed someone to teach them the basic principles or the oracles of God.
  • The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews had already been taught the basic principles or oracles of God.
  • The recipients of the letter needed to be fed the oracles of God like a baby.
  • If we only live off the baby food version of the God’s oracles we are unskilled in the word of righteousness.
  • If we only live off the baby food version of God’s oracles because we are little children in the understanding of the things of God.
  • Solid adult food version of the things of God is only for the mature in the things of God.
  • The solid food of God’s word is for those have powers of discernment.
  • Powers of discernment are obtained by constant practice of distinguishing between good and evil.
  • We are to leave the elementary school level of doctrine and go on to mature things.
  • Repentance from works and faith towards God are the foundation of the Christian faith.
  • Once the foundation is laid do not keep laying the foundation.
  • The foundation the writer is referring to is repentance from dead works.
  • The elementary school level things about the doctrine of Christ include such things as
    • instructions about washings
    • teaching about the resurrection for the dead
    • teaching about eternal judgment
  • The writer to the Hebrews will leave the elementary school level teaching and go to more mature things.
  • It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared the Holy Spirit, tasted the goodness of the God’s word, tasted the powers of the age to come, once they have fallen away to be restored again.
  • The reason it is impossible to restore them again is they would be crucifying Christ again.
  • Those who would fall away would be restored they would crucify Christ to they own destruction.
  • Those who once had enlightenment and fall way would hold Christ in contempt.
  • A land that receives rain and produces a good crop receives a blessing from God.
  • A land that does not produce a crop for the owner is burned.
  • The writer to the Hebrews was sure the recipients of his letter would not fall away.
  • The writer to the Hebrews was sure the recipients of his letter would receive good things.
  • The writer to the Hebrews was sure the recipients of his letter would receive things that belong to salvation.
  • God is not unjust
  • God will not overlook the letter’s recipients work.
  • God will not overlook the love that was shown for His name in service to the saints.
  • Service to the saints shows love for the name of God.
  • The writer wants everyone of the letter’s recipients have full assurance of hope until the end.
  • The recipients of the letter should have an assurance of hope so they would not be sluggish.
  • The recipients of the letter are to imitate those who inherit the promises.

Interpretation

The writer to the Hebrew starts this passage by reminding his readers that He is going to be teaching some things that will be hard to understand, so they are to prepare themselves. They are not to reject the teachings simply because they are difficult to understand but they are to sit up straight and persevere through them as an adult rather than a child.

The writer rebukes the Hebrews by calling them immature. They still required instructions in the most rudimentary truths of Christianity when they should have, by this time, become teachers. He rebuked them for their slothfulness. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for the same thing in 1 Corinthians 3:2 when he tells them they were carnal and could not bear solid food. The writer to the Hebrews and Paul both use the analogy of milk to refer to elementary doctrine suitable for those who are new to the Christian faith. Neither Paul nor the writer to the Hebrews is putting down the elementary things of Christian doctrine. Just as a new born finds all the nourishment it requires in the breast of their mother, so too the new born Christian finds all the nourishment needed in the elementary things of Christian doctrine. But just as the babe is expected to grow and be weaned off their mother’s breast, so too the baby Christian is expected to be able to grow and mature and be able to take on difficult doctrines.

The writer to the Hebrews is not implying that mature Christians leave the elementary doctrines behind when they mature. Rather he is referring to an infancy of understanding. The writer is saying, those who indulge themselves in ignorance prevent themselves from having a real knowledge of Christ. And the doctrine of the Gospel is not fruitful in them, because they never reach the goal, nor come even close to it.

Maturity comes through training and practice. As we mature we are better able to distinguish between good and evil. Our powers of discernment improve. Maturity is not something you get by simply getting older. As the saying goes, You have to grow old but you don’t have to gow up.” The writer is saying grow up.

Paul refers to this in Ephesians 4:14 when he says, “that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Some think this means that we are to simply be bull headed and refuse to acknowledge any position other than our own. This too results in sin. It is both slothful and legalistic. It does not allow us to mature.

The writer then says since you need to mature let’s start working on that. The foundational things are important but only laying foundations will not provide shelter for a storm. What are the foundational things the writer is referring to? When the writer refers to “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,” this gives a good indication of what he means. This Epistle was most likely written to established churches. When a confession of faith was made and before baptism, there were certain points where the pastor would question the new believer, mainly on the Apostles’ Creed. While the Creed was and is important we need to move beyond a simple recitation and knowledge of the Creed into a full understanding of its meaning and implications.

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened…” It is this passage that was caused the greatest controversy as to whether or not the book of Hebrews should be included in the cannon, particularly since the authorship is unknown and this passage appears to contradict other books whose apostolic origin is unquestioned. But for those of us who believe the book of Hebrews is inspired by the Holy Spirit as all scripture is inspired, we are stuck trying to reconcile the it with the rest of scripture.

The first clue is the phrase “have fallen away” This is can be understood in two ways. The first is a particular falling away. The second is a general falling away. Anyone who commits a sin has fallen away in the particular meaning of the phrase. All sin is a falling away. But the writer to the Hebrews is not speaking of theft or adultery, murder, perjury, or drunkenness. He is referring to a total rejection or falling away from God. This is a reference not to an offense against God but a total rejection of His grace.

Men are blind until enlightens by the Holy Spirit. This, the writer calls the heavenly gift. Those then who see and know the truth but reject it can never be reconciled again to God. But there is the conflict that little word “again.” It implies that they were once reconciled and then reject the faith.

If God only effectually calls the elect and the elect are also not in danger of finally falling away, how then is it possible for the elect to fall away? Paul says in Philippians 1:6 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” This thought is repeated in 2 Peter 1:10, John 10:28-29, 1 John 3:9, 1 Peter 1:5&9 as well as other scriptures. The elect then are not in endanger of falling away. The Father preserves them through Christ. This does not mean those who are not among the elect are not granted a taste of His grace and have His word engraved on their heart. Christ mentioned this in His parable of the sower. (Mark 4:1-20). The seed that fell on rocky or thorny ground grew for a while but then either withered or was choked out. Therefore, the simple saying, “If you have it you will never lose it and if you lose it you never had it,” is not completely accurate. It is intended to express the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. But according to this passage and the parable of the sower it is not an accurate expression of the doctrine.

In short, the writer to the Hebrews warns us, that repentance is not at the will of man. But repentance is a gift which is given by God. (Act 5:31, Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:5). Our salvation is totally a work of God and nothing can be attributed to us.

It is often said that God’s grace is a gift but we must accept it as if we play a role in our salvation. This is not what the writer to the Hebrew says. We receive the grace from God as the land receives the rain. It does nothing to receive it. It only uses what was received. Again salvation is the work of Christ alone. The ground then produces good crops or bad. This matches perfectly with the parable of the sower.

This then does not sound like good news. It strikes like a thunderbolt. Where is the assurance of salvation? The writer then reassures his readers. “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.” Not only sinners are to be taught corrected and rebuked severely, but also the children of God are to receive correction.

The reason the writer to the Hebrews says that he is certain his readers are assured of salvation gives us another difficulty. “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.” It appears from this he is saying that God may give His grace freely but it is our responsibility to keep it. i.e. salvation by works. This can be easily understood if we do not confuse cause and effect. The works result from the grace God has given. God’s grace is not the result of our works. Works demonstrate God has redeemed us. Works do not cause our salvation. This is the same thing James says “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14) Works are evidence of salvation not the cause of it. That is why the writer to the Hebrews is sure his reader are have been redeemed by God.

This section concludes with the assurance of salvation. His readers are reminded of the assurance of their salvation and hope. And he says that they are to work and not be sluggards, study the scriptures so they will not be driven by every new doctrine that comes along.

Application

I do not understand why by ignorance is often celebrated in the church. Knowledge is seen to oppose faith. This is the exact opposite of what the scriptures say. We are to study and know. The refusal to study is slothfulness which is a sin. Ignorance produces legalism, another sin. We are to leave the elementary thing and go on into a deeper understanding of them.

Wrestling with passages like this we need to always remember that scripture does not contradict itself. Therefore, if we are to understand a scripture to be saying something which is in conflict with another piece of scripture we can be assured that we have a misunderstanding. This is the joy of studying the scripture. Cross referencing scripture gives us a better understanding of God and His love for us.

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