Sunday, 14 October 2018

Grow to Maturity - Hebrews 5:11 - 6:12

A frustration many a pastor may face can be the desire to press forward with a new initiative, only to be told that people want 'more teaching first'. It raises the legitimate question 'what about applying the teaching you already have?'. Also what about learning on the job? In Hebrews the author seems to have that same frustration, and pleads with the readers to 'Grow Up - move to solid food from the initial milk diet!'.

In v12 'ought to be teachers' is written - being capable of passing it on, influencing and leading others for Christ rather than having to rehearse the basic A-B-Cs again. In v13 it says 'not acquainted', which means 'out of practice'. I.e. they were not applying what they have heard or learnt. Thats why we stress applied theology, not just theoretical learning in our messages and small groups. V14 talks of 'constant use', like those who exercise and work their muscles. Our discipleship model includes 'on the job' training - a 'can do' kind of approach.

6:1 writes 'therefore let us grow to maturity'. Growing up means taking responsibility for our discipleship, setting a rhythm and diet that works for you. Of course don't do this in isolation, but take input from others and church leaders. Recall that we have 4 habits (Discipline of Off, Share the Walk, Ever Closer to Jesus, and Margin for Jesus) to pay attention to. The encouraging thing for us is that in our last church meeting the majority of members felt that they could lead someone new to faith in basic discipleship (recall also we have a resource for that).

The passage then leads to one of the toughest fragments of the whole New Testament. V4 - 8 says it is 'impossible' for those who have 'seen the light', experienced God, the Holy Spirit, the goodness of God revealed in Jesus, and yet have 'fallen away' to be 'brought back to repentance'. That sounds final - is there really some 'no way back point' or trip-line that some believers might cross? Commentators debate this over and over - it seems we now have moved from solid food to tough chewy steak!

Four areas of thought may help us. First the letter seems to be to Jewish background believers. Second remember the author has just been writing about the High Priest. Third v4 in the Greek starts with a 'connecting word', linking back at least to v1-3. Fourth is the meaning of 'falling away'.

One and two can be taken together. Back in the Jewish faith God knew the Israelites would lose the plot and wander from Him, but God always said 'but if you turn back to me ... we can get back on track'. God promised this based on His covenants. God is faithful, and the people can come back to those covenants. Yet the Old Testament also provided for annual ritual, effectively 'works' you would do to cleanse your wrongdoing. Sadly the Jewish faith became about that ritual - if you slipped or strayed then at the next ritual you could sort it out.

Our third point forces to re-read v1-3, which says move on from turning away from those 'dead works' of ritual. Grow from your Christian baptism - itself another ritual - but really a marker of what God has done. So putting these first three points together we can see that you can't go back to rituals to save you. That makes a mockery of the cross. Going that way is no better than standing int he crowd shouting 'Crucify Him!'. You are saying 'the cross was not effective for me' and 'I want to do this my way', and thus you would rather do away with God's Son - Jesus.

Point 4 is about the Greek word for 'falling away', which literally means 'wandering from the path'. Two weeks back Rachael called us to 'Stay Focussed', but equally could have said 'Stay on Track'. Remember that she warned that we might just deviate slightly at first, but over time this may lead us far away. It risks us ending up off track again with the 'I can sort this my way' mentality, denying the cross and its power.

Yet the promise of God is that if you come back to the cross, to the truth of what Jesus has done for you in the cross and resurrection, then you too can again live and grow in God's covenant grace. This return is not you repeating a ritual. We take communion monthly not because that saves us, but to rehearse what Jesus has done for us. Luther (the great church reformer) had his own crises of faith - but then said 'I have been baptised'. He didn't say 'I need to be baptised again', for Jesus had already done enough for him.

V7-8 then goes on to talk of land, fruit and brambles, invoking the classic images of fruitfulness. The author wants these believers to grow to maturity and be fruitful. God wants us to be fruitful too! We have seen God lead us into new initiatives. Each time we have researched, we have waited and prayed, and we have rolled up our sleeves. Then we have seen lives changed! Not always easy though - we have also seen frustration, setbacks and been in really tough scenarios. Yet even through these we have seen that God is faithful, that God provides. So we have learnt and grown on the job, seeing our faith muscles develop.

As a church we want to see Kingdom Life across the City. We are aware our city is growing - new housing being built right now. So we are waiting and praying into possibilities of pioneer work, of taking Kingdom Life into the new areas. That will need more maturity, further rolling up our sleeves and dependingon God, expecting to grow as we go. ALL of this is based on the grounding of the achievement of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection. We don't have to try and redo that, but we do rehearse it to keep it as our solid foundation. A foundation we can step up from, growing in confidence and maturity.

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