Scott D. Crawford
Isn’t the book of Hebrews wonderful? It seems the idea of better things winds through the entire letter – from Jesus who is better than the angels and obtains a better name (1:4), to Jesus’ blood that speaks better things than the blood of Abel (12:24). Near the middle of the epistle, the author makes this statement:
“9 But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, thought we speak in this manner” (Heb. 6:9i).
So … what would one suppose the better things are that the writer is speaking about? The following may not be what everyone sees, but perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in the following thoughts. Consider …
“12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:12-14).
Often when one verse is read it’s the surrounding verses that really highlight what the writer is trying to say. Reading the end of chapter 5 shows us that the writer thinks the Hebrews needed something better than they had; a better beginning. At a time when the Hebrews should have been teaching others, they turn out to need the fundamental lessons of the oracles of God taught to them again. Paul tells the Corinthians practically the same thing. By the time Paul ends up writing the first of those two letters, he points out that he fed them with milk, not solid food, and then reminds them they still aren’t ready for the meat (1 Cor. 3:2). What a sad state of affairs when after becoming a Christian some folks tend to stagnate, never moving past the milk phase and their growth becomes stunted. Too many people forget that Christians are supposed to “grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ” (Eph. 4:15). We can’t just sit back and believe there is nothing left to do as Christians. As the culmination of the initial salvation process, baptism is the point where the very blood of Christ is contacted. Christians cannot, dare not point to that event and say, “I am done, there is nothing left to do.” Christians move forward!
“1 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits” (Heb. 6:1-3).
The Hebrews seemed to have a fair handle of the fundamentals: repentance and faith, baptism, miraculous gifts, the resurrection and the final judgment; yet, it also seems they were missing something, something that would have helped in their maturity. Who else had a similar problem? Of course it was the Corinthians; the problem child of the New Testament. Paul reminds them in 1 Cor. 14:20 that they should “not be children … but in understanding be mature.” Apparently there is a facet of religious practice that goes beyond the nuts and bolts so to speak, and focuses on a better understanding. Jesus addresses that very problem with the scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 23:23; they were keeping the particulars of the Law but were ignoring the more important, the more spiritual, and the deeper understanding that accompanies true worship to God. It matters deeply that we “do church” correctly; and yet, to get everything correct, down to the smallest comma and colon but without our heart in what we do produces only empty ritual. Joshua showed wisdom when he told the Israelites to “incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel” (Josh. 24:23).
Back to the text.
“4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:4-6).
If the writer wasn’t addressing the Hebrews directly as those that had fallen away, then surely he was speaking about people the Hebrews knew had fallen away. More than once in the Scriptures there’s the admonition to have a better outcome. Jesus tells us that “no one, having put his hand to the plow, looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Paul marvels at the Galatians for being turned away so easily (Gal. 1:6, 7). Further along in Hebrews the writer, the Holy Spirit, says that we are “not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those that believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39). There are those in the world today that believe once one is saved, one is always saved; yet, that doesn’t seem like what Paul thought. Paul viewed the Christian life as a race to be run (1 Cor. 9:24-27), as a life to be lived (Rom. 6:16), as a course to be completed (Phil. 3:12-14), and that no one had ever made it until the probation of life has been completed (2 Tim. 4:7)!ii
Why does all this matter: a better beginning, a better understanding, and a better outcome. Look what the writer of Hebrews tells us:
“10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb. 6:10).
Often one recalls the story of Cornelius, when the angel comes and says, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God” (Acts 19:4). When speaking about the good works of those that stood before the Lord in judgment, Jesus reminds us that “inasmuch as you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:40). What we do in this life has consequences in the next; we are the seeds here of a flower that blooms in eternity.
What a person does precedes them to the throne of God – a sobering thought, yes?
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Philippians 3”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament” http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=php&chapter=003
Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.