June 25, 2017
Preaching should not be Prozac and it should not be Similac.
If you want a one-sentence summary of this passage, there you have it in a nutshell.
The purpose of preaching is not to make you feel good about yourself or your life and it is not to be baby-food—mushed up and pureed basic theology which is watered down to make it palatable to infant mouths. It is meant to challenge you to think and reason about the things of faith and to confront you in your sins.
The purpose of preaching, as the Bible presents it, is for the building up of the church (1 Corinthians 14:26), to direct the church in battle (1 Corinthians 14:8), to teach and admonish (Colossians 3:16), to call the unbeliever to faith (Romans 10:14); to declare the mystery of Christ (Colossians 4:3), to shine a light on the plan of God through the ages (Ephesians 3:9), to reprove, rebuke, and to exhort with patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2) and to do all this to the end of building the church in maturity (Ephesians 4:12-13).
And what does maturity look like in the life of the church? Paul answers that question in Ephesians 4:14 — that we are not children in the faith nor are we tossed to and fro or carried about by every wind of doctrine, human cunning, craftiness and deceitful scheme. In other words, a church that is mature does not fall prey to heresies around them nor to the unBiblical notions that become popular, even if they appeal to our preferences or are embraced by the other churches in the community around us.
This means that a mature Christian church is populated by people who use their God-given intelligence and reason to discern right from wrong, good from evil, and all according to the standard of the Bible.
And because a mature church must identify heresies and schemes, the mature church should not only study their Bibles, but we must also have a handle on church history, philosophy, systematic theology, apologetics, ethics, practical application of theology, and rhetoric (how to communicate logically). And we also need to be a people whose lives are marked by trying to live out the Biblical application in every area of our lives, not sloppily or lazily, but seeking to be the very best Christians that we can be to the honor of Christ.
Yikes! That’s work! So, you may be tempted to ask, why is all of this “growing in maturity stuff” so important? If I’m saved, I’m saved, right? That’s the most important thing; I have my fire insurance.”
There are two answers to that question. First, if you think about salvation as fire insurance, then you probably aren’t really saved in the first place. We are to make our calling and election sure (demonstrate the genuineness of our faith) by diligently growing and maturing in our faith (2 Peter 1:10). Further, Jesus commands our obedience as the natural demonstration of our love for Him (John 14:15) — so the answer to the first part is that we mature because Jesus says to, and that ought to be enough.
Secondly, we mature because we represent Jesus’ body to the world. In this month’s newsletter article, I talked about the military language applied to the church in the Bible. Let it suffice to say, here, that the Bible presents the church like a kind of military outpost in enemy territory or as an embassy of heaven on earth. Yet soldiers who guard an outpost must be thoroughly trained and equipped lest they lose their position.
I have often been told that sometimes my sermons can be a bit over people’s heads, though I prefer to think of it as raising the bar. Human nature is such that we will only ever reach for the bar where it is set. If it is set low, that’s as high as we will go. I don’t think of myself as being any smarter than any of you; I just have more training in these particular areas and it is my Biblical responsibility and pastoral goal to stretch you and to grow you so that we may grow mature as a church in the eyes of God to the honor of Christ our Head.
Sadly, this mindset is few and far between in churches…
Biblical and theological illiteracy and outright ignorance is rampant in our culture today, even in the evangelical Christian church. Do you doubt that?
Let me pose some questions…
How many Christians can name all 10 of the 10 commandments? Can you? If this is the standard by which God bases his ethics, how can we know anything about making ethical or moral decisions if we don’t know these commandments?
Or, God says through the prophet Micah, that there are 3 things that he demands from our lives. That sounds like a pretty important thing to know…but can you name them? If you can, how are you going about trying to live them out? If you can, how are you trying to do them? Be specific, you are not answering to me, you are answering to God.
Or what of the cultural questions?
Can you explain to a young couple why sex outside of marriage is sinful? Or why homosexual behavior is an abomination to the Lord?
Or can you explain why the Bible is trustworthy? Or why Jesus is God but a distinct person from God the Father? Or the same with the Holy Spirit?
Can you explain to someone why we believe that abortions should be illegal or why marriage should only be between 1 man and 1 woman?
Can you defend the idea that Christians, Muslims, and Mormons do not worship the same God or why being a “good person” does not get you into heaven?
This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing the 95 Thesis to the doorpost of the church in Wittenburg. Do you know why he did this? As protestants, do you know what these 95 theses were rejecting?
Do you know why Lutherans rejected the Heidelberg Catechism as being too Calvinistic? Do you even know who John Calvin was or why he was essential to the success of the Reformation? I would argue that without Calvin, Luther’s reformation would have remained a regional movement much like the Waldensians and the Hussites before him.
Do you know what Wesley was reacting against in the Calvinism of his day and do you know how we can keep ourselves (as a church) from falling into those same errors…you might want to look up the notion of hyper-calvinism…just saying…
Can you defend the notion that it is impossible to be a buddhist and a Christian at the same time?
Can you explain why Masonic rites are not compatible with mature Christianity?
Or can you explain why the Establishment Clause is designed to protect the church from Government interference and not the government from church interference?
Now, I can go on like this all day, but do you get my point? For that is the same point the author of Hebrews is making with this church…they just do not know things that they ought to know.
As I mentioned last week, I included verse 10 in this week’s reading because I wanted us to look back as we looked forward. Jesus is established as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. So with a new High Priest comes the establishment of a new Priestly order — one based on spiritual lines through faith and not on genetic lines through Aaron and Levi. It is this priesthood to which Peter speaks in 1 Peter 2:9 when he calls Christians a “Royal Priesthood.” And thus, if there is a priesthood (of which we are a part) there also must be expectations for those who are members of the priesthood in the new just as there were in the old.
In the Old Testament, the Levites primarily lived in cities scattered throughout the nation of Israel, amongst the people to be spiritual teachers and men with wisdom and discernment. They were to be mature in their faith…and so too, must we strive for that maturity as part of our priesthood.
So, the author, not seeing that maturity, begins his rebuke in verse 11.
“About which (that is the Priesthood of Melchizedek) there is much to tell you that is difficult to explain” (more literally: difficult to make you understand).
Why is it difficult to make the people understand? It is not because the concepts cannot be understood, it is because, “you have become lazy in listening.”
He is basically saying that the church has become so lax in their faith that they have stopped nothing paying attention to their faith and lack the motivation to learn or to grow.
Most of you know that I taught High School for 5 years. And while I did teach some survey courses, most of what I taught were the tougher classes like systematic theology, philosophy, apologetics, Hebrew, and leadership development. One thing that I learned quickly, though was that motivation is far more important than raw I.Q. Now, I taught some kids with some really high measured I.Q.’s — kids that were far smarter than me, at least in raw intellectual muscle, but my experience was always that the kids that had slightly above average I.Q.’s but that were highly motivated, always went further than those kids with the high I.Q.’s.
My point is this: I don’t care your background, your I.Q., your level of formal education, or your chosen vocation. There is nothing in this book that you cannot understand rightly if you are motivated to learn and faithfully directed.
Yet, we live in a world filled with lazy churches with a world of people who are lax in their attendance toward growing their faith. It has gotten so bad that many larger churches have had to create paid positions for just about everything they want to get done rather than relying on committed volunteers to lead things. That is not a sign of growth, folks, that is a sign of a lazy church.
“For by this time, you ought to be teachers” — you could more idiomatically translate this, “For by this time you should have fulfilled your obligation to be teachers…”
“but it is necessary once again to teach you the basic precepts of the oracles of God. It is still necessary for you to be given milk and not solid food.”
It is my experience that once a baby begins to move from milk to solid food, the progress moves quickly. They get a taste for solid food — the mere milk does not satisfy them. I was a 10½ lb. baby when I was born and even though my mother’s milk had all of the nutrients I needed, it didn’t take my mother long to realize that she had to supplement to keep my belly satisfied. The milk just wouldn’t hold me.
The author is essentially saying this to the church. “We have been giving you milk for far too long — by now you should have graduated from milk to meat and then have begun serving meat to others, no longer students but teachers. But you are not — you are like 30 year-old kindergarteners not because you cannot learn, but because you are too lazy to do so.”
Verse 13 picks up there:
“For everyone who partakes of milk (you could insert “alone” here contextually) is inept (incompetent, unskilled, ineffectual, blundering) in the word of righteousness, for he is indeed an infant.”
A “bottle-fed believer” is inept and incompetent with the Word of God — the word of Righteousness — because he is a baby. Infants are totally reliant on someone else for their survival. So if we are still infants when we reach adulthood and we raise bottle-fed believers (because we can only teach what we know), then why does it surprise us when our children become such easy targets for secular and atheistic professors in college or even in High School? They soon leave the church, stop coming, and when they move out on their own they no longer look at it as a priority. Of when they move, if they do go to church, the go because friends are there or because it is fun or convenient without ever considering first whether the church is Biblical in its teachings.
I’m coming down hard on this area not just because the author of the text comes down hard on us, but because we have seen this in some of our youth. They have grown up here but never took ownership of their faith and practice. Then again, if based on their interaction with Christians around them, if all they know is being bottle-fed and if they do not see a zeal and a hunger for the Word in us, why do you expect they would be any different?
“But solid food is for the mature one — the one who reached a state of maturity having been trained to differentiate (discern) between good and evil.”
Scripture defines discernment as recognizing that which God wills and differentiating that from which God does not will — good from evil (Romans 12:2). But notice that discernment comes through training — training in the Bible so we know what good and evil is; through the doctrines of the church so we know how that good and evil is applied; and through the history of debates so we do not fall prey to the lies of heresy.
Now, what follows when we get to chapter 6 is the exhortation to leave the basics behind and to start eating meat — solid food. But let me say this as we close, it seems to me that the author’s mode of doing this — of reforming lazy ears — is not to say, “Hey everybody, we need to grow mature” and then to wait for the majority of the church to agree with the notion and follow along. Instead, he raises the bar and begins force-feeding them a little bit. And so, I raise the bar with you as well with the conviction that the more you decide to eat meat, the more hungry you will be for it.
Indeed, I recognize that somewhere you need to make a decision, though, to make the scriptures your commitment, your passion, and even your zeal. We won’t get it right all of the time on this side of the veil, but that doesn’t mean we ought not try.
- Read the text ahead of time.
- Pray for me and for yourself to have motivated ears.
- Take notes and then discuss the things of the sermons with your families.
- Ask good questions before an dafter the sermon.
- Come to Sunday School; it is available for all ages.
- Come join us Sunday Night at TOPIX.
- There are books in the back by reputable Christians as well as some written by me; take up and read!
- For those reading through the Bible each year, take up the summaries of the texts I write, they are designed to add some clarity and depth to understanding what you read.
And to that end make it your goal to labor and I will make it my goal to always feed you meat from the pulpit and never Similac or Prozac.