July 16, 2017
Good, Better, Best. This is one of the most basic ideas known to man. Kids learn this from a young age and even the oldest amongst us use the concept. It is how we compare things and how we communicate our ideas.
Interestingly, from the earliest days, this was one of the ways in which Christians defended the idea that God exists — or in other words, that the belief in God was a rational thing to have and that it is irrational to be an atheist.
The argument goes something like this…
We rate things on a mental scale: Good, better, best.
For example, a hamburger at a fast food joint is good, but a hamburger at a specialty hamburger place is better. Yet, a hamburger made from scratch at home, cooked on the grill, and served with a thick slice of onions and a stack of jalapeno peppers on top is best.
Okay, but it is not yet lunchtime, so how about I change my analogies and use a more spiritual one. We spend a lot of time encouraging folks to read their Bibles regularly, and that is a good thing. But reading your Bible regularly, following a systematic plan to read through it one or two times a year is a better thing. But, giving a significant portion of time to reading your Bible systematically, studying it, reflecting on what you have read, and then applying it…that is the best thing.
Good, Better, Best.
The argument goes back to the Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, but was reformulated by Thomas Aquinas, though others before him used versions of this argument. They said, if there is a good and a better, there must logically be a best by which the good and better is measured — a top end of the scale. But if there is a scale by which good and better can be measured by, there must ultimately be an best in the ultimate sense of the term — something which no thing can be better. And that, by definition, must be God.
Good, Better, Best.
Therefore, whenever you come across the language of “better” as is in this passage, you must begin by asking two questions:
1) Better than what? (to what is this being compared?)
2) What then is best? Because better should always strive to point us to what is best.
So, when the author states in verse 9, “We feel sure of better things,” we then ask the two questions.
Better than what? The answer to that question comes from looking at the previous passage. — Better than falling away from the church, falling away from the body of Christ, because you had lazy ears and refuse to mature in your faith.
Then we ask, to what end are we moving? What is the “best” to which the “better” is pointing?
The answer follows, ultimately in verse 12 — best is being a people who are not lazy but who act like those who inherit the promises of God.
That establishes the range: being spiritually lazy is not something to desire; being spiritually mature is…but that means work.
Verse 9 in its entirety reads this way:
“But I am convinced, with respect to you, beloved, of better things and of things which belong to salvation, and se we will speak in this way.”
In other words, — I have warned you because you have been spiritually lazy, but I am convinced that you, having been rebuked, will get your act together and repent of your sins, thus not fall away. And all the while, the author is feeding them meat to put an end to their laziness (which is the “in this way” that he is speaking of in the verse — with meat.
Why then does the author have this confidence?
“For God is not so unjust as to neglect your work and the love which you demonstrated in His name, serving the saints as you even now serve.”
Now I want to park here for a moment because I want to make it clear that the author is not implying that we earn any part of our salvation through our works or even that we keep our salvation intact by our works. He is also not saying that we gain bonus points with God.
What he is saying is that because he sees good works in the church, he is treating that as evidence that God is at work in them even though they have been lazy.
1) While we cannot discern the heart of someone, a person of faith will evidence that faith in a way that is reflected in their lives — in this case, in the love (agape) which is demonstrated in the name of Jesus and in the way they serve the saints.
Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that we were created in Christ Jesus ‘for good works’ — which were established in eternity prior.
John uses similar language in 1 John 4:4-10 when he states that there are two categories of people in this world and that the differences between the two categories — the children of God and the children of Satan — is that the children of God make a practice out of righteousness and that the children of Satan, who do not care about pleasing Christ, remain content in their sins.
Or, in other words, if your sinful acts do not grieve you, if you have fallen content with greedy or immoral thoughts and actions and are not pursuing a life of righteousness in the context of the worship of Christ’s church, then you probably aren’t a Christian in the first place.
But even if you are immature in your faith, have gotten complacent in your bottle-feeding, but when you are challenged on that it grieves you and you genuinely want to live “Christian-ly” then you are probably really a believer though you need to repent of your laziness.
2) The second observation is this: Good works are often a testimony of faith but they do not constitute faith nor do they mature faith that one has. Maturing comes according to the Word and trying to live it out (often under resistance).
3) Notice the weight that is placed on service as Christians in the life of the body. It is part of the life of the believer to labor to the glory of Christ in the context of God’s people. To quote Paul again, “we are created in Christ for good works.”
Too often people fall into a kind of union mentality in the life of the church: “Not my job — my job is to come to church and to pay my dues when the plate comes around.”
But the work of the church is for all of us and is not limited to our finances or even to our passive attendance, we are to be active attenders.
It is true that some in the life of the church have specialized roles:
The Elders for oversight
The Deacons for Service
The Trustees for the care taking of the property
The Pastor for the ministry of Word and Prayer
Yet, even here there is overlap because the work of ministry belongs to all of us, whether for spiritual things like prayer, visitation of shut-ins, teaching, etc… or for physical needs like maintaining the church, keeping the weeds pulled or the playground in good working order, wiping down children’s toys, etc… it takes all of us to make sure it all takes place.
So, let me make this a practical application to today’s message:
First, if you are one of those who is regularly out at the church or is engaged in the business of the church, thank you.
Second, if you are one of those who thinks about coming and serving, but life’s busy schedule gets in the way, then reevaluate your priorities and come and serve.
Third, if you are one of those who never gives service a second thought — its the responsibility of someone else in your mind — repent, come and serve.
“We long that each of you exhibit the same dedication toward a full assurance of faith until the end in order that you may not be lazy, but be imitators of the ones, who through faith and steadfastness are inheritors of the promises.”
I want you to see this passage in light of the whole section of scripture:
It begins by saying, “I rebuke you because you are content with a bottle-fed faith and many of you — even though you have experienced the goodness of fellowship in the church — some of you will fall away because you are too lazy to eat meat. But, for you, I am trusting that won’t happen in your case. I’ve seen your works and that says that God is at work in you. So, keep up the good works, but at the same time, our desire for you is that you will dedicate yourselves toward the building up of the assurance of your faith because that assurance, the stronger it gets, will keep you faithful and from falling away.
But that still leaves us with a question —
“How do we ‘demonstrate a dedication toward a full (or complete) assurance’?
Most of you know that I enjoy old Sherlock Holmes stories and one of the keys to being a good detective is not just asking questions. The key is asking the right question.
The right question, asked in the right way, at the right time, has a way of shining a spotlight into an otherwise clouded situation. It is also helpful in working through Bible passages and our theology.
You see, I have become convinced that too many professing Christians are asking the wrong question. Many ask, “How can someone be saved?”
But, for the Christian, that’s not the right question to ask — we know the answer already if indeed we are Christians.
The right question for Christians to be asking is: “how now shall I live?”
“Now that I am a disciple of Christ, how does a disciple live?”
“How does a priest in the order of Melchizedek live?”
or, in the context of this passage,
“How do I devote myself to assurance of faith?”
Peter raises a similar question when he instructs us to make our “calling and election” sure… and he gives us seven things to which we must attend: Virtue, Knowledge, Self-Control, Steadfastness, Godliness, Brotherly love, and Agape Love.
Paul similarly addresses the question from a slightly different angle, in 2 Corinthians 13:5.
Paul writes: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves — that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed you fail to meet the test.”
The author of Hebrews addresses his counsel in this way:
“imitate the ones who through faith and steadfastness are inheriting the promise.”
So, ask yourselves who are those people in your life or who have been in your life who have lived a life of Christian faith until the very end and discover what practices they incorporated in their lives that made them a faithful Christian, and imitate those practices diligently.
As I think about some of my heroes of the faith: John Calvin, William Perkins, Isaac Watts, JC Ryle, CS Lewis, one of the practices that was consistent in their lives was a commitment to the Word. That means not just reading it, but reading it, studying it, reflecting on it, and applying it to life as well as teaching others about it. Best…
Good, Better, Best…
Good is trusting in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Best is pursuing Christ who is the image of the invisible God.
The Christian life is a process of growing from one toward the other…and those who taste but never grow will fall away.
Discipleship is not about settling for good, it is about striving for best to honor our savior. That takes work and commitment…but that is good…no, best, anyway. We are made to work. So, like the author of Hebrews, with the warning having been set before you, I too feel sure of better things and will speak to you as such, offering meat and not milk.