V. Warning and Encouragement (Hebrews 5:11–6:20)
V. Warning and Encouragement (5:11–6:20)
5:11-12 In spite of the author’s desire to help his readers and teach them how Christ is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, they had become too lazy to understand (5:11). The Greek word translated “lazy” can mean “dull” or “stubborn.” So, in other words, they had become mule-headed and refused to grow spiritually. And even though they should’ve been teachers by the time the letter was penned, they needed someone to teach them the basic principles of God’s revelation again (5:12). Sadly, they weren’t experiencing Christ’s deliverance because they were still in spiritual elementary school!
Something is wrong if a thirty-year-old is still eating baby food. Knowing the ABCs and 123s of the Bible is crucial, but there comes a time to build on this foundation with further understanding and growth. After all, if you don’t advance beyond kindergarten, you never discover what lies ahead. Any believer who fails to move on from milk to solid food (5:12)—“milk” being the content of God’s Word, while “solid food” is the spiritual application and use of God’s Word to life—has some developmental issues and becomes stagnant in spiritual development.
5:13-14 Anyone who lives on milk is inexperienced (5:13). To be mature, you need solid food. Only in this way will your senses be trained to distinguish between good and evil so that you can live from a heavenly rather than an earthly perspective (5:14). This, in fact, is why God allows trials in our lives.
The only way you grow in most things is through training, through practice. It’s true in sports, it’s true in education, and it’s true in spiritual growth. You may have experience listening to and memorizing the Word, but that’s not sufficient. If you chew your food but don’t swallow, you will starve. You have to internalize and put God’s Word into practice (see Jas 1:21-25). Only then will you be equipped to make Word-driven decisions rather than circumstance-driven decisions. The recipients of the letter were becoming stagnant; they were refusing to grow.
6:1-3 Therefore, the writer says, let’s leave kindergarten behind. Let us . . . go on to maturity. Laying the proper spiritual foundation is certainly necessary: you must repent of dead works and put your faith in the finished work of Christ (6:1). But there comes a time to build on the foundation and press on. And we will do this if God permits, he tells them (6:3). This is a reminder that God is the one who enables growth. He won’t make the decision for you, however. You decide to grow; God permits the growth.
6:4-6 Now we come to a controversial passage. The author gives an example of people who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, who shared in the Holy Spirit, who tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age (6:4-5). Some interpreters feel this isn’t a reference to believers. It’s hard, though, to know what else the author would have to say to describe someone as a Christian. For example, some say that the people described here merely “tasted the heavenly gift.” In other words, they didn’t go all the way and eat it. But Hebrews also says that Jesus tasted death for everyone (2:9). You can be certain that he didn’t just nibble death! He died. The people described in 6:4-5 are Christians.
So, what’s going on here? The author says if such people have fallen away (6:6), it’s impossible to renew them to repentance (6:4). Some interpreters think this means Christians can lose their salvation, but the rest of the Bible clearly teaches our eternal security in Christ (see, e.g., John 6:37-40; 10:26-29; Rom 8:28-39; Eph 1:13-14; 1 John 5:13). And if this text teaches that believers can lose their salvation, it also teaches that it’s impossible for them to return to Christ. But no one claims that those who deny Jesus (like Peter; see Matt 26:69-75) can’t repent and return to him.
The key, then, is to remember that the author has just urged the readers to “go on to maturity” (6:1). The problem is that they are in danger of having hardened, rebellious hearts because they refuse to press on in spiritual growth. To persist in this state is to forget what God has done for you, acting like those who crucified the Son of God and held him up to contempt (6:6). To stubbornly refuse to follow Christ in obedience is to mock him.
For such unfaithful believers, it’s impossible to renew them to repentance. The question is: impossible for whom? After all, the angel told Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37), and Jesus said, “With God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26). The issue, then, is not God’s inability to bring someone back to repentance; it’s man’s inability to do so. God has to directly intervene.
I have ministered to people who have slipped into sin, worldliness, and denial. Nothing I did could bring them to repentance. When someone gets to such a point, it requires God bringing cataclysmic events into their lives as a wake-up call. When Peter denied Jesus (Luke 22:54-62), for example, it took the prayers of Jesus (in advance!) to bring him back around (Luke 22:31-34). When believers in the early church were involved in flagrant sin, sometimes the Lord even took them home early (e.g., the believers who had “fallen asleep” mentioned in 1 Cor 11:30). The Lord’s discipline can be severe. That’s why you want to have a sensitive, humble heart.
6:7-8 The author supports his argument with an illustration about a plot of ground. When land has been cultivated and experiences the goodness of God in the form of rain (6:7), it can produce either useful vegetation or thorns and thistles. What should a farmer do if the soil proves to be worthless? His field will be burned. The purpose of the burning isn’t to destroy, however. The ground is burned to remove the thorns and thistles in order to make it productive again.
The author is not describing eternal judgment. The Bible speaks of fire in hell, but fire is also used to describe God’s discipline of believers (see 1 Cor 3:11-15). At the judgment seat of Christ, then, a believer’s faithless works will be burned up. “He himself will be saved—but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). So don’t give up. Persevere! If you’re falling down, get back in the game. If you’re too weak to get up, ask your fellow believers for help so that you can press on to maturity.
6:9-12 Even though the author spoke harshly, he is confident that God has better things in store for his hearers (6:9). He’s like a parent who spanks a young child and then hugs him with the assurance, “I did this because I love you.” The author is convinced that his readers are better than the poor ground in his illustration; he feels they’ll continue in faith. Though God hasn’t forgotten their past faithfulness when they had a passion for ministering to others (6:10), he wants them to demonstrate diligence and to imitate others who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance (6:11-12).
God’s purpose in saving you was not merely so you could go to heaven when you die; he wants to use you here until you die. and then reward you with your kingdom inheritance when he returns (see Luke 19:11-19). Your usefulness increases as you grow in spiritual maturity during your pilgrimage from earth to glory, from time to eternity. By developing in maturity and usefulness, you will obtain your full inheritance. This inheritance is not your salvation; rather, it’s the good things God has in store for you in this life and in the life to come.
6:13-15 How did promise and perseverance play out in the life of Abraham, that great hero of the faith? Twenty-five years passed between God’s promise of a son and the birth of Isaac. Then many further years passed before that fateful day when Abraham faithfully offered Isaac on the altar and God swore by himself (6:13) that he would bless and multiply Abraham (6:14). Long, patient waiting was required before Abraham obtained the promise (6:15).
6:16-19 To demonstrate his unchangeable purpose, God guaranteed his promise by swearing an oath (6:16-17). Now, of course, it is impossible for God to lie. To do so, he would have to cease being God. But by these two unchangeable things—the promise and the oath—he gives his children strong encouragement to seize the hope set before them (6:18-19). Hope is a confident expectation of God fulfilling his promises.
To put it simply, God’s promise is his declaration of what he will do, and his oath is his announcement that he is ready to do it. God made a promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, but many years passed before he swore the oath in Genesis 22:16-17. In between, there was a long gap of preparation.
During gaps, God prepares the promise for the person and prepares the person for the promise. In the case of Israel, God made a promise to deliver the land of Canaan to them. But during their time of preparation, they refused to move forward. So the oath God swore to them was a negative one: “They will not enter my rest” (Heb 3:11). This is why persevering in faith is so important.
6:20 Here the author finally returns to the topic of Jesus as a high priest . . . according to the order of Melchizedek (see 5:10). Given their recent struggles, he needed to give them warning and encouragement to keep moving forward (5:11–6:20) before introducing them to the spiritually mature discussion about Melchizedek.