Comments and Observations
In the well-known and well-loved musical The Sound of Music, the governess Maria spends some time teaching her young charges how to sing. She starts the lesson by saying (in song, of course) “Let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start. When you read you begin with”. . . . and a child says “A, B, C” and Maria sings, “when you sing you begin with ‘do, re, mi.” The alphabet provides the building blocks for reading. The scale (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do) provides the building blocks for music. The writer of Hebrew tells his readers that there are also building blocks for faith – the early steps, the easy stuff – that help build a foundation for a strong, mature faith. When you master the alphabet – the entire cannon of literature is available. You move from reading the Cat in the Hat to reading the great classics of literature. After you master the scale, you’re able to put notes together in different ways to create music. You move from singing Mary Had a Little Lamb to being able to sing a complicated aria from Puccini. As you move through the basics of faith, your faith gets stronger – moving you from the simple fact that Jesus loves you to knowing with firm conviction that Jesus loves you all of the time – in the good times, the bad times, the frustrating times, the difficult times, the understanding that the Christian’s walk isn’t always easy and that it takes a mature faith to stay the course.
Now – one of the interesting things about this passage is that the writer had just told his audience that their faith was still immature. In the closing verse of chapter 5 he says, “you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” And then he begins chapter six with this words: “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity.” He tells them he doesn’t want to go over the elementary stuff again – but wants to move on to a deeper, more mature understanding of the Christian walk. He is encouraging them to stretch their minds and to move away from the basics. (Bruce) The interesting thing is, he then goes on to list some of those very basics: the importance of repentance, baptism, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment. Good teachers understand the importance of review!
The next section (verses 4-7) are difficult for they address those that fall away from the faith and the extreme difficulty of bringing them back. The writer of Hebrews says that “it is impossible.” Yikes! Now, it’s important to point out that he isn’t talking about “backsliders” or people with a casual faith (although there are difficulties there as well) – but he’s talking about those who had claimed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and then went and deliberately turn their back on Christ and his promises. He is talking about people who deliberately and actively renounce their faith. However, every commentary I read wanted to assure the reader that nothing is impossible for God and the assurance that if there is TRUE repentance, then there is forgiveness. (Bruce). But if someone can’t ask, or won’t ask – well there are consequences – they become the field of thistles that, in the end, will burn. Wiersbe says “as long as disobedient believers are bringing shame to Christ, it is impossible to bring them to repentance, and God must deal with them.” Harsh words to be sure, but a reminder that our God is a just God and if people deliberately turn their back on him, if they throw his amazing gift of grace back in his face, there is a price to pay. If we use our reading/music example – these are people who write and then deliberately mess up the words so it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. These are people who learn the song and then mess up the rhythm and words so the song loses its beauty and the meaning is lost.
Thankfully, the writer continues on and assures his audience that even though he said these harsh, difficult words, he’s not talking about them. He is confident that they are in the right place and moving in the right direction. He reminds them of God’s justice and love for those who believe in him and he encourages them to stay the course – to continue to learn and grow and walk in faith. The beauty of our walk with God is the only finish line is when we meet him face-to-face. There are always new things to learn, to truths to appreciate and delight in. We’re never done learning, we’re never done growing. And so we press on!
One more piece on this passage: mere knowledge of the saving grace of Christ isn’t enough. Back to our reading/music examples. You can learn the A B Cs rather easily. But what does that give you? 26 letters to recite. It isn’t until you put the letters together and they make words, and then you take the words and put them together so they make sentences, and the sentences paragraphs, and the paragraphs stories – that your heart begins to respond. The alphabet doesn’t have the power to move your heart (unless you’re hearing your child say it for the very first time!). It’s what comes after – the beauty of language – that has the ability and possibility to move your heart. When you learn to sing or play an instrument, you start your practicing by doing scales – variations of the ‘do, re, mi’ sequence over and over (and over) again. Scales are important but rarely do they move the singer/instrument player to have a heart response. The heart responds when the notes form measures that form lines that form songs. It is the beauty of the song that stirs the soul and moves the heart. While I’m not a cook by any stretch of the imagination, I would guess the same is true of cooking or baking – you need the building blocks – the ingredients lined up on your counter – but it isn’t until you put the ingredients together that you have something that tastes good, something that stirs the soul (if not the taste buds!). The same is true of our faith – we have the basics – Jesus loves us, this we know! And that’s good – but it just gets better and better and deeper and deeper as we add to that knowledge and grow our faith. Knowing Jesus loves is one thing. Having that lodge in our heart and stir our soul is quite another. The writer of Hebrews wants his audiences’ hearts’ to be moved, to be stirred, and to stay strong. Learning to read takes time and practice. Learning to sing or play the piano takes time and practice. Creating a culinary masterpiece takes time and practice. There might be bumps and missteps along the way – but staying the course, growing in your skill produces beautiful things. Learning to walk with the Savior takes time and takes diligence. There may be bumps and missteps along the way, but staying the course will produce something beautiful – a deep, rich, mature faith that will see us through.
Rev. Mary Stegink is the pastor of the Ramapo Reformed Church in Mahwah, NJ. She is “on loan” from the CRC; Faith Community Church in Wyckoff, NJ holds her credentials.
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Maturity in Faith
Hebrews 6:1-12 Commentary