The importance of the journey
Hebrews 5: Milk is for beginners…solid food is for the mature.
The book of Hebrews, like the book of Romans, contains some challenging material. Both are intended to be not only read, but studied. The writer of Hebrews tells his readers that he’s about to take them out into some deep waters, at least that’s his desire. The problem, he says, is that some aren’t ready for that journey. It would be understandable if they were fresh, new believers. However, he’s focusing on those who’ve been around awhile; who, by now, should be ready to move on in their understanding of spiritual things. There are, I see, various stages in our lives in Christ. Spiritual babes need to focus on the basics. Once those are mastered, it’s time to move on, not leaving those things behind, but, instead, building on them as we move forward. On one hand, it’s dangerous for people to “camp out” just inside the gate. On the other hand, it’s dangerous for people to jump into the deeper water without first learning to swim. The church should be a place for people at the various stages of spiritual life. People should find their way in, become established, move into the deeper things of God and then begin helping others who are just finding their way in. Personally, I’m somewhere on that journey, farther along than others are but not as advanced as the rest. I think that in our eyes the destination is most important while in God’s eyes the journey is more important than the destination.
Take Away: Spiritual growth is necessary in the Christian life – but it’s not automatic.
Responsibility of seasoned saints
Galatians 6: So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good.
The church is, obviously, an imperfect body. After all, it’s filled with imperfect human beings. Within its number are mature, settled saints and new, raw believers and folks everywhere in between. It’s a challenge to be a part of such a diverse family. The Apostle reminds the “trained” and “mature” believers that they have a responsibility to enter into “a generous common life” with those who’ve gone before and at least implies that they’re to do the same with those who are trailing behind them on their spiritual journey. He knows that this kind of communal living takes effort and can be a real energy drain so he frames the issue using a familiar crop growing illustration. The farmer works the fields, not because he likes what he’s seeing right at that moment but because of what he believes is coming. As “seasoned saints” patiently love and encourage others within the body of Christ they do so with two truths in mind. First, they remember where they came from and how others accepted them when they were young, frustrating, inconsistent believers. Second, they anticipate what the Lord’s going to do in the lives of these folks. The language he uses is that of self-responsibility: “Let’s not allow ourselves…” he says. Some folks haven’t yet gotten beyond the children’s end of the pool. Those who are experienced, capable “swimmers” are to, in Paul’s words, “Work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.”
Take Away: There are people at all stages of spiritual growth in the family of God.
1Corinthians 4: I don’t even rank myself.
Some of the church members in Corinth have concluded that Paul needs to be put in his place. He’s a long way distant and they like Apollos better anyway. Paul tells them that he’s not interested in their “preacher rankings” and is happy to drop out of the race, adding that he’s quite sure Apollos feels the same way about it. Frankly, they don’t have the proper credentials to judge anybody. If anyone is going to do some judging it’s the one who knows the heart, Christ. Beyond all that, Paul isn’t just saying these things because their attitude has gotten under his skin. As a loving father wants to help his children grow up. He wants them to move on in their spiritual walk. Their current attitude is childish and unproductive. In spite of the fact that they have everything needed to mature in their faith they’re stuck at a nursery-level spiritual life. When he comes in person Paul, their spiritual father, intends to help them move on up. His arrival won’t bring another round of debates. Rather, it’ll be marked by his spiritual power and authority in Christ. I know there’s more going on here than this, but I find in this passage a caution against personality driven religion. No doubt, there are some church leaders who encourage a cult-like following, but most aren’t trying to build an earthly kingdom. Like Paul and Apollos, they want to make Christ-like, Christ-following disciples. I find it interesting that before there was radio and television and book writing preachers church folks were already tempted to focus more on the preacher than on Jesus. Paul says, “Don’t do it!”
Take Away: The preacher can’t save you – keep your focus on the One who can.