Time-Sensitive Material - Hebrews 5:11–14
March 7, 2021 Preacher: Series: Hebrews
Scripture: Hebrews 5:11–14
If you were going to teach someone to read or write, where would you start? The ABCs. I’m sure you could say them right now, probably to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Our abilities to read and write began with those 26 letters.
In a similar way, there is something that is a starting point for the Christian life. You can think for a moment of what that might be. It is faith -- true belief and trust in God and in the work of Christ. Faith sounds simple.
The word gets thrown around a good bit. You might shrug at it. Yet faith is fascinating, not unlike the ABCs, which consists of only 26 letters, but look at all that we do with them. Faith is like that: very simple, but it’s amazing what can come from true, simple faith.
In this passage from Hebrews 5, the writer tells his listeners that they need to be taught once again about that which is most basic to knowing God. That had drifted from what is foundational. Like an athlete who has lost the fundamentals of technique necessary to perform a sport, they have lost the fundamentals of the Christian life. Even the most successful professional athlete never abandons the fundamentals; they are always evident even as he or she builds upon them and improves. The fundamentals are always there, laying the foundation.
For the Christians, Christ is that foundation and we lay hold of Christ by faith. Embedded in these verses of Hebrews 5 are three phrases indicating that when it comes to the faith which is so basic to the Christian life, time is of the essence. The call to walk by faith is time-sensitive material, you must respond right away, because if we do not walk by faith, we naturally regress spiritually, and we move further from God.
You see, Christ suffered once for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God and keep us with God that we may live by faith in Him and His law. So your life’s ambition should be to live by faith, to trust God in every aspect of your life. There is no greater purpose in life. God says this of his people: “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Faith is essential. We need faith that the finished work of Jesus frees you from all guilt and shame, faith that the moral law of God is the only way to know satisfaction, wholeness, and harmony, faith that the commands of God are a blessed guide and protection for you, faith that the power of God is supreme and effective and the plans of God are good and invincible: this is what it means to live by faith.
And so we should evaluate ourselves. On page 5 of the worship guide are three questions to ask yourself, questions based on the observation and reprimand made by the writer of Hebrews to his listeners. 1. Have I become uninterested in living by faith? 2. Have I been developing as someone who lives by faith? and 3. What decisions do I face in which I must decide how to walk by faith and not by sight? This is time-sensitive material. We must act on it right away. So let’s examine our hearts now.
First of all, we should ask ourselves “Have I become uninterested in living by faith?” The end of last week’s sermon passage began to touch on the subject of Melchizedek, this mysterious man we see briefly in the book of Genesis. He is both a king and a priest with a special connection to Jesus Christ and our understanding of Jesus as our great high priest.
Notice again verse 11, About this we have much to say.” “This” is the Melchizedek/Jesus connection. “And it is hard to explain.” Why, because the listeners are not bright enough, not smart enough or educated enough? No, he says, “since you have become dull of hearing,” They have become lazy or sluggish to apprehend or perceive the explanation.
This does not mean they are going deaf. It is related to the heart and mind, to the core of a person, to the soul, to the seat of the mind, will, and emotions. In their souls they are now lazy toward God, lazy toward faith. They lack enthusiasm about the faith. They are occupied with other things; and so they are uninterested in the glorious knowledge of these great theological truths.
But apparently, they were not always this way. Notice the first of the three time-sensitive phrase I told you about. He says, “you have become” this way. Remember, these people were facing persecution for following Jesus. Many wanted to go back to Judaism, to turn away from the very Christ for whom the Jews watched and waited.
Suffering has real effects. Trials have real effects. One effect can to be diminish your interest in knowing God deeply. Think once again about the professional athlete. When he or she started, it wasn’t about money or fame or championship. When a child learns a sport, it is simply about playing the game, doing the most basic tasks to participate in competition. One common trait of the most successful athletes is that they are able to remain focused on the fundamentals of their sport. Of course, whether you play a sport or whatever you do, suffering can make it hard to keep that focus.
Has suffering made you bitter and tired, so that you have become uninterested in living by faith? Have you been looking not to God, that you may behold his glory and be satisfied in Him, but to worldly things to pacify you, to temporary relief, so that you’ve become dull of hearing God? Or perhaps it’s not necessarily suffering that has distracted you from the fundamentals of following Jesus.
It could be things that you hope will keep you from suffering: romantic love, possessions, health, safety, your children. Perhaps it is a grudge. Or are you escaping each today to the distractions of the present age? Every day matters, because each day our hearts can become more dull of hearing.
Questions 2, ask yourself, “Have I been developing as someone who lives by faith?” Notice the second time-sensitive phrase, verse 12, “by this time you ought to be teachers.” Much time had passed since these folks came to faith in Christ.
The meaning here is that they should have now been equipped to instruct others in the faith. Teaching each other, speaking truth to one another and encouraging each other, is critical to the body of Christ. This is one reason why Christ established the church.
Sadly, it seems that this wasn’t going on. This is probably why he said early, in chapter 3, “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” But rather than teaching each other, as they should be by now, he says, “you need someone to teach you again the basic principles,” literally, the “first letters,” as of the alphabet.
They need to learn again the foundational elements of knowing God, the ABCs “of the oracles of God,” that is, of the Word of God, the revelation of God. They needed to be taught once again that the righteous live by faith alone, not just in receiving Christ as Savior but in all aspects of life. He says, “You need milk, not solid food.”
A baby needs the basic nourishment that milk provides. A baby, of course, cannot eat solid food at first; they can handle milk and then work their way up to solid foods. He says, verse 13, “for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.”
Now, of course, the believer lives on the gospel, so to speak. The gospel is the fundamental truth that we never get away from, like the athlete must never abandon the basic fundamentals of the sport. We never graduate from the Christ-glorifying gospel. But theologically, in our understanding of who the triune God is and who we are, we should advance or move forward in living by faith, propelled always by the gospel of grace.
“Unskilled” in verse 13 could also be translated “inexperienced.” And “word of righteousness” means “how a person is made righteous and how a person can know what is right.” The gospel teaches us that being righteous and choosing right in God’s eyes can only come through the grace of God. These listeners did not demonstrate a grasp of the faith that is so essential to following Jesus. True maturity springs from simple faith in Christ, and like a plant in good soil, it is nourished by that same faith in His righteousness.
If we move on from His righteousness, such that we lose sight of what is foundational, we are bound for self-righteousness every time. This is why later, in chapter 12, the writer tells them they must, “fix their eyes on Jesus” as they run the course of life.
Have you been developing as someone who lives by faith? As someone who is experienced in living by faith? Do you go continually to Jesus to reset you, to correct you, to fill your empty soul? Or are you working hard to be a good employee or a good boss, a good investor, a good home-owner, a good spouse or parent, a good citizen, even a good Christian, without returning continually to the person of Jesus Christ, to Him who is the founder and perfecter of your faith, to Him who is the bedrock, the life-blood of your relationship with God?
This flows right into the final question, “In what decisions must I decide how to walk by faith and not by sight?”Our choices matter. Look at verse  “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice.” That is the third and final time-sensitive phrase. To become discerning, literally the Greek here says, “those who have their “faculties trained” or “senses trained.”
How? By constant practice. By continual decisions. Every day, throughout the day. To discern or make judgments, but what about? “to distinguish good from evil.” You must understand though, what is in view here is more than just morality. More than simply ethics. And I say this in light of what the apostle Paul writes in Romans 14. He says these stunning words: “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” He doesn’t say “Whatever does not proceed from right” but “from faith.”
I want you to think about beans. Most people eat some kind of beans. And someone grows and harvests the beans, someone hauls the beans to a plant, someone counts the beans, someone cans them, someone advertises them , someone sells them, someone delivers them, someone cooks them, someone serves them, someone eats them. At each step, what is done can be done by faith or by sight. Again Paul said, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
Do you do your daily activities by faith or by sight? Let me rephrase this: 1 Corinthians 10 says,“whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Or Colossians 3, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” How do honor God, how do you live by faith, in whatever you do?
You may say, “Stacey, what do you mean?” Well, in whom are you trusting more: you or God?” God? Ok, how so? At your company, for instance, they might say, “In our business, we cut some corners. We tell some white lies. We bend the truth if we need to. Everyone does it.” Everyone, huh? Not those who are trying to walk by faith and not by sight. By sight you better tell the customer or the investors or your bosses whatever they need to hear, even if it’s not entirely true. But by faith, you do what right, and you can do with integrity, but you can walk by faith in God’s law and his commands, come what may.
By sight, you don’t have for private worship, or for family worship, and by sight, there’s too much on the line to talk about Jesus Christ with someone. But by faith, there is time and opportunity for all that God commands. College students, by sight, you can’t afford to rest and worship until this evening. You need to study all day, work all day. But by faith, it can wait and be done at a later time.
Parents, by sight, you better shelter your children, don’t let them play with any non-believing kids. They might get corrupted. But by faith, you can supervise them and protect them and teach them while creating ways for them to shine the light of Christ just as you must. By faith, you can help them to have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice.
You see, the Melchizedek explanation, for these Hebrews listeners, and other more complex doctrines, are for the mature, literally, the complete or perfect, but not the sinless. This complex doctrines are for those whose spiritual faculties have developed such that they make their decisions by faith and they can tell the difference between “by faith” and “by sight” because really, judging good and evil and then acting accordingly is, at the heart of it. For Adam and Eve in the garden, that first sin was a matter of good or evil, but at the core, it was a matter of faith vs. sight, trusting in God or trusting in self.
Here in Hebrews, the writer is not reprimanding the listeners for not professing Jesus. At the beginning of chapter 3, he calls them “holy brothers.” As I said, these people were being persecuted. They were tempted to abandon Christ. But you see, they didn’t need merely to profess their faith; they needed to demonstrate it. To exercise it. To live in light of it, to live in light of the gospel.
The gospel must come to bear in all of life. Do everything by faith. Raise your kids by faith. Work on your marriage by faith. Do your taxes and manage your finances by faith. Run your business by faith. Plan for your future by faith. Choose your entertainment by faith. Care for your mind and body by faith. Get out and live life in 2021 by faith. Join a Life Group by faith. Become a member of GS by faith. Start a conversation about Christ with a neighbor or invite someone to church by faith. Forgive someone who hurt you by faith. Reconcile with someone by faith. Confide in someone about the sin in your life by faith. Or, deal with these things by sight. It’s your choice.
As we ask these questions, Psalm 130 comes to mind: “If you, O LORD, should mark sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Look back at these questions I gave you. Who is the only One who went through his entire life interested in completely living by faith? Who is the only One who developed as someone who lives by faith, growing from a child and carrying out the plan of God for his life? And who is the only One who with each decision, even the decision to go the cross, decided to walk by faith and not by sight?
It is Him whom we worship, the Good Shepherd of our souls, the Lord Jesus Christ, Him in whom forgiveness is found. Have you begun this walk of faith with Him? Have you strayed, and need to return? Confess your sin to him, and cry out to him for help today.
Let’s pray together.