SERMON: “Press On To Maturity!” 「成熟を目ざして進みましょう」
TEXT: Heb. 5:11-6:8
What sort of letter is Hebrews? The author himself at the very end of his letter calls it a “word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22). All of the doctrinal teaching contained in this letter has a very practical purpose; that is, to help believers grow to maturity in their faith and obedience to God. Have you ever experienced a time when you were not spiritually growing very much? Maybe when you first became a Christian, you grew rapidly and everything seemed new and exciting in your life with Christ. But after a while, your enthusiasm cooled a little. Most Christians have experienced times of slow spiritual growth or maybe even no growth for a while. Maybe you are in such a time right now. If so, this passage in Hebrews may help you. Just as babies need to eat nourishing food to grow, so do “newborn” Christians need to receive proper spiritual food in order to grow and thrive. What sort of “spiritual food” do Christians need? Peter says in his first letter, 2:2, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Just as pure milk is the best food to nourish newborn babies, the pure “milk” of God’s word is the proper food for everyone who has been “born again” by the power of God’s Spirit and brought into the new life of Christian faith. If babies who do not receive enough milk, or do not have a good appetite for pure milk, but prefer something else—grape juice, for example—will not grow strong and healthy. Without the pure milk of God’s word, Christians cannot grow; and if we don’t grow, we will die.
But Hebrews tells us that God’s word—that is, the Bible—contains more than the “milk” that newborn babies need. It also contains the “solid food” that Christians need throughout their lives. “Therefore,” Hebrews urges in 6:1, “leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity . . .” A Christian will continue to grow to maturity as long as he receives the kind of spiritual “food” or instruction that he needs at each stage of life. This is the metaphor that Hebrews uses in our passage today. It encourages us to continue to seek the pure, nutritious, spiritual “food” of God’s word throughout life. We will never become so “wise” and “mature” that we no longer need to fill ourselves with the good things of God’s word. As we think about how we should “press on to maturity,” we must realize, first, what our goal is. That is, what is a “mature Christian”? And second, we should be aware of some of the obstacles to spiritual growth that we may encounter. Let’s think about these two matters as we look at our text today.
II. OUR GOAL OF CHRISTIAN MATURITY
First, we must understand what a mature Christian is. Look for a moment at Ephesians 4:12-13. Here the apostle Paul explains the goal of the pastor or “teaching elder” in Christ’s church: “. . . to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” The maturity God seeks for us is shown in the person of Jesus Christ. God wants you and me to become like Jesus! He wants us to think like Jesus thinks, to love like Jesus loves, to serve like Jesus serves. He wants us to have “the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5), who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:7), and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). That is what you and I will become, when we grow up into the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). We have not yet become such mature Christ-like Christians; but God has promised that we will be like Him. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters” (Rom. 8:29). This is God’s plan for every true believer. As we mature spiritually, each of us will become more and more like Jesus Christ. And it is not just as individuals that we will become like Christ. In Ephesians 4, we are told that as a church, we will grow to become more like Jesus Christ. The church is called “the body of Christ,” but actually most churches do not resemble Jesus very much. There is often disagreement, and sometimes jealousy or envy, pride, distrust, and bitterness that spoils Christian fellowship. This is what we must expect in a church that is spiritually immature. The members who are immature are easily misled by new doctrines and by unfaithful teachers, so an immature church lacks stability. But when a church becomes more spiritually mature—more like Christ–then we will see growth in stability, conviction regarding the truth, unity and love. Listen to the words of Ephesians 4:14-16 describing a spiritually mature church: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” This is a beautiful description of a mature church, filled with growing Christians. This is the kind of church that God has planned for us to become as we mature in our faith and love. But there are many obstacles that we must overcome, in order to reach that goal.
III. SOME SERIOUS OBSTACLES TO SPIRITUAL MATURITY
Hebrews mentions four things that may hinder the spiritual growth of Christians. First, the writer says in 5:11 that he has “much to say,” but “it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” When Christians become “dull of hearing” the word of God, they will not grow spiritually. The Greek word translated “dull” in this verse means “lazy” in Greek. The word of God is not always easy to understand. Therefore, we should read the Scriptures diligently, praying for the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit as we read. When we read the Bible we must remember that this is the inspired word of God, and not merely the opinions of men. It is the word of God that is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 3:15). But when Christians stop thinking carefully about what God tells us in his word, they become “dull of hearing. And if we become dull of hearing, we can no longer hear God speaking to us in his word. Jesus said that many of the people who came to hear him teach were like that. He said in Matthew 13:14-15, “In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’” So the first obstacle to spiritual growth is failing to give diligent attention to the word of God.
Secondly, Hebrews 5:12 says, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” The obstacle to spiritual growth shown in this verse is, I think, the failure to tell others about our faith. By this time you should be teaching others, but you are not doing that! In fact, you are forgetting the elementary truths of the gospel, simply because you are not sharing these with others. The word “teachers” does not refer in this case to “pastors and teachers,” as an official office in the church. It simply means the responsibility and the privilege given to every believer to be a faithful witness of the Lord Jesus to those around us. Men, women, and even children are called to tell others about the wonderful news of hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God that we have been given by Jesus Christ. When we share this good news with others, it becomes more firmly planted in our own hearts. As we try to explain these things to others, we begin to understand them more perfectly ourselves. If we never tell anyone about the wonderful truths of God’s word, we will remain spiritual “babies”; we will need to have these gospel truths explained to us again and again. Failing to share your faith will be an obstacle to your spiritual growth. But if we tell others about our faith, we will become more spiritually mature ourselves. As Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Of course, we must prepare our hearts beforehand, so that we will be ready to witness to others about our faith.
In Hebrews 5:13-14 we see a third obstacle to spiritual maturity. “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” In this case the obstacle to spiritual growth is lack of experience in applying the teaching of God’s word to one’s own life. Merely following man-made rules will not lead to spiritual maturity. An infant, of course, does not exercise any personal judgment in deciding how he should live! Young children are taught to obey their parents’ rules and instructions. But Christians must not remain spiritual infants, who must always depend on “rules” established for them by others. Christians must grow spiritually through their experience of applying God’s word to their lives. As Christians mature they become better “acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” The more we practice obedience to God’s word by applying it to our own situations, the wiser and more mature we become. We become able to digest the “solid food” of God’s word and to discern between what is right and what is wrong. It can be terribly difficult for Christian parents to relinquish “control” over their children, in order to let them begin to make their own decisions about applying God’s word in various situations. But in order for your children to grow to spiritual maturity, they must begin to apply the teaching of God’s word to their own lives. Christians grow spiritually through repeated practice of applying the “solid food” of God’s word, because by it they have “trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” If we are satisfied with merely following man-made rules, we will never become spiritually mature Christians.
Finally, a fourth obstacle to spiritual maturity is revealed in 6:1-2. “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” What is the obstacle to spiritual growth here? It is failing to build upon the foundation of solid, but “elementary teaching” of God’s word. These teachings are essential to Christian life and hope. That is why they are called a “foundation.” They include “repentance from dead works,” that is, works that cannot offer us any hope of eternal life; faith toward God, which is our only hope of eternal life; instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands—which concern one’s relationship to the Christian church and its offices; as well as “resurrection of the dead” and “eternal judgment.” These are certainly important doctrines taught by God’s word, but they constitute a “foundation” that does not need to be laid again. Christians must move beyond this solid foundation in order to become mature Christians. This does not mean that we abandon the foundation; rather we must build upon it. How should we build upon this foundation? Please turn to 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Paul says, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.” Paul does not suggest that we should lay another foundation. Each one should build on this one solid foundation of Christian doctrine. And each one should build according to his ability, using the gifts and the very best materials that he possesses. Some may build using gold and silver; others may use costly stones or wood; and others may only contribute hay or straw. Whatever you have received you should use to build upon the foundation of Christ.
But what are we building? In v. 16 Paul says that you yourselves are “God’s temple” in which God’s spirit dwells. The picture of building on the foundation of Christ certainly fits the metaphor of building up the Church of Christ that we see again in Ephesians 2:20-22 and in 1 Peter 2: 5. But the main point in Hebrews 6 is that we must use our energy, our gifts and our skills to build on the foundation. Like the apostle Paul, we too should be wise builders, following a plan, and leaving good work that others will continue to build upon after us. It is by building the church for the glory of God that we will grow to spiritual maturity. If we separate ourselves from Christ’s church, or if we keep trying to adjust the church’s basic doctrinal foundation, we will contribute nothing to the work of the church that Christ loves. But we are called to press on to maturity, using the best that God has given us to build up the church of Jesus Christ upon the foundation that he has laid for us.
In conclusion, let us remember the exhortation of Hebrews that we should not remain infants, but rather grow up to maturity by becoming more and more like Christ Jesus. We must do this by learning God’s word, drawing our nourishment and strength from our diligent study, faithful witness, and effective application of the Scriptures to our daily lives. And like Christ Himself, we must devote ourselves to building up the church—the body of Christ—on the one foundation that he has laid for us. If you remember and do these things, you will grow!