28. Slow Learners?

Meditations in Hebrews 5:     28.  Slow Learners?

Heb 5:11,12   We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 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.

Teachers in my life: Our writer is a theologian of sorts, at least a man of understanding but he is also pastoral and as such is aware of the people who might end up reading this letter. I, as an aging Christian writer in the UK, am aware that I have lived through a period, during which in the earlier part at least, there was a proliferation of excellent Christian teachers. I have no trouble remembering the ministries of a large number of men, Spirit-filled leaders who had insights, who took us into the truths of the body of Christ back in the 1970’s before the concept was truly understood. Similarly, through a period during which understanding and experience of the gifts of the Spirit expanded from merely the Pentecostals. Then came teaching on discipleship which, as so often happens initially, went over the top. And there, scattered along the way were a variety of incredibly godly and gifted men (and one or two similar women) who brought a depth and breadth to our teaching which is rare today. Several years ago, one of my grown up Christian sons said to me, “You know Dad, the trouble with my generation is that we are just not so well taught as your generation was.” I found that an amazing insight at the time but as I have reflected on it, it worries me that he was right.

A Challenge to his Readers: The writer to the Hebrews was speaking about Jesus’ high priestly ministry and adds, We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain,” (v.11a) and I have commented earlier in this series that, certainly by today’s standards, some of his rabbinic teaching has already seemed quite complex and difficult. But he isn’t taking captives, he is quite in your face about it: “because you are slow to learn.”  Whoops! That’s unkind. But he wouldn’t say it unless he knew something about his readers.

So what does he mean, what does he really think about them? “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. You need milk, not solid food!” (v.12) These people that he has in mind are clearly not new converts as indicated by his words, “by this time”. In what follows there is an assumption that many in today’s church might struggle with – that the Christian life is all about change, about growing up and about coming to maturity so we no longer sit there like sponges taking in, but are out there serving God, blessing others. “You ought to be teachers.” Do you prefer just sitting in the pews to that thought because if we are to mature it means a) we have learnt and b) we are available.

My Testimony: Within the first year of coming to Christ in my early twenties I was leading seven different Bible studies a week. It was the natural thing to do and there were other young people who were hungry for God’s word. I learned as I went along. Yet I am aware of how limited I was. I became a church leader and a number of years later found myself in a position where I was invited to teach in a church in Malaysia for three weeks on “The New Covenant.” I am not quite sure what I taught and how I got away with it but they seemed blessed. I suspect I am much more well equipped today to teach on such things. Yes, it can be a nervy thing to step out but that’s how we learn – by doing it.

The Challenge again: He presses it in: “you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” Now he is going to list some of those things he thinks are ‘elementary truths’ when we get to chapter 6 so it will be interesting to see what we feel about those things because, remember, he is saying we ought to be past those things. Then he says something interesting: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.”  (v.13) That is fascinating! Do you see what he is saying? All of that other stuff we’ll see in chapter 6 is ‘the basics’ and we should NOT keep on going over and over those things but move on and teach and learn how to live rightly (righteousness)  i.e. how to live in this world as one of God’s children and how to serve in the kingdom of God, ‘doing the stuff’ as John Wimber used to say.

And in case we didn’t take it in he goes on, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (v.14). Solid food is a wider understanding of Scripture, knowing how it applies to everyday life so that it produces lives of righteousness, lives that live to the glory of God, revealing the goodness and compassion and love of Christ, lives that are holy, utterly different from those living in the way of the unbelieving and ungodly world.

The Challenge to us today: In the so-called Great Commission, Jesus taught his followers to go out and make disciples, followers in the mold of Jesus, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:20) and ‘obey’ is the same as “do”, so why don’t we do a few little checks before we finish. As we said before, this is to be a ‘doing’ faith.

Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35) Jesus showed love by being with his disciples, accepting them and blessing them, guiding them and teaching them and pushing them out to do the same things he did. Is this what our church community is like? Do we major on relationships and how they can build a strong, secure, genuinely loving ‘body of Christ’ that risks ministering in word and power as Jesus did?

Jesus said, “seek first the kingdom of God,” and “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (Matt 6:33 & Jn 15:4) and so we might ask, do we put God’s will first and do we seek to draw near to Jesus and know him in all we do in his name? This has very practical outworkings. For instance, many churches have prayer meetings, so suppose yours does, what is it like? Have you learnt (been taught) to listen to God, to be sensitive to His Holy Spirit, to hear His heart so that prayers flow out of that and come with a confidence that is born in heaven?

We could go on with many similar examples. These two speak of a community of God’s people who have learned what a Jesus community means and have learned to be a people who know and respond to Him and are thus able to be used by Him. Consider our weekly preaching and teaching. Yes, we need basic Bible exposition but if that is all we have, we produce a bunch of nice and good people (which is not to be despised) but who are just that and nothing more. Is our preaching the same stuff over and over again, or do we seek maturity in the people of God, a people who both ‘know’ and ‘do’?

26. Wholesome Thinking

Meditations in 2 Peter : 26 :  Wholesome Thinking 

2 Pet  3:1,2    Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.  

In the previous meditation we reflected on the fact that this was Peter’s second reminder letter. Now we need to think some more on why he wrote it. This has come through clearly a number of times, especially in the early part of it, but the fact that he repeats it means he wants us to think about it even more. He didn’t write just because he thought it was a good idea; he wrote because he was aware that his time was limited and he had a burden to ensure that he had done everything possible to ensure that he left the early church with good foundations that would stand in the face of the various forms of opposition that was coming from the enemy. It was a time of great battle for the truth. Satan had failed in his attempts to halt or distract Jesus and the Great Work had been accomplished; there was no taking that back.  But he could try to lead the church astray so that they forgot the basic truths of what had happened and what it meant, and distort the way they saw it,  so they lived lives of struggle just like the rest of the world. Peter is going to do all he can to counter these things.

And so he says now that he has written both these letters first as reminder, and then as prompts to help us to have wholesome thinking. We’ve covered in an earlier meditation our need to be regularly reminded but now he says he wants to stimulate or prompt or stir us to have wholesome thinking. Whatever ‘wholesome thinking’ is, it doesn’t come automatically; we need to be stirred up to reach it. But isn’t this true of all learning – and the Christian faith, as we’ve noted previously, is one big learning curve – that we need stimulating to think. That’s what good teachers are doing constantly, trying to get their students to think for themselves – to think, to reason and to work things out. One of the enemy’s strategies is to get us to focus on the problems and stresses of life from a purely human and godless viewpoint.

So Peter says, I want to stir you to ‘wholesome thinking’. Now those two words are, of course, the words of translators trying to record best what the original meant. The Message version ducks the issue with, “to hold your minds in a state of undistracted attention,” which would suggest that distractions prevent wholesome thinking. J.B.Phillips did, we believe, a slightly better job with “minds uncontaminated by error”.  The NKJV simple speaks of “I stir up your pure minds”.

So ‘wholesome’ thinking is good thinking, healthy thinking, sound thinking, complete or full thinking. But then, thankfully, Peter gives us some help: I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.”   In other words, the sort of thinking that he has in mind is that which focuses on the very basics or foundational truths that he has already in this letter referred to – the revelation of Jesus Christ brought throughout the Old Testament by God’s prophets, spurred on by Him, the revelation of what had happened and who Jesus was, seen in the fulfilment of those prophecies, and attested to by the many witnesses who saw and heard Jesus and so who were also able to pass on his words.

It is the same flow, the same unity, that we have observed previously  but being reiterated by Peter to ensure we take it in – God’s will declared by His prophets, God’s will fulfilled through His Son, God’s will attested to by the apostles and God’s will now passed down to us through His written word.

When we focus on and hold on to, and meditate on these truths and live them out in daily practice, then we may be described as having a ‘wholesome mind’. It is a mind that holds the truths conveyed by God, and it is a mind committed to those truths. It is also a mind that is sufficiently clear about those truths and understands the importance of those truths, that it will also be committed to passing them on to the next generation.

We may also add this sort of mind filters everything in the world through the truth thus received that we have been describing. When we hold the Bible up and let it shine on modern life, it will reveal the failures and foolishness of much modern life. It will also show us the way ahead, the way to live out our lives in accord with God’s design. When we allow it to do that, it will transform us and the world around us as we act as salt and light. THAT is why Peter keeps on repeating these same things in different ways; it is because he knows the potential of the truth to change the world, as long as we hang on to it and live it out! May it be so!

62. He Cares

Meditations in 1 Peter : 62: He cares for you

1 Pet 5:7-9 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

We live in a worrying world. It seems to be endemic to this part of history and easy communications and the media may have much to do with it. Two hundred years ago you would not have heard what was happening a hundred miles away, let alone on the other side of the world. By the time news arrived it was usually months old and you couldn’t do anything about it and, anyway, you were still there so whatever it was couldn’t have been that important!  I have recently been reading the biography of a famous reporter who lived through the years of the Cold War. We tend to forget the worries about ‘the Bomb’ or Cuba or the Russians that abounded then. Today the news often covers the deaths in Afghanistan and there are many worried parents and loved ones back here who wonder whether the one they know will be one of the victims of a sniper’s bullet or a roadside bomb.  Writing in the years following financial meltdowns in the City of London and in America, the threat of loss of pensions and loss of jobs is a very real anxiety for many. No, we live in an age of anxiety!

Now our verse above is one of those that can be taken right out of context and it still holds true, but actually when you look at the verse before and verse after, you see there is a linkage between them: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” At the beginning is the (possible) anxiety of holding a right balance in your attitude and outlook before God, and in the latter one we’ll come to in a subsequent meditation, there is the concern of having to cope with attacks from the enemy, which are very real. Those two concerns – rightly relating to God and combating the enemy’s tactics – are real concerns in whatever age. Today we may have more concerns and worries (certainly different sorts of worries, real or imaginary) than two hundred years ago, but in whatever age we live, these two things are genuine concerns to be worked through.

Now there are two parts in the verse to be noted. To start with, “Cast all your anxiety on him.” Even within that there are three things to note. First, this general picture of casting something on someone else. Today, bluntly speaking, we might say, “Dump it all on Jesus.” However we see it, it is an action that we have to carry out, something to be done as an act of will. The apostle Paul said it in a slightly different way: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6), i.e. get rid of your anxieties by giving them to Jesus – pray! It is an action, something you have to do.

So to the second thing: actually Peter doesn’t say “anxieties”, he says “anxiety” and that is slightly different. Anxieties are the individual worries – and yes we are to give them to Jesus – but “anxiety” is an attitude or way of thinking, a more general thing. Some of us take worrying to an art form!  We have a general approach to life where anxiety is constantly there in the background. We are unsure of ourselves and we are unsure of God and so we worry. It isn’t over anything specific; it is a general thing.

So, says Peter, put this attitude to rest by taking it all and putting it on Jesus or seeing it all in the light of all you know about Jesus. This is the third thing which will lead us on in a moment to the second part of the verse.  Focus on Jesus and realise that you don’t have to worry about what the Lord thinks or feels about you and your life. Hold to the truth:

  • Jesus died for you (Jn 3:16) and
  • so now you are a child of God (1 Jn 3:1), and
  • Jesus intercedes for you when you get it wrong (1 Jn 2:1) and
  • he is with you and will never leave you (Heb 13:5) and
  • Jesus always remains the same (Heb 13:8) and
  • will provide all you need (Phil 4:19).

Let these truths about Jesus melt away your general anxiety, your worry about not being loved or cared for. Rely on the truth and not your feelings. Bring your feelings in line with these truths, but daily declare these truths as an act of faith.

This takes us on to the second part of the verse: “because he cares for you.” Now that is so obvious that it shouldn’t need commenting upon – but it does! Now if we accept that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) – and the whole series of references we quoted just now suggest that is true, then everything we know about love suggests that it also involves ‘care’. In an earlier meditation I defined love as warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for others or, as the Bible portrays it, selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others. Now if that is so, and I believe it is, then that good-will towards others will involve caring for them, looking for their well-being – and God cares for us because He loves us.

Briefly what does it mean to be cared for? It means, first of all, feelings of concern and desire for your well-being. First of all, God feels for you. Second, it means He takes action to secure your well-being. If you are a mother and care for your child, or you are an adult child who cares for your aging parent, you will do things as the expression of your caring for the one who is reliant upon you, to secure their well-being. THIS is why you do not need to be anxious; because God is there, looking after you and working to secure your well-being. Declare it and thank Him for it!  Hallelujah!