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Read Hebrews 6

Key Verse: Hebrews 6:1,2 “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement.” (NIV)

Notice what the author calls “elementary teachings”: repentance, faith in God, baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection, and eternal judgment. These are the foundational doctrines and are to be learned early. But, for those who are “going on to maturity”, there is a need to understand the reasons behind these “elementary teachings about Christ”. Remember, the author has addressed this book to “Hebrew” believers — these are people who have a rich heritage and tradition in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. The author is describing in colourful and rich word pictures the world of “the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf” (v.19-20a, NIV).

So, speaking to Hebrews, the author goes back to the very beginning of Hebrew history. He talks about the promise God made to Abraham: “When God made His promise to Abraham since there was no one greater for Him to swear by, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants” (vv.13-14, NIV). He refers to the promise and the oath as “two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie…” (v.18, NIV) In a culture where a promise (or contract) was sealed by swearing in the name of someone greater than oneself (a king or patriarch etc.), these words had special impact. First of all, God’s promise is enough — there’s no need for an oath. But God, for good measure, seals His promise by swearing by Himself — His own holy name is written on the promise God will not fail. that’s why the Hebrew believers “”have fled to take hold of the hope…as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (vv.18b, 19 NIV).

That hope “enters the inner sanctuary”; that is, it is more than just wishful thinking. Rather, it’s a hope that is somehow personified in Jesus who has already gone before us and has “entered on our behalf”. The Son is our Hope, and He is also our Priest.

Read Hebrews 5

Key Verse: Hebrews 5:14 “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (NIV).

What is this “solid food” the author speaks of? In the context it’s verses 7-10: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He as heard because of his reverent submission. Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek” (NIV). To help us understand these words, we need to remember something we’ve already read: “For this reason He had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:17, NIV).

This “perfecting” of Jesus (who as Son of God was already perfect) refers to His coming to terms with His human nature and with His priestly role. Like any other human, He had to “offer up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears.” Like any other human, He had to know the fear of dying and seek that God would “save Him from death”. Like any other human He had to come to grips with “submission” to the Father’s will — He had to “learn obedience”. He had to “suffer”.

Why? Because God the Father was preparing a “lamb” — a Lamb who, at the same time, would be Priest. He would be a perfect salvation. In that sense, His ongoing atonement would provide an eternal priestly function. The High Priest of Old Testament days would slay the perfect lamb for the sins of the people. But here we have a Priest of different order — a Priest who, in effect, would shed His own blood in space and time, yet live forever in eternity, mediating between God and man in Heaven. God was preparing a Priest “in the order of Melchizedek”.

Read Hebrews 4

Key Verse: Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (NIV).

Why do so many people have strong opinions about “the Word of God?” Is it because they’re not sure they can trust a book that has undergone several translation in history? Is it because they’re not sure they can trust those who have interpreted that word (a good old-fashioned distrust of preachers)? Or is it simply that they cannot believe that God (if He exists) has the interest or capability to communicate His will to this little terrestrial speck of dust on the outer fringes of the Milky Way?

Maybe it’s none of the above. Maybe it’s because the Bible has a way of getting under one’s skin–it makes the realities of Heaven and Hell, Body and Soul, God and Man, all too crystal clear. It has a way of making us feel morally naked. As much as it has a capacity to bless us, it has equal capacity to damn us. It forces us to confront our selfishness. It demands decisions.

What makes the Bible so powerful? The answer is given in the context–look at verse 13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (NIV). This verse speaks of God’s “omniscience”, His “all-knowingness”.

Because He is omniscient, God sees everything. Everything. Not just in our present, but in our past and future as well. Notice the possessive pronoun “our”–I didn’t say “His”. For God there is no past and no future. As I said in my book, “Theology for Non-Theologians”, God lives in the eternal now.” There are no secrets from Him and no surprises for Him. In His presence no lie can stand.

There’s something powerfully implicit in the word of God–there’s coming a day when we will all stand before God and give account. We’ll be spiritually naked. Only those covered with the blood of the Lamb of God will survive. That’s what the Bible says. And that’s why it polarizes people to this day.

Read Hebrews 3

Key Verse: Hebrews 3:3 “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honour than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honour than the house itself” (NIV).

As was stated in the introduction, this book was written to inform and/or remind Hebrew believers in Christ that Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary was superior to any previous sin offering. In chapter three, the author refers to creation as God’s “house” (vv.2-6) and he discusses the role Moses, Jesus, and the believer all play in that structure. Jesus built the house; Moses wrote the house rules; and you and I not only live there–for us it’s home–but we, the church, are at the same time the house itself. This is not to say that we are the sum total of all creation, but we are the crowning achievement of God’s creative act. We’re the only ones who are created “in His image.”

But the point is this: even though Moses gave us the “law”, his word is of lesser value than the word of the Builder Himself. In terms of what the author has just said in chapter two, the Builder has also become an occupant of the house and is just like the other occupant. He speaks to them on their level and in terms they can understand. He has come with new plans for a new structure and wants to lead all inhabitants into a new creation where the old house rules no longer apple. He wants to lead us out the door (where, ironically, He Himself is the Door) to our eternal dwelling place, our new Home. Anyone who insists on the old way will never discover the New Way.

Read Hebrews 2

Key Verse: Hebrews 2:17 “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

The key to understanding verses 5 through 18 of chapter 2 is verse 14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil…” (NIV).

Here’s the reasoning: In order for God to deal once and for all with man’s sin, he had to become one of us. Why? Because men are subject to death, and the one who holds the power of death is Satan. To deal effectively with Satan on his level, God “levelled Himself”, as if were–He fought the devil on a level playing field. To do this, he had to reduce himself to our size where He would be vulnerable to Satan’s bullying. He sent His Son to become flesh and dwell among us, as one of us, in order to “taste death for everyone” (v.9). And this death that Jesus suffered “perfected” Him (v.10) in terms of it being the ultimate statement of his genuine humanity–humans die, Jesus died–the incarnation was real. This also means His atonement (His death on Calvary) was/is also real. He makes us holy through His shed blood, because it satisfies God’s wrath toward sin and because we and Jesus “are of the same family” (v. 11a NIV)–the human family–as opposed to the angelic family (v.9).

Even though Jesus is our Saviour (v.10), He is also our brother (v.11). What’s more, He’s proud of it (v.11b). He knows what it’s like to be human and is “able to help those who are being tempted” (v.18 NIV). That’s why He’s the perfect mediator–He’s both God and man. He’s a perfect Priest, and a perfect Saviour.

Read Hebrews 1

Key Verse: Hebrews 1:2-4 “[God] has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He mad the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and of HIs power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”

Instead of adding much comment to the above key verse(s), allow me to add two other passages from Hebrews:

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the thrown of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:14-16).

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1,2).

In my opinion, these three passages effectively summarize the essential message of the book of Hebrews. Spend time in this book. It’s full of solid meat–it’s make you strong.

As you do, don’t forget that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those diligently seek Him” (11:6).



Read Philemon

Key Verse: Philemon 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”

It is obvious, as Paul writes to his old friend Philemon, that he had a great deal of respect and love for the man. Philemon must have been a special sort of person, a “kindred spirit” with whom Paul felt entirely comfortable. He talks with Philemon as old friends talk: kindly but to the point.

Before he gets to the point, however, Paul prays for Philemon; that prayer is the key verse. What is of great interest in the prayer is the linkage between “sharing your faith”, and having “a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” It seems that personal evangelism is more than an end in itself — it is also a learning experience for the evangelist.

Perhaps one of the greatest plus factors in personal evangelism is the fielding of questions. Your friend, workmate or relative will throw all kinds of queries in your direction. Some of them will be smoke screens, others will be sincerely asked, but regardless of the motivation, you’ve got to come up with the answers. Often that will mean saying, “I don’t have the answer, but I’ll find out.” So you’re forced to your Bible, to the library, to your pastor and to whatever else may be available in terms of resources. You learn; and learn some more.

I’ve often said to people, as I reflect on over twenty years pastoring, that the person who learned the most from my preaching was me. Every time I prepare to preach, I learn. As I preach I learn, and as I write this commentary, I learn. The key is to do more than study. Study, of course, is vital, but more vital still is to communicate what you’ve learned. Once you’ve don’t that, you’ve really learned.

Read Titus 3

Key Verse: Titus 3:14 “And let our people also learn to maintain good works to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.”

The verb “learn” caught my attention as I read the key verse. The Greek word in the text is “manthano”, which in this application means “to learn by use and practice, to acquire the habit of, to be accustomed to.” What is it Paul wants “our people” to learn? He wants them to learn to “maintain good works”. Every activity undertaken for Christ’s sake is to be maintained, but this consistency of  action is something that doesn’t just happen. It has to be learned; it must become a habit.

How is this to be learned? By “use and practice”; that is, it’s learned by doing. So much in life is learned this way. There is no question that a lot of “trial and error”, wastage of time and energy, can be avoided by training and education. Once the theoretical is past, however the practical becomes the challenge. All of us know a teacher, pastor, or doctor who got straight “A’s” in school but can’t practise effectively. The “doing” is where the rubber meets the road.

So we learn by doing. We don’t voluntarily disqualify ourselves with reasonable excuses — we simply do what needs to be done. If someone has a need, we meet it. If someone needs help, we do our best to assist. We become “doers of the Word, not hearers only” (Jas.1:22).

I like Paul’s practical bent here. He says we’re to “do good” in terms of providing the “daily necessities” (NIV) of those whose need crosses our path, and we are to see this good work as an outworking of our Christian productivity. We are to bear fruit.

Read Titus 2

Key Verse: Titus 2:13 “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ…”

The key verse appears in the context of a paragraph which says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good” (vv.11-14 NIV)

There are several key words in the paragraph: words like “grace…salvation…hope…redeem…purify…good.” The word “grace” tells us that God has done something for man which is completely unwarranted — He has offered us “salvation” in Christ. This offer first “appeared to all men” when an angelic announcement was sung over the shepherd’s fields outside of Bethlehem. It “appeared” again on a wooden cross at Golgotha, and again in a rich man’s empty tomb and again on the Mount of olives as the risen Christ ascended before many witnesses to the Father. The whole purpose of this “appearing” was to “redeem” man from sin. Christ came to “buy back” mankind from the “wages of sin” — certain death gave way to certain life for all who put their trust in Him.

Redemption meant the “purifying” of “a people” for Christ’s “very own”, a people “eager to do what is good”.

The “hope”, which Paul calls “blessed and glorious” is that there will be one more “appearance”: the return of Christ to receive His own and to establish His throne forever. This return is the great hope of the Church, the “Parousia” that has always been the bottom-line motivation for historic Christianity.

Read Titus 1

Key Verse: 1 Titus 1:16 “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.”

As pointed out in the introduction, the Pastoral Epistles were concerned about establishing and defending a sound Christian orthodoxy in the developing churches of Asia Minor. Even as Christianity spread, heresies (or false teachings) were spreading, just like weeds encroaching on freshly ploughed and planted garden. In this chapter, Paul encourages Titus to “silence” the false teachers (v.11).

A significant factor in the false teaching encroaching upon the Cretan church was the division of creation into spirit and matter — with spirit seen as pure, and matter seen as evil. To these teachers, anything material was evil. Thus they had a low view of creation, everything material being corrupt — that’s why Paul refers to them as “those who [themselves] are corrupted” and to whom “nothing is pure” (v.15b). But Paul sets the record straight: “to the pure, all things are pure”(v.15a); that is, purity is a function of mind and conscience. Material things are morally neutral. In other words, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a match — it’s what you do with it. You can start a fire in your fireplace and enjoy its soothing heat, or you can torch an apartment building and destroy human lives. Darkness is the domain of the soul.

This is why Paul says that verbal Christianity is essentially hollow. It’s what you do that tells the story of faith or unfaith (v.16). God doesn’t need our “vote” (He can, after all, make the t Rees and rocks cry out His praise). What He does honour is our obedient action as we submit to the law of Christ’s love.

Read 1 Timothy 4

Key Verse: 1 Timothy 4:16 “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”

As stated in the introduction, these letters were written by Paul to Timothy when Timothy was less than twenty-five years old and pastoring the church in Ephesus. Being young in the ministry, then as now, could be a problem. There were lots of older “saints” in the congregation who thought they knew more than “the kid in the pulpit”. This is why Pauls says, “Don’t let anyone look down on your because you are young” (v.12 – NIV). Then he goes on to give this young pastor some good fatherly advice.

It’s a pretty tall order. Paul tells Timothy to “set an example” in what he says – in lifestyle, in seeking the best for others, in faith, and in morality (v.12b). Self-discipline, consistency and faithfulness are to characterize this youthful religious leader. He’s to be someone no one can fault and everyone can emulate. The question is, how?

Perhaps the answer is singleness of purpose. Timothy is instructed to focus on his gift (v.14) and expend his energies on “public reading of Scripture”, and “preaching and teaching” (v.13). He is to give himself “wholly to them” (v.15) in a visible and accountable way. That way he’ll stay on track.

Singleness of purpose, follow-through, and accountability – these are the key ingredients, for both young and old, to make one’s life count for God. It’s the old story of practising what you preach.

Read 1 Timothy 3

Key Verse: 1 Timothy 3:16 “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.”

What Paul is about to say is “without controversy” or “beyond all question” (NIV). He is about to quote part of what the majority of Bible commentators see as an early Christian hymn or liturgical creed. We don’t know the full text of the hymn, so we cannot speculate at context. What we do know is that these six statements, precisely and poetically written as they are, present solid, orthodox theology.

(1) “God was manifested in the flesh”. Foundational to Christian theology is the incarnation: God in the flesh, in human nature ,  in human form. Jesus Christ was born in the flesh and resurrected in the flesh, fully God and fully man.

(2) “justified [‘vindicated’, NIV] in the Spirit” — Jesus was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness to be tested, and He triumphed over Satan “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk.4:1-4). Then, in Paul’s words, Jesus, “through the Spirit of holiness was declared with Power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead…” (Rom.1:4 NIV). The  Holy Spirit fully established Jesus’ credentials as Son of God and Son of Man.

(3) “seen by angels”. Not only did angels witness Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, but they also witnessed His exaltation (Phil.2:9-10). Even the evil powers of darkness bore witness to this (Col.2:15). He ascended into Heaven and there was revealed in Him full splendour, superior to the angelic host, “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb.1-5:10).

(4) “preached among the Gentiles”. Jesus was Jewish; so were the apostles. He fulfilled Jewish Law and the apostles wrote a Gospel founded on “the Law and the Prophets”. Paul was the first full-time missionary to the Gentiles, and so effective was his, and subsequent, missionary efforts that Jesus became,

(5) “believed on in the world” — so much so that Gentile believers far outweigh Jewish believers numerically. In every sense of the word, the central message of Judaism — “Messiah” — has become a “light” to the nations.

(6) “received up in glory”. It’s only speculation to presume to know why reference to Christ’s ascension is made at this point, apparently out of chronological order. However, my instinct is this: one of the most glorious themes of Christianity, both then and now, is that of the Lamb of God triumphantly and majestically taking His place at the right hand of God the Father. Ultimately, our theology bows its knee to the heavenly mystery–the ultimate reality: Christ the king, forever, world without end.