On Elementary Doctrines

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Hebrews 6:1-2)

Three pairs of foundational teachings are the Hebrews instructed to leave:

  1. Repentance of dead works and faith toward God;
  2. Instruction about washings and the laying on of hands;
  3. The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment;

Now, although it’s true that many Christians have not digested this milk yet and have no clue about these things and are not mature, yet this is not the writer’s point. We have to remember that the writer is talking to Hebrew Christians here. And so the question we should ask is how this relates to their immaturity specifically.

The writer is admonishing them not the lay again a foundation, by which he refers to the old Jewish practices rather than Christian doctrine. You have to ask yourself the question what is distinctively Christian about this list. Where is the mention of Jesus or salvation by grace alone? Can you believe or practice these things and not be a follower of Jesus Christ, believing Him to be the Messiah? No!

Let’s look at them again:

  1. Something has changed regarding the way of repentance and faith towards God. Our faith should now be in Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2). Repentance should now be based on conviction from the Holy Spirit, which is now available through the resurrection of Jesus, and sin should be put to death. “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10-11)
  2. The specific ancient Greek word translated baptisms is not the word regularly used in the New Testament to describe Christian baptism. It is the word used on two other specific occasions (Hebrews 9:10 and Mark 7:4) to refer to Jewish ceremonial washings. Yet these washings will not save you. Only Jesus’ blood will save you, and Christian baptism should only be seen as an outward sign in obedience to Jesus of an inward change which is a work done by the Holy Spirit. The laying on of hands is also a reference to these washings.
  3. The object of their hope has changed! No longer should they aim to please God through works, thereby escaping the final judgment and be resurrected from the dead. Now their hope should be in Jesus! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Now, these elementary principles to move beyond are all items in the “common ground” between Christianity and Judaism. This was a “safe” common ground these Jewish Christians retreated to. Because Christianity did grow out of Judaism, it was a more subtle temptation for a Jewish Christian to slip back into Judaism than it was for a formerly pagan Christian to go back to his pagan ways. Of course, these Jewish Christians did not want to abandon religion, but they did want to make it less distinctively Christian. Therefore, they went back to this “common ground” to avoid persecution. Living in this comfortable common ground, you would not stick out so much. A Jew and a Christian together could say, “Let’s repent, let’s have faith, let’s perform ceremonial washings,” and so forth. But this was a subtle denial of Jesus.

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The Prayers of Paul #3 – To the Corinthians

I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way – with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:4-9)

But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. 15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

We pray to God that you will not do what is wrong by refusing our correction. I hope we won’t need to demonstrate our authority when we arrive. Do the right thing before we come – even if that makes it look like we have failed to demonstrate our authority. 8 For we cannot oppose the truth, but must always stand for the truth. We are glad to seem weak if it helps show that you are actually strong. We pray that you will become mature.” (2 Corinthians 13:7-9)

The Prayers of Paul #2 – To the Romans

Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.” (Romans 10:1-4)

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27)

The Prayers of Paul #1 – Paul’s Heart for Prayer

Yesterday I was reading through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and I noticed how often he prayed and how beautiful his prayers are. So, I though I would do a small series on that with the hope to bring out the beauty of the prayers, the importance and urgency of prayer, and the amazing example that Paul set for us. As an introduction I just wanted to highlight some verses across his letters with the aim to expose Paul’s heart of prayer.

Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” (Acts 14:23)

Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.” (Acts 16:25)

Near the shore where we landed was an estate belonging to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us and treated us kindly for three days. As it happened, Publius’s father was ill with fever and dysentery. Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, he healed him. Then all the other sick people on the island came and were healed.” (Acts 28:7-9)

God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son. One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you.” (Romans 1:9-10)

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” (Romans 12:12)

For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying. Well then, what shall I do? I will pray in the spirit, and I will also pray in words I understand. I will sing in the spirit, and I will also sing in words I understand.” (1 Corinthians 14:14-15)

I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly” (Ephesians 1:16)

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” (Ephesians 6:18)

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy” (Philippians 1:3-4)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6)

We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 1:3)

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you.” (Colossians 1:9a)

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” (Colossians 4:2)

We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly.” (1 Thessalonians 1:2)

Night and day we pray earnestly for you” (1 Thessalonians 3:10a)

Never stop praying” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

So we keep on praying for you” (2 Thessalonians 1:11a)

In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.” (1 Timothy 2:8)

Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.” (2 Timothy 1:3b)

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon” (Philemon 1:4)

Discipleship 101 #3 – Paul, An Example

As an example of what Jesus meant by discipleship, let’s have a brief look at the life and ministry of Paul.

Traditional Upbringing
He spent the better part of his life learning the ins and outs of traditional Jewish discipleship from Gamaliel, which means Paul was accustomed to the “old way” of discipleship. Paul says, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day” (Acts 22:3). In other words, Paul was raised up based on the traditional way of Jewish discipleship, which means he knows and practiced what I have been talking about in my first post.

A Father to Many
Paul regarded himself as a father in Christ to both the Corinthians, the Thessalonians and to Timothy. He said to the Corinthians, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:14-16). Of Timothy Paul said, “But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how a as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” (Philippians 2:22). And to the Thessalonians he said, “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

The father/son language is characteristic of the Jewish teacher/disciple model. Furthermore, he urges the Corinthians to imitate him, thus spurring them on to live out their discipleship. Paul’s language of father seems to contradict Jesus’ words of “call no man your father on earth,” but Paul doesn’t instruct them to call him ‘father’ (as in the “old way” use of language), but merely refers to the fact that he laid the foundation of the church and the gospel among them. They were made Christians by his ministry. He is their spiritual father, but he does point them to Jesus for he said, “What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)

A Disciple-Maker
Paul made disciples in Christ everywhere he went. In Corinth, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:1-2). In Philippi, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” (Philippians 3:17). In Thessalonica, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)