Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God (Hebrews 6:1, NKJV).
Just as there are “basic principles of the world,” there are “elementary principles of Christ.” The writer introduced “first principles of the oracles of God” in Hebrews 5:12 and explained that Christians who “partakes only of milk” are “unskilled” in the word of righteousness – spiritual infants ill-equipped to use God’s word to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:13-14). Please meditate with me on the place of the first principles of Christ in your life. (1) First principles are foundational (Heb. 6:1). They are a starting point for faith, not the end. Just as infants are fed milk first and progress to solid food, we begin with first principles and progress to the solid food of God’s truth (Heb. 5:12). (2) First principles help Christians become skilled in using God’s word (Heb. 5:13-14). First principles like repentance, faith, baptisms, miraculous gifts, resurrection, and judgment provide a framework to use God’s word as we mature (advance spiritually, Heb. 6:1-2). (3) First principles must be remembered and built upon (Heb. 6:1). We are exhorted not to linger only on the elementary principles, lest through neglect our faith recedes, and we fall away (Heb. 6:3-6, 11-12). The first principles of Christ lay a foundation of faith upon which we can continue to build and mature as we “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11, NKJV)
Paul’s patient love for Mark compels us to ponder the breadth and depth of our love for brethren. Paul had not always considered Mark useful (good and profitable) for the service of the gospel. About 20 years earlier, John Mark had joined Paul and Barnabas on a preaching journey into Gentile regions, only to leave them and return to Jerusalem shortly after it began (Acts 13:4-5, 13). This failure to continue with them caused Paul to insist Mark would not be on his next preaching trip despite disagreeing with Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41). We should note that Paul did not “write off” Barnabas or Mark as unworthy Christians who did not love the Lord. The rest of the story makes this apparent. Paul was associated with Mark during his first Roman imprisonment (AD 60-62), sending greetings from him to the Colossian church and instructing them to welcome Mark if he came to them (Col. 4:10). Now, during his final days of life, Paul asked for Mark. The man he had refused to take with him roughly two decades earlier was now useful for the gospel’s service (2 Tim. 4:11). A great lesson of love’s patient endurance is staring us in the face (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Mark’s faith had matured, and Paul respected that. Paul loved Mark. Indeed, “love suffers long and is kind” as it rejoices in the truth. Love keeps on bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring all things, both in our attitudes and treatment of others. Love did not fail Paul and Mark. It will not fail us, either.
3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load. (Galatians 6:3–5, NKJV)
The willingness and ability of a mature Christian to bear the burden of a fellow disciple overtaken by sin (and attempting to restore him, Gal. 6:1-2). This requires humbly examining oneself and accepting one’s spiritual responsibility (“bear his own load,” v. 5). Here is the essential meaning and application of verses 3-5. Without this preparation of faith and character we are ill-equipped to “fulfill the law of Christ” when others need help overcoming sin (Gal. 6:2). The mature Christian understands he (or she) is not the savior of the fallen; the Lord is. He is merely a servant of the Lord doing His work. The mature Christian’s joy in doing this work does not come from measuring himself against the failures (or successes) of others. Mature Christians rejoice in doing their duty (“his own work”) and giving Christ the glory and honor (Lk. 17:10). Our responsibility is to fulfill the law of Christ and to love one another by helping restore the fallen. Pride and self-promotion prevent us from fulfilling this task. “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:13–14, NKJV)
It is hard to miss the point of this passage. Spiritual growth from infancy to maturity (“full age”) occurs by learning and using the word of God. It is crucial to see that knowing God’s word is not the same as being fully grown in Christ. We can amass knowledge of the Scriptures and still be an immature Christian. Today’s passage explains that partaking of the “first principles of the oracles of God” is like drinking milk. If milk is the only thing we eat, we will not grow sufficiently. These Christians were “unskilled” (inexperienced) “in the word of righteousness.” They were not using what they were taught from God’s word. The problem went beyond not knowing the word (true, they needed to learn more, Heb. 5:11). Their failure was not using God’s word to train themselves to distinguish good and evil (v. 14). In that state, they could not be teachers of God’s word (Heb. 5:12). Similarly, we remain spiritually weak when we know God’s word but do not apply it to our daily decisions and actions. Are you unskilled or experienced in using the word of God? Strive for spiritual maturity. Train yourself to use your knowledge of God’s word to recognize both good and evil.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2–4, NKJV)
Trials are not pleasant. Adversity, difficulty, anxiety, and uncertainty test our faith in moments of trial. Trials will either provoke us to evil or discipline us for good. They do not remove our free will; trials present us with opportunities to choose faith over fear and patience over provocation. How is this possible? By maintaining this faith-perspective before and during trials: “Count it all joy.” Trials prove (test) our faith, exposing our vulnerabilities and strengths. Faith chooses to endure the trial steadfastly. Faith draws strength from the Lord in the hour of trial, instead of wavering in disbelief (Rom. 4:20). God has promised not to fail or forsake us (Heb. 13:5-6). And so, firm endurance fortifies and matures our faith, even as trials would overwhelm us. Joy enables us to endure. Joy turns trials into seedbeds from which mature faith grows. As trials come, may we be content to rely on the Lord while rejoicing in His promises and provisions (Jas. 1:5-8).
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1, NKJV)
Whether the topic is politics, social issues, or religion, reasoned discussion is too often drowned out by vitriol and venom in the public square these days. Whatever happened to the time when those with opposing viewpoints could disagree without being disagreeable? I suppose some never learned could. We pray for and long for a return to such dispositions, for any society whose citizens cannot calmly communicate is headed for tension, turmoil, and trouble (Prov. 14:34). The same is true of the Lord’s church. Can you to talk with someone who has fallen away? And if you can, how do you do that? The goal is to “restore” the soul overtaken in sin – any other aim is beneath this worthy objective. Spiritual maturity is essential when approaching a Christian who has fallen into sin. Such maturity will be reflected by the spirit of gentleness used when talking with the sinning saint about his or her sin. Approaching a fallen Christian with an air of disgust or superiority is the height of arrogance, and is sure to fail. Mature (spiritual) Christians remember sin also tempts them. And so, with meek compassion the effort is made to turn a sinner from error and save a soul from death (Jas. 5:19-20). Yes, the “spiritual” disagree with the one overtaken by sin. But, to have a spirit of antagonism only aggravates and hinders the effort to save the lost. Furthermore, to do so is also sin.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:46–48, NKJV)
The devil is delighted when Christians do not love one another. He also takes delight when Christians do not love their enemies. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). God is “perfect” in verse 48 because He does precisely that – He loves His enemies. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The word “perfect” in today’s passage (verse 48) conveys completeness, being of full age or maturity. Our love is not complete if we do not love our enemies. We love our enemies by showing them active goodwill, even though they are actively showing ill will toward us (see Matthew 5:44). Loving only those who love us is the world’s model of love. Loving your enemies is what God does toward the whole world. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven model themselves after God’s love, not the world’s incomplete, immature love.
14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— (Ephesians 4:14–15, NKJV)
Maturity in Christ equips us to achieve and maintain the “the unity of the faith” to which we have been called by the gospel. Christ gave the work of inspired men (through which that gospel came to earth from heaven), and the work of uninspired men (who continue to proclaim and teach the gospel) to thoroughly equip us to serve the will of God as the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). In today’s text, our spiritual maturity prevents us from being tossed about like children by the prevailing winds of false doctrine. The “trickery of men” describes the sleight of hand by which one defrauds another. False doctrine defrauds and plunders the unsuspecting of their spiritual treasure (Colossians 2:8). The “cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” describes the deceptive method of sophistry that attacks the simplicity of the gospel of Christ (Romans 16:17-18). As our maturity in Christ protects us, it also enables us to speak the truth in love. God’s truth equips us to grow in Christ, while protecting us from spiritual danger, and securing our standing with Christ (the Head of the church). Let us determine to grow up in Christ by becoming strong in the truth.
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; (Ephesians 4:12–13, NKJV)
After He ascended into heaven, Christ gave gifts to the world, (Ephesians 4:11, see Sword Tips #1213). The work of these inspired men produced the New Testament. These uninspired men help us know and follow them. According to verse 12, these gifts were given to equip or complete the saints of God, in order to 1) do the work of service given by the Lord, and to 2) edify or strengthen the church. Please notice, it is the word of God that gives us the necessary tools to serve, and to be spiritually strengthened. The goal of our spiritual ministry and strength is stated in verse 13: That we will attain to the maturity and unity to which we have been called in Christ. This is where Paul began this fourth chapter of Ephesians, as he urges Christians to walk worthy of our calling, carefully guarding “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, 1-6). Churches have strayed far from this spiritual work Jesus intended. The word of God is hardly preached, rarely studied, and viewed as opinions and traditions, rendered irrelevant by time and humanity’s progress. Let us return to honoring Christ’s gifts, by which the saving gospel is known and used, enabling us to be what Christ wants of His people.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NKJV)
The ability to endure the trials and pressures of life with joy and not be frustrated (or even become despondent) is a clear mark of spiritual maturity. When you are “having a bad day,” do not let it overwhelm you. Refocus your attention on the joy of being a child of God. Make a deliberate decision to be patient in the moment of trial. Choose hope over despair, and a growing, maturing faith instead of discouraging doubt. Meet the trials that challenge your faith with unyielding endurance. Allow your hope to anchor your soul in the hour of trial. Patience will work in you to complete your faith and embolden your joy.