Sunday, July 7, 2024

The Danger of Stagnation (Heb. 5:11-14)

I was in Hebrews 5 this morning and noticed that I had written down in my Greek New Testament a Latin sentence:

Cui cessat esse melior cessat esse bonus.

We might translate this as, "The one who ceases to be better ceases to be good." Here in Heb. 5:11-14, the author is confronting his readers with the peril of spiritual apathy. By now they should have become teachers, he says. Instead, they have become slow to hear. In short, they had stagnated. They had plateaued in their walk with Christ. They were stuck in kindergarten like little children who had to be taught over and over again the elementary truths of God's word. Most egregious of all, they didn't seem to care.

One of the greatest temptations that people my age face is the temptation to rust out, to think we've come as far in the Christian life as we will ever come, and so we stop training ourselves so that we can continue to grow and learn and mature. The author (Paul, in my opinion) is no perfectionist ("I've arrived"), but neither does he know anything of the stoicism often exhibited by the elderly. Paul could write in Phil. 3:12-14 that he's still pressing on. When he wrote those words he was about 62 years of age and had about 5 years to live. But those weren't going to be wasted years, not for Paul. Since he has "not already arrived," he strains every muscle finally to do so. As he runs, he pays no attention to "what is behind." Paul's focus in this passage is not on perfection but on persistence. His whole life is all about deepening his walk with Christ. 

Paul's voice, both in Hebrews and in Philippians, needs to be heard anew. The tragedy that so often attends retirement is that our culture no longer expects anything of the elderly, who as a result have largely lost their vision for and focus on the work Christ still has for them to do. Paul reminds us that our salvation is not just for yesterday, not just for today, but forever. Precisely because Christ is coming again, we will not merely wait for the end but eagerly press toward it. 

The early church was anything but a comfortable 72 degrees. Today's church needs nothing so much as to come to a boil. And that includes the elderly among us. There is indeed a Scriptural moderation (Phil. 4:5), but there's also a carnal moderation. Our Lord said he would rather a person be cold than medium, lukewarm, or "moderate." 

Lord, set me on fire for you!