This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Those Christians in and around Jerusalem in 66 C.E. needed acute discernment and perceptive powers to recognize the turn of events and flee. However, Paul five years earlier said, they had “become dull of hearing. For in view of the time [61 C.E., just five years before the attack by Cestius Gallus] you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sayings[1] of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food belongs to the mature, to those who through practice have their discernment trained to distinguish between good and evil.” (Heb. 5:11-14) These Christians, many of which had been walking with God for decades had become dull in their hearing. What does it mean to be ‘dull in one’s hearing’?

(Nōthros tais akoais, lit. dull of hearing): This is an idiom, which literally means that one has ‘lazy ears.’ In other words, they are slow to learn, to understand, to react, lacking intellectual perception, with the implication that this is so because they are lazy. Have we become lethargic in the truth, to the point of having lazy ears? Are we slow to learn, to understand, to react, lacking intellectual perception? Listen to the warning signs throughout the book of Hebrews,

Pay Much Closer Attention

Hebrews 2:1 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to the things that have been heard, so that we do not drift away from it.

(Prosechō, pay attention): The sense of prosechō is to give heed or the need to pay attention. One must hold more firmly to what they believe, or what they have known to be true. Paul is telling these Hebrew Christians, who no longer have the visual aids like the temple or the Jewish high priest, you need to hold more firmly to the things that you have heard. What will happen if we are dull of hearing and do not heed the apostle Paul’s counsel?

(Pararreō, drift away): The sense of pararreō is to disbelieve or drift away gradually or slowly from what one had formerly known to be true. It is like being carried away by a water current. These Hebrew Christians because of their daily harassment from the Jews in and around Jerusalem, living in the place where they can see what we now call the eighth wonder of the world, the Jewish temple, were gradually giving up their belief in the truth. Are we slowing down, are we slowly or gradually drifting away from the biblical truths that we formerly cherished? A boat that drifts away from the shoreline may do so gradually to the point that it is unnoticeable at first. However, gradually, the gap increases.

Are we spending hours every day on our electronic devices (smartphones, tablets, and computers), keeping in contact with family, friends, online friends and even those we do not know? How many hours go into surfing the internet, reading and answering electronic messages? On the other hand, maybe we have a hobby or an interest in one of the sports that we are so absorbed in, we have no time for spiritual pursuits.

What and where was the very first Christian congregation? It was the Jerusalem Christian congregation, founded right after Pentecost of 33 C.E. It was made up of the 12 apostles, Jesus brothers James and Jude, Mark who wrote the Gospel that bears his name, and hundreds of other Jews that personally knew Jesus, many traveling with him. You can only imagine how spiritually strong that congregation must have been. (Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-34; 5:41; 6:7) However, some 31 years later in 61-64 C.E., the congregation had grown tired and apathetic. Some were drifting away (2:1), others were falling away (6:6) or willfully begging off or turning away (12:25), while other had become sluggish (6:12) and some were shrinking back (10:39) from the truth that they had known from the beginning. How could this have happened? One resource writes,

The persons addressed were in the mental and spiritual condition common in every age of the Christian church, a condition of languor [laziness] and weariness, of disappointed expectations, deferred hopes, conscious failure and practical unbelief. They were Christians but had slender appreciation of the glory of their calling, misconstrued their experience, and had allowed themselves to drift away from boldness and hope and intensity of faith.[2]

The comment from above, “the mental and spiritual condition common in every age of the Christian church,” is the reason, we are going to review what the author of Hebrews wrote, to pull that first Christian congregation out of their spiritual stupor. The first seven years of Christianity, from 29 C.E., when the founder Jesus Christ was baptized, to 36 C.E., when the first Gentile was baptized, the Christian congregation was made up of Jews only. Some of these ones were very slow in getting over that there was a new way to God, through Jesus Christ. One must keep in mind that the only way for 1,500 years to be in an approved relationship with God was through the Israelite nation, and the Mosaic Law. The system of worship that they had known throughout their entire life was now replaced with a new one. They had, under the old Jewish system, an extraordinary system of worship, priesthood, regular sacrifices, and a temple in Jerusalem that could be viewed as the ninth wonder of the world. Many Jewish Christians were unable to make the transition, as they walked aimlessly because of an inability to see how the Christian system was better than the Jewish system of the past, failing to getting in the race for life.

Romans 10:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For Christ is the end of the law to everyone who believes.

Colossians 2:13-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.[3] 15 having disarmed the rulers and authorities, he made a public display of them openly, triumphing over them by it.[4]

Let no Man Pass Judgment on You Based on Misinterpretation

16 Therefore let no man judge you about what you eat and drink or about the observance of a festival or of the new moon or of a sabbath day.[5]

What about today, with Christians coming out of the world into the Christian congregation, is it not similar? The world is full of wonderment, power leaders, exciting innovations, scientific advancements, stimulating opportunities, and it is specifically designed to lure the unsuspecting one into its ways of thinking, and to retain them once they have them, as well as pull them back in if they ever choose to leave. It has generated a generation of selfish, me-first people that set aside God’s Word, because they develop a wall of disbelief, setting impossible standards for the Bible, while lowering the standards of secularism,[6] which enables them to feel good about being in the world, or returning to the world. Then, there are the Christians who are halfhearted, having little enthusiasm, interest, support, or conviction in their worship of God. (Ps 119:113; Rev. 3:16)

Finally, there are those, who possess “a double heart” (Literally “a heart and a heart”).[7] (Ps 12:2) In other words, these ones, go to every congregation meeting, are very active in their congregation, and at the same time, they are living a very worldly life outside of the congregation. It might be that they are materialistic, or they are unclean morally (1 Pet 2:12; He 4:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-11), mentally (Phil 4:8; Matt 15:18-20), in speech (Eph. 4:25, 29, 31; 5:3; Rev 21:8), and so on. They may lie, gamble, or steal by cheating on their taxes, or dishonest business practices. (Pro 6:16-19; Cols 3:9, 10) They may have fits of anger, and are abusive to their wife, or children. (Ps 11:5; Proverbs 22:24, 25) They may be heavy drinkers and drunkards, which leads to their household problems. (1 Cor. 5:11-13; 1 Tim. 3:8)  These ones are those who are deceptively presenting themselves as one thing to the Christian congregation, while living an entirely different life outside of the congregation. (Matthew 15:7- 8)

So again, we revisit Paul’s words to this Jewish congregation, “Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Heb. 2:1)

Therefore is an adverb that introduces a statement that is a consequence of the previous statement. Chapter 1 of Hebrews was/is about the supremacy of God’s Son. Chapter 3 is similarly about Jesus being greater than Moses while chapter 4 demonstrates that Jesus is a superior high priest than in the Aaronic priesthood, and chapters 5 through 7 cover the superiority of Jesus to Melchizedek.[8] Thus, the “therefore,” that begins chapter 2 is expressing that there is a serious need to consider the greatness of Christ, and to learn more about Jesus. However, they needed to pay much closer attention to what we have heard, better appreciating the superiority of Jesus, and to negate the impressive Jewish system that had been their way for so long.

The idea of drifting away was a reference to ship sailing, which was a common mode of transportation in the first-century C.E. Roman Empire. If the captain of a ship does not keep his mind on the wind and current, he will risk running his ship past a safe harbor and onto rocky seashore. These Jewish Christians needed to pull themselves out of their apathetic stupor. In the same way, if we are not heeding the Word of God, by way of a regular, deeply personal and congregational Bible study, we too will drift ashore, experiencing spiritual shipwreck. Just like a captain, who is not paying attention, we may not wake up until it is too late.

An Evil and Unbelieving Heart

Hebrews 3:12-13 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away[9] from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

(Kardia ponēra apistias, an evil, unbelieving heart): The sense of kardia is the inner person, the person’s thoughts (mind), volition (decisions, choices, desires), emotions, and knowledge of right and wrong, i.e., the conscience. The sense of ponēra is evil, wicked, morally bad or wrong. The sense of apistias is unbelief. In the context of the book of Hebrews, it is the trait of not trusting in or relying on God and his Word. Paul warned the Hebrew Christians about developing an evil, unbelieving heart. We cannot remain “pure in heart” if we develop a heart “lacking faith.”

(Sklērynthē apatē hamartias, hardened by the deceitfulness of sin):

The sense of sklērynthē is stubborn or to be hardened. One is being stubborn and obstinate when it comes to the truth. The sense of apatē is deception. A person causes another to believe something that is not true by misleading or deceptive views. The sense of hamartias is sin, failure or falling short. Hamartia is anything that is not in harmony with or contrary to God’s personality, standards, ways, and will. This can be in word, deed, or failing to do what should be done, or in mind or heart attitude.

We cannot remain “pure in heart” (Matt 5:8) if we develop an evil heart of unbelief. An evil heart of unbelief [kardia ponēra apistias]) is “a remarkable combination. Heart ([kardia]) is common in the LXX[10] (about 1,000 times), but “evil heart” only twice in the O.T. (Jer. 16:12; 18:12). [Apistias] is more than mere unbelief, here rather disbelief, refusal to believe, genitive case describing the evil heart marked by disbelief which is no mark of intelligence then or now.[11]

What beliefs have the world of mankind spread that would undermine one’s faith in God to such an extent? (1) Evolution is the theoretical process by which all species develop from earlier forms of life. (2) Relativism is the belief that concepts such as right and wrong, goodness and badness, or truth and falsehood are not absolute but change from culture to culture and situation to situation. (3) Limited inerrancy as opposed to full inerrancy has caused many to lose their faith. Full inerrancy affirms that the original Scriptures contained no errors at all. Limited inerrancy, on the other hand, affirms that Scripture is without error in matters of salvation doctrine, but not history, science, or geography. (4) Secularism is the rejection of religion or its exclusion from a philosophical or moral system. (5) Atheism is disbelief in the existence of God or deities. (6) Biblical criticism is known as the historical-critical method of Bible study, such as the study of historical criticism, literary criticism, form criticism, tradition criticism, redaction criticism, structuralist criticism, among others. This is known as the new way of biblical interpretation, and it undermines the trustworthiness of Scripture, a pseudo-scholarship. (7) Empiricism is the philosophical belief that all knowledge is derived from the experience of the senses to the exclusion of revelatory knowledge, such as the Word of God. (8) Existentialism is a philosophical movement begun in the 19th century that denies that the universe has any intrinsic meaning or purpose. It requires people to take responsibility for their own actions and shape their own destinies. (9) Pragmatism is the position that “those beliefs are true which it is expedient for us to act upon and believe.” (10) Religious Liberalism is a movement in Protestantism stressing intellectual freedom and the moral content of Christianity over the doctrines of traditional theology. The abandonment of “the traditional view of authority and truth in order to substitute a newer source of authority, typically based on experience or intellectual conclusions.”[12] This list could go on for some time, but I believe you have gotten the point. The Word of God, true Christianity, and truth has been under an ever-greater attack throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, the pinnacle of the enlightenment age that got its start in the late 17th century with René Descartes. We must not let ourselves be caught off guard by such death-dealing beliefs.

What is the result of an unbelieving heart that has been infected with the thinking of man? It leads one to fall away (Gr., apostenai, “to stand off”) from the living God. Just how serious is this? You will notice that earlier, Paul spoke of ‘drifting away’ because of not paying attention to one’s spiritual needs. (Heb. 2:1; Matt 5:3) However, the Greek term apostenai rendered “fall away,” which is more of a willful drawing away, means “to stand off” and is related to the word “apostasy.” This is standing off from the truth that was once accepted. It signifies a willful and purposeful resisting, withdrawing, and abandoning, with a measure of disdain added. One New Testament word study book offered,

The word “departing” deserves special attention. It is aphistemi which is made up of apo “off,” and histemi “to stand,” the compound word meaning “to stand off from.” This was exactly the position of these Hebrews. They were standing aloof from the living God. The idea is not that of departing, but of standing off from. Our word “apostasy” is derived from a form of this Greek word. Apostasy is defined as the act of someone who has previously subscribed to a certain belief, and who now renounces his former professed belief in favor of some other, which is diametrically opposed to what he believed before. In other words, his new belief is not merely a new system of faith, but one, which at every point negates his former belief.[13]

As was stated, the drifting away of Hebrews 2:1 is the result of being inattentive to one’s spiritual needs, and bears repeating. In that circumstance, there is no real effort involved to end up spiritually shipwrecked. However, this falling away is the result of someone taking action. This one is willfully “falling away from the living God.” Why? Paul gives us the answer, namely, an evil, heart of unbelief. This evil heart of unbelief is not the result of not being a student of the Bible, nor having sufficient knowledge of Scripture, or even an incorrect understanding of Scripture. Paul goes on to quote the occasion of the Israelites at Exodus 15, which is also referenced at Psalm 95:8, “do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” at Meribah. The Israelites had enjoyed Jehovah’s God’s love, protection, and saw his “works for forty years” while in the wilderness. (Heb. 3:7-11) However, these very ones hardened their hearts against him.

In the same sense, Christians today, need to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:24-25), so that “none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” What have we learned thus far? (1) We do not want to neglect personal Bible study. (2) We should be well prepared for congregation meetings (3) We should have mercy on those who have begun to doubt because they have fed their minds on literature from Bible critics; and we should have the ability to reason from the Scriptures, to help them overcome their doubts. (4) In addition, we stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together.

Am I suggesting that Christians should never read a book by a Bible critic? No. However, would you venture into any unsafe place in life without preparing for it first? Let me offer an illustration. A prosecuting attorney goes to the best law school in the US, studies under one of the greatest legal minds, and he may have 30-years of experience. He puts on the state’s case, and you are mesmerized by his knowledge of the law, the skill with which he presents it, and you find the defendant guilty as you sit in the jury box. However, one thing is missing. What? You have yet to hear the defense attorney. Do you now have blinders to the point that it does not matter? (“you” here is plural, not you personally) The irony is, once the defense attorney gets up and presents his case, you are so stunned by the evidence that he presents, that you have now completely changed your position.

This is what would happen if you read the Bible critics book first. You would feel that it really cast doubts about the existence of a personal God, who created everything, and that such a being inspires the Bible is no longer true. Then, you read an apologetic Bible scholar’s book that deals with the same issues, say that of Dr. William Lane Craig, concluding you did not have all the facts, and now feel saddened because you doubted in the first place. What I recommend is that you read the apologetic Bible scholar’s book first, like putting in a bulletproof vest, and then read the Bible critic’s book if you so desire.

Every Christian is well aware that they must have faith. Indeed, we are told, “without faith, it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Heb. 11:6) We can find comfort in knowing that ‘the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lu 11:13) Have the Spirit means having the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” and things like these. (Gal. 5:22, 23) One way that we can have greater faith is by looking at other faithful ones, be it those of the past or the present. (2 Timothy 1:5; Hebrews 13:7)

If we want our faith to continue to grow, we must evidence that faith by applying the Word of God more fully in our lives. One way that we can have regular spiritual food is by reading from the Bible daily, setting aside 2-3 days a week where we do deeper personal Bible study, and preparing for the congregation meetings that we regularly attend. We cannot read the Bible alone; we need some Bible study tools as well. Each Christian should have their own personal library. Either it can be physical books, or it can be electronic books.

Impossible to Renew Them

Hebrews 6:6 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to public shame.

(Parapiptō, fall away, forsake, or turn away): The sense of parapiptō is to fall away or forsake the truth.

(Anakainizō, renew, restore, or bring back): The sense of anakainizō is to cause change to a previous state, to start anew.

Paul says it is impossible to renew such a one to repentance. Why? “Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh.” That is, they have reached the same state of mind the Pharisees had who crucified him the first time. Men can commit that same act today, but when they do it they lose all concern regarding the consequences. As long as one has concern, he may rest assured that he has not blasphemed the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 6:12 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

(Nōthros, lazy, slothful, or sluggish): The sense of nōthros is slow and apathetic. Paul warned them “them not to become lazy. “He used the same word which appeared in 5:11 with the translation of slow to learn. He wanted them to check their movement toward sluggishness. If they did not put a halt to their spiritual drifting, they would never reach full maturity. Even though the author of Hebrews thought well of his friends, he gave them warnings and encouragements to hasten their progress toward the goal of full maturity in Jesus.”[14]

Do Not Shrink Back to Destruction

Hebrews 10:39 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Paul closes this section with serious confidence that they “are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed.” Today, true Christians live in a time like no other and are under a constant bombardment from the world that surrounds us. Like Paul and the Jewish Christians, who heeded his counsel, we too do not want to shrink back to destruction. This does not mean that we will never have a moment of fear, as we are susceptible to being afraid like any other imperfect human. The Greek hupostello, means “‘to draw back, withdraw,’ perhaps a metaphor from lowering a sail and so slackening the course, and hence of being remiss in holding the truth.”[15] A Christian with faith, will not ‘draw back or withdraw’ from their commitment to God’s will and purposes, ‘slacking off in their course.’ Regardless of what this wicked world, alienated from God throws at them, such as persecution, difficulties, health issues, or any other tribulation. They will face these head on, like the apostle Paul, who said, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10) Yes, we must be steadfast in our service to God, as he is well aware of our limitations, and he makes allowances for these, “he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 55:22; 103:14)

Do Not Grow Weary or Fainthearted

Hebrews 12:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For consider the one who endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you will not grow weary in your souls and give up.

As we reflect on our own hardships, we need to assess carefully the endurance of Jesus. Jesus endured hostility from sinners that reached its climax at the cross. When you tend to let go, you can avoid faintheartedness and weariness by keeping your attention riveted upon Jesus. Jesus endured hostility from stubborn sinners. You have never faced such intense evil as did Jesus. His sterling example can stabilize us in our fear and concern.[16]

What is it that we are not to grow weary in your souls and give up from? What is it Satan would love us to get too tired to carry out? The answer is found in verses 1-2.

Hebrews 12:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

12 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Have you bought out the time to know why Jesus ever came to earth as a man in the first place? First, we can say that the Gospels are of his life and ministry. From this, you can see that his focus was on his ministry. Jesus came to earth as a man for three reasons. (1) Jesus said, “For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose, I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37) (2) Peter said this to Christians, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Pet. 2:21) (3) Jesus tells us this, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28) Jesus came to leave us an example, for us to follow in his steps, which example is his ministry that he carried out to the Jews of his day, and we are to carry out to all people. (Matt. 28:19-20) The sad irony, there are really no churches within the 39,000 denominations that I am aware of based on my personal statistical surveys, which have even begun to carry out a similar message to the nations, so there is no real reason to be tired out from this work. Oh yes, they send out missionaries here and there, but the truth is, all Christians are responsible for preaching, teaching and making disciples. With or without the church, we need to make progress toward maturity and improve our ministry (evangelistic) skills, so as to carry out the Great Commission we were given.

Identifying Christian Maturity

The apostle Paulencouraged the first-century Hebrew Christiansthose who through practice could grow in maturity but also told them what spiritual maturity involves. (Heb. 5:14) “Everyone who partakes of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness,” as “solid food belongs to the mature.” Christians not only need to know the foundational doctrines of the faith, but also the deeper things of the truth.(1 Cor. 2:10) Moreover, as we saw in the above, the Christian trains their perceptive powers through using them as they apply God’s Word, helping them to distinguish right from wrong. As they grow in knowledge, they will adjust their perceptive powers accordingly. Over time and study, they will begin to possess or show keen insight and understanding of God’s inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word.

[1] Sayings: (Gr. logia, on [only in the plural]) A saying or message, usually short, especially divine, gathered into a collection.–Acts 7:38; Romans 3:2; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11.

[2] W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek New Testament, Volume Four, 236 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002).

[3] σταυρός stauros; from the same as 2476; an upright stake, hence a cross (the Rom. instrument of crucifixion):—cross(27).–NASB Dictionaries

[4] i.e. the cross; it could also be rendered through him

[5] Or days

[6] Secularism is the rejection of religion or its exclusion from a philosophical or moral system.

[7] Footnote, Lexham English Bible

[8] A priest and king of Salem who blessed Abraham, and in essence, blessed the Aaronic priesthood that was in his loins.

[9] Lit to stand off; Gr apostenai

[10] LXX is the Greek Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made between 280 to 150 B.C.E. to meet the needs of Greek-speaking Jews outside Palestine.

[11] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Heb 3:12 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933).

[12] Hindson, Ed (2008-05-01). The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Kindle Locations 11777-11778). Harvest House Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[13] Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader, Heb 3:12 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).

[14] Thomas D. Lea, Hebrews, James, vol. 10, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 114.

[15] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr., vol. 2, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 180 (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996).

[16] Thomas D. Lea, Hebrews, James, vol. 10, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 219.