Main text division
- Vv 1-6 The Church: A complex view of what it is, why it is, and what it isn’t
- Vv 7-19 All’s fine till temptations come… but stay focused!
Some Challenges from this text:
- What is biblical Christ-likeness
- What is holiness
- What is church
Growing in Christ-likeness has evolved into a global movement where people look at Christ and try to emulate the ethical life he lived.
In that regard “growth” is:
- overcoming bad language,
- reciting verses of the Bible,
- sexual purity,
- getting rid of addictions etc.
That’s great. But in the pursuit to grow in Christ, we’ve turned inward, away from Christ. Christianity has become a spiritual discipline, and it ought to be a vibrant, joy-brimming life that reflects the God we worship. The focus is now on the self rather than the other, as seen through Christ’s eyes. Love is substituted with a critical view of the other through a Christ-shaped cookie cutter. Anything we don’t like in the other is a reason to condemn, frown, look down at. Love is replaced with condemnation. Christ from the Bible looks more like Buddha: tranquil, but mostly passive. But Christ of the Bible is table-turning, fence-breaking, politically incorrect radical who called to a whole-hearted turning and walking on the road straight and narrow. He called more to ministry than to self-reflection. More to serving than to meditation. More to loving the enemy than cookie-cutter judging of others. More to communal life than personal growth.
Vv 1-6 The Church: A complex view of what it is, why it is, and what it isn’t
THEREFORE: means that what we’re about to see in the verses that follow hinges on what we’ve heard sofar in the first two chapters. Summarized, it means that the points in Ch. 3 are built on top of this: Christ is God Himself who is calling us, it is God Himself we follow and proclaim, we must have our eyes focused on Christ as we live out our lives, regardless of all the ups and downs in life.
The key idea though, in v. 1 is not only that we are to fix our eyes on Christ, but that we are brothers and sisters, partaking TOGETHER in this heavenly calling of following Christ. This togetherness didn’t start because we like each other so much. It is because individuals are called with the heavenly calling, and it is this calling that makes a group of individual into a family. A spiritual family that comes as-is, and then through the calling, we become a single unit.
This passage is all about the Church. We’re presented with several facets of the pearl-idea of Church. We’ll focus on each of the facets of the pearl here, but we must understand that in the Bible there are many other verses that talk about the Church. So we won’t build an exhaustive definition of the Church. We won’t build a fully developed ecclesiology. Instead we’ll only look at individual facets that are part of the overall teaching on ecclesiology. Hopefully looking at these few facets will help us fine-tune our understanding of what Church means.
Facet 1: The Church is Holy
This perhaps is the most widely used concept/label of the Church, but it’s also the most widely misunderstood idea.
When we talk of holiness, most of the time, most of us think of moral conduct. When describing a holy person, most of the times we think of a tranquil person, at peace with himself and at peace with the world around him. In that regard, we are closer to describing Buddha than Christ. Even in Christian circles, in monastic circles, holiness is more an idea of passive seclusion than an idea of active involvement in society.
But, the holiness we find in the Bible, at least in this chapter, is a lot more about having an ear for the heavenly calling to focus our eyes on Christ, than it is a call to self-reflection. Holiness is more a matter of action than of attitude.
The biblical idea of holiness is best illustrated in the utensils of the Temple: breads, vessels, other items. Take breads for example. They were ordinary breads. They didn’t have anything special intrinsically. What made the breads special was that they were taken off the production line in order to be used in a religious ceremony, and their participation in these rites is what made them holy. It is the activity that “holy-fies” them, not their content.
In local churches then, what makes us holy as a community is that we have been to be the light and the salt in our town, as a community. It is this sort of active living that makes us holy. It is what we do in the streets rather than in this room that makes us holy. I’m not saying here reading the Bible and prayer are pointless. I’m just saying that unless we practice what we read and pray…we aren’t really engaged in active worship, and we aren’t really holy from the perspective of these verses.
Facet 2: Church as Family
The opening verse starts with “brothers”. The local church, as part of The Church, is not a club of like-minded people that gathers together to share anecdotes of moral living, and compare one another to see who is more fitting to an imaginary Christ figure. The churches are not groups that compare each other as through a cookie-cutter to find non-Christ-like features in the other. Instead, we are a community put together by God himself. We’re called with a mandate, a mission to be salt and light in the world by MINTISTERING to this world, not by inward thinking and following Do-s and Don’t-s lists.
When the community is understood in this way, “leaving church” can’t be seen as a person who stopped being a member of a club. It is a person leaving his/her “natural” state of existence, like a fish leaving the water. It may be voluntary, but it is definitely not harmless… to the individual and to the group, because when one member of the body suffers, the entire body suffers. It is based on these verses that the Preacher here in Hebrews will make his case in 10:25 “don’t stop meeting together”. It is completely unnatural for Christians to not meet together for encouragement and teaching.
Facet 3: The Church as The House of God (the Temple)
We get to see several sub-facets on the Church as the house of God:
- 2, 5: It is in this house that Moses was called as a servant
- 3, 6: Jesus is the builder/owner of this House
- 6: The Church is the house
An interesting parallel of Christ building the House (which is us the church) is the construction of the Temple. 1Kings 6:7 talks about how the stones at the building site were not chiseled but were placed on the temple walls as-is.
As a mere illustration here, we can interpret this that there are no set rules of behavior we need to have in order to be suitable to become part of the house of God, i.e the Temple, i.e the Church, i.e THIS COMMUNITY HERE. It is the wisdom of God that led the builders back then to cut out stones in the quarry, and then put them together in such a way that with all their irregularities, they’d fit together perfectly. So it is the wisdom of Christ that makes us fit together. Ignoring a community then is claiming that Christ is stupid for thinking we’d ever fit together.
Another way of looking at it somewhat more understandably is that the builders used stones and mortar (IF they used mortar, and I think they didn’t, but I’m only making an illustration here). It is not the stones that make it possible to be fitted into a unit. It is the mortar in-between that sticks the stones together, and compensates for their irregularities. If we’re the stones of the building, Christ is the mortar that makes us one. It is Christ that enables us to be together. And by rejecting a fellow believer, we’re not really rejecting the person. In reality, we are rejecting Christ in them, because we all are dressed in Christ (Gal 3:27).
In reality then (we’re still just making an illustration of the importance and nature of churches), the stones themselves never get touched by another stone, they do get touched by the mortar that sticks on the other stone. So when we get touched by others in our churches, it is Christ in the other that touches us (you, me). This doesn’t mean that people are insignificant. It only means that whoever they are, whatever they are, they too have put on Christ, as did we. By being one with Christ we become one with the others that are called with the heavenly calling to be Christ’s bride. And as a global and time-less community, we are the Temple of God and in us dwells the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 3:16).
One key idea here in v.6 is that we are the House of God, and therefore we ought to courageously keep the hope in Christ as the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2).
Vv 7-19: The House of God – All’s fine till temptations come…But stay focused!
After taking the first part of the chapter to solidify the idea of a Church based on the person and calling of Christ, we’re now thrown back into day-to-day reality. In this reality, the theory of a unified goal and activity quickly gets broken to pieces because each individual deals with his/her challenges. There are bills to pay. There are tasks at home that have to get done…yesterday. There is pain and suffering over an illness of a loved one.
In Exodus, when the people got stuck in the desert and Moses was gone for some 40 days on Mount Sinai (Exodus 32) Israelites got tired of waiting and decided to take matters into their own hands. And screwed up drastically. Many times, when the going gets tough, when life doesn’t turn out the way we planned, we tend to also forget the big idea of this drama we’re living out.
Many times, the plot in our own lives gets so messy, so confusing, that we forget the promise of God that he’ll never leave us or forsake us. When the going gets tough we start improvising, like Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael (Gen. 16); like the golden calf in the desert (Exodus 32); like Judas who betrayed Jesus, like us when we rush and do something before we consult the Bible.
But it is exactly in these moments of difficulty, of temptation to give up on Christ and Church that we’re called to not lose heart, to not lose faith, not to give up on one-another. This is the call to the heavenly rest, the Shalom of God we all crave.
This shalom of God is a complex thing. It starts with the seventh day when God rested, at the very beginning of creation. It is the rest we all anticipate at the end of time when Christ will return not as a lamb but as a lion. Not as a man that’s to live a miserable life and die a violent death, but as the king of kings, ruler of everything that is created.
Thirdly, most importantly, this shalom of God is today. It is in this today, i.e every day, that we are called to not harden our hearts and rebel against God. But this rebellion isn’t something we’d do on an ethical level, but on faith level. Back in Exodus 32, when the Israelites “rebelled” against God, the rebellion was in a form of them not believing that Yahweh will come through for them, so they decided to take matters into their own hands.
Wrapping it all up
Many times, most of the times, we wish that life was without any problems. It would be an easier Gospel to preach if Christ skipped the cross and went to the crown immediately. But reality isn’t like that. This rest, this shalom of God is for us to take up “today” by going back to v. 3:1 and the “therefore” which pulls into view the key point in chapters 1-2: We’re called into unity in Christ, who is God himself. It is in this unity with Him and others that we enjoy the peace of God that transcends understanding.
But this peace isn’t one we get to by being inward-focused, passively analyzing our lives and trying to be more Christ like. This isn’t what God has called us for, and our definition of Christ as an overly spiritual passive figure isn’t the Christ we find in the Bible.
In the drama of our life as individuals and as a community, there will be plenty of twists and turns. There will be many plots that get so complicated and messy that we’ll feel like Christianity doesn’t really work in real life. We’ll be tempted to make up a new storyline, improvise along the way, while on the stage of real life.
But true hope clings, even when the going gets tough… especially when the going gets tough. And while we cling as individuals, we’re encouraged to be an encouragement to one another, to keep on being the light and salt in this world. It is this sort of Christ-focused, ministry-focused life that makes us holy and unified into the House of God.