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Starving the Wolves
Week #2 of Hebrew 12:15-17
Before we jump into this week’s article, I’d like to share something with you that I think you’ll love. Last week I saw a Tweet which alerted me to the existence of Google Maps…but for the Roman Empire. It wasn’t created by Google but by Stanford university and essentially you can plug in two locations from across the Roman Empire and it will tell you, based on your mode of travel, how long that journey would probably take you and how much it might cost. Though it’s not clear to me exactly when this is set and I’m sure it’s not perfect, it’s a great tool for studying the book of Acts in particular. It’s almost impossible for us to gauge exactly how long it would take in those days to get somewhere because we’re so used to being able to fly halfway across the world in less than a day or across the country in a car or train in a few hours. Though I wouldn’t use this every day, I know I’ll be using it from time to time and I thought I’d share it with you too. Click here to check it out.
This week we’ll be jumping back into Hebrew 12:15-17, which we’ll continue and complete next week.
“The army worm, or a worm so designated, conspired with the wet weather in injuring the crop… In Logan they severed the oat from the stem, till in some places the ground was almost covered in oats. Fields that promised an abundant crop will not be harvested. In Hancock, they destroyed fully 60 percent of the crop.”
The Monthly Report of the Department of Agriculture -1875
In my grandparent’s back garden, they have a large compost bin, which over time turns garden waste into compost. It doesn’t just become compost of its own accord though, rather the waste is helped along by worms which eat through it over time. This compost, plus sunlight and rain keep the garden healthy enough to produce hundreds of beautiful flowers year in, year out. In 1875, these same allies who had been relied upon to provide for the crops became enemies. They conspired together and brought famine when they should have brought the harvest.
“Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and defiling many. And make sure that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for a single meal. For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, even though he sought it with tears, because he didn’t find any opportunity for repentance.”
Christian Standard Bible, Hebrews 12:15–17
Last week we began looking at this passage and how teaching grace, by both our words and actions, can cut off would-be false teachers at their roots as well as lay a firm foundation for young believers who would otherwise fall prey to these false teachers. This week we’ll look at two major brackets of false teaching which may spring up, both found in the bible, as well as in the world around us, and in the historical record. Although they’ve taken many forms over the centuries, today I’ll be calling them ‘The Worm’ and ‘The Rain’. We’re not looking today at large scale false teachers, but rather at those people who enter into the church and become a ‘would-be1’ as we discussed last week. We might even recognise areas in our own lives in which we’ve allowed these same patterns to enter in.
When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
Christian Standard Bible, Acts 15:4–5
In the early days of the church, there was a group called the ‘circumcision party’ which is the only place you’ll ever see those two words in the same line. There’s an old joke about the apostles going against circumcision because they didn’t get any sign-ups for the men’s weekend away, but in reality, this was the church’s first major internal dispute, and it wasn’t one which went away quickly either.
Whether it sprang up from one place specifically and spread or a few smaller groups came to the same conclusion we don’t know, but what we do know is that it had to be debated and spoken out against on various occasions.
To be a member of the people of God in those days was synonymous with being circumcised. It had been commanded on various occasions in the old testament and it’s something which is strictly adhered to this very day amongst the Jewish community. Paul himself, in order to prove his own Jewishness (Phil 3:5) makes reference to it and Timothy is even circumcised in order to be accepted among the Jews he was evangelising to with Paul (Acts 16:3).
Like the Jewish people who came into the faith early in those days, people in our churches will come into the church with pre-loaded opinions and stances which if we aren’t careful, instead of being brought to the cross and repented of, are instead brought in alongside. Our culture says loudly that we are everything, that goodness is intrinsically within us, that we should ‘believe in the power of me’ and that we should satisfy our needs above all else, the bible’s sobering reality that we are in fact nothing in comparison to God and that we need him more than anything else can be incredibly freeing when paired with the beauty of the grace which God gives us freely having been paid for at the cross by Jesus Christ. Some people get stuck though before getting to the ‘but’ and through into grace and remain in the gateway unwilling to receive the gift of grace. They accept their place as a worm.
In an attempt to obtain the gift they so desperately need though in order to ascend above their current state, they clothe themselves in the garb of the law, giving freely, helping others, remaining strict in their routine and doing all they can to outwardly display the good works with which they hope one day to win God’s favour. Seemingly having given up the world to follow God, instead, they have simply traded the attention of those in the world for the attention of believers.
And some of them do it, really, really well. However.
Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”
Christian Standard Bible, Acts 15:10–11
Rather than putting down such people, I actually really feel for them. having put such a burden upon their own shoulders which none of us can bear, they have foregone the true medicine for their worldly condition. What they don’t see is that Lord offered another way.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Christian Standard Bible, Matthew 11:28–30
As Peter says, in Acts 15 (Above) we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus and so can they!
Just as the first group don’t get to the ‘but’, the second doesn’t listen until the but comes. The wonders of the faith, the freedom, the joy, miracles! All good things, but not the good thing. This presents in just too many ways to count, but they all stem out of this one core principle:
God’s gifts > God
Prosperity, Miracles, Sex, Marriage, Children, Possessions, Business, Community, Church.
God has given us these things to bless us, gifts which we can enjoy but unfortunately, we can enjoy them incorrectly when we place them on pedestals, pedestals above God.
It’s one reason I find the idea of Santa incredibly odd. Go with me here. I didn’t grow up with Santa, apparently, I actually made my cousin cry once when we were little because she was telling me about Santa and—not previously knowing this was something people did—promptly told her it all sounded like it was made up. Yikes. Still, the idea that all year you have to act good and then ask for exactly what you want at the end, receive it and that was your reward for doing all of the good things without really even giving thanks or loving the person behind the gifts, I don’t get it.
I’m not trying to bash anyone, please don’t misunderstand me, but this is essentially the same as praising earthly things, knowing it comes from God, or at least hearing it comes from God, and then continuing instead to worship the items themselves and even to an extent perhaps act as though we earned them.
The example we are given in this passage is Esau, who ‘sold his birthright’ for a bowl of lentil soup.
Lentil soup! Now, I make a pretty decent lentil soup, practically lived off of the stuff for about six months at one point, but there is no lentil soup on the planet which compared with what he was being offered. For those who might not know, Esau was the brother of Jacob and the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham, to whom had been promised a lineage which was the bless the whole earth.
Though his birthright was like an inheritance in the conventional sense, what Esau was saying in giving up this birthright for the lentil soup was that a lineage like that, a closeness to God was nothing to him compared to what he could gain now.
We read in the book of Acts about a man named Simon who was a magician who, having noticed the Christians and what they were able to do, gets baptised and:
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Christian Standard Bible, Acts 8:18–19
Simon seeks power and not God. Seeing the true power and what it could do, he misses God completely.
But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven.
Christian Standard Bible, Acts 8:20–22.
I would compare this thinking to standing in the rain and seeing it trickle down into the ground, you, the farmer, know that this rain will feed your crops and land. It will give your animals water to drink and it’s even welcome to cool you after a hard day’s labour. As you look around you see all the rain is doing and turning back to go home you say: “Rain, there is nothing better than you, you truly provide for me.” The process which God created to bring that rain is of no consequence to you, you simply thank the end result.
Then he told them many things in parables, saying, “Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it grew up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it. Still other seed fell on good ground and produced fruit: some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times what was sown. Let anyone who has ears listen.”
Christian Standard Bible, Matthew 13:3–9
Jesus told a parable about these very things which we find in Mark and Matthew. As God sows seeds through us, the church, evangelism, some of those seeds as we have found in our own lives, fall on good soil and “indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matt 13:23)
Jesus also says the following however in his explanation of the parable of the sower:
When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path. And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. But he has no root and is short-lived. When distress or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away. Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
Christian Standard Bible, Matthew 13:19–22
“turn up with the plough the hard ground, cast the stones out of the field, pluck up the thorns out of it”
Augustine of Hippo: Sermon on the Mount – Sermon XXIII
The writer of Hebrews knew of the difficulties which would come against the evangelism of the church, the struggles of the heart of man and the truth of the parable Jesus gave us to learn from, but as Augustine, a great man of God from the early church, said above, we are to turn up the stones we find in the fields! Cast them out, find the thorns, the roots, the wormwood, the wolves and drive them out. How? By the Grace of God!
We starve the wolves, the weeds, and the rocks by feeding the sheep, feeding ourselves with the grace of God and nourishing ourselves with the truth of his Word. The law is not bad, but we could not satisfy its requirements of it (Rom 8:3) and so the Lord did this on our behalf through the Son. The Lord also wants to give us good gifts! (Luke 11:13) but he does this out of his goodness and to point us towards himself. He is not a cosmic Santa who turns up to provide for us and disappears to continue watching from afar but gives us gifts, reminding us all the while that he is ever-present (Psalm 46:1).
Reflection + Questions
What we’ve spoken about today may speak to some of us more than others, because the truth is that these things, more or less, continue to be temptations for us throughout our lives as Christians. We are saved and the ground was planted into and continues to grow, but thorns and stones occasionally, or maybe more than occasionally turn up around us.
If this is you, which of these tendencies, or which other tendencies have sprung up in you, particularly during this time?
How could you show Grace to those around you? Or how are you currently doing this?
Can you recall a time when someone displayed the Grace of God to you?
How did you first witness the Grace of God?
Grace and Peace,
Adsum Try Ravenhill
“Hebrews 12:15-17 shifts… from those who are currently teaching falsely to two parties we rarely think about.
Would-Be False Teachers
Would-Be ‘at Risk’ Sheep”