Hebrews Lesson 64 August 24, 2006
NKJ Isaiah 40:31 But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.
Starting this week and probably for the next couple of weeks we are going to start talking about how to be a fruit judge – how to evaluate fruit – how to evaluate your fruit, not your wife's fruit, not your husband's fruit, not your kid's fruit, not your neighbor's fruit, but your fruit. We don't want to be fruit inspectors of other people. We will leave that up to the lordship salvation crowd. They are always concerned about checking into other people's fruit. That is the issue in the imagery of the illustration of Hebrews 6:7-8. So let's orient our thinking back into the passage since it has been a week.
This is one of the most significant warning passages in the epistle. The next serious one comes in chapter 10. Here we read a passage that many have misunderstood, misinterpreted. It is a serious warning to every believer that there are serious consequences to spiritual failure in life and spiritual regression.
NKJ Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,
We studied where that should go and I don't want to lose the emphasis of the difficulty of this.
It is not impossible for God; it is impossible for us as we saw last time in terms of the context of Hebrews. Again and again there are these reminders that believers are to encourage one another. When a believer fails and goes negative to doctrine and entrenches in carnality, it is impossible. You can't talk to them. I don't know if you have ever had a close friend or family member take a nose dive into the swimming pool of carnality and just enjoy splashing around for a while. They don't want anybody to come along and talk to them about doctrine.
They get as irritated as they can be. From a human perspective it is impossible to get them to recover. It is going to take an act of God.
That is why in verse 3 the writer says...
NKJ Hebrews 6:3 And this we will do if God permits.
NKJ Hebrews 6:5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
That is how it runs together. It is a whole series of descriptions of these believers. The very last one focuses on their spiritual condition.
They have already fallen away. These are aorist participles, so this is true. They are believers. They are regenerate. They have been growing. They have been going somewhere in their spiritual lives. Now they have already (past tense, completed) fallen away.
NKJ Hebrews 6:6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
The point that I made last week is that these Jewish believers were aligning themselves with the Pharisees. By rejecting Christianity they were going back into Judaism and aligning themselves with the thought process and the belief system of those who crucified Jesus. That is what he means here. By virtue of their rejection and reverse decision to go back into Judaism they are in effect crucifying Christ again. This is an embarrassment or shame.
I concluded with 5 key principles. We have to be reminded that we can all fail. We can all get involved in carnality. As long as we are alive, God has a plan for our lives. You can't out sin the grace of God. Now you may sin to the point where you go out under the sin unto death, but as long as you are still breathing you do have a chance to recover.
Five Key Points
- No sin is unknown by the omniscience of God. It is so important. There is no sin. I had a couple of great conversations with a young man (who thinks he has the gift of pastor-teacher) engaging another fellow that he works with in conversations about Christianity. In turns out that this other guy was saved. As they got deeper and deeper and deeper into trying to figure out what each believed, it turned out that this fellow was charismatic. He spoke in tongues and 'healed' and did all kinds of things like that. But he also believed that you could lose your salvation. If you died in a state with unrepented (what we would call unconfessed) sin, then you wouldn't be saved. You run into these kinds of people all the time. This guy got on the phone to me two or three times and said, "What do I say to him?" That is the way we should all be – not just someone going into the pastorate. He is working full time. We are all working full time. We have friends, neighbors, family and co-workers that we should be interacting with spiritually. They are going to hit us with stuff. One of the points that he kept making to this guy is what sins are you going to commit that weren't known by the omniscience of God in eternity past and not covered on the cross. So many people do not think about this. They have such a shallow view of God. They turn around and say that we put God in a box. There is no rationality anymore
- No sin is overlooked by the justice of God. Every sin was dealt with on the cross. Every sin in history was imputed to Jesus Christ and the penalty was paid for by Christ on the cross.
- No sin is too bad for the grace of God. God's grace is greater than any sin that we can commit.
- No sin is too strong for the omnipotence of God. God's power is such that He is able to accomplish that which He intended to accomplish which was a perfect salvation.
- No sin is too harsh not to be overcome by the love of God. God's love provided perfect salvation by sending His Son to die on the cross for us.
We went over those in conclusion last time. Now we come to our passage in Hebrews 6:7. This is the illustration.
NKJ Hebrews 6:7 For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God;
NKJ Hebrews 6:8 but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
It is very important for us to understand this illustration because there is certain verbiage in this illustration that when people read it, their first blush interpretation of this passage is that it is talking about the loss of salvation - if you bear thorns and briars in your life then you are rejected. You are not going to be saved. You are going to be cursed.
They go to thorns and briars and say, "See, what are thorns and briars? Thorns and briars have come into existence because of Adam's sin when the ground was cursed. This is talking about a massive curse for sin like we have in Genesis 3. The end is burning. When do we have burning in the Scripture? We have burning when unbelievers are sent to the Lake of Fire. So, that is what this is talking about. This is an illustration of those failure believers mentioned earlier that lost their salvation and now they are rejected and sent to the Lake of Fire."
There are many people who believe that, but this is not what this is talking about at all. As we have seen in our study so far that the context indicates that he is talking about believers. They are expected to be able to recover, to press on. They have had solid food in the past according to the last few verses of chapter 5. But because of their rejection, because of their carnality they have reversed growth. They have regressed.
They have gone from being spiritual adolescents back to being spiritual infants. They are clearly believers. The list of descriptions in verses 4-6 describes believers. They were once enlightened. This comes at regeneration as we have studied.
They have tasted of the heavenly gift. The idea of tasting if you remember is not a little nibble or just getting a sense of the impact of the food on the taste buds of your tongue. It is the idea of completely eating something, of completely taking it into you experience just as Jesus tasted death for everyone. He didn't just nibble at it around the edges. He fully experienced spiritual death for everyone. So this idea of tasting has the idea of fully experiencing something. So they fully experience the heavenly gift, which is salvation.
They have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, another key word. They have become partners with the Holy Spirit, which is what happens to every Church Age believer. At the instant of salvation you entered into a partnership with God the Holy Spirit. Think about that. You are in a partnership with God the Holy Spirit. The job of your partner is to make you a mature believer and conform you to the image of Christ. Now He is not going to stop that job. He is going to keep working at that whether you want Him to or not. So even when you take a swan dive into the pool of carnality and just want to swim around and sin for awhile, the Holy Spirit is not going to go sit in a lounge chair somewhere and passively watch. He is going to be involved in getting your attention through divine discipline and reminders of doctrine and other things to get you back on track. It may take awhile but nevertheless the Holy Spirit doesn't quit working. He is quenched in His sanctifying or growth-producing ministry. Now he is in a rebuking and recovery ministry to get you back in shape. He is your partner and you can't get away from that. You can't get a divorce from that partner.
The age to come refers to the Millennial Kingdom. The key power in the Millennial Kingdom is that the Holy Spirit will indwell all believers. They will all know the Word of God and they won't need to teach one another his neighbor because this inherent knowledge of Scripture that every believer will have. That is according to Jeremiah 31 and the description of the New Covenant in the kingdom. We have foreshadowing of that in the indwelling and filling of God the Holy Spirit for the believer in the Church Age. So all of these descriptions in verses 4 and 5 describe a genuine believer.
Last time we looked at parallel passages that used various forms of the word pipto for falling away. Here it is peripipto. In Galatians 5:4 it was ekpipto. In Revelations 2 where it talks about the Ephesians who have fallen away from their first love, it was pipto. These words describe believers who are born again and leap into carnality and quit walking by means of God the Holy Spirit. So here you have a specific teaching regarding this in these two verses. Then to make it clear like a good preacher he is going to use an illustration. The illustration comes out of an agricultural background. If you are not familiar with agricultural standards in the ancient world, then you might miss what some of this is about which happens to a number of people and they misinterpret the passage. So we need to look at it very carefully and we need to understand what the symbols are in the illustration in verses 7-8.
First of all we have the earth. The earth is the believer. It is out of the earth that fruit is produced. The earth represents the believer.
The second element in this illustration is rain. We all know that in order for things to grow they have to have rain. Your grass isn't its normal brown in the middle of August like it typically is in Houston because we have had a lot of rain this year – at least here. Now if you go up to the northwest, it is still dry there. Here everything is nice and green. It doesn't look like the typical lawn in August. But rain is that which nourishes the soil and provides the nutrients in the soil for it to grow. So that is comparable or analogous in this illustration to the Word of God and to the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit of God working in tandem with the Word of God that produces spiritual growth and fruit in the child of God.
So the earth is the believer. Rain is the provision of God.
The herbs that come forth in verse 7 are useful. This talks about the production of good fruit which is divine good. So verse 6 focuses on the production of fruit in the life of the believer – that which is useful. Useful for whom? This is where it gets interesting. It is useful for those by whom it is cultivated. So you have to understand that. You have thorns and thistles that represent the production of evil, sin and human good.
Who is doing the cultivating work? It's God. It is God the Father. If the rain represents the Holy Spirit, then this is God the Father. I think this is analogous to God the Father who is the vinedresser in John 15. We may not get there tonight, but we are going to go into the vine analogy in John 15 in order to tie these things together. These are some of the most crucial images that are used in Scripture for understanding our spiritual life and how it works. This passage here, John 15, Galatians 5, Ephesians 5 are the key chapters in the New Testament to teach on the mechanics of spiritual growth and fruit production which is something that is not very well understood at all by many churches today, many theologians. So the cultivator is God.
When the believer bears fruit, it is useful. It is useful for whom? It is useful for God. God uses that when you are a maturing believer and producing fruit. Then you become useful to God in terms of Christian service. That is what this is ultimately going toward. It is not just about you and your spiritual life and your relationship to God. Don't get involved in a self-centered, self-absorbed vision of your Christian life. When you look at the ultimate value, character quality in the Christian life it is love. Love involves relationship with other people. It is not about you going home and listening to a tape recorder and reading your notes. It is about you and your relationship to God. That is a means to an end. That end is your service within the framework of the body of Christ. The trouble is that most churches get those things flip-flopped. As soon as somebody walks in the door they want to get them involved in some kind of Christian service. They don't know anything about the Bible. They don't know anything having a relationship with God. They don't know anything about spiritual dynamics. They don't know anything about the filling of the Holy Spirit. Consequently they end up producing a lot of wood, hay and straw. That is a typical modus operandi.
I remember when I was a young pastor. Some older man in the church came up to me and said, "Pastor, what you need to do is get these visitors that come to church and give them a job to do and get them working in Sunday school or get them working in this or working in that. That is how you build a church."
I said, "I don't think so. I appreciate your insight and advice, but I am not convinced that is how things work. I think you have things backwards."
There are always folks who operate that way and that is how most churches operate. They don't understand the difference between the result and what causes the result. As we grow and mature as believers, it is to serve one another in the body of Christ. That is part of our responsibility – to function in terms of our ambassadorial responsibilities and our royal priesthood. All of that comes under the category of Christian service.
I hear too many believers say, "I just want to listen to my tapes, go over my notes, study and they don't get involved in any kind of life with anybody else. That is not what Hebrews is talking about. In fact Hebrews is very much against kind of solipsistic (meaning to be isolated within yourself) action. There are too many solipsistic believers running around because we live in a worldly culture that promotes individualistic isolation. You go home to your apartment complex or your home and you probably don't know the names of more than two or three people on your street. I can still drive down my parents street and tell you the names of the people who lived in each house when I as a kid. I can't do that on my street now. Of course there is new construction and half of them are empty. We live in a world that promotes this kind of isolationism.
That is not the genuine Christian life. We have to remember the difference between spiritual dynamics and ultimate production.
The cultivator is God. He is the one working the soil to produce the fruit. This gives us the elements, the symbols that are in the passage. Now it is clear from the passage that the subject is judgment. When I use the word judgment I don't just mean something negative – harsh in terms of judgment, casting people into the Lake of Fire. It is evaluation.
There are different kinds of judgments in the Scriptures. We are going to have to decide which judgment it is. So the first point is to recognize that this is an illustration that relates to judgment. But which one are we talking about? Is this the Great White Throne Judgment? If this is talking about the Great White Throne Judgment, that is for unbelievers only, Revelation 20. Only unbelievers show up at the Great White Throne Judgment. This would be talking about the difference between believers and unbelievers. I don't believe that is what this passage is talking about at all. Is it talking about the judgment at the end of the tribulation – the separation of the sheep and the goats? I don't think so. It is not talking about believers versus unbelievers. So that leaves the third option, which is the Bema Seat.
We have a time chart. The Great White Throne is at the end of the Millennium. There is a judgment at the end of the tribulation. Tribulation unbelievers are sent to a holding place (Tartarus) until the Great White Throne Judgment. Then during the tribulation there is an evaluation of all believers in heaven. This is the Judgment Seat of Christ. The word used in the Greek for that is the Bema Seat. We will study that as we go through our study. It is a vital part of understanding this passage.
The next thing that we have to recognize is that the first word here in verse 7 (for) shows that in verses 7 and 8 are connected grammatically to verses 4-6. It is an explanation of the dynamics of verse 4-6. So that means if verses 4-6 is talking about believers, then 7 and 8 must also be talking about believers. We don't have any unbelievers in this passage at all. So that tells us that we have to be talking about the Judgment Seat of Christ.
When we look at the passage, we start breaking the illustration down. The earth represents the believer and the rain represents the divine grace provision, which God gives equally to every believer. This is the Word of God and the Spirit of God. At the instant of salvation every one of us got the Holy Spirit to the same degree, to the same measure. Some of you didn't get a little more; some of you didn't get a little less. If you were part of a charismatic Pentecostal group, they would teach you that some of you didn't get the full gospel. You only got part of the gospel. It wasn't until you learned that you have to lay it all on the altar or submit yourself or yield yourself or something like that (some kind of vocabulary like that) that you get the second blessing. Then you get the full gospel. That is what they mean when they talk about – full gospel. You have the Full Gospel Men's Fellowship and other groups like that. That is what they are. They come out of Pentecostal backgrounds. Every believer gets the same degree of the Holy Spirit. Every believer has access to the Word of God. We live in an era today where God is judging this nation by the proliferation of biblical truth today.
You may turn on the television and say, "Where is the biblical truth?"
I am not talking about that. If you go to a decent Christian bookstore or get on the internet and go to Christianbooks.com or any of the other good publishing website like Zondervan or any of the other websites there is more Biblical knowledge available today for the average believer than at any time in history. There are more Christian books being published today. Since the 70's there has been an enormous growth in the reprint business. They have been going back and reprinting the classics of theology and biblical commentaries and devotional books from the 17th and 18th centuries. It is unbelievable how much doctrine is available to you. Not only that but you have the internet, MP3's, DVD's. I could name probably 20 solid doctrinal pastors that have internet ministries that you could go home and listen to everything every one of those men has taught in their entire ministries and listen from now until the day you die and never sleep and never do anything else but listen to doctrine.
There is so much available. You can get computer programs that are so sophisticated. You can't even imagine all that you can do in terms of Bible study. Yet we live in a culture that is headed spiritually downhill faster than any culture in history just about. They have rejected all of this spiritual truth that is available. Most Christians, genuine regenerate believers, reject it too. They would rather go to church and sing and clap and feel good and have a little sermonette for Christianettes and then go home and think that they are actually having an experience with God. They are just having an experience with the god-idol they have created in their own minds. They are worshipping that and they are not going anywhere. So we live in a world today that is being judged for its failure to utilize what is being given in terms of the Word of God. The Word of God is the primary growth agent in the Scripture.
NKJ 1 Peter 2:2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,
That is a command. We are commanded to desire the pure milk of the Word like a newborn baby. Have you ever heard a newborn baby when they are hungry? What do they do? They scream. They cry. They throw a tantrum. That is how believers should be if they are not being fed the Word of God. Yet most believers don't do that. They don't have any appetite anymore.
The basis for growth is the Word of God. It is not hymn singing. Hymns are wonderful. Hymn singing is a production of the Holy Spirit. It is part of corporate worship. It is valid. It is important. It is significant. It should be done well. But, it is not part of spiritual growth. It is a part of our spiritual priesthood. But we grow by the study of the Word of God.
NKJ 2 Peter 3:18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.
This is how we advance. It is through the knowledge of the Word of God. When Jesus was talking to Peter in John 21 after the resurrection…
He says, "Peter, do you love me?"
Peter said, "Oh yes Lord. I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
How do you feed the sheep? You teach them the Word of God. He didn't say administer the congregation. He didn't say focus on leadership skills and leadership dynamics and be a good facilitator. You may not know this because some of you are isolated, but that is what is coming out of too many seminaries today – men who are administrators and managers and CEO's of a corporation. When you watch what is going on in the media, they are just businesses. They aren't ministries anymore. It is all about money and production and selling tapes and selling books and selling prayer cloths and selling holy oil to be anointed with and all of this other stuff. It doesn't have anything to do with biblical Christianity anymore.
The focus should be on the Word of God. That is the only thing that we are going to grow with. It is the Holy Spirit who enacts that, who makes that happen, because the Christian life isn't just a matter of academics. It is not just a matter of learning doctrine. If it were just a matter of studying and learning the Bible, then there would be a lot more mature believers. You can go to a lot of Bible colleges and seminaries and people are learning all kinds of stuff. But, there is no spiritual growth. There is a spiritual dynamic created by God the Holy Spirit who is the fruit producer. He is the one taking the doctrine and producing growth and maturity in our lives. If we aren't in right relationship to Him or if you don't know how to be in right relationship with Him, then you are going to try to grow spiritually. All you are doing is pulling yourself up by the human good of your own spiritual boot straps, and it isn't going to get you anywhere. You may have a moral life. You may have a good life. You can have a decent family life. You can become successful in business, but it doesn't have anything to do with God the Holy Spirit because you don't know how that works. It is the tandem production of God the Holy Spirit working with the Word of God. That is the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to produce spiritual growth.
Now let's go on and develop our illustration a little more.
- We saw first of all that the illustration relates to judgment.
- It relates back to the previous section so that we know we are talking about believers and the evaluation of believers.
- We have the focus on the grace of God and His provision.
- Every believer has the same spiritual potential. From the moment you trust Christ as your savior have the same potential as everyone in this room and every other believer in history. You have the same potential to grow to spiritual maturity. You have the same assets. You have the Word of God and the Spirit of God. God has given you everything. That is what we mean by sufficient. That one word "sufficient" means that the Bible is enough. You don't need anything else to figure out how to solve the problems and difficulties in your life and to grow to spiritual maturity.
This is one of the things that we used to fight like crazy (and we still do). It started back in the 70's when I was in seminary. The big rage was to go into Christian counseling because so many pastors have all of these people coming to them with marriage problems, problems with their kids, problems in their lives or whatever it may be and they want counseling. I can't tell you how many guys I knew who went to seminary for a couple of years and then they would shift and go to some school to get a degree in psychology so that they cold help people. What we are really saying here is that knowing the Bible really isn't enough to help people. You have to have to have all of this methodology that comes out of humanistic psychology. In other words up until Freud you couldn't really help people. What did those people do in the early 1800's for a Christian life? Those poor people were miserable. They didn't know anything about psychology. They didn't know anything about personal counseling. They didn't get into all of this stuff about self-image. Gee, we didn't even have this vocabulary until the middle of the 20th century. Now we are so far advanced beyond these other believers.
"We don't need the Bible. We just need a couple of master's degrees in psychology and counseling then we can help people."
No! The Scripture says the Bible is the source of help. No matter what you have gone through in life the Word of God and the grace of God are all you need to solve the problems of life. The trouble is that most people are not willing to trust God and not willing to do what the Bible says.
So they end up saying, "Well, doctrine doesn't work."
It's not that doctrine doesn't work. It's that you didn't work the doctrine. You aren't getting anywhere because you still want God to help you do it your way. Until you realize that God wants you to do it His way, you won't get anywhere in the Christian life.
In the old days, do you know what they used to call pastors? Pastors were soul doctors, doctors of the soul because it was the Word of God that would heal the problems of your soul. I thought that was great. Now you have to have a doctor in psychology to help people and if you aren't certified by the state, you can't do counseling or you might be open to a lawsuit. Do you see where we have gone? We live in a lovely world.
Every believer has these same assets. The Word of God, the Spirit of God, the grace of God and the cross of Christ are sufficient. They are all you need. Isn't that wonderful? That's all you need. But the trouble is you have to learn about all of those things. You have to learn about those assets. You can't just sit at home with your Bible open and get it all. You may get a little of it but you aren't going to get most of it. You have to go to church. You have to go and listen to somebody who knows the Word of God, can study the Word of God and can teach you the Word of God so that you can gradually learn all of these magnificent promises that God has given us. You can learn all about these assets and learn how to grow and mature as a believer.
So the rain represents all that God gives us. He gives the believer everything he needs.
Now there is some work going on here. But you are not the one doing the work. Remember the illustration? The earth is the believer. The believer is receiving the rain. The earth is passive to receiving God's gift of everything it needs in order to produce fruit. But we are introduced to this character in the analogy who is called the cultivator, the one by whom it is cultivated. So somebody is working the soil in order to produce fruit. Guess who that is. That is God the Father. He is working in every believer's life through God the Holy Spirit to produce spiritual growth in the life of the believer. It is the result of His work on the soil that eventually fruit is produced. But you see the other soil has nobody tilling it – not because they aren't saved, but because they are not in right relationship to God the Holy Spirit. That tilling work only happens when you are in right relationship with the Holy Spirit – when you are walking in the Holy Spirit, when you are being filled by the Holy Spirit, and when you are abiding in Christ. All those terms are synonymous terms in the Scripture. So it is God who does the work. Isn't that great?
That is what grace is all about. God provides the means, God provides the work, and God provides the production. All we have to do is exercise our volition to be willing to do what God says to do in terms of learning the Word of God. God does the rest.
The difference between these two soils is not a difference in capability. It is not a difference of potential. It's not a difference of IQ. It is not a difference of family life. It is not a difference of Bible translation. It is a difference of volition. What makes the difference between the two is that the soil that produces fruit is soil that is willing to do what God says to do and to implement the procedures and is positive to the Word of God. The soil that produces thorns and thistles is soil that is not willing. What makes the difference is volition. Your volition is so important. Your volition has made you the person that you are today – good, bad, or indifferent. You are today the product of your volition. Your volition, your will is what is going to determine what you are going to be in the Millennial Kingdom and in eternity. You are becoming today what you will be character wise in the Millennial Kingdom. Now in the Millennial Kingdom you will be in a resurrection body and you won't have a sin nature. But the capacities that you have, the responsibilities that you are going to be able to handle are determined by your spiritual advance and growth today. So the decisions you make today will determine who you will be and what you will do in the Millennial Kingdom and on into eternity. So the key issue between the two is the individual's volition.
Now let's look at the two divisions again. In verse 7, the earth is the believer. It drinks in or takes in the rain that is provided for by God. It produces divine good. Notice that divine good is produced by the One who cultivates it. It doesn't have anything to do with you and your works. It has to do with God and His works. In contrast the soul of the unbelieving believer as it were (the believer who is not trusting God who is relying on his own abilities) bears thorns and briars. So it produces human good, not fruit. There is nothing of value to God or anybody.
It is rejected. That is really a bad translation. The Greek word is adokimos. The a at the beginning is a negative. It is called the alpha privative if you know Greek. It is like the prefix un in English. It negates the word. The word dokimos is a noun meaning to be qualified, to be worthy, to pass the test. The verb form is used in James 1.
NKJ James 1:2 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.
So what we have here it is that the negative soil bears thorns and thistles. It is rejected. Adokimos means to be unapproved, to be unqualified or unworthy. In a passive sense it means to be disapproved, discredited, rejected or cast away. Probably the best translation is discredited. It is discredited because it is failing to grow. As we will see this word is used in a number of passages. I Corinthians 9:27 is a good passage. We will look at that in a minute. II Corinthians 13:5-7 is another one. A form of this word is used in I Corinthians 3 at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Believers who produce wood, hay and straw don't pass the test. They fail to dokimazo. They have a verb for evaluation. They fail that. That is what it is talking about here. The believer produces wood, hay and straw. What happens to the wood, hay and straw in I Corinthians 3? We will go there. If you remember, that is where the believer's works are all piled up – good works, bad works, and divine good, human good.
At the Judgment Seat of Christ the production of your life is piled up. The image is that now we are going to purify it. We are going to burn off all of the garbage. So a fire is lit and all of the wood, hay and straw is burned up. Whatever is left is the basis for reward. What is left is divine good – gold, silver, and precious stones. At the Bema Seat (the Judgment Seat of Christ) there is this purification process. All of that which is unworthy is discredited and burned up or cast away. That is the imagery here of this burning. It is not the burning of hell; it is the burning of purification and judgment that will take place at the Judgment Seat of Christ. So the second category isn't talking about the unbeliever; it is talking about a believer who has not responded to the grace of God and produces wood, hay, and straw.
There are a couple of good passages that indicate the use of the word adokimos. The LXX which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses it in Proverbs 25:4.
NKJ Proverbs 25:4 Take away the dross from silver, And it will go to the silversmith for jewelry.
It is the picture of refining the silver. In any kind of metal there are various impurities. It is through heat that those impurities are burned away so that what you are focusing is what is left – gold, silver or whatever. That is what the focus is. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, the focus is not on how you fail. There are so many folks that worry about that. They think the focus will be on how many times they failed Jesus. But that is not where the focus is going to be. The focus is to burn away all of that so what is left that is visible is what you did positively in terms of walking by the Spirit and the fruit the Holy Spirit produced in your life.
I Corinthians 9:24 expands on this in the New Testament. So we will look at this. Paul uses the metaphor of the Olympics. I love how the Scripture uses these everyday illustrations that people were used to. Jesus talks about fishing. He talks about feeding the sheep to men who have an agriculture background and understand what that is all about. Paul talks about the races, the Olympics. They were as aware of the athletic contests in their day as people are in our day. Sports have been around for a long time. So Paul uses an analogy of an Olympic race to talk about the spiritual life. This is a short race. He says…
NKJ 1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
The idea of running is the idea of going forward with speed. That should be a fact in every believer's life. We should be pressing on – running forward in the Christian life - not just kind of skipping along like Prissy in Gone with the Wind. Remember when she is just dawdling along running her hand along the picket fence. Some of you need to watch Gone with the Wind.
A stadium runs about 192 meters. It is one-eighth of a mile so it is a short race.
He uses an illustration from the Olympics in Ancient Greece. There were Olympics held in Olympia, in Nimia which was to the southwest of Corinth, in Isthmia which was very close to Corinth right there at the Isthmus of Corinth which goes from the Peloponnese Peninsula on the south to mainland of Greece. Athens and Delphi is where they had the Olympics in Ancient Greece.
The games were as big an event in their day as they are in our day. You read the writings of the Ancient Greeks. They used to complain about all the people who would come into the city. They would set up all of their tents and they didn't have good sanitation. They had to worry about digging latrines and all of the other things that that go with having 20,000 or 30,000 people descend on a small village of a couple of thousand for a couple of weeks to run the games. You have the same logistic problems today.
Paul is writing in I Corinthians to the Corinthians. These are the games that were held outside the town of Corinth.
Every Greek understood exactly what was under discussion.
We live in a world today where people don't like to be winners. They don't teach their kids to win. Everybody is going to play T-ball and everybody is going to win. They don't teach these lessons. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. In the Christian life you want to be a winner. You want to do what you have to do in order to grow so that you can gain the prize. The prize is a reward for faithfully serving the Lord. There is nothing wrong with being motivated by that. Paul is using that to motivate people right here.
I have heard Christians say, "I am so spiritual. I am just going to serve the Lord and I don't care about reward. That is so carnal."
Wait a minute. Paul said to compete for the prize.
NKJ 1 Corinthians 9:25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
That means that you have to set a plan. You have to realize that there are some things that you can't do. It is great to eat whatever you want to eat, but if you are in training for an athletic contest you can't eat certain things. Not if you want to win. That is a principle that every believer has to learn. It is not that some things are wrong. It is that they are a distraction. They won't allow you to accomplish the goal of growing and maturing as a believer. You could be at home or you could be out doing all kinds of things. You could be going to night classes. You could go out and take dancing lessons. You could be doing all kinds of things. You could be working out at the gym tonight. You could be doing all kinds of things that aren't immoral or illegal. But they would be a distraction from your spiritual growth. So you have come to understand the importance of getting rid of certain things in your life that you enjoy doing simply because it is a distraction to your spiritual life. That is what Paul is talking about here.
He says that they do all of this and the prize is nothing more than a perishable wreath. For some contests it was just a laurel wreath and for others it was a wreath of withered celery leaves. How would you like that for a prize? You are going to spend a year in training to win the race and you aren't even going to get a T-shirt. All you are going to get is a wreath of withered celery leaves. In others you got regular celery leaves, but it wouldn't be long before they withered.
But Paul says, "They do it to receive a perishable wreath."
That which we get is going to last for an eternity. It is the only thing that we are going to take with us. Yet more people are consumed with all the material gains in life. What the Scripture says is that you can't take any of that with you. But what you can take with you is the spiritual growth that you produce in this life. That is going to be determinative at the Judgment Seat of Christ and in the Millennial Kingdom.
The word there for wreath is stephanos. We will run across this in Revelation 5. This is the crown that is earned. It is not the diademos, which is a crown of royalty, but this is a crown that is earned. It is a prize or a reward.
NKJ 1 Corinthians 9:26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.
Why? Because we have the certainty of Scripture.
"I am not just shadow boxing."
NKJ 1 Corinthians 9:27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
That is the same word that we have over in Hebrews 6:8 – disqualified (adokimos). The Apostle Paul realized he cold still blow it. He could still decide to go negative. He could get involved in extended carnality and sin and it would disqualify him from the prize. If that is true of Paul, how much more do you think it is true for the rest of us? We have to be diligent and watch over our spiritual lives so that we are qualified to win the prize. The Judgment Seat of Christ is where we are going to be evaluated.
I have one last phrase to comment on.
NKJ Hebrews 6:8 but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
That is the Greek word eggus. It is close. It is expected. It is not cursed. Let's talk about this word curse for just a minute. A curse in Scripture is not some kind of black magic. It is not some sort of an evil eye or cult malediction. It is an expression of the justice of God. It is an expression of the judgment of God. So that when the earth is cursed in Genesis 3 because Adam sinned, it is a judgment on the earth from the justice of God. It is not some type of cultic curse. So what we are talking about here is someone close to judgment. It doesn't mean that they lose their eternal life; it just means that they are close to significant divine discipline. If they don't recover, then the end result is that they are going to have everything burned up which is what happens to all human good at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
As we look at this whole illustration it builds on an agricultural reality.
Pliney the Elder was a Roman natural scientist who lived during the 1st century AD – from about 16 AD to the late part of the first century. His life span overlapped that of the New Testament. He wrote in his book of natural science regarding agriculture. He said,
Some people also set fire to the stubble in the field. The chief reason however for this plan is to burn up the seed up the weed.
In other words burning is not just a picture of judgment, but it is a picture in the life of removing the impurities. It is divine discipline to get straightened up to produce that which is good. That is an important thing to understand here because the writer of Hebrews is not just talking about the eventual judgment at the Judgment Seat of Christ but also a temporal discipline. He is warning them that if they don't recover then they can face serious divine discipline in time. This is related to God's attempt to make them more productive. We need to understand that because this helps us to see the whole mechanics of the spiritual life. This same imagery is used in numerous passages which I have referred to already – John 15, Galatians 5, and Ephesians 5. We will come back next time and look at how this imagery is used by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 15 to teach about how we produce fruit in the spiritual life.