Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. Hebrews 13:9
The verse consists of two sentences, the second explaining the reason for the first. However, the first, all by itself is a good warning under any situation, “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.” Unfortunately, “sensation sells.” People make up all kinds of nutty things, teaching them as if they were biblically sound. But because the average Christian spends less time reading his Bible than he does getting holes drilled in his head, there is no way for that individual to discern what is sound and what is not.
Hence, throughout the Christian world, “various and strange doctrines” abound. The reason for there being thousands of different denominations is because the Bible is misinterpreted, misrepresented, or completely ignored. Thus, churches are filled with various doctrines. And many of those doctrines are strange, even to the point of having nothing to do with biblical theology. Further, there is the thought that “everyone is a specialist in theology.”
People hear something, no matter how outlandish, and they latch on to it, immediately teaching what they have heard as if it were sound, even if it is completely aberrant. The problem with this is that, without their knowing the Bible, there is no way to show that person that he is, in fact, completely wrong. But sound theology takes hard work, much time, and careful contemplation. None of these are palatable to the one whose ears desire tickling.
Paul speaks of “every wind of doctrine” in Ephesians 4:14, imploring his reader to not get caught up in that which is contrary to sound doctrine, and which comes “by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” Believers are to hold to that which is sound and reasonable. Not strange and goofy.
Having said that, and as already stated, the second sentence explains the first. The author is specifically referring to foods. As will be seen, those foods are then tied into the sacrificial system of Israel. This means that the author is comparing the grace of Christ to the mandates of the Law of Moses, a law which has already and explicitly been said to be annulled (7:18), obsolete (8:13), and taken away (10:9).
And so he says, “For it is good that the heart be established by grace.” Grace is unmerited favor. It is what Christ provided through the giving (sacrifice) of His life for man’s sin. As it is unmerited, it cannot be earned, only received. With that thought in mind, he then says, “not with foods.”
The sacrificial and dietary laws of Israel are not grace. They are law. Certain animals were acceptable, certain animals were not. This is true with both individual dietary issues, mandated for all under the law, and also for acceptable sacrifices and offerings to the Lord, in which the offerer often participated. Of this system of regulations for Israel, he continues by saying, “which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.”
The Greek more literally reads, “in which they who walked were not profited.” The “walk” reflects the conduct of one’s life. Paul uses the term often, such as in Ephesians 4:17 when speaking of the “walk” of the Gentiles. In this case, the author is referring to the “walk” or “conduct of life” under the law and in regard to the “foods which have not profited” those who walked in accord with those laws. The things they did were only external rituals which anticipated the coming of Christ. He is the embodiment and fulfillment of the law, and in Him is found the end of those things. He accomplished for His people the things which bring restoration with God.
The thought being conveyed here is very similar to that of Paul in 1 Timothy 4. There he says that there are those who are “forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” In other words, he is speaking of those who reinsert the precepts of the Law of Moses, or who simply make up dietary and other laws, and then impose those faulty standards on others who are uneducated in what “grace” means.
The message of Hebrews is in perfect agreement with all of Paul’s teachings. It is one unified message that the believer in Christ is not under law, but is under grace.
Life application: The first half of this verse is so broad in its admonition that pages and pages could be written about the strange teachings followed by a single individual, much less everyone in the church. We as people can so easily get sidetracked into cults, conspiracies, speculations, and general finger-pointing that we never become productive Christians.
How many times do you see people waste their time on every possible conspiracy that arises? “The government is building concentration camps for its citizens.” “The twin towers were destroyed by the US government.” “The government is imposing Noahide laws on its people – beheadings are just around the corner.” On and on it goes as we waste our lives on that which is both strange and unproductive.
Likewise, how many know someone who has come home to tell the family they have joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or Adventists because they are the only truth and have the secrets of God exclusively. Strange teachings are teachings which have no value in our lives and merely divert our attention from Jesus. Those who follow them can only be pitied as they dig deeper and deeper into one giant black chasm of futility.
One of the strange teachings, which is a serious misapplication of the Bible, is the re-imposition of dietary laws. Rather than these things, we are to be “strengthened by grace” and not in legalistic teachings. Christ has (past tense) accepted us. To try to merit His favor through our diet after He has already accepted us is to lack being strengthened by grace. Eyes on Jesus! Thoughts on Jesus! Hearts toward Jesus! Everything else is foolish and wasteful.
Lord, help us to think on what is of value in our spiritual lives. Nudge us to ask, “Is this a strange teaching which is of no value?” And then give us wisdom to reject it if it is. May our hearts and minds be attentive to You and not toward that which is off the beaten path, rather crazy, or just plain nuts. May we be pleasing to You through sound biblical doctrine. Amen.