Last week’s seaside visit to Galway reminded me of the danger of drift.
The first chapter of Hebrews is a declaration -a celebration perhaps – of who Jesus is. Greater than angels, creator and upholder of the universe, the exact representation of the Father’s glory, purifier of sin, seated at the right hand of majesty… the sonorous phrases roll on powerfully.
And not a word of instruction.
But isn’t that the way of it? First, you have to realise just who God is and what he has done for you. Only then can you begin to formulate a response. Worship precedes work. Prayer precedes praxis.
The response comes at the beginning of the second chapter: “It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off.”
The words translated “keep a firm grip” and “drift off” are nautical terms. The first can mean to moor a ship, and the second can be used of a ship which has been carelessly allowed to slip past a harbour or a haven because the sailor has forgotten to allow for the wind or the tide. So, then, this first verse could be very vividly translated: ‘Therefore, we must the more eagerly anchor our lives to the things that we have been taught lest the ship of life drift past the harbour and be wrecked.’
It is a vivid picture of a ship drifting on to the rocks because its captain sleeps.
Here’s the passage:
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
So: first the celebration! All the fullness of God is in Jesus (Colossians 2:9). All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Jesus (Colossians 2:3). Beyond what the Old Testament told us, whatever we need to know about God and how he relates to our lives we learn from what we hear and see in God’s final, decisive Word, Jesus Christ. That’s what Hebrews 1 is all about: this final word of God, Jesus Christ. In summary, chapter 1 says that the Son of God is the heir of all things (v. 2), he made the world (v. 2), he is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s nature (v. 3), he upholds all things by the word of his power (v. 3), he made purification for sins (v. 3), he sat down at the right hand of God‘s majesty (v. 3), and he is greater than any angel (v. 4) because angels worship him (v. 6). He is the mighty God (v. 8).
And then chapter 2 begins with the first instruction: it’s simply to listen. And Listen good….
Do you remember the first video recorders? I well recall a huge box like a giant toaster perched underneath the bulky TV that came with a bulky list of instructions how to set one’s TV to record. It was something I never really mastered, and would often turn on the set the following evening to discover that the promised James Bond movie would have mysteriously changed into four hours of the Home Shopping Network. The reason? I had set it wrongly. I had got the wrong channel, the wrong time…. the possibilities for messing up were endless.
The point I’m making here is that you have to make careful plans to listen if you want to get it right. Pay attention to the details of your faith,
This is the issue of drift. If you want to avoid it, then you have to pay “close attention.” You have to listen to the speaking voice of God and spend time with the written word of God. It’s a corrective repeated constantly in Hebrews: “Today, if you hear his voice….listen!”
This is not a casual point. It’s importance is underlined in 3:1 “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus.” In Heb 12:1–2 the author says, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” The first command of this book is not “labour for Jesus,” but “listen to Jesus.” He is not commanding us to work for him, but to watch him. Every spiritual life-change come from that (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The substance of this listening is spelt out clearly: Pay Attention, so You Don’t Neglect Such a Great Salvation.
The word “neglect” might distract you a little: as if “salvation” was a sickly plant that you had to nurture and pamper or it would die off. The meaning is quite different. The negative side is easier to see: if you neglect the warning sign, then you will fall prey to the danger of which it warns. “Warning: Bridge Out!” suggests that you curtail your planned road-trip in that direction! You can’t shrug and hope for the best. Don’t neglect the warning sign.
The positive side is simply the opposite concept. You have something wonderful and powerful in your possession. But that bullet-proof vest (!) must be worn in order to be useful. Don’t neglect what you have been given!
The alternative is terrible. The word “drift” suggests a sliding past of the safe harbour, a slipping away from the safety of the anchor. It can happen to anyone. No one can say: “I could never fall away.”
Have you ever swum out to sea but then lost track of those you left on the shore? The current has pushed you along and you are in a different place. It’s unfamiliar.
Watch for the drift.
- Sun in the Storm (michellejoyeby.wordpress.com)
- Grace (thebeggardanced.com)
- Hebrews 1: Lesson 8 (awordshared.wordpress.com)
- Colossians 2:6-9 Roots and shoots (squeezetheword.wordpress.com)
- Drifting Towards Hell (trustingortripping.wordpress.com)
- Now Pay Attention Young Man! (wisejunction.wordpress.com)