Summary: Like guardrails and protective barriers around potential dangers, so the writer to the Hebrews attempts to safeguard our Christian walk by noting potential dangers to our Christian life--among them apostate religious institutions
I’m a big fan of Yellowstone National Park, not only because of the great fishing it offers, but also because of the great natural wonders that can be seen.
Of course, some of its most famous natural wonders are found in its geyser basins, where Old Faithful can be found among many others, along with its mineral pools like the famous Morning Glory.
In each of those geyser basins you’ll find a board walk, and sometimes rails, to protect visitors from the very natural wonders they have come to see. Every couple years or so you’ll hear about someone who decided they weren’t going to be confined by the boardwalks and the guard rails and ventured out onto the geyser basin on foot. Tragically, what often accompanies these stories is that they were scalded to death by venturing into some very hot pool of water they should have avoid or were seriously injured by an unexpected blast of steam from a volcanic vent.
As it turns out those boardwalks and guide rails had a very important purpose. They weren’t intended just to confine but to protect.
And it’s the same way with our Christian life. The guide rails and warnings we find in the New Testament are intended not to confine but to protect.
As we come to the concluding verses of the Book of Hebrews this morning, it seems that this is the author’s intent. He wants to warn us against involvement with spiritually destructive teachings and activities of all kinds, but he remains especially concerned that his readers that they don’t abandon Christ and return to mainline Judaism. His message for us this morning and in our time consists of spiritual guardrails. Don’t abandon Christ and His truth—guard against strange teachings, apostate institutions and rebellion against spiritual authorities.
He has just told us that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. His character and His motives and His power are always the same. But teachings about God aren’t. They are often varied and strange—strange in the context of apostolic and New Testament teachings which are the standard. And in verse 9 he warns his readers not to be distracted by varied and strange teachings—varied and strange because they are not the teachings of the Apostles or the New Testament and offer no benefit to their relationship with God or spiritual lives.
Verse 9: “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.”
Now we don’t know exactly what the varied and strange teachings were, but they were probably related to Judaism. The clue here is that somehow the eating of particular foods was considered to be of spiritual benefit, and indeed kosher foods were an issue in Judaism, and especially rabbinic Judaism. There were apparently varied and strange teachings that somehow attached themselves to Jewish believers in a way that was not spiritually relevant or helpful. What was helpful was the teaching that God’s grace comes through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s how we have a right relationship with God, and that’s how our spiritual lives grow and are strengthened, not because we eat certain kinds of foods and avoid others.
Of course, we know that today there are all sorts of varied and strange teachings which Christians can begin to be devoted to, that are not helpful for their spiritual lives, but sometimes we are so devoted to them, you would think they were as important as the grace which the Lord Jesus Christ offers us. Often, even among and sometimes especially among evangelical believers, because a certain celebrity Christian endorses something, a fad diet, or even a particular form of political ideology, we tend to grab on to these things as though our spiritual lives depended upon them, and they don’t. Many believers, including I myself, are attracted to conservative political ideologies in our culture. However, we’ve got to be careful. These things are not on the level of Biblical doctrine, and they can be divisive and even destructive in our lives if we elevate non-biblical teachings to the level of unassailable beliefs and doctrines. The Pandemic has certainly resulted in some of these attitudes, to the detriment of some believers. A fellow pastor told me that he found it necessary to go to two services in his church, not because he had too many people, but because too many different and intense opinions about masks—he had to have a service where masks were required, and another where masks were optional. Again, we’ve got to be careful to examine where our beliefs come from, and whether they are absolutely supported by Scripture, and then just how important they are in the big picture. God’s grace, that comes thru Christ, and the vital doctrines of the Christian faith, as well as love from a pure heart and a good conscience--those are the essentials that cannot be violated.