Jesus challenges me to grow up. That isn’t harsh. It is loving. The job of the teacher is to show the students how to mature. It is not to keep you at the level you are but to move you on to next grade. It is to grow.
The author of Hebrews is about to begin his explanation of the heavenly priesthood of the Messiah, but he is not sure his readers are ready for what he has to teach. The problem is not that he is a dull teacher, but that they are dull hearers! The word translated “dull” in Hebrews 5:11 is translated “slothful” in Hebrews 6:12. It refers to a condition of spiritual apathy and laziness that prevents spiritual development.
What, then, are the marks of spiritual immaturity?
Dullness toward the Word. These believers started on their “backward journey” by drifting from the Word, and then doubting the Word. As a result, they were now “dull of hearing”; that is, unable to listen to the Word, receive it, and act on it. They did not have the attitude of the Thessalonians: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thes. 2:13).
One of the first symptoms of spiritual regression, or backsliding, is a dullness toward the Bible. Sunday School class is dull, the preaching is dull, anything spiritual is dull. The problem is usually not with the Sunday School teacher or the pastor, but with the believer himself.
Inability to share. The ability to share spiritual truth with others is a mark of maturity. Not all disciples have the gift of teaching, but all can share what they learn from the Word. One of the hardest lessons children must learn is the lesson of sharing. The recipients of this letter had been saved long enough to be able to share God’s truth with others. But, instead of helping others to grow, these Hebrew disciples were in need of learning again the simple teachings of the Christian life. They were experiencing a second childhood!
A “baby food” diet. Milk is predigested food, and it is especially suited to babies. But only those who have teeth can enjoy meat. The writer defines the “milk” as “the first principles of the oracles of God”. The “meat” of the Word is the teaching about our Master’s ministry now in heaven as our High Priest. The writer wanted to give this “meat” to them, but they were not ready for it.
The “milk” of the Word refers to what Jesus did on earth—His birth, life, teaching, death, burial, and resurrection. The “meat” of the Word refers to what Jesus Christ is now doing in heaven. We begin the discipleship life on the basis of His finished work on earth. We grow in the disciples life on the basis of His unfinished work in heaven.
Of course, even the maturest adult never outgrows milk. As believers, we can still learn much from our Master’s work on earth. But we must not stop there! We must make spiritual progress, and we can do this only if we learn about the Messiah’s priestly ministry for us in heaven.
Unskillful in using the Word. As we grow in the Word, we learn to use it in daily life. As we apply the Word, we exercise our “spiritual senses” and develop spiritual discernment. It is a characteristic of little children that they lack discernment. A baby will put anything into its mouth. An immature believer will listen to any preacher on the radio or television and not be able to identify whether or not he is true to the Scriptures.
Just as our physical bodies have senses without which we could not function, so our inner “spiritual man” has “spiritual senses.” For example: “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). “But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear” (Matt. 13:16). As we feed on the Word of God and apply it in daily life, our inner “spiritual senses” get their exercise and become strong and keen. Paul called this process exercising ourselves unto godliness.
The ability to discern good and evil is a vital part of disciple’s maturity. The nation of Israel in Moses’ day lacked this discernment and failed to claim its promised inheritance. The readers of this letter were in danger of making the same mistake. It is impossible to stand still in the discipleship life: we either go forward and claim God’s blessing, or we go backward and wander about aimlessly.
A pastor once said, “Most Christians are ‘betweeners.’ ”
“What do you mean by that?” He was asked.
“They are between Egypt and Canaan—out of the place of danger, but not yet into the place of rest and rich inheritance,” he replied. “They are between Good Friday and Easter Sunday—saved by the blood but not yet enjoying newness of resurrection life.”
Are you a “betweener”?
- 1 Corinthians 3:1–2 — 1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in the Messiah. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,
- Matthew 11:16–19 — 16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, 17 and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ 19 “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
- Hebrews 5:11–14 — Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 294–295). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.