Become Spiritually Mature
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
Hebrews 4:14-5:10 resumed the illustration of Christ as apostle and high priest. We were told that, in light of who Christ is, we have a responsibility to "...hold fast our confession" (4:14). In light of what Christ has given us, it is impossible to return to a system that is not dependent on the Word of God.
Furthermore, we were shown that Christ is the "great high priest'' (4: 14). This title denotes Christ's vast superiority to any high priest that has ever existed, before or since. The high priest has two functions: representation of the people by offering sacrifice for their sins, and carrying out the continual ministry of intercession before God on their behalf. Christ Himself was our sacrifice, and in His present role, He continually intercedes on our behalf before God ("passed through the heavens" (4:14). Christ is functioning today as our high priest in heaven.
How can Christ be our high priest? He has ''been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." Christ has been tested in every conceivable way, just as we have, yet He did not sin. He is able to understand exactly what we are going through and intercede on our behalf before God the Father.
Because of Christ's high priesthood we are to "draw near" to Him with ''confidence'' (4:16). When we are born into the family of God through the salvation given in Jesus Christ, we are to continually draw near to Him "that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need" (4:16). Only those who draw near to God through Christ the high priest will find favor with God in the time of need. Those who attempt to draw near through their own efforts will find nothing but destruction awaiting them.
Hebrews 5:1 began the actual discussion of the qualifications and ministry of a high priest. The priesthood of Aaron (vs. 1-4) was compared to the priesthood of Christ (vs. 5-10). In verses 1 through 4 are the qualifications of an Old Testament priest from the line of Aaron. A priest must be from the same race as the people he represents (vs. 1), represent people in things pertaining to God (vs. 1), intercede on behalf of the people before God (vs. 2), offer sacrifice for sin (vs. 3), and be called by God (vs. 4).
The writer concluded verses 5-10 by turning His attention to Christ's priesthood. We were shown that Christ was appointed by God (vs. 5). Christ's priesthood establishes a new order from the line of Melchizedek (vs. 6). He is identified with the people He represents (vs. 7), and He offered up prayers and supplications in complete obedience to God (vs. 8). Finally, Christ is superior. He offered one sacrifice for all time that gives "eternal salvation" to those who believe (vs. 9).
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 a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we shall do, if God permits. For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and (then) have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
Hebrews 5:11 begins the third warning passage found in the book. Like the other warning passages, the third warning is addressed to Hebrews who profess to be believers, but are exhibiting characteristics of unbelievers, and are in danger of stopping short of true and genuine faith in Christ.
The writer begins, "Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing." This passage comes out of a desire of the author to go into further detail concerning the priesthood of Melchizedek ("concerning him..."). As one will recall, 5:9,10 illustrated the truth that Christ is a priest from the line of Melchizedek. But the writer is limited in substance and content because some of the Hebrews were spiritually immature, and would not understand.
Some people have used this verse as an excuse to avoid the study of the book of Hebrews. They say, "See, the writer himself says the letter is hard to understand. I do not have the time that will be needed to study this book." The problem is not with the book of Hebrews, but it is the spiritual condition of some of the Hebrews to whom the author is writing. He says,"...you have become dull of hearing." This is a very sharp rebuke. The author is saying, "I would like to explain about the priesthood of our Savior is from, but I cannot because you are spiritually stupid."
One will note that these Hebrews were not always this way. The writer says "..you have become... ." This denotes a condition which has occurred, and is now continuing into the present. It is my understanding that the writer is referring to unbelievers. How does an unbeliever become spiritually sluggish? Have they not been that way their whole life? As the writer addresses these Hebrews, that is not true. The Spirit of God does a ministry in all those who are exposed to the truth of the Word of God, whether they believe or not. We have all had the experience of sharing Jesus Christ with an unbelieving friend who, after hearing the gospel, is eager to know more. They listen and listen, but they still will not believe. Soon, they lose their interest and they continue to live just as they always have. This is what the author means by saying "you have become dull" in verse 11.
The word for "dull" is used again in Hebrews 6. In verse 11, the author is encouraging the Hebrews to be diligent in the faith "that you may not be sluggish" (vs. 12). The contrast is that believers are "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises'' (vs. 12). So, we see that the "sluggish'' or ''dull" are unbelievers who will not "inherit the promises." These Hebrews addressed in 5:11 are like the seed in Matthew 13 that is sown in shallow ground. It comes up quickly, but there are no roots. When the sun comes out, and the persecution begins, they wilt and declare "I am going back to my old ways of worship." They no longer perceive the truth of the Word of God and thus, they reject it.
The proof of their sluggishness is found in verse 12; "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for some one to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food." These Hebrews have been exposed to the message of Christ long enough that they should be able to teach it. Now, this is not referring to the gift of teaching, but these people should be able explain the gospel with those they come in contact.
Again, the context denotes that the writer is referring to unbelievers. He declares that they need "milk," and not "solid food." They need someone to teach them the "elementary principles of the oracles of God." Now to us, the oracles of God would be the gospel of Christ. But remember, the author is writing to first century Jews. To them, the phrase "oracles of God" (Stoichia) meant the "A-B-Cs," or "beginning" of something. Paul, in Galatians 4:3-5 illustrates these "elementary principles" when he writes "So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental thing of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." The "elemental things" are the Law. But now that Christ has come, we are brought to maturity, and are no longer under the Law.
Paul also underscores this point in Galatians 4:10; ''But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again. You observe days and months and seasons and years." The Galatians tried to mix the Law and grace, which just cannot work.
A similar kind of problem is found in Colossians 2:8; ''See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." And again in verse 20; "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees such as, 'do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.' " This is the same problem that the Hebrews were having in chapter 5. They had been exposed to the gospel of Christ long enough that they have heard enough knowledge that they could teach it, but they had not even learned the A-B-Cs of God's revelation. This is like telling a college graduate that he needs to learn the A-B-Cs before he can get a job. What an insult! As one can see, this is a very strong rebuke of the Hebrews by the author.
So, we know that the "oracles of God" are the A-B-Cs of God's revelation. But to exactly what part of the revelation is the author referring? Acts 7 addresses this question. Stephen, defending himself before his stoning, said that Moses was the instrument God used to communicate His oracles to man (vs. 35-38). Moses received the Law from God, therefore the "oracles of God" were the Mosaic system - the Old Testament.
Of course, the Jews would have claimed to know the Law, but the writer declares in Hebrews 5, that if they do not believe the message of Christ, they do not even know the Law because the Law points toward Christ. If they do not believe the gospel, they might as well return to the A-B-Cs of the Law and learn them again, because they didn't learn them right the first time.
The writer uses milk and food to compare the unbelieving Hebrews with those who by faith believed in Christ. He says, "...you have come to need milk and not solid food." You may say, "I thought milk was referred to as food for believers. Why, if these Hebrews are not truly believers, does the author say they need milk?" True, milk is used to describe what the Word of God is for believers (1 Peter 2:2), but in Hebrews 5, milk is needed by those who are unbelievers, while genuine believers need solid food.
The author continues in verse 13; "For every one who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe." Like the use of the word "milk," the word "babe" is often used to describe a new believer. But this is not the case in verse 13. The word for "babe" in verse 13 is the same word that is used in Romans 2:17-21 to describe an (immature) unbeliever. Paul says, speaking to Jews who know the Law, but have not believed the gospel, "But if you bear the name Jew, and rely upon the Law, and boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal?" The word for "immature" is the same word for "babe" in Hebrews 5 ("Napios"). The writer is referring to those who are immature because they have not believed the revelation of God, and accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Before the revelation of Christ came, we were imprisoned by the Law (Galatians 3:23). But the Law itself was the tool that pointed toward Christ; "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:24-26). Those who are mature are those who have believed in Christ as Lord and Savior, while those who are immature reject the revelation of God and put themselves under the Law.
Those Hebrews that the author is referring to are "not accustomed to the word of righteousness." This phrase can be translated that they have "no experience in the word of righteousness." This is another indication that these Hebrews are not believers. One cannot be a believer and not have any experience in the Word of God. Those who have no experience are immature, unbelieving, babes who have never experienced true salvation.
The author draws a contrast between unbelievers and believers in verse 14; "But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." The mature are those who have come to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Again, this is not the same context as seen in 1 Corinthians 3. The context here is of Jews who want to be under the Law, as in Galatians 3 and 4.
Genuine believers are able to discern the truth of the Word of God. 1 Corinthians 2:6 says, "Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory...." This is the food that the writer is referring to in Hebrews 5:14. An unbeliever does not accept the thing of God because they are foolishness to him (1 Cor 2:14), but to those who are believers (mature), they are given the ability to understand the Word of God (1 Cor 2: 10-13).
The point in Hebrews 5:14 and 1 Corinthians 2:14 is exactly the same: the immature unbeliever is unable to discern, or appraise, spiritual things, but the mature believer, because of the work of the Holy Spirit, is given spiritual perception, understanding, and discernment.
The Holy Spirit is warning the Hebrews not to stop short of salvation. The same warning applies to us today. Do not fool yourself into thinking you are saved just because you go to church, or have had an "experience." Examine yourself to see if you are "sluggish" in your faith. Have you heard the gospel so many times that you could be a teacher, but you still need to hear the A-B-Cs?
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