“Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14).
This passage is not only an indictment of individual Christians who do not grow to maturity and become skillful, discerning students of God’s Word, it is an indictment of churches that do not produce such Christians and that accept immaturity as the status quo. There are thousands of “Bible believing churches” that do not teach the members to be skillful Bible students, do not expect them to become skillful, and do not reprove them for not being skillful. In these churches, the preaching and teaching is weak and does not produce skillful Bible students. The people can sit under the preaching year after year without learning how to study the Bible for themselves and without developing a hunger to do so. The writer of Hebrews did not accept this condition as the status quo. He sharply rebuked those who were immature. He warned them that if they are not skillful in the word of righteousness, they are mere babies, no matter how old they are in the Lord. This is the example that every preacher should follow. The people must be awakened to their true spiritual condition and not be allowed to remain babies.
Consider some of the lessons from this important passage:
1. Dull hearing is caused by not growing spiritually (Heb. 5:11). Spiritual teaching can be understood properly only by spiritual people. The natural or unsaved man cannot understand it at all (1 Co. 2:13-14). The carnal believer can only understand it imperfectly (1 Co. 3:1-2).
2. Every believer should be a teacher (Heb. 5:12).
This is God’s express will. It does not mean, of course, that every believer should be a preacher or a church leader; it means that every believer has a sphere of teaching in which he should be involved. Every believer should know the Word of God well enough to fulfill this calling. When we listen to preaching and teaching, we should understand that we do not know what we are hearing well enough until we can teach it to someone else, at least at a basic level.
Every believer should have a ministry of exhortation and admonition (Heb. 3:13). This involves encouraging and challenging one’s fellow brethren, lifting up the downcast and warning the erring. See Ro. 15:14; Col. 3:16; 1 Th. 5:11.
Every believer should have a ministry of sharing the gospel with others (Mr. 16:15). The believer should labor to be able to handle the Word of God so well that he can effectively help people understand the gospel. People have questions and arguments that need to be answered.
Every believer should have a ministry of earnestly contending for the faith (Jude 3). Observe that Jude’s command to earnestly contend for the faith is not directed to preachers alone but to God’s people in general. Every believer should know the Scriptures well enough to defend its cardinal doctrines, such as salvation by grace alone, the deity of Jesus Christ, the personality of the Holy Spirit, bodily resurrection, eternal judgment, and such.
Though women are forbidden to teach men (1 Ti. 2:12), they have the very important ministries of teaching women (Tit. 2:3-4) and teaching children (compare 2 Ti. 1:5 and 3:15).
3. If you do not grow spiritually, you will go backwards (Heb. 5:12). The Christian life is like a boat on a river. As long as the believer is paddling up stream he is making progress, but as soon as he stops paddling, he begins to go backwards with the flow. The pressures and temptations of the Christian life always tend to push us backwards unless we face them squarely in God’s grace and move ahead.
4. The Bible is the very utterance of God (Heb. 5:12). The word “oracles” is from the Greek logion, which means “an utterance” (Strong). It is used of the Old Testament Scriptures (Ac. 7:38; Ro. 3:2).
5. Every believer should grow and become mature (Heb. 5:13-14). The new believer is a baby and must feed on the milk of God’s Word, but he should not be content to remain a baby.
6. A chief characteristic of a baby Christian is his inability to use God’s word skillfully (Heb. 5:13) and his lack of keen spiritual discernment (Heb. 5:14). It doesn’t matter how faithful and busy he is in the service of Christ, if a believer cannot handle God’s Word skillfully and cannot discern truth from error, he is a baby. “I don’t care how active you are in the church. You may be an officer. You may be on every committee in the church. ... I don’t care who you are, or what you are; if you are not studying the Word of God, and if you don’t know how to handle it, you are a little baby. It is tragic to occupy a church office when you are just a little baby. You ought to grow up. It is tragic that there are people who have been members of the church and have been saved for years, and they are still going around saying, ‘Goo, goo, goo.’ They have nothing to contribute but little baby talk” (J. Vernon McGee).
7. Maturity in Christ requires the following things:
Spiritual maturity requires becoming skillful in the Scripture (Heb. 5:13). Consider some keys to effectual Bible study:
- It requires reading (De. 17:19; Re. 1:3). The Bible is first of all a book to be read. It should be read systematically, with a reading plan. Reading it through at least once a year facilitates understanding the Bible as a whole.
- It requires study (2 Ti. 2:15). Studying the Bible requires learning the principles of Bible interpretation. It requires the use of good study tools, particularly a good concordance, Bible dictionary, the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, and carefully selected commentaries. These things are explained in the Advanced Bible Studies Series course “How to Study the Bible,” available from Way of Life Literature.
- It required meditation (Ps. 1:2; Jos. 1:8). (See the Memory Verse Journal, www.wayoflife.org.)
- It requires that the study of God’s Word be made a major priority in one’s daily life (“seek ye FIRST,” Mt. 6:33). To become skillful in God’s Word absolutely requires that the student carve out serious time for this endeavor and make this the highest priority. There are no short cuts.
- It requires consistency and persistence (“if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth,” Joh. 8:31; “continue in them,” 1 Ti. 4:16). Effectual Bible study requires that I establish a time in my daily schedule during which I meet with God and apply myself to His Word. It is important to keep this divine appointment and not miss it except when absolutely necessary. “Read the Bible when you feel like it, and when you don’t feel like reading it, read it until you do.”
- It requires diligence and work (Pr. 2:1-5). “Most great truths do not lie on the surface. They must be brought up into the light by patient toil” (Frank Thompson).
- It requires prayer (Ps. 119:18; Pr. 2:3; Eph. 1:17-18). “Prayer will do more than a college education to make the Bible an open and glorious book” (R.A. Torrey).
- It requires obedience (Ps. 119:133; Lu. 11:28; Joh. 7:17; Heb. 5:14; Jas. 1:22-27; 1 Pe. 2:1-2). In order to make good progress in my knowledge of God’s Word, I must apply it’s lessons to my daily life.
- It requires sound teachers and the help of a good church (1 Ti. 3:15; Eph. 4:11-12; Heb. 13:7; Re. 2:3). Every church must be a serious Bible institute to produce skillful Bible students. The goal must be that every single member will become the skillful student that is described in Hebrews 5:14. The church must aim for nothing less. The preaching and teaching must be of the caliber that it produces such people. If church members can sit under a preaching ministry year after year and not be challenged to be serious Bible students and not be taught how to be serious Bible students and not be reproved sharply if they are not serious Bible students, that is not a New Testament church.
Spiritual maturity requires discerning between good and evil (Heb. 5:14).
- The skill in God’s Word must produce keen spiritual discernment. The study of Scripture is not a mere intellectual exercise. The objective is that the student’s daily life will be transformed by the renewing of the mind (Ro. 12:2). In 1 Corinthians 2, we are taught that the Scripture contains the deep things of God in Spirit-taught words; it contains the mind of Christ (1 Co. 2:10-13, 16). Thus by becoming skillful in the use of the Scripture, the student is putting on the mind of Christ. By filling his mind with God’s Word, he must cast down every imagination that is contrary to it (2 Co. 10:4-5). This is the process of exercising the spiritual senses.
- Spiritual senses must be exercised just like physical muscles. This is how a baby grows. Even in its new born state, it is moving and exercising.
- Spiritual muscles are exercised by discerning between good and evil. The believer must learn God’s Word and then use it to measure all things. He considers everything in his life and everything that he encounters in order to discern whether it is right or wrong, good or evil, true or false, God’s will or not God’s will, and he rejects everything that doesn’t pass the divine standard. In this way he develops a keen sense of spiritual discernment. Compare Ps. 119:128.
- Contrary to the contemporary philosophy, there is much judging to be done in the Christian life. Compare Joh. 7:24; 1 Co. 5:3; 14:29. The believer must judge all things (1 Co. 2:15; 1 Th. 5:21): daily activities, doctrine, philosophy, decisions, friendships, entertainment, fashion, everything. The believer has an absolute standard for judgment in the Scriptures (2 Ti. 3:16-17). The infallible Word of God is profitable for “instruction in righteousness.”
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