About this 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 need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. – Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV
The author of Hebrews admits that what he has been writing about is difficult to explain and just a difficult to understand. But it doesn’t help that his audience has “become dull hearing.” The Greek word the author used literally means “slow” and was used in the figurative sense to refer to someone as “stupid”. The Hebrew believers to whom he wrote had become unaccustomed to hearing difficult doctrine and deeper truths. And the topic he has been trying to explain is the message of righteousness. All of his talk about the Jesus’ sonship, deity, priesthood, suffering, sacrifice and glory have been designed to remind his readers of the righteousness that is found in Christ alone. He does not want them to fall back into their old habits of trying to gain a right standing with God through the keeping of the law. Their heritage as Hebrews, while a blessing, could become a curse, if they let it lead them back into a works-based form of righteousness. Paul made it clear that this path was futile and a waste of time. “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). The fear the author of Hebrews had was that his readers had regressed. He told them, “you have gone back to needing milk” (Hebrews 5:12 NET). Their lack of knowledge regarding the things about which he has been writing reveals that they were “unskilled in the word of righteousness.” They were tempted to fall back on the old truths associated with Moses, the Law, temple worship, and all that was associated with their old way of life.
Their problem was that they had not moved on to solid food. They had become stuck, stagnant. And their lack of progression had led to regression. For the Christian, there really is no middle ground. You are either growing in maturity or you are going backwards. These people, who had evidently known the Lord long enough that the author believed they should have been ready to teach others, were unprepared and unequipped for the job. They were stuck on the basics and unskilled when it came to the word or message regarding the righteousness found in Christ alone. They knew the elementary truths of the faith, such as how one is saved, but they had failed to go deeper in their knowledge. Peter provided his readers with this word of encouragement: “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). In his second letter, Peter tells us we “must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NLT). There is no place for stagnancy or complacency in the life of the believer. As we grow in Christ, we become increasingly aware of just what He has done for us. We become more and more cognizant of our sin and just how great a salvation we have received. Spiritual growth requires spiritual food. We must develop a hunger for the deeper things of God found in His Word and explained by the help of His Spirit. We can’t stay on spiritual pablum and expect to grow in maturity. “Jesus love me this I know for the Bible tells me so” is true, but not a sufficient source of spiritual sustenance for the growing Christian.
There comes a time in all of our lives when we must become givers, not just receivers. The author told his audience “by this time you ought to be teachers” (Hebrews 5:12 ESV), but they were still having to be spoon fed themselves. They had become comfortably content with their current status as believers in Christ. But one of the non-negotiable realities regarding faith in Christ was the fact that God expects His children to grow. Again, the apostle Peter had some strong words regarding this matter:
Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. – 2 Peter 1:5-9 NLT
Coming to faith in Christ should result in our coming to be increasingly more like Him in character. The apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus that God had given the church leaders whose responsibility it was to equip the body of Christ so that they could build one another up. And then he told them…
This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:13-15 NLT
Spiritual maturity is not a solo sport. It is a group activity. We grow in Christ-likeness as we share with one another, as we encourage one another, as we use our spiritual gifts on behalf of one another. As we grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, we receive insight into God’s will. As we share what we are learning with others, they are encouraged and our faith is strengthened. Growth requires interaction with others. Isolation is deadly to spiritual maturity. Complacency is as well. The message of righteousness is not just that we have been made right with God through faith in Christ, but that we are being made righteous in our attitudes and actions as we grow up in our salvation and in our dependence upon the body of Christ.