Christ is Superior to Aaron Part 3 “The Warning against Dullness toward God’s Word 1” – Hebrews 5:11-14
Pastor Mark Hardy June 7, 2015
TV mogul Ted Turner once told a roomful of television executives to raise the standards for on-air programming. He said, “People are beginning to realize the total effect of watching so much stupid, sleazy, lousy, violent, ex-ploi-tive television.” However, later he conceded a level of apathy on his part saying, “My networks run a lot of programming that I’m not happy with. And that bothers me. But does it bother me enough to do something about it? No, not really.”
Apathy is a lack of interest in or concern for things that should matter. It is to be unfeeling, indifferent, unresponsive and complacent. Whereas Turner’s attitude of apathy—“it doesn’t bother me enough to do something about it,” is a prevalent attitude in our culture, sad to say, this same attitude is often prevalent in the church today. One of the greatest foes of the Christian is spiritual apathy. A.W. Tozer was correct when he said, “Orthodox Christianity has fallen to its present low estate from lack of spiritual desire. Among the many who profess the Christian faith, scarcely one in a thousand reveals any passionate thirst for God.” The problem of spiritual apathy is one of the things that we will be looking at this morning.
Now having just talked about the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ “according to the order of Melchizedek” in 5:6 and 10, the author of Hebrews postpones his discussion of this important topic until chapter 7 because there is a major issue he must first address with his readers. As we now come to 5:11-6:12 in our study of the Epistle of Hebrew, the author gives the third of five warning passages in this letter. This is one of the most severe warnings in the New Testament directed against God’s people. Turn in your Bible to Hebrews 5, where we will begin by looking at vv. 11-14.
In Hebrews 5:11-14 we see three aspects of spiritual immaturity, whereby the author rebukes God’s people to motivate them to wholehearted obedience to Jesus Christ.
The first aspect is:
I. The Condition of Spiritual Immaturity
A. Look at v. 11: Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
1. The word “him” here refers to “Melchizedek,” who we saw last time foreshadows the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ. The author says that he has “much to say” about this topic to these Jewish Christians, whose primary knowledge of priesthood was restricted to Aaron and the Levitical priesthood.
2. However, to do so at this time would be “hard to explain,” not because this topic is difficult to comprehend or the author can’t explain it, but because the readers spiritual condition hinders them from receiving and grasping the meaning. Notice that the author tells them, “…you have become dull of hearing.”
3. The word “dull” means slow, sluggish, lazy, lethargic and apathetic. It speaks of a spiritual apathy that is hindering their spiritual development.
4. But this wasn’t their original condition; it is an acquired one, for the author says, “…you have become dull in hearing.” In other words, their original eagerness to hear and respond to the Word of God has changed.
5. They have regressed so that they are no longer “ready listeners” with the capacity to receive and retain spiritual truth. Now they are spiritually “dull,” lazy and apathetic in their hearing.
6. Other interests and prioritizes have captured their hearts and are now controlling their lives. However, since responsible listening has been stressed repeatedly in this letter (2:1; 3:7b-8a, 15; 4:1-2, 7b), dullness in receptivity is a very dangerous condition for believers who have been called to wholehearted obedience to Jesus Christ.
7. Whereas the author’s first two warnings addressed the dangers of drifting from God’s Word and doubting God’s Word, this third warning addresses the danger of dullness towards God’s Word.
8. Now some scholars believe vv. 11-14 is primarily addressed to unbelievers in the church and secondarily to believers. However, because of the way the author addresses his readers I agree with those scholars who believe this is primarily addressed to believers. Obviously, the Holy Spirit applies the truth of God’s Word to everyone, so “if the shoe fits, wear it.”
9. Therefore, in this verse we see that “dullness in hearing” or spiritual apathy is a key mark of these Jewish Christians regression to spiritual immaturity. In a very real way, they have the same heart issue as those in the church at Ephesus to whom the glorified Christ said in Revelation 2:4, “you have left your first love.”
10. And as those in the church at Laodicea to whom He said in 3:16, “…because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
B. Because of their sinful condition, the author goes on to give them a strong rebuke in v. 12: 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.
1. Because of the considerable length of time that has elapsed since their conversion, probably several years, they should have been spiritually mature enough to be “teachers” themselves. This doesn’t mean that they all should have the gift of teaching or all be in official teaching positions in the church
2. It means that they should have progressed in their Christian faith enough to be able to instruct others about what God has done in their lives. In 1 Peter 3:15 we read, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
3. A mark of spiritual growth is the ability to share biblical truth with others. But even though they had been Christians a long time, they weren’t interested in helping others.
4. Notice that they had backslidden so far that the author says, “…you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God.”
5. Now the “elementary principles of the oracles of God” is probably equivalent to the “elementary teaching about the Christ” in 6:1. Although some scholars say the “oracles of God” refer to the gospel or the Old Testament Scriptures, Leon Morris states, “Since the expression is quite general, it seems better to take it of all that God has spoken—i.e., the divine revelation in general.” (Expositors p. 52).
6. Therefore, the “elementary principles” of God’s word are the first and simplest principles, the alphabet or ABC’s of divine revelation. So after years of claiming to be followers of Christ, to their shame, the extent of their spiritual comprehension was at the lowest level.
7. They have relapsed so far back in their Christian life that they are spiritually unable to read or write, but have to start at the very beginning with the ABC’s of God’s Word. And even that is said to be in “need again” of review.
8. What a stinging rebuke! But the author doesn’t stop there!
C. Look at the second part of v. 12: and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
1. Just as they have “become dull in hearing,” so also they have “come to need milk and not solid food.” Again we are told that they have moved so far backwards from where they used to be that they “need milk.”
2. “Milk” refers to the simple, elementary ABC’s of the Christian faith. And “solid food” refers to the meat of God’s Word, the more complex and advanced instruction that new believers cannot handle but is invaluable to those who have progressed in their faith.
3. In this context, the “solid food” is the significance of Christ’s royal priesthood “according to the order of Melchizedek.”
4. How sad that instead of becoming more mature they have become less. They have reverted into a condition of spiritual immaturity.
5. Never forget that it is impossible to stand still in our Christian lives: We are either moving forward in our relationship with Jesus Christ or we are going backwards.
6. If we are not progressing then we are regressing. There is no good “status quo” position in our individual lives or our corporate life as a church family.
7. Don’t think for a minute that an apathetic, status quo attitude that is committed to stay in one’s comfort zone and resists change at all costs doesn’t radically affect one’s spiritual life. These believers show us that since they did not advance spiritually, it resulted in them once again becoming spiritual beginners.
8. The second aspect of spiritual immaturity is:
II. The Cause of Spiritual Immaturity
A. Look at v. 13: For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.
1. Here we see that the reason or cause of their spiritual immaturity is because they are spiritual babies who are “not accustomed to the word of righteousness” and can only drink milk. Now spiritual “milk” or baby food, the ABC’s of God’s Word, is a good thing.
2. Peter said in 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”
3. Spiritual “milk” is necessary for new believers because they cannot digest anything stronger. You don’t give a steak to a newborn child because they don’t have any teeth to eat it.
4. Although believers never outgrow the “milk” of God’s Word because it involves the fundamentals of our faith, we must never stop there! However, notice that these believers “partake only of milk,” which is an indication that something is seriously wrong.
5. A newborn baby who needs his or her mother’s milk is a beautiful thing. But it is tragic if that baby becomes an adult and is still drinking from a baby bottle.
6. These immature believers can only tolerate a diet of spiritual milk is because they have reverted back to be spiritual “infants” or babies who are “not accustomed to the word of righteousness.”
7. The apostle Paul said the same thing about the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 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, for you are still fleshly…”
8. We don’t know how many of these Jewish Christians were spiritual “infants,” but those who were are “not accustomed to the word of righteousness.” The words “not accustomed to” means to be inexperienced and unskilled.
9. Since baby Christians are inexperienced and unskilled they have no idea how to put the “word of righteousness” to use.
10. Although there are various views as to what the “word of righteousness” is, I believe it is best to see it as referring to the righteous of life described in God’s Word that He expects believers to follow. Homer Kent, Jr. states, “It can hardly be that righteousness here means ‘justification,’ for these readers are appealed to on the basis that they are babes in Christ and thus have experienced the imputed righteousness of Christ. . . . Verse 14 clearly states that discernment of right and wrong is involved, and that this should be the normal experience of believers who have grown spiritually. Thus the word of righteousness would refer to God’s revelation about righteousness of life which is expected of every believer. Christian faith is not an abstraction. It is never divorced from life. The content of doctrine to which the believer assents must issue in a transformed life or something is radically wrong. Scripture gives no comfort whatever to the person whose claim to have trusted Christ has not resulted in a life of righteousness.” (p. 104)
11. This brings us to the third aspect of spiritual immaturity, which is:
III. The Cure for Spiritual Immaturity
A. Look at v. 14: But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
1. The word “But” shows the contrast between the spiritual “infant” in v. 13 and the spiritually “mature” here.
2. The author uses terms of human development—“infant” and “mature” to describe believers’ development in their Christian faith. He wants to wean these spiritually immature believers from the milk-stage and begin to feed them the “solid food” or meat of God’s Word.
3. Here we see that “solid food is for the (spiritually) mature” believer. Spiritual maturity, which can be defined as increased conformity to Christlikeness, is God’s goal for every believer (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:13, 15; Col. 1:28).
4. Paul said to the Galatians in Galatians 4:19, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.”
5. And since this is God’s goal for us, it should also be our goal that we are diligently pursuing. Paul declared in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”
6. Now although perfect Christlikeness in our lives will not be attained until we see Jesus face to face (1 Jn. 3:2), this is what we are to strive for. But it won’t happen just because we’ve been a Christian for X number of years, for time alone never produces spiritual maturity.
7. The cure for spiritual immaturity is seen in the statement, “…because of practice (the mature) have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Here we see a process to spiritually mature in our Christian lives.
8. The word “senses” refers to our faculties of perception, the capacities for spiritual apprehension. These senses are to be “trained” or exercised (NKJV), which speaks of becoming spiritually skilled through discipline.
9. The word “trained” is an athletic term used for the rigorous discipline of an athlete training his body and mind for a contest. The same word is used in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 where we are told, “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
10. The word “practice” speaks of a fixed habit due to continuous obedience that gives us experience. Therefore, it is by the continuous “practice” or obedience to God’s Word that our faculties of perception become skilled through trained discipline, so that we grow to become more spiritually mature.
11. It is absolutely crucial that we continually “practice” or obey God’s Word in our daily lives to grow! Righteous living is essential for spiritual maturity!
12. Just as our physical muscles atrophy without constantly using them, so our spiritual muscles atrophy without constantly obeying what we know God has told us to do in His Word. Now obviously, we cannot live out what we don’t know, but merely knowing God’s Word is not enough.
13. We must do what we know! This is why James 1:22 tells us, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
14. Here we see that if we are not doing what we know then no matter how “good” we may think we are or how “spiritually mature” we may consider ourselves to be, we are only “deluding” ourselves. That’s scary!
B. Therefore, as we “practice” God’s Word so as to “train” our spiritual “senses,” it is then that we are able “to discern good and evil.”
1. The word “discern” means to separate, to judge, distinguish and discriminate between. Spiritual discernment is a basic quality of maturity, even in ordinary human life.
2. For example, small children have no concept of what is good or bad for them. They will stick almost anything into their mouth, touch anything they can reach, and go anywhere they can manage to crawl.
3. This is why wise and loving parents put baby-locks on the cupboards, plastic protectors in the electrical outlets and put all dangerous items and valuable things out of their reach.
4. Good judgment comes with the accumulation of experiences, and this demands the passage of time. This is also true for newborn Christians and immature believers who lack spiritual discernment.
5. The on-going practice of obedience to Christ in righteous living trains their senses and gives them the skill and experience to “discern good and evil.” But this process does take time!
6. Because of their lack of biblical knowledge, spiritually immature believers can listen to those who claim to teach God’s Word, but they are not yet able to identify whether or not the person is true to the Scriptures.
7. This is why Ephesians 4:14 says that “we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”
8. It is only as we know God’s Word, the final standard of truth and morality, and continually apply it in our daily lives that we will be able to grow in our ability to discern between what is good and evil and maintain a righteousness of life that chooses the good and shuns the evil.
9. Only the spiritually mature (or maturing) are able to make these kinds of discerning judgments on the continual moral issues that arise in life. And the more mature we become the less we will make the foolish choices that characterize those who are spiritually immature.
Now practically, how do we apply a passage like this to our lives today? I think the first thing each one of us needs to do is ask, “Have I become “dull in hearing? Am I spiritually lazy and apathetic, satisfied with the status quo? Do I give only a token effort to God’s Word and prayer and spiritual things while my heart is captured by other interests and prioritizes?
If any of these things are true in our lives, then we are like these Jewish Christians the author is addressing. We have backslidden and possibly reverted all the way back to being spiritual infants that can partake only of spiritual milk. And the scary thing is that we may actually think we are doing fine! But in reality, we are like the Ephesians and Laodiceans in the book of Revelation who have left their first love and become lukewarm, spiritually apathetic in our Christian lives.
As we have seen, the cure is to get back to doing what we know? But for this to happen there needs to be personal revival, whereby we turn to God in repentance and He restores His backslidden people to a renewed faith, love and obedience to Him. We see a clear process for this in the three commands that Jesus told the Ephesian believers in Revelation 2:5:
1. First, “…remember from where you have fallen.” In other words, remember your past excitement in the early days when you first received Jesus as your Savior and Lord. Your gratitude to God for His forgiveness and cleansing of your sin, your passionate love for Him for all He had done for you, your hunger and thirst for God and His Word that you couldn’t get enough of, your desire to know Him and spend time talking to Him in prayer, and your desire to share your faith with those who were lost.
2. Second, “and repent.” Since sin is our problem, repentance is the only solution. We must turn from sin and turn to God. We are to turn from whatever we have idolatrously placed before God in our lives and put Jesus first as the Supreme Treasure in our heart.
3. Third, “…and do the deeds you did at first.” In other words, do what you know. We must return and do what we used to do. We must feed our soul on God’s Word, saturate our mind with God’s moral standards of righteousness, listen intently to what the Lord is telling us in His Word, and in total dependence on Him wholeheartedly obey all that God tells us to do in His Word.
Whenever we get off track in our relationship with Jesus Christ we need to remember, repent and return to do what we know. This is not only the path to personal revival; it is also the road to spiritual maturity. May none of us be spiritually apathetic and immature, satisfied with partaking only of the milk of God’s Word. But rather may we all passionately thirst for God and because of our wholehearted obedience to Christ, grow to partake of the “solid food” of His Word, so that we can become more like Christ and live a righteous life that pleases Him.