Grace For The Journey
A friend of mine related to me an incident that vividly illustrates this truth. A few years ago, he and his wife were out shopping. They went into this store called Shoe Carnival. He said that the name of the store seemed appropriate, because it was a bit like a carnival. The main thing that struck him while they were there was a guy wearing a headset microphone and he was always saying something. He would speak and his voice was amplified throughout the store. My friend said that the guy was in the central part of the store and elevated a bit on some kind of platform. There was music playing in the background and every once in a while this guy would start talking about various shoes and items they were selling. They looked around and were in the checkout line to buy their items and my friend again hears this guy in the background with his voice amplified and he thought to himself, “Nobody’s really listening to this guy. It’s just chatter and noise.” He turned to his wife to say that to her, and as he turned he saw that she was standing very still, eyes fixed, head turned to one side, focused, and he said, “You’re listening to that guy!” And she was – About the time she steps out of the line and runs over to an aisle – along with a number of other ladies who had also been listening – running to some sale going on at the moment. And there he was thinking no one was listening!
You might say that he had become “dull of hearing.” He was not tuned-in. he was not really listening. He was aware there was someone speaking, but to him it was just noise. It did not mean anything. His wife, on the other hand, was actively listening. You might say she had “ears to hear.” What I heard as nothing more than noise, she an announcement about a bargin and a treasure.
Does that describe you. How do you listen to the Word? Do you listen actively, engaged, attentively believing God has something to say to You in His Word? Will you receive God’s Word today as the writer will say later in chapter 6 – receive it like rain that falls upon the earth so it produces vegetation and growth – or will you hear it as just so much noise?
In this passage the writer of Hebrews addresses the matter of spiritual growth. He begins by writing about the need for . . .
- Spiritual Perception – Verse 11.
Readers of God’s Word and hearers of God’s Word require spiritual perception. “Perception” meaning “the ability to see and hear something; to be engaged, actively aware of what they are reading and hearing.” We see this in verse 11. Remember that the writer has just been talking about Jesus Christ’s being a Great High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek.” We would expect the writer to flesh out what he means by that. And he will – he has much to say about Melchizedek, but not just yet. It will come later at the very end of chapter 6 and on into chapter 7. The writer stops for a moment and issues a terse rebuke to the Hebrews, the Jewish Christians to whom he is writing, because word has apparently gotten back to him that there is a problem with their spiritual perception.
He knows they have a hearing problem. Verse 11 states, “Of whom(Melchizedek) we have much to say, and hard to explain,(note this! Hard to explain why?)since you have become dull of hearing.” It is really critical that we get this down. The content concerning Melchizedek that the writer will eventually get around to writing about, the content itself is not beyond their ability to understand. This was not an intellectual problem. It was not that the Hebrews did not have the ability to understand what the writer was going to be teaching them. This was not an intellectual problem. Their problem was moral and spiritual. They had become, “dull of hearing.” The word “dull” means “sluggish, lazy, and indifferent.” In fact, the same word is translated that way down in verse 11 where he says “since you have become dull of hearing.” They were realizing the goal of biblical teaching for their lives, which the writer mentions in verse 14b, “Who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil”
It is not that they were unable
To understand the biblical teaching.
It is that they were unwilling.
They did not want to understand.
They had become indifferent
To the teachings of Scripture.
Preaching is challenging enough to communicate when people are not so dull of hearing. This is why preachers often “set the address” as John MacArthur calls it in his book on preaching. Preachers remind hearers where they are in the Bible. We will use such phrases as, “The Bible says in Chapter 5, verse 11; Look at what the Bible says in this verse; We are in Hebrews, chapter; Do not miss what God says here; Look in your Bibles there at that verse.” Sometimes just sitting in a congregation listening to the Word preached, our mind can quickly wander. We think, “Oh no, it is raining outside, did we leave windows up in the house?” “Did we put the dog out?” “What was that noise, are the kids running in the church again?” Communicators continue to call hearers back to the text and back to the message. In addition, there are always external distractions that happen during preaching: A microphone is not working properly; The audio is too loud or too soft; a beautiful red fox saunters through the church yard (this actually happened at the country church I pastored at during college).
These are external distractions are frustrating, largely because they are not immediately fixed. They are often beyond our control as we are reading or hearing the Word. The writer is talking about something that is not an external problem, but an internal problem.
He is not talking about
A problem with the signal,
Or the sender of the signal,
But the problem the writer
Is talking about is with the receiver,
The one reading and hearing.
That is an important distinction. The Word itself is by no means dull. Having said that it, it is possible to be a dull teacher or preacher. Arguably, some preaching may put some to sleep. I always think of the minister who said he once dreamed he was preaching and then woke up to discover that he was! But if in the preaching and teaching, the vast majority of the people are engaged and awake – and it is only a few who seem always to fall asleep as soon as they get still – then we may assume the problem is not with the preacher or teacher.
The writer is talking about those
Who never really tune in to
The message because they
Really do not want to.
They may be awake. They may even look engaged. But they are really not listening. The message is going out but there is no receiving it. It is just some noise, maybe even pleasant noise, like music in the background while we are on hold on the phone. But there is no real receiving or retaining.
The writer is addressing those who do not want to think about what is being taught and have to work at really “getting it” and “living it.” They are just present in the event, but not really interested in what they are reading or hearing. The sad result is that the Word falls on deaf ears.
Now this is dangerous. Very dangerous. Lack of spiritual perception leads to lack of . . .
II. Spiritual Progression – 5:12-6:2.
Progression refers to growth and maturity. The writer addresses the hearers lack of growth and maturity resulting from their being “dull of hearing.” Verse 12 states, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” The writer is saying, “You’re not growing in your faith! By now you ought to be teachers.” He does not mean the entire congregation has the gift of teaching a group as in preaching to a congregation or even teaching a small group Bible Study class. He is not talking about teaching in that sense, but . . .
Teaching in that you ought to be
Passing on to others what
You know about the faith
. . . Discipleship.
The Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Everyone is expected to grow in the faith, to progress, to mature, and to pass on to others what we have learned. We disciple others when we pass on to them what we have learned ourselves. Everyone can and must do this. It is part of fulfilling our Lord’s Great Commission. Living as His disciples and discipling others (Matthew 20:19-20).
Our churches vision statement captures this commission. Our church family exists to share the Gospel with the lost across the street and around the world and to develop generations of God-glorifying Disciples Who Make Disciples from our community to uttermost part of the world. Are you discipling someone? Are you teaching another believer? Are you witnessing, sharing your faith, and helping another person grow?
The problem with the Hebrews is stated in verse verse 12, “for though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again…!” To teach you again “the first principles of the oracles of God,” that is, the “basics.” The word “principles” is generally used in connection with the ABCs of something. The basics of the faith.
And the writer adds, “and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” This imagery is immediately understood by anyone who has raised a child or a grandchild. A baby has a desire for milk. And a baby needs milk in order to grow. In time the baby partakes of solid food, moving or growing from milk to more substantive food.
Applied spiritually, the newborn Christian has a desire for spiritual milk, the milk of the Word. In fact, the word “milk” in the original is the word from which we get “lactose” as in “lactose intolerant,” those whose bodies cannot tolerate milk. Well, no true Christian is “lactose intolerant!” True Christians “desire the pure milk of the Word that they may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). We grow in our faith. We progress in our life and ministry.
Verse 13 says, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.” If Christians partake only of milk and never move on to solid food – heavier teachings, doctrines such as providence, election, the work of the Holy Spirit, and so on—then they are merely babies, “unskilled in the word of righteousness.” Put another way, they are “unable to rightly apply the Word of God in their daily lives.” That meaning is clear given the contrast in verse 14, “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” The writer is saying that if Christians progress, grow in their faith, and learn more and more of the teachings of the faith then they will be in a position to make right decisions and to live in greater way that will please and glorify God. The way they live their lives flows out of a proper understanding of the Word of God.
Look at it again, verse 14, “But solid food belongs to those who are full of age (spiritually mature), that is, those who by reason of use (that is through constant use of the Word) have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” The writer is saying, “Because of our spiritual maturity, we know intuitively what to do or how to react, even where the Bible does not address a specific concern.” You know how sometimes people ask, “Well, what does the Bible say about this, or that” and the Bible does not address that issue particularly – Taking a certain job, can I do this, is it okay to do that, what if my boss wants me to do this or that?
The writer says that those who are in the habit of partaking of the solid food of the Word are those who know intuitively which decision to make, whether to respond this way or that, they are those who are able to “discern both good and evil” because they have been growing in the Word, growing beyond mere milk.
A similar idea is taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able.” In the Corinthian context, Paul teaches that spiritual immaturity leads to “carnal” or “fleshly” living. Without a healthy diet of the Word and growth in the Word, we are more likely to live according to the flesh and fall into sin if we know only the basic principles of Scripture. With spiritual growth, however, growing in theology and doctrine, comes spiritual maturity.
What is true of the physical is true of the spiritual: Grown adults are not sustained by mere milk. We need more in our diet. We need solid food. There are no shortcuts to sanctification. There is no quick way to grow up overnight. Like someone waving a magic wand over a new Christian and that Christian suddenly and instantaneously matures! It is just like the physical realm. It requires work.
I would love if I could just walk into a gym and immediately have muscles strengthened and toned, walk through the door and your belly fat just disappears, and immediately I look trim, fit, and muscular. But that only happens in dreams! Same is true spiritually. It does not happen overnight. Growth from an acorn into a towering oak tree takes time. Spiritual growth is a disciplined process.
We take time for other things. Think of the time you spend looking at the TV, computer, or cell phone. Some of us are attached to our phones like it is an IV. Connect yourself to the Word. Let the milk of the Word get into that IV and let it feed you, nourish you, and strengthen you! As you grow in the grace and knowledge of God’s Word you will come to enjoy the fulness of a developing, maturing, and progressing faith! There is joy in sanctification, joy in growth!!
Chapter 6 verse 1 says, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection(maturity; that is the key phrase: let us go on to perfection or maturity), not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” This is spiritual progression. The writer lists a total of six basic, elementary doctrines that the Hebrews were to move on from, to progress beyond, to not lay the foundation for them again and again. There are six basics in three couplets here in verses 1 and 2 . . .
The first couplet – Do not lay again the foundation “of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.”
The second couplet – Do not lay again the foundation “of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands,
The third couplet – Do not lay again the foundation “of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”
If you really study these three couplets you will discover that they are all things that were taught in Old Covenant Judaism. There is nothing distinctly Christian about them. Even in verse 2 where it reads “the doctrine of baptisms.” The word refers to the “washings” of the priestly cleansing rites. The writer is saying, “Look you Hebrews, we have shown you that Christianity – namely the New Covenant – builds on that foundation you had in the Old Covenant. What you now enjoy it so much better. All of those things basic to your faith in Judaism were building blocks to set you up for Jesus Christ who is better, more superior, than anyone or anything you’ve ever known. So Let us go on to maturity. Let us move on and not lay again the foundation upon which and from which you should be progressing, growing.
Spiritual perception . . . Spiritual progression . . . The third phrase . . .
III. Spiritual Permission – Verse 3).
Verse 3 says, “And this we will do if God permits.” This verse directs our gaze upward to our loving, sovereign, grace-giving God. God is the one who makes growth possible. He is the one who brings life from death. The verses will go on to describe – and we will look at this next time – the peril of not progressing, describing someone who does not move from the elementary principles of the milk to the advanced teachings of solid food. Someone who has gotten close to the things of God, and even gotten some benefit out of them, but has not progressed forward.
There’s an implicit warning here! We must never presume upon the opportunities God gives us to grow. If God graces you with a desire to grow, then grow. Do not presume that you will wake up tomorrow with the same desire. Feed that desire now. It comes from God. Honor God’s work in you by working that out in growth in the Lord.
The Bible says in Philippians 2:12-13, “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” It is God who works in you the desire to do for His good pleasure. Do not presume upon that work! Do not presume upon God, that He is going to go on gracing you with these desires and opportunities for growth. Feed them now and you will grow.
And as you go on growing, you will go on to maturity. You will not fall away. You will not regress, you will progress, upward and onward, your eyes fixed on Jesus. I am praying with you toward that end. I pray that God will give you grace so that: 1) You will I never become “dull of hearing” God’s Word; 2) You will always desire the sincere milk and solid meat of God’s Word; and 3) You will regularly feed myself and others God’s Word.
In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”