Hebrews 5:11—6:12

The writer to the Hebrews just got finished talking about Jesus as our great High Priest. He compared Jesus to Melchizedek, the king and high priest from Salem. All of a sudden, as if he had another thought, the writer stops and makes this observation:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. (5:11)

1. Disappointed, vs. 11

We get the impression that this man was enthused with his subject matter, but at the same time, the reality of the situation dawned on him: he was excited, but the people who were reading his letter wouldn’t be because they were “dull of hearing.” He knew they wouldn’t get it because instead of being mature believers as they should have been, they were, in fact, immature believers, not at all ready to grasp deep spiritual truths.

There isn’t a pastor or Bible teacher alive who hasn’t experienced this! No feeling can compare to preaching a carefully prepared sermon with excitement and anointing to a sea of blank, glassy-eyed faces. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Immature Christians are a danger to themselves and to others. By not growing in faith, they are literally robbing themselves of great spiritual benefits that come with spiritual maturity, but they rob others, as well:

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (5:12)

His readers had once heard the Gospel and received it as a thirsty man drinks cold, fresh water. But, as the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and familiarity with the good news seemed to harden his reader’s hearts. Instead of growing, they were regressing. They were moving backwards, not forward, in their spiritual walk. These Hebrew Christians were not becoming sluggish in their learning and discerning of spiritual things, they had already become so! Christians like this are an embarrassment to the Church, and our teacher shames them: by now, he writes, his readers should be doing the teaching, not him! It could well be that some of his readers had turned into the kind of believers Paul warned Timothy about:

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Timothy 1:5—7)

These believers had lost so much of what they once had, they needed to re-learn the simple ABC’s of the faith. They reverted to their spiritual infancy instead of becoming grown adults. They were wearing the short pants again.

This is a disgraceful state for a believer to find himself in, and he gets there, not due to lack of time, because we get the impression these Hebrew believers had been in the faith for a long time, but to lack of dedication to the Word of God and its application.

2. Failure, vs. 12—14

These three verses are important because they show that the Hebrews were not bad people; but that better things were expected from them. They should have been mature Christians by now. The writer was very concerned that his readers would slip even farther back, perhaps so far back as to deny their faith in Christ.

What makes matters even worse is that without mature believers who are able to teach and disciple immature believers, any church is in big trouble! Discipleship is a key component in a healthy congregation, as is a genuine desire to study and learn the Scriptures. The fact is, where there is no leaning, there are no disciples.

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. (5:13)

Immature Christians—those who are still on pablum instead of eating steak—display their lack of maturity because they are confused; they are not able to discern between moral issues; they are unable to make consistent moral and ethical judgments because they have not developed the spiritual skill of discernment. That the Church is riddled with immature believers is evident by its worldly state today. The phrase, “teaching about righteousness” is what holds a church, a family, and even a civilization together. Where there is no teaching about righteousness, society collapses.

In contrast to these immature Christians are those who are not. Note what the writer says about them:

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (5:14)

The “solid food” refers to the deep spiritual teachings the writer wanted to teach as opposed to the simple ABC’s some of his readers required. A mature believer is one who is constantly learning these deep spiritual truths of Scripture and constantly using them. In other words, they have made the “teachings about righteousness” the norm of their lives. The word “trained” comes from the Greek gymnazo, and has a reference to athletic training. What the teacher is saying is simply this: a mature Christian—the one who enjoys solid food and is constantly exercising—becomes able to spiritually discern “good from evil.” Naturally, if he is able to tell the difference, he will be able avoid the evil and do the good. The immature Christian, on the other hand, cannot tell the difference.

3. Progress, 6:1—3

Now, we know that some of the readers of this letter were immature Christians, still in need of milk, so we would expect the writer of this letter to give them just that: milk, that is, elementary, simple-minded teachings. Instead, we read this:

Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity… (6:1a)

Linking himself with his readers, as is his habit, the writer wants to move on to maturity, leaving behind the elementary, or foundational teachings they should have know well by now. Apparently, some were stuck in laying the foundations of the faith over and over. While the foundations are important, they are just that: the first things you learn that enable you learn more things.

It’s not that we should forget the elemental teachings of the faith, it’s that we should learn them, constantly use them, but move on to learn more and more, always growing in our faith.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Christians are not supposed to learn and re-learn the same things over and over again! What are the things we should know as well as our own names?

  • Repentance from acts that lead to death;
  • Faith in God;
  • Instruction about baptism;
  • Instruction about the laying on of hands;
  • The resurrection of the dead;
  • Eternal judgment.

You can see that all of these doctrines are vitally important to know, but they are things every believer should know early on in their walk with Christ. These are just the basics, essential in living the faith though they may be, but it doesn’t end there. We should know these doctrines, and doctrines like them, so well that they become a part of our ever day lives, thus enabling us to move on to learn new things. According to the Holy Spirit, this is progress.

This is arguably God’s biggest concern for His Church—that we all move toward spiritual maturity. Sadly, the things of life seem to conspire against us in this regard. Pressures and stresses from careers, family, health, and so on cause us to stop our pursuit of the things of God—the things that truly count and instead of “seeking first the kingdom God,” our lives become strategies for survival. Too bad we don’t realize that our failures in this life are due to our failure in becoming mature Christians.

4. Can’t start over, 6:4—8

At this point, the writer refuses to believe that his readers have fallen into apostasy, so he gives us a hypothetical situation:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance… (6:4—6a)

In the Greek, there is no phrase “if they fall away,” rather, there is a single word, parapesontas, “having fallen away.” Christians who have fallen away cannot—it is “impossible”—be renewed. But what does it mean to “fall away?” In this passage, this “falling away” is more serious than merely backsliding. The writer is not describing a weak Christian who has succumbed to a trick of Satan. When the Greek word, pipto, seen here in a different form, is used by itself, if refers to a person on thing falling down, flat on the ground. But when it is used with para, as it is here, it implies a separation between the thing or person and something else; a falling away or falling down from something, or a separation from something. So this is not stumbling in the faith but rather a deliberate separation from it.

In this hypothetical situation, then, the writer says it is “impossible” for this kind of person to be brought back to a state of repentance. What does this mean? Reams of pages of been dedicated to coming up with a palatable interpretation of these verses. Is the inspired writer suggesting one can reject their salvation; literally give back the new life God gave them? Or is he suggesting such a person will remain in a state of spiritual infancy their whole lives?

It seems to us that this is a serious matter and efforts to minimize and dilute its true meaning serve only to take away the power of these verses. It is impossible, says the teacher, to bring these people back to repentance. If they have gone this far, they won’t be interested in re-learning the elemental teachings of the Gospel. Just as God did not permit the rebellious Israelites to enter the Promised Land, so God will not permit those who “fall away” from Him to move on to maturity and enter their “rest.” Richard Taylor writes:

As long as men who once knew Christ are now shaming Him openly by their apostasy, renewal of genuine religious repentance is both a moral and a psychological impossibility.

In other words, the cumulative effects of sin in the life of a carnal, wayward Christian can prevent them from turning back to God; it’s not that God no longer cares about them, it’s that they no longer care about Him.

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (6:7, 8)

Using a powerful illustration from nature, the author teaches us that blessings from God may be used or misused. Rain is often used as evidence of God’s provision for His creation. Here we have two fields that have been rained on. One field uses God’s provision to produce a “useful crop.” The other field, though, is blessed with the same rain, yet produces only weeds.

Christians are like that; some Christians use God’s rich blessings, like salvation, to produce that which is good, others that which is bad. The application here is obvious! Those believers who use God’s blessings properly will grow and mature in the faith. Those who do not remain in an infantile state; an embarrassment to both the Church and the Kingdom of God.

5. Words of assurance, 6:9—12

So, how many believers are really in this state? It would be easy to look around at the Christian community and conclude that the problem of infantile Christians has reached plague-like proportions! And yet, only God knows a person’s heart. The writer is optimistic about his audience, and so should we be:

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. (verses, 9, 10)

The author is confident that his readers will either resume or continue their growth toward maturity. He is confident of “better things” being forthcoming in their lives; that they will use God’s blessings the right way. As we read these verses, it becomes apparent that our letter-writer wasn’t writing to apostates. His readers, in fact, were workers for the Kingdom; they were Christians engaged in good works for the sole purpose of expressing their love for God.

Why was the teacher so hard them, then? There is always room for improvement in every Christian life. There is an old saying that is appropriate in this instance:

You’ll always hit your target when you’re aiming at nothing.

Too many Christians are living aimless lives. They are vaguely aware that they are heading toward heaven, but they have no spiritual goals to attain. How can you tell if you are growing in the faith if you have no way to measure that growth? Most of us spend more time preparing for work in the morning than we do working on our spiritual lives that same day. Take time to examine your life; see what’s lacking, learn what your strengths and weaknesses are. Make a list of spiritual goals you’d like to achieve and begin working in that direction. Pray and ask God for help and direction. You might be surprised how mature you are today! Or, you may be embarrassed to see yourself still in the diaper.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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