Our teenage and early adult years are often characterized by decisions that reveal our inexperience, lack of maturity, and desire for what we want and when we want it. Oftentimes people will describe these years as mostly marked by a lack of responsibility and a penchant for fun and frivolity. Many people would say that youthfulness is wonderfully illustrated by the two college seniors who were preparing for a week of final exams, but found themselves distracted by the many “End Of School” parties that were taking place on their campus. Faced with the dilemma of whether they should continue to study for their exams or go have some fun — they decided to party instead. After an all-nighter they were faced with their biggest exam of the semester early on Wednesday morning. When the alarm went off early on Wednesday morning the roommates knew they were in trouble. All the way to class they plotted and schemed until they came up with their plan. When they showed up for the test they told the professor that their car had broken down the night before due to a very flat tire and they needed some more time to study.
The professor told them that they could have another day to study. That evening, both of the boys crammed all night until they were sure that they knew just about everything that could be asked on the test. Arriving at class the next morning, each boy was told to go to two separate classrooms to take the exam. Each boy just shrugged and went to the two rooms that were assigned to them.
As each sat down, they read the first question. “For 5 points, explain the contents of an atom.” At this point, they both thought that this was going to be a piece of cake, and answered the question with ease. Then, the test continued. “For 95 points, tell me which tire it was.”
We laugh because for most of us the story is more than a scenario, it has been a reality – only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. We understand some of the decisions that all of us have made in youthful ignorance, youthful irresponsibility, and youthful desire that blurs what is prudent, right, and wise. When we are young and we make those foolish decisions, hopefully there will be wise and understanding adults around us who will help us learn from our foolish decisions so that we can begin to make decisions that will reflect the fact that we are growing and maturing.
An erroneous assumption is oftentimes made by many of us that as we grow up physically we will mature as well. I don’t know where we’ve come up with this mistaken idea. I’ve made decisions as an adult that showed my lack of maturity. I know many folks who are 40, 50, 60 years old and older who are still living like kids, behaving like children, and have never grown up.
We don’t have much control over our physical development, but our emotional, psychological, and spiritual development are not linked to our physical development, they are inextricably linked to our relationship with the Lord. I meet with a group of high school kids on Wednesday evenings that absolutely blow me away with their hunger to grow spiritually. Our Bible study is called, “P.A.C.T.” – an acronym that stands for Putting Away Childish Things. I came up with the name of our study from Paul’s statement found in 1 Corinthians where Paul says, ” 11When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11 NIV) The young people that meet together on Wednesday evenings are hungry to grow beyond childish behavior, immaturity, and spiritual lethargy and apathy – their heart’s desire is to grow into the fullness of God’s will and purpose for their lives.
On the other hand, I know folks who have been in the church for years. They were born into the church, their mothers and fathers brought them to church every Sunday, and they know all of the stories of the Bible. They can quote the By-Laws of the church, they can quote by rote the order of worship, but if their spiritual maturity were the deciding factor in which Sunday school class they attended, they would still be in Miss Audrey’s nursery. This tragic reality is the heart of our Scripture study for today. Let’s take a look at Hebrews 5:11-14 this morning.
11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12In 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! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14 NIV)
The writer of Hebrews begins by saying, 11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. (Hebrews 5:11 NIV) We have to ask the question, “You have much to say about what? What is it that you are trying to say to us?” Well, if you will look back to Hebrews 5:9-10 you can find the answer to the question. He writes,
9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:9-10 NIV)
He is seeking to teach us about Jesus being designated by God to be High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. I don’t want to spend much time speaking about Melchizedek at this point because we will take a close look at this mysterious and powerful figure in Hebrews 7, but the writer of Hebrews felt that he couldn’t speak to the readers about Melchizedek because they “were slow to learn.” What does this mean? Were the readers “intellectually challenged,” “not very smart,” or “destined to remedial spirituality?” They didn’t need a special class — they needed to grow up! The Greek word for “slow” or “dull” as the New King James translates it is “nwqro,j” (nothros). The word means, “slow moving in mind, sluggish, lazy, or slothful.” It is used in the New Testament of being slow to understand or respond spiritually. When used of a person it generally meant intellectually numb or thick.
Let me take you a little deeper if you choose to come along. The Greek word “nothros” is made up of two Greek words, the word for “no” and the word for “push.” Literally the word means, “no push.”
The same word is found in one other place in the New Testament and it is in Hebrews 6:12 where we read,
12We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (Hebrews 6:12 NIV)
“We do not want you to become lazy…” The people couldn’t be taught about the deep truths of Jesus’ High Priesthood because they were sluggish of mind, lazy, slothful, and had no desire to grow up and “push on” in their gaining knowledge of spiritual matters.
The offspring of these first century sluggards are filling our churches today. They come in to be entertained, to look for a “feel good” sermon, to be told how “good” we really are deep down inside, but there is no desire to face the truth of who we are, of the deeper teachings of Jesus, or to apply what they’ve learned through the study of God’s Word. They are willing to come to church – now and then, but don’t you dare ask them for anymore than that or you will catch their wrath and hear about how busy they are. They don’t have time for Sunday night prayer or Bible study during the week, but they will change their schedule in a minute to go and watch their favorite team, catch a round of golf, or have a night out with the guys or gals.
The problem is not that we are unable to learn. The problem is that we are unwilling to learn. We are sluggish when it comes to the things of God. We are lazy when it comes to the things of God. We are not wiling to push on, to be stretched by God, to submit ourselves to the discipline necessary to understand God’s Word and God’s will.
The Hebrews were not the only ones addressed in the Bible who were slow to learn and lethargic concerning the thing of God. Let me give you a few examples.
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly — mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men? (I Corinthians 3:1-4 NIV)
Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (I Corinthians 14:20 NIV)
…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:13-15 NIV)
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies crave spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (I Peter 2:1-3 NIV)
The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. (Luke 8:14 NIV)
The Scriptures say to us, “When will you grow up?” God’s Word doesn’t tell us to grow up to meet the expectations of our society, but to grow up into Christ. How can we know when we are truly growing up? Great question. We can know that we are growing up when our lives reflect the life of our Savior. I don’t think anybody would argue with me that when we look into the mirror we do not see the character, conduct, and Christlike attitudes that God desires for us.
When we look around our so-called “Christian” nation we do not see that the lives of the followers of Jesus are that much different than nonbelievers. I was reading George Barna’s research on the Internet this past week and discovered some unsettling facts. Let me give you some examples: George Barna reports,
* Born again adults are more likely to experience a divorce than are non-born again adults (27% vs. 24%).
* Desiring to have a close, personal relationship with God ranks just sixth among the 21 life goals tested, trailing such desires as “living a comfortable lifestyle.”
* Born again Christians spend seven times as much time on entertainment as they do on spiritual activities.
* Although two-thirds of all teenagers say they know all the basic teachings and principles of the Christian faith, two-thirds of them reject the existence of Satan, three-fifths reject the existence of the Holy Spirit, and half believe that Jesus sinned during His lifetime.
* In a representative nationwide survey among born again adults, none of the individuals interviewed said that the single, most important goal in their life is to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ.
These facts that George Barna has gathered from conducting polls shows us how we are like our unbelieving neighbors. Why is this? Is it because Jesus’ is just a fictional character with no power to transform our lives? Is it because the teachings of God’s Word are out-dated and we no longer need to observe them, to allow them to shape our lives? Is it because Jesus was simply kidding when He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be My witnesses…” Or are we living like our neighbors and unbelieving co-workers because we are sluggish, unwilling to push forward, comfortably numb to the things of God?
As we look at verse 12 we can see that our maturity should lead to more than a mere gathering of information, we should share with others what God has taught us through our study, prayer, and times of worship. Read along with me in verse 12,
12In 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! (Hebrews 5:12 NIV)
For so many of us, we’ve had so many opportunities to grow and learn God’s Word that we should be spending time with others teaching them God’s Word. Rather than going on and becoming a teacher we are still in need of someone to teach us the most basic truths of God’s Word. The phrase “elementary truths” is translated from the Greek word, “stoicei/on” (stoicheion), which means the very basic teachings about any field of knowledge. The definition from the Greek dictionary is, “the rudimentary elements of anything, what belongs to a basic series in any field of knowledge; in grammar, the ABC’s; in speech, basic sounds; in physics, the four basic elements, earth, air, fire, and water; in geometry, the axioms; in philosophy, the givens; as a religious term it has to do with the elementary doctrines, fundamental teachings, or basic principles.”
The Hebrews who read this powerful little letter were reminded that they were needing someone to teach them God’s Word all over again because of their lack of maturity, their slowness to learn, their unwillingness to push on to gaining godly wisdom and truth. John MacArthur writes in his commentary,
These Jews did not even understand the meaning of their own law. They needed someone to go back and show them the pictures again. They were not ready to read a book; they had to go back to the ABC’s – the elementary picture-truths of ordinances, ceremonies, sacrifices, holy days, washings. These foreshadowed Christ, and they could not recognize Him unless they understood the pictures…The law was a tutor, a child trainer, that taught the first and basic truths about God. In the New Covenant we are not under the tutor anymore. We have grown up. That with substance, the picturebook is replaced with great writings that we can read. The alphabet is replaced with the full composition. The types have given way to the truth. (John MacArthur, Commentary on Hebrews, pg. 133.)
It is time for us to move, spiritually, beyond the equivalent of “See Jack run. Run Jack run.” It is time for us to grow up and to share what God is teaching us. I have the opportunity to visit with many pastors from across the nation and if there is one common denominator among all of them, regardless of their denominational affiliation, it is the lack of teachers for their people. The folks in their churches want to be entertained, but they have no desire to disciple someone. If each of us who know Christ would simply take one person to spend one hour a week with in the study of God’s Word then the wonders we would see would amaze us!
About one year ago there was a man who stopped me after worship one day and said, “Can I talk to you?” I said, “Sure.” We made our way to my office and when we arrived he said, “I really like coming to church here. The people are so friendly and I enjoy the music and your talks, but when you say, ‘Turn to 1 John 4:11 – I don’t have any idea what you are talking about.'” I knew immediately that this dear young man had never read God’s Word so I took my Bible and turned to 1 John. I said, “At the top of the page is the name of the book. The number that follows that is the chapter number. The number after the colon is the verse number.” I showed him how the verses were numbered within each paragraph and tried to reassure him that not knowing was all right, that he could begin to learn. He has continued to come to church here with his family and a few months ago he accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior and was baptized here on a Sunday morning.
He and his wife are in my Sunday night Bible study and after class a couple of weeks ago he stopped me to ask another question. He has been studying a book given to him by another guy in our church. He told me that Moses was the main character of the Exodus, he named the Patriarchs for me – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He shared so many biblical truths with me in the few minutes that we spoke and my heart soared. He is a young man who one year ago didn’t know how to look up John 3:16 and yet, today, he is hungering for the Word for God and he is growing. My friend has a wonderful testimony of what the Lord has done in his life and you will have the opportunity to hear his testimony some day, but we can all learn a powerful lesson from his life. We can move on from milk to solid food if we will cry out to God to grow us up and give us a hunger for His Word.
In the last section of Scripture that we are going to take a look at this morning we can see that solid food, the deeper truths of God’s Word, are only to be enjoyed by those who press on, push on into deep water, and work out in God’s Word like a well-trained athlete. Take a look at verse 13-14.
13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14 NIV)
When a baby is born we give the baby milk. Nobody in their right mind would give a baby a steak sandwich. Why? Because a baby is not mature enough physically to digest foods like steak. We must give them what they can handle. On a spiritual level, the writer of Hebrews is letting us know that anyone who lives on milk can’t spiritually handle God’s teachings about righteousness, the more mature teachings of God. The teachings of righteousness, of being rightly-related to God and to others in daily life are only going to be digested and assimilated by those who are mature. You may be thinking to yourself, “Okay, I can deal with that, but I want to grow so that I can digest the whole counsel of God. How can I do it?” The answer is given to us in verse 14 when we read, 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. The key to the verse is found in the phrase, “who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
There are two important words to help us clarify what is meant here. The first word is translated “use.” These folks through constant use have trained themselves to distinguish between good and evil. The word, “e[xij” (hexis) means, “a repeated activity, practice, doing again and again, doing repeatedly.” If we do something over and over again we are going to get better at it. There is a lot of truth in the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.” If we choose to surrender our hearts every morning to God’s purposes and will, then we will see more of Christ shine through us, we will see His Word begin to shape our lives, and we will begin to make decisions that better represent His character.
The second word that we should understand is the word translated “trained.” The Greek work, “gumna,zw” (gumnazo) means, “exercise, train in gymnastic discipline, mental and spiritual training and discipline.” On Wednesday morning I left my house at 5:30 am to go to Promise Keepers at 6:00 am here at the church. When I pulled out of my addition I saw two different groups of people running. Those are folks who are serious about running. They are getting in shape, buffeting their body, making it their slave so that they will be able to complete their race when it comes. The word, “gumnazo” is used in other places in the New Testament. Let me share some examples with you.
7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV)
11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11 NIV)
The word is not just used in such lofty ways as these, but also to show how we can train ourselves in sin. In 2 Peter 2:14, Peter shows us how there were some present in his day who “trained” themselves to the point of becoming experts. Take a look with me.
14With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed-an accursed brood! (2 Peter 2:14 NIV)
Getting out of bed to run at 5:30 am on a cold winter morning when the rest of the world is in bed is not fun, but it is necessary if one wants to compete in the race. I know those folks wanted to turn their alarm off and go back to sleep, but they had a higher desire, a greater passion.
Studying God’s Word, spending time in prayer, and seeking to know the heart of God is not always fun. I can show you fun if you want fun. Let’s watch a movie, chill in front of the tube, go catch a good game, hanging out at the club on a Friday night, or take a vacation. Now that’s fun! But for those who have a higher aim in life, for those who want to know the Lord in an intimate way, and allow Him to shape and guide their lives then it means that we say “No” to what our flesh cries out for and “Yes” to what our spirit is craving.
Today, God is calling us to grow up. When will we put away the childish things of this world and seek the things of God? If God is speaking to your heart this morning and stirring a hunger in you to go beyond the ABC’s of faith then I want to invite you to invite Jesus into your heart as Lord as Savior of your life this morning.