Have you ever tried to explain something to someone and then realized that they didn’t even have the background to understand what you were saying?
With me this sometimes happens when I am trying to explain something about computers to someone. I say, “So you click here and this app will open and you can type this command…” Then they interrupt and say, “How do you turn the computer on again?”
The same type of thing happened to the author of Hebrews. He was writing along, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, telling how the Old Testament high priest Melchizedek, who lived in Abraham’s day, actually foreshadowed Christ and his high priesthood.
8 Though [Christ] were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; 9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; 10 Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec. (Hebrews 5:8–10)
Suddenly he stops and realizes that they weren’t going to get it.
11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. 12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11–14)
They have a problem, it’s…
I. THE PROBLEM OF SPIRITUAL DULLNESS
Hebrews 5:11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
Hebrews 5:12a For when for the time ye ought to be teachers…
“Dull” in the Greek literally means “no push;” like a big rock that won’t move. It was used of athletes who were too lazy to work out, so they were out of shape. The word is used only one other time in the New Testament, and that is in Hebrews 6:12, where it is translated “slothful.”
In terms of mental dullness, the word came to mean “lazy as to one’s ears.” These people were “dull of hearing.”
Was this an intellectual problem? Were they simply unable to understand the big words that the author was using? No, he says that by this time they ought to have been teachers—they had the mental capacity. To be spiritually dull of hearing is not a mental problem—it’s a heart problem.
Hebrews 6:12 shows us what the opposite of dull or slothful is:
That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:12).
It says that people who are not dull (or slothful) are people who through faith and patience inherit the promises of God. So being dull of hearing has to do with having a lack of faith and patience, not having a lack of intelligence.
The Israelites in the Old Testament also struggled with being dull of hearing, and it wasn’t because they weren’t smart—it was because they lacked the faith to delight in God’s Word. The Lord said through Jeremiah:
10 To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it. (Jeremiah 6:10)
Further evidence that spiritual dullness is a heart issue and not a mental one is that today we have so many resources to help us read (and listen to) the Bible.
There are study Bibles and commentaries for every level of education and interest—yet it seems that the average Christian knows less about the Bible than the simple farmer did 200 years ago who only had a KJV Bible and a candle.
A man named Leroy Elms told about a time his family went to Florida:
One spring, our family was driving from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa, Florida. As far as the eye could see, orange trees were loaded with fruit. When we stopped for breakfast, I ordered orange juice with my eggs. “I’m sorry,” the waitress said. “I can’t bring you orange juice. Our machine is broken.”
I was dumbfounded. We were surrounded by millions of oranges, and orange slices garnished our plates. We were surrounded by thousands of gallons of juice, but we couldn’t have it because the restaurant was dependent on a machine to get it.
Christians are sometimes like that. They are surrounded by Bibles, but if they couldn’t get to a Sunday morning preaching service, they would have no nourishment for their souls. (Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect, [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008], 402)
What do you do with spiritually dull people? You take them back to square one. You give them…
II. MILK: IT’S WHAT A DULL BODY NEEDS
A. The Basics
Hebrews 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
The phrase “first principles” refers to the foundational things about Christianity. We know this because he says that they have to be taught them all over “again.”
What are these foundational or first principles? What does a person need to know in order to be saved?
(1) They need to know that there is a God, a Creator who made them for a relationship with himself. He wants to pour love into their lives.
(2) They need to know that they need saved—they need to know that the ship is sinking. In spiritual terms, they need to understand that they are a sinner and that they have offended God.
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23)
(3) They need to understand that they cannot save themselves. The lifeboats are gone, the water is freezing, and the night is dark.
The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23); that is a penalty that we cannot pay. It’s like having to swim a thousand miles in freezing water to reach safety—it’s not going to happen.
(4) They need to know some basics about Jesus Christ. That he is sinless, and lived a perfect life because he is God himself. Because he is sinless, he could be a perfect sacrifice for us.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
(5) They need to know that their salvation and their personal relationship with God depends on what they do with Jesus Christ.
Will they reject him? Will they try to have him on their side, but only as far as he agrees with them? Will they come to depend on him and pledge their allegiance to him (John 14:6)?
That’s the basics of the Christian faith. But…
B. What’s Wrong with Just the Basics?
Hebrews 5:13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
It’s not that milk is a bad thing; it is good thing—for a baby to live on. But if the baby becomes a teenager and the only thing they consume for food is milk, then something is wrong.
The something that is wrong is that “everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness.”
Imagine a car mechanic who only knows how to change oil, light bulbs, and spark plugs. What happens when someone brings in a vehicle with a real problem—like it’s a Ford? They wouldn’t be able to handle it! Their business would quickly go under.
The business of every Christian is to know well the Bible. If it’s only the basics that you know, then you won’t be able to make right choices in life.
You won’t understand enough about Jesus and God and the Bible to know what to do in many situations in life.
You won’t understand how to endure suffering and trials. You won’t have the battle gear to fight sin and temptations.
If you are dull of hearing, you need to review the basics and dwell on them for awhile. Solid food is going to be hard to chew and what you need is a nice, cold refreshing glass of milk: it’s what a dull body needs.
But you don’t want to stay on only milk, you need…
III. SOLID FOOD: TO SHARPEN YOUR TEETH ON
Hebrews 5:14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
We want to be mature Christians, and to be that, we have to move, or move back, to solid food. We cannot stay with milk. Solid food is what we need to sharpen our teeth on.
A. What is Solid Food?
What is this “strong meat [that] belongeth to them that are of full age”? It is the advanced teaching of the Bible, but what is that?
Is this the type of thing where we argue about how many angels can dance on a pinhead?
No, but it is the things in the Bible that are difficult to understand. The comparison of the priesthood of Melchizedek and the priesthood of Christ is one example of strong meat.
The sovereignty of God is not an easy teaching. It can be difficult to wrap your head around God being completely in control, yet we have freedom to make choices and evil exists. Yet, when you start to grasp it, the sovereignty of God is a source of comfort in trials.
B. How Do We Eat Solid Food?
The text says that solid food is for those who “reason of use [i.e., they constantly practice] have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
The word “exercised” is an athletic word and calls to mind the hard training that an athlete undergoes when he or she prepares. Training in this spiritual sense means that we need to have “work out sessions” with God and his word.
Don’t settle for an easy, five minutes of light Bible reading and a quick prayer, sweat it out!
I have discovered that the three spiritual disciplines that help Christians grow the most: memorization, meditation, and earnest prayer, are not the easiest things to do. They require us to have an athletic mindset.
Don’t be afraid of deep teaching; yes, it can be hard to understand, but as a favorite teacher of mine likes to say—“if you rake, you get leaves; if you dig, you might find diamonds.”
Dig for the treasures. Occasionally read a spiritual book that is above your pay grade, it will help pull you up a little more. You need to stretch your muscles to grow.
C. Why Do We Need Solid Food?
The motivation to eat solid food is to have our “senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” In other words, to sharpen our teeth. We need to eat strong meat so that we can make right choices in critical life situations.
How are you making your decisions?
- Are you making them based on feelings—what you would like to do?
- Are you making them based on culture—what is acceptable to do?
- Are you making them based on tradition—what has always been done?
- Or are you making them based on the Bible?
To make choices based on the Bible, we must have our powers of discernment trained by digging in and eating the solid meat of the Bible.
A. The Benefits Of Studying God’s Word
1. Studying God’s Word is a noble way of passing time.
As it says in Acts 17—
11 These [Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11)
Really, when you think about it, what could be a better way of spending your time then reading the words of the one who made you and who saved you?
2. Studying God’s Word is useful to your Christian walk.
The more you know of God—his character and his commands—the better you’ll be able to sense the right decision to make in the heat of the moment.
The more you know about God’s plans and purposes and love for you, the better you’ll be able to sense his comfort in the midst of trials and to endure suffering.
25 DALETH. My soul cleaveth unto the dust: Quicken thou me according to thy word. 26 I have declared my ways, and thou heardest me: Teach me thy statutes. 27 Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: So shall I talk of thy wondrous works. 28 My soul melteth for heaviness: Strengthen thou me according unto thy word. (Psalm 119:25–28)
B. The Way To Study God’s Word
1. Read it!
The most critical thing Christians are lacking today is reading the Bible. We content ourselves with a Daily Bread snippet and then go and watch TV.
Feed on God’s Word—it’s your milk and it’s your meat. Accept no substitutes or junk food. Read it…listen to it as you drive. Make it your main book. Why do we need to read it? Because, someone wrote,
The Scripture is a visionary book, one that engages our minds, fires our thoughts, and rouses us to action. It is not a tame book. It will swallow us whole, transforming our understanding of this world and the next. (Owen Strachan, Doug Sweeney, and Douglas Sweeney, The Essential Edwards Collection: Set of Five Books, [Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2010])
2. Learn from others.
Who are the people in your life who fit the description of verse 14? Who… “are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
Are there fellow Christians who bug you because they seem “holier than thou?” Perhaps they really aren’t, perhaps they are simply Christians who have had their senses trained to discern good and evil better than you.
Those are people that you need to stop judging as being too strict, too legalistic, and to start learning from them. Ask them questions—why do you think this or that is wrong? Learn from them!
3. Do it.
James tells us to “be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). An important part of spiritual growth is acting on what we learn!
The doctor who only reads about performing surgeries is not the doctor that you want to do your surgery!
The same is true for almost every profession—you can read about farming, ranching, truck driving, and more—but it’s the act of doing it that takes that information and makes it real.
Do not leave the Bible on the table when you leave the house. Live it in the world. Practice what you learn from the Bible.
Plan to do so. You might be convicted by one of the 1050 commands in the New Testament. Before you leave off the Bible, plan how you will practice that command during your day. Eat meat, don’t just drink milk!