“And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Heb 5:9-14
The book of Hebrews was apparently written to Jewish Christians who were discouraged by persecution and were considering returning to Judaism. In this passage, the Hebrew author brings a stinging rebuke against the recipients of his letter. This passage, in a few words, teaches us some important lessons about spiritual growth in Christ.
“By this time you ought to be teachers” - This statement teaches us two things. First, there is a period of time after conversion when it is not appropriate for a new convert to teach. Those who are new to the faith are described as spiritual “babes” (vs 13; 1 Peter 2:2). These babes are learning the fundamental or elementary principles of the faith -- as an infant feeds on milk and not on solid food. Their focus needs to be learning and growing in the faith. A new convert’s understanding is limited and shallow, so he is not yet in a position to teach others.
However, after passage of time, each Christian is expected to grow to the level of knowledge and understanding that enables him to effectively teach others. A teacher has progressed beyond milk and can handle solid food. Not only does he understand these deeper subjects, he is able to explain them to others. It is God’s plan that each of us become teachers of others. Paul told Timothy, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” While we may not all teach in a classroom setting, we should all be working toward being able to teach others one-on-one.
“You have become dull of hearing...you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God” - Not only had they failed to grow as expected, they were regressing. The author is saying, "you should be mature enough to be teaching by now, but you need to be retaught the most elementary principles!" Here we see the danger of spiritual stagnation. If we are not earnestly working to learn, to grow, to draw nearer to Christ, then we are in danger of drifting away from Him. In Hebrews 2 we read, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it... how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” In chapter 6 the author gives a sobering warning about those who turn their back on the faith after enjoying the blessings of fellowship with Christ. Apostasy begins with drifting. Drifting is a natural consequence of failing to grow.
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” - Discernment is an important hallmark of spiritual maturity. The scriptures do not list in detail all things that are good and evil. We are given principles and concepts. We are taught a way of viewing the world. We are given the example of Christ and of the godly men and women of scripture. We are taught self-examination. The spiritually mature have trained their powers of discernment through the scriptures and through constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Furthermore, they are continually pressing forward to better discernment, closer imitation of Christ, and stronger love for others.
"Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind." Philippians 3:13-16
To whatever degree of maturity we have attained, let us walk by it and continually press for more. Let us not drift or regress, “but, speaking the truth in love, [let us] grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ.”
- Pat Gaughan