Teaching series from Hebrews

Spiritual Maturity & God's Word

Hebrews 5:11-14

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In the middle of explaining the significance of Jesus as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek (LAST WEEK), the author senses he is over his audience's head.  Read passage. 

It is clear that he is frustrated and disappointed with their level of ability to understand spiritual truth.  This is not an issue of congenital inability ("can't"); it is an issue of moral irresponsibility ("won't").  We know this because he rebukes them, portraying them as ADULTS WHO STILL NEED TO BE FED WITH A BOTTLE BECAUSE THEY WON'T GROW UP.

Spiritual Maturity Depends Upon In-depth Understanding of God's Word

These people were in a state of arrested spiritual development because they were relatively ignorant of God's Word.  From this we infer that spiritual maturity is dependent upon in-depth understanding of God's Word.  The author  holds high standards of biblical understanding for the average Christian (to whom this is addressed).  He paints a 3-fold profile of spiritually mature people:

They are able to digest solid food.  This means that they should be able not only to understand and apply to their own lives the simpler "milk" truths (O.T. BASICS [6:1,2]; 4 SPIRITUAL LAWS); they should also be able to do this with more advanced spiritual truths (Jesus and Melchizedek >> RELATIONSHIP OF OLD COVENANT TO NEW COVENANT; BLESSINGS INVOLVED IN BEING "IN CHRIST").

They are able to teach others.   This is different from the spiritual gift of teaching, which not all Christians have (1Cor.12:29).  The gifted teacher is able to explain and apply "solid food" to groups of people.  But even if they don't have this gift, they should at least be able to explain and apply "milk" truths to other, younger Christians.

They are able to discern good and evil.  Again, this is different from the spiritual gift of discernment (1Cor.12:10) which is evidently the ability to detect demonic activity in ways that most other Christians cannot.  This refers to the developed ability to appraise every major area of life from the perspective of God's Word, and reach a verdict about whether it is true or false, of God or not, spiritually helpful or harmful.

How quickly should we be able to attain this level of understanding?  We know these folks are behind schedule, but it's not clear how long they had been Christians.  Another passage gives us a better idea.  Read 1Cor.2:15-3:2.

Note the similarities between these two passages (babe & adult; milk & solid food; digestion & discernment).  This is one reason why we surmise the Pauline authorship of Hebrews.

Paul first visited Corinth between 2-4 years prior to this letter.  They were biblically illiterate pagans when they received Christ (like many of us).  It is clear from 3:2 that he expects them to be relatively mature by now.  Therefore, it is possible for us to do the same!!!

In-depth knowledge of God's Word has been a core value in this church over the years.  Xenos people have a reputation for many things (some good and some not so good), but one good thing is the reputation for knowing their Bibles.  Much of our fruit can be traced to our conviction that all Christians can and should learn the Bible to this level.  I hope this remains a core value, but it won't happen automatically.  It's difficult to measure, but I see some signs that we may be going soft in this area.

I hear an increasing number of people referring to this level of scriptural knowledge as a "gift" which most do not have.  There are certain gifts which involve special ability to assimilate and communicate God's Word, and we must be careful not to expect everyone to possess these abilities.  But if we begin to view any of the abilities listed above as gifts, we are compromising what God says all should develop, and even our gifts won't be as effective as they could.

I hear an increasing number of people who speak of spiritual maturity or spirituality more in terms of having emotional experiences with God than in terms of knowing God's Word.  I have even heard people say "I don't want to learn more Bible; I want to experience God."  I am not saying that having emotional experiences with God is wrong or unimportant; we can expect that this will happen as we grow.  But our emotions and experiences are simply not reliable guides.  Unless our lives are firmly anchored in God's Word, our emotions and experiences will lead us away from God into all kinds of trouble.

I hear an increasing number of people emphasizing love over truth.  I am not saying that loving people is unimportant; Paul says it is the key fruit of the Spirit.  And there is such a thing as knowledge without love that its prideful and ugly.  But love must be tempered and informed by the truth, or it degenerates into sentimentality (Phil.1:9; 1Jn.3:18).  It is not by merely loving one another that we grow and mature; it is by speaking the truth in love (Eph.4:14,15).

3 Ways To Increase Your Understanding Of God's Word

>> But the author does more than rebuke his audience for their ignorance.  He also identifies where they went wrong, and in so doing suggests ways to rectify the situation.  He mentions three specific steps we can take to advance in our understanding of God's Word and thus "press on to maturity."  As we take these steps, God's Spirit will work through them to teach us his Word.

Become accustomed to the word

Apeiros means "unskilled," "unacquainted with," or "without experience in."  Their problem was that they were unfamiliar with God's Word - they didn't know their way around the Bible.  The obvious first step toward spiritual maturity is learning your Bible.  We need to gain a solid understanding of the key doctrines and become familiar with the passages that teach them.  There are two simple ways to do this:

Get regular exposure to solid Bible teaching which emphasizes the New Testament.  This was a central ministry to young Christians in the early church.  The new Christians in Jerusalem were "continuously devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching" (Acts2:42).  Paul spent two and a half years teaching the new Christians at Ephesus daily (Acts19:9,10).  It evidently took that long for him to explain and apply the whole counsel of God (Acts20:20,27,31).

This is why we make so much Bible teaching available to you (THESE MEETINGS; HOME GROUPS; GROUNDING GROUPS; COURSES).  It isn't because we have a bunch of gifted teachers who need to be kept busy.  It's because there is so much to learn!  How exciting it is to have God speak to you through this medium (POST-CT COMMENTS)!!

Therefore, especially for new and unlearned Christians, it is normal (not excessive) to take in several teachings a week.  Especially with the availability of TAPES, RADIO, and BOOKS in addition to the above, no Christian today has an excuse for remaining biblically illiterate.

Learn to study the Bible yourself.  In addition to having scriptural truth fed to you already prepared by a teacher, you need to learn how to prepare and eat your own food.  Babies must be fed; adults can feed themselves.  Teachers supply us with a framework of scriptural truth so that we can go to the Bible ourselves, and get the same kind of illumination from it that we get at teachings.

Starting with the New Testament, we should study whole books, analyze passages in context, compare them to other parallel passages, distill the truths and meditate on them (promises, commands, warnings, principles).  Though you can do this alone, I find that the best way is with another person or two who have the same desire (FRIDAY MORNINGS).  This way you can motivate each other to stay at it, and learn from each other.

Don't become dull of hearing

Vs 11 probably refers to the spiritual condition described back in chapter 3 (read 3:7): the hardened heart.  They were dull of hearing because they were covering their ears when God spoke to them.  The problem here is not ignorance, but disobedience.  Sometimes I'll tell my daughters to clean their rooms, but when I check them later, their rooms are still a mess.  When I ask them why this is, they often say, "We didn't hear you."  Should I take them to have their hearing checked?  No, the problem is that they didn't want to hear me because they didn't like what I was saying.

If we want to mature spiritually, we must be willing to not only learn what God says in his Word, but also obey him when he personally applies his truth to areas in our lives.  The same Holy Spirit who enlightens us to understand God's Word also engineers situations and points out steps to take to apply that knowledge.

Obedience is a non-optional part of the learning process.  As someone once told me,  "When I hear, I forget; when I see, I remember; when I do, I understand."

In fact, scripture teaches that our apprehension of spiritual truth is never static.  We are always either gaining or losing spiritual understanding, depending on how we respond to what we learn (Jas.1:22-25).   EXAMPLES: RECEIVING CHRIST; FORGIVING SOMEONE; SHARING CHRIST; BREAKING ILLICIT RELATIONSHIP; GIVING MONEY...

The good news is that if only we are willing to respond to the light God gives us, he will keep giving us more light.  No one and nothing can stop us from gaining an abundance of spiritual knowledge and becoming mature.  The only one who can stop me is myself!!

Train your senses to discern good and evil

 Some Christians are swept along by their feelings, situations, media, the latest ideological fads and doctrinal tangents (Eph.4:14).  Others seem to have an almost intuitive ability to sense that something isn't right - and then upon reflection explain why it's off-base biblically.  What is the difference?  The latter has discernment - the ability to evaluate beliefs, values, feelings, etc. in light of God's Word and render a verdict on them.  This is non-optional equipment because we live in a world full of deception.

How do you get discernment?  By practice and training.  The word for "trained" here is gumnazo, which is the word from which we get "gymnasium."  John Paxson made the game-winning 3-pointer last Sunday under incredible pressure, and he made it look easy.  How could he do this?  In the post-game interview, he said "That's why I've practiced 3-pointers every day for years."  Through practice, he trained his body to shoot them almost automatically.  It's the same with discernment.  You can get to the point where you can discern the MEDIA, TANGENTIAL TEACHING, OTHER PEOPLE, YOUR OWN INNER LIFE.  But this doesn't come naturally; you have to practice by constantly asking "What does the Bible say about this?"  Over time, your senses get trained to do it almost by reflex.


>> This sounds like a lot of work!  I won't lie to you - it is.  Spiritual maturity doesn't come easily, and it doesn't come overnight.  If you want a short-cut, there are plenty around - just like there are plenty of DIET PROGRAMS that yield quick results but don't last.  But if you want long-lasting results, it's going to cost you something.  Is it worth it?  It depends on what you want out of life.  I think the benefits more than compensate for the effort expended (see Jn.8:31,32,34,36; Ps.1:1-3).