That they were struggling is evident. That they were complicit is also evident.
To be sure, taking a stand for Jesus within the predominant Jewish community of the first century wasn’t for the faint of heart. While many believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, many more believed that He wasn’t. The One who split time (think B.C. and A.D.) also split families, synagogues, and entire towns and cities.
So, to find that some were wavering in their new found faith, and were looking again to the old ways as the easier ways, probably isn’t surprising. That faith was feigning was perhaps expected, given that the flesh is weak. But while the author to the Hebrews is sympathetic to his audience as he contends for their faith, he also knows that their shaky foundation is in part due to their lax approach to the Scriptures. Reminding me this morning, that when it comes to standing firm in the faith, you need to be growing in the word. That it’s kind of a use it or lose it thing.
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.
(Hebrews 5:11-13 ESV)
The writer is trying to encourage these beleaguered believers with the excellencies of Christ. Urging them to keep on keepin’ on because Jesus holds the keys to the kingdom. How does he do that? He appeals to the Scriptures. The living and active word of God. The same way Jesus did on the road to Emmaus, he goes to what was written concerning the promised Messiah “in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” trusting the Holy Spirit “to open their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Lk. 24:44-45). But it’s hard to explain. Not so much because it was difficult to harness, but because they had become dull of hearing.
Literally, they had become lazy. And while the Spirit is more than able to illuminate the Scriptures, He needs something to work with. And these believers had, it seems, tapped out after the basic principles. For as long as they had had opportunity to learn the word of God, they should have been teachers. Instead, they were stuck retaking the 101 classes. While they should have been able to eat solid food like a grown up, they were still gumming the pabulum of stories they had learned in Sunday School. They were unskilled in the word. So, the writer to the Hebrews finds it frustrating to elevate their understanding of God given the sluggishness they had mired themselves in concerning the things of God.
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
(Hebrews 5:14 ESV)
Constant practice. Constant use. A deeply-formed habit. Trained not by some extraordinary means, but through habitual, regular, meaningful engagement with the life-changing word of God. Engaged constantly in personal reading and study of the word. Engaged constantly in sitting under the public preaching of the word. Engaged constantly in talking through with others the word — processing together its application to the realities of the day.
The living word then becomes the functional word as their powers of discernment are divinely developed.
All through constant practice. Using it so as not to be losing it.
I’ve said it here before, there’s no coasting. You can’t store up the manna, it atrophies. You need to be harvesting afresh, regularly and frequently, the bread supplied from heaven. You need be in the word and the word in you. Otherwise, it’s babies-ville. Pabulum palace.
God protect us from becoming dull of hearing.
Father, stir within us a hunger and thirst for Your sanctifying word. Help us to develop a taste for Your word and know that the Lord is good.
By Your grace. For Your glory.