Dull of hearing. Unskilled in the word. Should be meat-eaters, instead only able to digest milk. It’s what I think was at the heart of the problem that the writer to the Hebrews addresses. They were tempted to fall away because they hadn’t yet grown up. Tempted to second guess themselves because they didn’t make growing in the Word their first priority. Problem in the first century. Still a problem, I think, today. I know I thought it was a problem 10 years ago. Here are my thoughts from 2012 on my Hebrews reading today.
My kids loved picture books. You know those big, over-sized children’s books that cared less about narrating a story but instead captured the imagination with full page graphics and photos. It seemed they never got tired of them . . . we’d pull them out again and again. But eventually my kids grew up . . . and while there may be fond, nostalgic memories of those picture books, my girls don’t read them anymore . . . don’t rely on them for their intellectual stimulation. They moved beyond picture books . . . started reading “chapter books” . . . and now read “adult books.” My reading in Hebrews 5 this morning reminded me that, as the people of God, we need to move beyond picture books, as well.
. . . 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.
The writer to the Hebrews wants to take His readers deep . . . “connecting the dots” of Scripture with the Person of Christ . . . showing them that Christ is the Messiah, and has become the Author or Source of eternal salvation . . . that He is a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek . . . BUT . . . screech to a stop . . . the writer to the Hebrews can’t plumb the depths of this thought because his readers had become “dull of hearing” (5:11b).
He says that by now, with how long they have had exposure to the Word, they should be teachers (5:12) . . . instead they need someone to take them through the basics again — they are still on “milk” and not “solid food” . . . still babies . . . not mature. They need to get out of Sunday School . . . move beyond the “Bible stories” and picture books . . . and get deeper. Stop sucking on the sippy-cup and get their teeth into the meatier stuff. It is possible — and perhaps too prevalent in the Church — to be “unskilled in the word of righteousness” (5:13). Inexperienced . . . bottle-feeders . . . unable to chew on the solid food of the Word and digest it themselves.
I have often thought that we don’t spend enough time showing believers the basics on how to feed themselves. We focus on pre-packaged Bible studies (good stuff, not saying it isn’t) without also spending time on how to study the Bible . . . how to read and correctly handle the Word and get beyond the Sunday School stories and dig out of the pages of Holy Scripture solid teaching for themselves. To experience for themselves the rush that comes from making an observation to then find the Spirit stirring their souls with illumination.
For too many, their sole intake of the Word, I fear, is the pre-digested, 3 or 4 point sermon on Sunday morning. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for gifted teachers to open up the Word for others and feed the sheep — there is . . . it is an integral part of how the church is intended to grow. But we also need to equip the sheep with enough tools so that they can be Bereans . . . that, after receiving the Word with gladness on Sunday morning, they can go home and “examine the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11) . . . to take in “solid food” for themselves and grow up.
If we don’t move beyond the picture books, the people of God are in such danger of looking like and living like the world about us . . . rather than being salt and light. Without “constant practice” . . . without having “our powers of discernment trained” by handling the living Word of God we lose our edge to discern good from evil . . . and can so easily settle for “good enough.”
Constant, habit forming, consistent use . . . reading . . . studying . . . meditating . . . obeying. It’s as we seek to get deeper . . . as we “use” the Word . . . that we develop the spiritual discernment concerning good and evil . . . that we recognize what’s beneficial and what’s not . . . that we distinguish what’s just good, from what’s better, from what’s best.
It doesn’t happen overnight . . . but maturing isn’t an overnight process . . . it occurs over a lifetime. We need to move beyond the “Sunday School stories” . . . and put away the picture books . . . and ask God, by His grace and through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to take us deeper as we exercise ourselves in the Word . . . seeking to become “skilled” in the Word of righteousness.
For our benefit . . . By His grace . . . For His glory . . .