Has anyone ever said to you, “Oh, grow up!”? Surely not. Well, how about this – have you ever looked at someone and said to yourself, “That person is so immature. I wish they would grow up!”? If you have ever had such a thought, you have an idea of what the writer to the Hebrews was feeling when instructing Christian believers about some of the more advanced details of the Christian faith.
In Hebrews 5:11-14, the writer scolds, “you have become poor listeners. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the actual words of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to distinguish between good and evil.”
The writer to the Hebrews is like a schoolteacher who knows they need to move on to more difficult content, to deeper waters, but their students have become poor listeners. Often students are eager to learn at the beginning of the school year, but as the year slogs on, they become apathetic. Such seems to have been the case with these Hebrew believers. They should be experts. They should be teaching this stuff to others. But here they are, plowing the same soil over and over again.
The writer says these believers are so immature that they can’t handle solid food. Like an infant, they are only able to digest milk, which the writer compares to the bare basics of the Christian faith – repentance, faith, baptism, resurrection, eternal judgement. But if a human never consumes anything other than milk, they’re not going to grow properly. We all reach a stage when milk is not sufficient – we need to add solid foods that provide the nutrients and vitamins and calories that we need to grow.
These believers are stuck on milk, and they’re not really interested in anything better. The grace and mercy part of their faith is warm, it’s fuzzy, it’s comforting. And so they are in this state of arrested development. The writer says as we mature, we gain practice, and our senses are trained to discern right and wrong. But if we don’t mature, we don’t progress, and if we don’t progress, eventually we regress. Oliver Cromwell had written in Latin on his Bible, qui cessat esse melior cessat esse bonus – “He who ceases to be better ceases to be good.”
THEREFORE, the writer says, “leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). There is so much more to the Christian’s calling than those basics! And the writer calls us to move on from those things and press on to maturity. So what does maturity look like for the Christian believer?
To avoid any confusion, perhaps we should first look at what maturity is not:
- Maturity is not necessarily related to age. It has little to do with how long you have lived, or how long you have been a Christian – you can be old and immature. God desires that as we grow older we will mature, but that does not always happen.
- Maturity is not always related to appearance. You can appear to be spiritually mature by the places you frequent – church, a Christian school; by activities in which you engage – volunteering, teaching Sunday School, carrying a big Bible. But the fact is many can and have disguised themselves as a spiritual person.
- Maturity does not necessarily relate to achievement. You can accomplish many things – in studies, in vocation, even in ministry – and still be very immature.
The word “maturity” implies growth, development, moving toward completion. So “pressing on to maturity”, at least in the spiritual sense, is about moving on from simple understandings and practices and rituals, and advancing to the life of obedience and fruit-bearing and loving and evangelizing and serving to which God has called us.
We are to be ever “growing up” in the things of God. When we give our lives to Christ, that first sprout of the seed of salvation that was planted in our lives, that is the beginning, not the end of our salvation. So, as the writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to do, let’s not be satisfied with the very basics of belief, but acquaint ourselves with the words of righteousness (5:13) and through the practice of our faith have our senses trained to discern good from evil as we move forward to maturity.
~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair