Something tragic had
happened in the spiritual development of some Jewish
people who were being pastored by the author of the
book of Hebrews. The author wanted to teach them the
great truths about Melchizedek, the priest-king who
represented the great High Priest-King, Jesus
Christ. However, he could not teach them because it
was over their heads; they were too lazy, childish,
and immature. They were slow learners, unable to
comprehend the advanced study. The problem was not
with the subject, but was hard to present so they
could understand it because they had become
spiritually dull. He will pick up the theme once
again in Hebrews 7:1 after he addresses the
spiritual condition of some of his readers.
We do well to keep in
mind the theme of Hebrews is the superiority of
Christianity over Judaism. These Hebrews are tempted
to return to the rituals in the Temple worship. They
are encouraged to put off their dependence upon the
Levitical sacrifices and trust in the all sufficient
sacrifice of Christ. The shadows and types of the
old covenant were only pictures of the real object
of their faith in Christ. To return to the old
rituals would be to re-crucify Christ, the Son of
The death of Jesus Christ
fulfilled the types in the Old Testament that
foreshadowed the perfect atoning sacrifice for sin.
Jesus fulfilled the Aaronic type of sacrifice for
sins. Moreover, the author of Hebrews goes on to
stress that Jesus is also the great royal High
Priest in the order of Melchizedek.
At the heart of the
Jewish religious culture was the covenant, the
temple and the priesthood. In Christianity it is the
great High Priest under the new covenant who
ministers in the heavenly sanctuary, interceding on
behalf of the sinner. The author writes, "Of whom we
have many things to say" in Hebrews 5:11. He
is referring to Christ as the fulfillment of the
Melchizedek type of priest-king. He has much to
share with his readers, but there is a problem.
This passage contains the
strongest words of rebuke against spiritual
immaturity. These individuals are described as hard
to teach because they are "dull of hearing" (Heb.
5:11), should be able to teach others by now (v.
12), are spiritual babes (v. 13), and in the need of
"solid food" (v. 14).
Many scholars view these
some of these Jewish readers as still unsaved and
needed to be convinced that Jesus is superior to
Aaron and the old covenant. The context stresses the
superiority of Christ over the prophets, angels,
Moses, Aaron, the covenant with its law and
sacrifices, etc. The atoning sacrifice of Christ is
superior to the Levitical sacrifices. I think it is
a mixed congregation of believers and seekers or
sympathizers. The majority of his readers are saved.
They have put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ
as their great God and Savior. They need to go on to
maturity. There are some, as in churches today, who
are sympathizers. They enjoy the religious emotional
experiences, have seen the evidences for Christ, but
have never been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. They
are lost; religious, but lost.
Why haven't they
responded properly to Jesus Christ?
Dull of hearing
"Concerning him we have
much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you
have become dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11, NASB95).
All Scripture references are from New American
Standard Bible, 1995 Update unless otherwise noted.
The author of Hebrews
wants to take his readers deeper into their
understanding of our great High Priest and King
Melchizedek, but he cannot because of their
spiritual immaturity. His readers are "dull of
"Dull of hearing" (nothros)
means lazy, slow or sluggish, stupid. At one time
they were eager to hear the Word of God and obey it.
They are now dull, no response to its message. Their
minds have wandered off on something else of lesser
value. They were hard to teach.
John Brown wrote, "When
the Gospel was first preached to them, it aroused
their attention, it exercised their thoughts; but
now with many of them it had become a common thing.
They flattered themselves that they knew all about
it. It had become to them like a sound to which the
ear had been long accustomed the person is not
conscious of it, pays no attention to it."
The perfect tense in the
original suggests hardened in unbelief. At one time
some of these readers were keen of hearing, sharp,
ready to learn, but have fallen into a dulled
condition. That is their current state. They had not
always been in that state. The process was completed
in the past time that results in the present
dullness of hearing. They have acquired this mental
and spiritual state over the course of time. They
cannot shake it off now. Unbelief closes the ears
and hardens the hearts. Over time it makes the
spiritual understanding impossible.
In the past these Hebrews
understood the basic truths sufficiently, were "once
enlightened." However, as a result of past neglect
they became hardened against the ministry of the
Holy Spirit. Remember Hebrews 3:7-8? "Therefore,
just as the Holy Spirit says, 'Today if you hear His
voice, Do not harden your hearts as when they
provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the
wilderness'" (Hebrews 3:7-8).They had received the
pre-salvation work of the Holy Spirit. However, the
dullness became hardness to the point of completion.
They neglected the truth of the gospel and as a
result they came to a settled state of mind. They
settled into a state of spiritual stupidity. The
process of spiritual laziness settled down to a
state of sluggish laziness.
They have become mental
and spiritual loafers who are too lazy to make any
effort at improvement. The writer wants to build
them up spiritually, focus their minds on Christ,
but they are like the spiritually dead. They are
These readers to some
extent have been instructed in the gospel truths. By
confronting them with the truth he hopes to sharpen
their hearing and reestablish the learning process.
Take inventory and consider where you are
spiritually. Their spiritual condition reminds us of
Galatians 5:7. "You were running well; who hindered
you from obeying the truth?" Was it because they got
off to a false start? Were they focusing on
themselves and not on Christ? Faith looks away from
self and is occupied with the Savior. They needed to
be told that Christ, not faith, not baptism, not the
church, not religious fads, but Christ is the
sinner's Savior. Faith is simply the open hand that
receives the gift of saving grace from the Savior.
You ought to be
"For though by this time
you ought to be teachers, you have need again for
someone to teach you the elementary principles of
the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk
and not solid food" (Hebrews 5:12).
They have had time to
accept Christ and grow spiritually. By now you
should have become spiritually mature teachers.
Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples. The
apostle Peter wrote: "Sanctify Christ as Lord in
your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to
everyone who asks you to give an account for the
hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and
reverence" (1 Peter 3:15).
His readers are like
spiritual children. They can handle only the very
simplest doctrinal matters. The "elementary
principles of the oracles of God" (stoicheio)
are the rudimentary principles, the basics, the
ABC's, the basic elements. They need someone to go
back and teach them the ABC's of Christianity. I
know churches that are full of ABC Christians. They
have very limited understanding of spiritual truths,
and they are the first ones to whine and complain if
you try to lead them into deeper truths of God's
Word. Some of these Hebrews can only handle
spiritual "milk," the simplest teachings. They did
not have a mature grasp of basic Christianity. They
still needed someone to teach them the ABC's of
Christianity. The teachings about Melchizedek are
beyond the ABC's. The instructions on Melchizedek
are solid food.
How tragic indeed for any
pastor who faces an immature congregation who is
incapable of going beyond the most elementary basic
understating of spiritual truths.
The apostle Paul faced
similar circumstances in the church at Corinth.
Those who thought they were the elite Christians
were indeed spiritually immature. "And I, brethren,
could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as
to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you
milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet
able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet
able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is
jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly,
and are you not walking like mere men?" (1
"Milk" is for infants who
are unable to understand anything except the very
simplest spiritual truths. The perfect tense which
speaks of the process finished in time past with
present results tells us they can handle only milk.
They have gradually turned away from the truth over
a period of time until now they are at the place
where they can only assimilate spiritual milk. They
cannot handle the deeper things of the Word of God.
Keep in mind in the context the deeper things is the
all-sufficiency of Christ.
What happened to these
listeners? How did they get into such a state?
They have become so
sluggish that it would now take an excellent teacher
many lessons to teach them again the basic truths.
They "ought to be teachers, "but now they need
someone to teach them in an ongoing process the
They were spiritual
babes, immature in their spiritual understanding.
The spiritual babes need
some solid food. They need some "meat" so they can
grow up. Yes, adults drink milk, but it is not
their exclusive diet. Observe the contrast between
the immature with those of full age, spiritually
You should be mature
"For everyone who
partakes only of milk is not accustomed to 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 discern good and evil"
The author stresses the
ability to discern right from wrong as the
distinctive characteristic of spiritual maturity.
The Greek word "babe"
does not imply spiritual birth or salvation in any
way. We often refer to new believers in Christ as
"babes in Christ," referring to their relationship
"in Christ." In this passage in Hebrews the context
requires us to refer to them as unbelievers.
They are so immature they
cannot discern right from wrong. The mature "have
their senses trained to discern good and evil." The
"righteousness" in this verse refers to what
characterizes every believer. Christianity changes
us from the inside out. We are to live transformed
lives because Christ lives in us. The evidence that
we are saved is a changed life. No, we are not
perfect, but Christ is changing us.
We have noted the perfect
tense in previous verses. We encounter it again in
verse fourteen. The mature person has over time
practiced or exercised their senses to discern good
and evil. The mature can distinguish between good
They have become "dull of
hearing" through religious fads, emotionalism,
legalism, lack of doctrinal discernment, personality
followers, and will jump on whatever movement that
comes to town. They have no depth. They are
emotionally gullible. They will follow whatever
snake charmer who comes on the scene. We are
describing spiritual children who cannot distinguish
emotionalism from the manifestation of the Holy
They cannot distinguish
true Biblical theology from religious fads. They fly
by their emotions and have no depth of Biblical
Paul's goal was for the
church to be built up "until we all attain to the
unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son
of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the
stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As
a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed
here and there by waves and carried about by every
wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by
craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Ephesians
Time to grow up
Believers reach maturity
through "the word of righteousness." This is the
most basic issue the Hebrews are in danger of
rejecting. They are tempted to go back to their
self-righteousness or works-righteousness instead of
trusting only in the imputed righteousness of
Christ. No one is ever saved by self-righteousness.
We are saved by grace and it is received as a free
gift from God based upon the atoning sacrifice of
Jesus Christ for our sins. "He made Him who knew no
sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become
the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians
5:21). If rejecting the Son of God these individuals
were in a terrible position of rejecting completely
the grace of God and eternal salvation.
"But now apart from the
Law the righteousness of God has been manifested,
being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus
Christ for all those who believe; for there is no
distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of
the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His
grace through the redemption which is in Christ
Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation
in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate
His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God
He passed over the sins previously committed; for
the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at
the present time, so that He would be just and the
justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans
Again, the apostle Paul
declared: "Nevertheless knowing that a man is not
justified by the works of the Law but through faith
in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ
Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in
Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the
works of the Law no flesh will be justified"
"He saved us, not on the
basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness,
but according to His mercy, by the washing of
regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Titus
The apostle Paul in his
own testimony made it very clear that He wanted to
be found "in Christ," not having a
righteousness of his own derived from Law keeping
and self-righteousness, but "that which is through
faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from
God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:9).
Everything in the
Christian life is built upon this righteousness
imputed to the believer. We do not come to God with
any earned or merited righteousness. We come with
empty hands stained with sin and guilt. Christ alone
is our righteousness. He alone has lived the perfect
sinless righteous life. He exchanged His perfect
righteousness for our sinfulness and imputes His
perfect righteousness to us. This is our perfect
righteousness, but it is alien righteousness. He
provides us this standing before God. We do not earn
"But we all, with
unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of
the Lord, are being transformed into the same image
from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the
Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
But even the apostle Paul
stressed that he had not arrived after being a
Christian for many years. "Not that I have already
obtained it or have already become perfect, but I
press on so that I may lay hold of that for which
also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus"
The writers of the New
Testament tell us this is mature solid food. This is
what produces mature believers in Christ. Based upon
this relationship with Christ we have the faculties
trained by everyday experience to distinguish
between good and evil. It comes from putting into
practice daily the principles of the Christian life.
We live the Christian
life by putting into daily practice the principles
of the Word of God by the presence of the Holy
There is a place for
milk. It is for infants. But if an adult lives only
on milk he is diagnosed with arrested development.
It is a terrible spiritual disease for a Christian
to have arrested development. It is time to grow up
spiritually. It is time to go on to "solid food."
Age does not produce spiritual maturity. These
readers had been acquainted with the ABC's for a
long time, but they had not matured. One pastor said
recently that people come to church and sit, soak
and sour, but discipleship does not take place.
You need some "solid
food." The word for "solid food" (teleios) is
translated "perfect" in the King James Version. The
idea is to be "full age," "full-grown man."
Let's get some spiritual meat. "Solid food is for
the mature." Observe the contrast between the
immature who cannot appropriate spiritual truth and
those who are full age, mature.
It should be noted here
the word "babe" in this passage does not imply
salvation. If the author had said "babe in
Christ" it would connote new birth, but that is not
the case here. A person can be a forty year old
Christian and still be as immature as the day they
were saved. It is tragic when there is no spiritual
growth. The contest in which the passage appears
would indicate they are not true believers.
These believers refuse to
grow up. They want to stay where they were many
years ago. They refuse to open their minds to new
biblical truths. They only want to listen to
familiar passages of Scripture and repeat what they
learned as children. There is no hunger for a
deeper, more profound knowledge of God.
These readers are not
habitually exercising their spiritual abilities in
discerning between good and evil. They have become
dull because of lack of use of their spiritual
You read a passage such
as this and the question comes to the mind, Where is
the evidence, where is the proof that you have a
vital relationship with Christ?
For a Christian to
increase in the knowledge of God he must give
himself wholeheartedly to the truth of God's Word.
Remember, we live the Christian life by putting into
practice the promises of God's Word by the presence
of the Holy Spirit. Jesus must be Lord and Master or
there will be no progress in the Christian life.
As we will see in the
next chapter the question is, are you saved? You are
either saved or lost. You either have eternal life
or you do not. There is no middle ground. You are
not working at attaining eternal life. You have it
or you do not. You have either put your faith in
Jesus Christ as your personal savior, or you have
not. In whom or what are you trusting for your
salvation? If you have eternal life, you have
it for all eternity, not for a fleeting moment of
Is there a hungering for
spiritual things? Has God put a hunger in your heart
for Himself? Is there spiritual life? That is the
operation of the Holy Spirit. If there is a
half-hearted desire for Christ and spiritual growth,
perhaps you should ask if you have ever been born
spiritually. For the professing Christian the
critical question is where is the evidence, where is
the proof that I am what I profess? You are either
saved or loss, there is no middle ground. You are
either trusting in Christ and His atoning sacrifice
or you are not. In whom or what are you trusting for
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
Are you on milk or solid food? The babes who desire
only mild doctrinal study are immature, whereas the
mature desire solid food. Are you feasting on the
Word of God, or do you go to listen only to what you
already know. Is there a passion not for the
religious fads, but for Christ and a greater
knowledge of Him?
How do you grow up? How do your mature in the
Christian life? You grow by the use and frequent
study of the Bible. You study it and meditate on it
and put it into daily practice.
Are you teaching others the Word? These Hebrews had
been converted long enough to be ministering to
others. Instead of teaching basic Biblical truths,
they need someone to teach them. They are so
spiritually dull they need someone to teach them the
same truths over and over again. They cannot grasp
the simplest Biblical doctrine because they have no
interest in it. How tragic when you have a teacher
who has never grown beyond the basics and cannot
take the class deeper into God's Word.
When we make ourselves available to Him the Holy
Spirit equips us to teach others. He nurtures us so
we can build up the body of Christ. Every true
Christian ought to be a teacher.
A. W. Pink said it correctly: "The elements of our
faith are that Christ Jesus came into this world to
save sinners; that His salvation is perfect and
complete, leaving nothing for us to add to it; that
the only fitness He requires from sinners is the
Spirit's discovery to them of their need of Him. The
greater the sinner I know myself to be, the greater
my need of Christ, and the more I am suited to Him,
for He died for 'the ungodly' (Rom. 5:6). It was the
realization of my ruin and wretchedness which first
drew me to Him. If I cast myself, in all my want and
poverty, upon Him, the He has received me, for His
declaration is, 'him that comes to Me, I will in no
wise cast out.' Believing this, I go on my way
rejoicing, thanking Him, and praising Him, living on
Him and for Him."
If these believers had been feeding on the milk of
God's Word as spiritual infants, they would not have
remained babes. If you are a spiritual baby feed
yourself on the Word of God. Begin with Romans or
the Gospel of John and read and study it each day.
Obey it. Put it into practice. Refuse to be caught
up in the current popular religious fads that come
your way. Get into the Word of God. All spiritual
progress is made by putting into practice what you
already have received. Manna not eaten breeds worms.
Milk undigested turns sour.
5:11-14 Danger of Spiritual Immaturity