Just like you and me, the first-century saints to whom the book of Hebrews was written had their share of challenges in life. A portion of their challenges were from external sources, while others were self-induced. Sound familiar?
Some of those Hebrew Christians were struggling to grow spiritually. The Holy Spirit’s sharp message to them was: “. . . you have become dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11). Immediately after that statement, we find these words in the next three verses of chapter five:
(12)For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. (13) For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. (14) But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Children of God show their “babyness” when they do not grow into mature people and stay in or revert back to “the baby stage.” It is not wrong to be a babe in the Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1). In fact, we rejoice and thank God for such babes – if we have spiritual babes in the Lord, then that means we have new converts. New converts means that people not long ago obeyed the gospel and had their sins washed away by the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18,19). The disappointment, danger, and disaster is when one remains a spiritually immature person.
When we look once more at the message of Hebrews 5:12-14, these things stand out as indicators of spiritual immaturity:
1) Cannot take/handle solid spiritual food, but must have milk only (5:12);
2) Unskilled in the word of righteousness (5:13);
3) Cannot discern good and evil (5:14);
4) Unable to teach the oracles of God (5:12).
Now, let us turn it around and put this positive spin on it: when we look again at the instructions of Hebrews 5:12-14, here are some matters that stand out as signs of spiritual maturity:
1) Can take/handle solid spiritual food (5:12);
2) Skilled in the word of righteousness (5:13);
3) Can discern good and evil (5:14);
4) Able to teach the oracles of God (5:12).
If you are wondering how long those church members to whom Hebrews was addressed had been Christians, the answer is “long enough.” No specific time period is named, but the clear words are, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers . . .” (5:12). Sufficient time had passed for them to be well on their way to growing into mature followers of our Lord. Each child of God develops at his/her own rate, and it often is unhealthy to compare ourselves with one another, but there comes a time when we each need to step up, put forth a king-sized effort, and kick our spiritual growth into high gear.
What are some keys to spiritual maturity? It begins in the heart – having a desire to be like Jesus: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). A lack of desire to grow will leave us floundering. We are charged, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). No desire translates to this: no growth will be forthcoming, because it does not happen by accident.
The required desire is not “hoping for a little” growth. Rather, it is the approach of “giving all diligence” (2 Peter 1:5,10) to add the Christian qualities that our Lord wants us to have. Jesus said that when we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we will be blessed (Matthew 5:6). We must make it a top priority to grow spiritually! Having my spiritual maturity rise should be more important to me than seeing the value of my financial assets rise or seeing my knowledge of secular subjects grow.
Back to the message of Hebrews 5, we are reminded that the mature priest of God can handle solid food, is skilled in the word, and can discern good and evil. If I want to be that kind of person, I need to spend time, a bunch of time, in a study of God’s word. Being like the Bereans would be a blessing to our lives. Why? Those people received the word with readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11).
What about maturing to the point of teaching the oracles of God? That, too, is connected with Bible knowledge. We cannot teach effectively what we do not know. Possessing knowledge does not guarantee spiritual maturity or teaching skills, but it is a basic necessity in helping us in our growth process. Not every member of the church will be in a groupdesignated as “teachers,” just like not all of us will be pastors (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:29). Yet, in some way every one of us needs to find a way, to the best of our ability, to communicate the gospel to other people. And, we are convinced that God will increase our talents as we use them for His glory.
There is more to spiritual maturity than what we have observed in Hebrews 5:12-14. But, this passage should cause each one of us to do some serious meditation and self-examination.
— Roger D. Campbell