Hebrews 5:11-14

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, September 6, 2021 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” -Hebrews 5:11-14

Have you ever been reprimanded by a teacher? I’m sure we all have at some point in life. The feel of this section of Hebrews 5 is like that; the author is reprimanding his readers because they are not at the point of maturity where he thinks they should be.

It is disputed by scholars whether verse 11 should go with this section of verses or with the previous section. Does the phrase “We have much to say about this” mean the previous thought, or the upcoming thought? It could really go either way. But regardless, the author is essentially calling his audience lazy. People are often lazy and want to take the path of least resistance; we often want to do the minimum in order to get by. That place is often comfortable for us, because we’re not challenged there.

The author is saying that his audience doesn’t even bother to try and understand what he’s trying to teach them. The NIV tries to make this reprimand a bit nicer by saying “you no longer try to learn,” but the Greek word used here means slow to learn, lazy, or sluggish. He literally writes, “You have become slow to learn/lazy/sluggish for hearing.” That’s a bit harsh!

But rather than leave it at that insult, the author then explains where he feels that his readers have fallen short. In verse 12, we see that he believes the readers should be more mature than they actually are. They have apparently been followers of Jesus Christ for quite some time now, and they should be teaching others by this point. That doesn’t necessarily mean the audience of this letter is all teachers, but rather the author is emphasizing progressing and maturing in the faith. There comes a point when the student needs to become the teacher, and the audience of this letter to the Hebrews has apparently surpassed that point in the author’s view.

They have not even mastered the “elementary truths of God’s word.” This phrase in the Greek would be like us telling someone they haven’t even mastered their ABCs yet; it refers to concepts that are that simple and foundational. They need to go back to the very beginning – again. They have already been taught these elementary truths, but they’re clearly just not getting them and not maturing from them.

Just like the flowing of a river, a follower of Jesus Christ does not stand still in his or her faith. We are either moving forward and growing more mature, or we are slipping backward and declining. The author here is drawing attention to the fact that his readers did not move forward onto solid food; they slid backwards into needing milk instead. The “milk” represents elementary and foundational instruction in the ways of following Jesus, whereas the “solid food” is more advanced instruction. You wouldn’t teach a high schooler the same content as you’d teach a first grader; the high schooler would be bored and not learn anything new. Similarly, mature believers should be instructed with mature teaching adequate for their level, not the “milk” of new believers.

In case the readers didn’t understand this analogy with milk and solid food (they are apparently immature believers, after all), he explains it a bit more in verse 13. Any believer who is still learning the elementary truths of the faith must be treated as such; you wouldn’t feed a newborn solid foods, they can’t handle it. Infants are not capable of understanding complex human speech, and spiritual infants are not capable of understanding complex spiritual truths. They may be able to understand some basics, but nothing beyond that.

In contrast, mature believers need solid food (verse 14). The word for “mature” here is teleios, which has the idea of being mature, complete, and whole. This is in stark contrast to the infants. The infants are not learning anything, and perhaps have even slid backward in their faith, whereas the mature believers are constantly using and training themselves in the faith. They are able to do what immature believers cannot do – distinguish good from evil. When a person can do that, he or she will more often do the right thing, because they know what is right and what is wrong. Those who are spiritual immature don’t necessarily know right from wrong, so they won’t be able to serve God as well as those who know the right thing to do.

Where are you at in your faith? Are you still in spiritual infancy, or are you a more mature “adult” Christian? But more importantly than where you are at currently, where did you come from? Were you more mature then backslid and have gone back to the “comfortable” place of drinking milk where you don’t have to be challenged and grow? Or are you moving forward to a place of more maturity?

It’s not about where you’re at; it’s about which direction you’re going.

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