I remember when our sons were little, and they would drink milk or formula for a while, but I really wanted them to grow up to the point where they could eat some runny rice cereal. Now, I wasn’t entirely altruistic here: I figured that the cereal would take longer to digest, and maybe they would sleep through the night!
The fact is, babies drink healthy liquids for a while, and don’t eat solid foods at first. Treats like a nice crunchy apple or strawberry cheesecake are for those who have gotten enough nutrition in order to grow strong teeth.
The same is true in our spiritual growth.
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 5:13-14 NIV
However, in addition to understanding the metaphors for those who are and aren’t mature, let’s consider what identifies Christian “grown-ups” here:
- In verse 13, these milk-drinkers aren’t “acquainted with the teaching about righteousness”. In the context of the book of Hebrews, this sounds like it could be related to those who don’t understand the new law and the new high priesthood about Jesus. Maybe these are spiritual infants who are trying to be saved through the former law.
- In verse 14, those who are mature “have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” This sounds like discernment, of a kind that doesn’t come for free. It requires us to metaphorically “chew on” some of the more advanced principles of Christian doctrine, and to do some work in order to become trained.
If any one of us expects to live on the simply-told stories from the Bible found in children’s picture books (whether literally, or figuratively by not engaging in the rest of the Bible), we shouldn’t expect to get to this point of maturity. That is, we can’t get a Ph.D. in being able to discern good from evil, so to speak, if we only take 100-level classes!
Before we just expect everyone to want to grow up, though, let me ask this: Would you rather be a baby or an adult? If we think about it, babies have it pretty good: They don’t have to go to work or pay bills, other people take care of their needs, and they get to sleep a lot. Whether in our physical, social, or spiritual selves, it can be tempting to want to remain a baby, and not step up to our grown-up responsibilities.
The author of Hebrews has more to say about that in the next chapter, though.
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
Hebrews 6:1-2 NIV
This verse shows that we can’t be content with remaining at the infant stage of our Christian maturity. Having said that, it’s OK to start there. After all, we are “born again” (John 3:3-8, 1 Peter 1:23), so it makes sense that we wouldn’t necessarily start out as fully-mature Christians. We just can’t stay in our infancy. As one commentator put it, “Once the foundation of a house has been laid, however, it need not be laid again” [Girdwood, p.191]. A house would look silly with lots of foundations just stacked on top of each other, and nothing useful built upon its original foundation.
Maybe that’s why the authors of the Lookout [i.e., the source from which the Scripture texts for these lessons are usually selected] have allocated a number of weeks to Hebrews. Sure, it would be fun to learn about simpler things, like the Sermon on the Mount or the parables of Jesus. The book of Acts is fun to read, and we probably know stories from Genesis. But, sometimes we need to dig into the harder stuff, and really understand some of the more challenging, subtle, or complex elements of what we believe. If we do so with a desire to learn and grow, this process doesn’t merely leave us with a bunch of rules or instructions, but rather with a level of understanding that lets us differentiate good and evil in complicated situations.
I appreciate that the author of Hebrews gives us some examples of “elementary teachings”, whether these are foundations of the Christian walk, or underpinnings from the Old Testament.
- We can probably all agree that repentance is a basic element of following Jesus, as well as faith in God.
- Verse 2 might be referring to “cleansing rites” (from the previous covenant) or “baptisms” (whether from first-century Jewish practices, or new-covenant baptisms). We might not lay hands on people as often these days, but we might be familiar with the process of praying for healing or ordination for service in ministry (or, as suggested by a commentator, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit).
- And, resurrection and judgment are basic tenets of the Christian faith (which should both be considered when sharing the message about Jesus with grace and truth).
These are “basics”, and we should understand them (or be working to do so), but they aren’t the extent of what the Bible can teach us. An example of a more topic which can seem more complicated (compared to these basics) is coming up later in Hebrews 6. Let’s take a look at that in the next article.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for November 14, 2021
- The Lookout, November 14, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Hebrews, by Jim Girdwood and Peter Verkruyse. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997.