Anyone know who Fred Rogers is? Fred Rogers is the creator of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, the long running children's television show. Not only did he create the TV show, but he also was an ordained minister. As a seminary student, he made a habit of attending different churches in order to hear many preaching styles. One Sunday he endured what he said was, "The most poorly crafted sermon I had ever heard in my life". Fred turned to his friend who had attended the church service with him, to find her with tears in her eyes. Her experience was just the opposite of his. She had heard exactly what she needed that day. Same sermon, same church, but each person moved extremely different. Fred said, "That is when I realized that the Holy Spirit had transformed that feeble sermon for her - and as it turned out - for me too." You see, Fred's friend came to worship God, to see God - Fred came to listen to a sermon. Don't prepare today to hear a sermon - prepare to worship God and allow Him to speak to you today.
We come this morning in our study of Hebrews to its third warning passage. This is probably the most familiar of the warning passages. There are numerous and conflicting interpretations on this section as you can well imagine.
With the repeated reference to Psalm 110:4 in verse 10, the logical sequence of our author's argument would have led him on to expound the significance of Christ's being a high priest "after the order of Melchizedek." This he does in Chapter 7-10, but first he turns aside to address some words of particular admonition to his readers spiritual condition.
As Priest after the order of Melchizedek, Christ is the source of the readers deliverance in time of trouble and suffering. This subject is vital, and they needed to listen carefully and take it all in, but he wonders if they can. And for the first time, the writer directly charges his readers with failure. They have not advanced to maturity. Proper progress has not been made. Therefore, retrogression is a real danger.
The writers message in 5:11 - 6:20, which is the third warning, is the danger of defection must be avoided by a persevering progress toward spiritual maturity.
Hebrews 5:11 (NKJV) of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
"Of whom" is a neuter pronoun referring to the teaching of the Melchisedecan priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. About this priesthood, the writer has "much to say" - his subsequent discussion was indeed lengthy (7:1-10:18) as well as deep. He anticipates that this discussion would be "hard to explain" - this is the Greek word dusermeneutos, which comes from the words hermeneuo which means: "to interpret" and doos which means: "hard or difficult".
Difficulty of explanation may lie in one of three directions: 1. The teacher's not fully instructed and therefore cannot explain the material. 2. The subject itself could be deep and difficult. 3. The hearers are too lazy to work at understanding. In this case, our writer says the problem lies in the hearers. He charges these Hebrew believers with being "dull of hearing" - the word "dull" is nothros, which comes from two Greek words; one meaning: "no" and the other meaning: "to push", hence its meaning is: "no push" thus to be slow or sluggish. It is used only here and in 6:12 in the New Testament. It appears in 1 Clement 34:1, where it refers to a lazy and careless workman. Here it has the idea of mental laziness. So dull hearing doesn't mean there is anything wrong with your physical ears. It means there is something wrong with your heart. The heart is not eager and diligent to embrace the promises and turn them into faith and patience. To a person in this state, it is very difficult to explain anything, for nothing, however simple in itself, can be understood if it is not attended to. They were spiritual sluggards.
Proverbs 13:4 (NKJV) The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.
Proverbs 21:25 (NKJV) The desire of the lazy man kills him, For his hands refuse to labor.
If we are going to understand the things of God, it takes work.
Proverbs 2:1-5 (NKJV) My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, 2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding; 3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, 4 If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God.
If a believer is going to increase in the knowledge of God, he has to put some spiritual perspiration into it.
Look at Paul's spiritual attitude:
Philippians 3:12 (NKJV) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
The words "I press on" are from the Greek word dioko. It means:"to pursue, press forward, run, chase." It is a strong expression for active and earnest endeavor.
Philippians 3:13-14 (NKJV) Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
"And reaching forward to those things which are ahead." The words "reaching forward" are from the Greek word epekteinomai. It comes from the words ekteino, which means: "to stretch a muscle to its limit", and the double preposition ep ek. It means: "to strain to the limit." This verb is very graphic, it pictures a runner straining every nerve and muscle as he keeps on running with all his might toward the goal, his hand stretched out as if to grasp it.
Philippians 3:14 (NKJV) I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
"I press" is the Greek verb dioko: "to run swiftly in order to catch." It is a present active indicative verb meaning: "I constantly pursue the goal."
Believer, does this describe your Christian life? Because there is so little "reaching forth" in so many believer's lives, there is consequently little growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. By the very law of our constitution, if we do not move forward, we slip backward.
How many who sit under the ministry of the Word of God are dull of hearing? There is little waiting upon God, little real exercise of heart before the service to prepare them for receiving His message.
Over the years, I've had a few people come to me and say that my teaching is too deep, it's too much for them to comprehend. My response to them has been to ask how much time they spend during the week in the Word. To which I usually get stuttering and a red face. I'm not here to spoon feed you, and chances are that if you're not feeding yourself all week long, you'll choke when you get here on Sunday.
I believe the thing that separates those who can understand difficult concepts from those who can't is desire and diligence to learn.
Many years ago, I listened to a tape on predestination by Gorden Clark. He began by telling a funny story, and the whole audience laughed. I didn't laugh, because I didn't understand the story. I had to get out my dictionary to understand the story. The tape blew my mind. I had to go over it again and again to understand what he was teaching. I learned much from that message, but it took a lot of work on my part. We can't be lazy if we want to grow in our knowledge of the Lord.
I want you to see something very important in our text, it says, "you have become dull of hearing" - the words "you have become" are from the Greek ginomai, which is present tense, which speaks of a process completed in past time having present results. The implication of "you have become" is that this was not the case with them originally. They "have become" lazy mentally. They were not always so. There was a time when these Hebrews had listened to the word with eagerness and had made diligent application to it.
Some writers say that this warning is addressed to unbelievers. I quote, "The maturity being called for is not that of a Christian's growing in the faith, but of an unbeliever's coming into faith." He is saying this is a call to eternal life!!
Believers, how can a dead person BECOME dull of hearing? How do you get duller than dead?
1 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV) But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
The word "natural" is the Greek word psuchikos. Jude uses this same word and helps us understand its meaning:
Jude 1:19 (NKJV) These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.
The "natural" or "sensual" person is the person without the Spirit. This is the unregenerate man who has no ability to understand spiritual things.
This same writer, who I just quoted, also said of ginomai, "You have become - Instead of becoming more mature, these Jews were becoming less. They were slipping back into spiritual infancy."
How can spiritually dead unbelievers slip back? Is salvation a process that we work up to? No! These people are clearly believers. They have spiritual life, for they have spiritual hearing and spiritual appetite for milk. Evidently they are not dead persons, for to such none of these activities is possible.
Hebrews 5:12 (NKJV) 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.
Taking into account the considerable period of time that had elapsed since their conversion "they ought to be teachers." The word "ought" implies moral obligation. "Teachers" - every Christian, who as entered deeply into his faith, is to impart truth to those less advanced along the road. The New Testament does not limit teaching to the pulpit. One of the most important spheres is in the home; we are to teach our children.
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (NKJV) "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! 5 "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
Spiritually mature men are to be involved in teaching other men:
2 Timothy 2:2 (NKJV) And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
We are to teach men to teach men. Women are also to teach other women:
Titus 2:3-5 (NKJV) the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.
We are all to be teachers, to be passing on spiritual truth. It is my opinion that way too little of this goes on today. Notice Paul's confidence in the Roman Christians:
Romans 15:14 (NKJV) Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
The word "admonish" is the Greek word noutheteo, which is a very significant word. Jay Adams bases his type of counseling on this Greek verb. In his book, "Competent to Counsel", he proposes confronting people with the disobedience in their life through Scripture. The verb suggests the idea of confronting believers with the error of their way of life on the basis of the Word of God. That confrontation should lead them and guide them into a correct way of life. The tool to be used in admonishing is the Word of God as indicated in:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Scripture is to be used for doctrine which teaches us about God and man. It is to be used for reproof or conviction, showing someone his sin and summoning him to repentance. It is proving that charges made against someone are true. Correction is setting a person's life straight. Instruction in righteousness is disciplined training in what is right. The Scriptures have the power to change lives, because they are the word of the living God. It is by the Scriptures that we are brought to maturity and equipped to serve God. And as believers, we are responsible to use the Word of God to teach others.
These Hebrew believers should be able to teach others, but the writer says, "You need someone to teach you again" - this implies that spiritual laziness not only prevents progress in the Christian's life, but it produces retrogression. If you're not moving forward, you are going to be going backward. The second law of thermodynamics is the law of increasing disorder. This law works in our Christian lives. You don't just stand still; if you're not growing, you're moving backward.
He tells them they need to be taught again, "the first principles" - this is the Greek word stoicheion. In Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the literal meaning of the word is: "element, rudiment, principle." In other words, this is the elements of religious training, or the ceremonial precepts that are common to the worship of Jews and of Gentiles. In reference to language, it means: "the letters of the alphabet, the ABC's".
They needed to learn the ABC's of the Christian faith again. This is a rebuke - you act like you don't even know the fundamentals. The writer has no intention of going over this ground:
Hebrews 6:1 (NKJV) Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
The writer said they need someone to teach them again the first principles of the "oracles of God" - The word "oracles" is logion, which means: "utterance of God." This should not be taken to mean the Old Testament scriptures here, but is a description rather of the message and teaching of Christianity which is equivalent, as the immediate context shows, to the principles of the doctrine of Christ.
Our writer goes on to say, "and you have come to need milk and not solid food." The "you have become" is perfect tense. They were not this way before, but they "have become" such as need milk and not solid food. They had regressed to the point where they could only handle a liquid diet.
Hebrews 5:13 (NKJV) For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.
Here the writer shows the disadvantage of immaturity and the advantage of maturity. It is an incentive to press on.
The phrase "partakes only of milk" refers to an exclusive diet of milk. Adults drink milk, but it is not their exclusive diet. The person who partakes only of milk is "unskilled" - this is the Greek word apeiros, it means: "inexperienced, ignorant." It is not mere informational deficiency that the writer has in mind, as verse 14 shows. It is lack of actual capacity to make good moral choices. The babe errs through lack of proper experience.
His ignorance is in the "word of righteousness" - this most likely points to teaching about what is righteous - Christian life truth. It refers to our walk. Then the writer says, "he is a babe" - this is the Greek word nepios, which means: "not speaking or one unable to speak." figuratively, it means: "simple minded or stupid." What is a babe? Is it a new Christian or young believer? No! Nepios is nowhere used of new Christians. Nepios implies stupidity, a moron in the spiritual realm.
If there is anything a child dislikes, it's to be called a baby. My granddaughter is three years old and she continually tells me, "I'm getting bigger," or "I'm big." To be called a baby is degrading and goes against their innate desire to grow up.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3 (NKJV) And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
A comparable situation in Corinth had caused Paul to write to the Christians there in similar terms. Paul says, "even now you are still not able." To be a babe when you should have grown up, is a tragic condition. And that is where the Corinthians were, they should have matured, but they were still babes.
Why are these Hebrew Christians stuck at the baby stage of development with the disease of "dullness of hearing," and what is the cure?
Hebrews 5:14 (NKJV) 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.
The words here "full age" are from the Greek teleios, which means: "mature". Solid food belongs to the mature. The word "use" is the Greek word hexis, which refers not to spasmodic effort but to a habitual use - a habit. The word "exercised" is from the word gumnazo meaning: "to train, to exercise."
By discipline, you create habits. We are creatures of habit, but we must use discipline to form godly habits. Do you remember the first time you drove a car? Was it a scary experience? There are so many things you must think about and do all at once. Years later, it has become a habit, because you disciplined yourself to practice. Now you can drive down I-64 at 55 miles per hour dodging in and out of traffic while discussing superlapsarinism.
Spiritual growth is the result of developing godly habits: Bible study, prayer, witnessing, fellowshipping with other believers. Most of us desire to read the Bible, we know that we need to, but usually we don't feel like it. I think that it is beyond dispute that most of us are living lives which are seriously lacking in discipline and in order.
Martin Lloyd Jones in his book "Spiritual Depression" writes this:
I defy you to read the life of any saint that has ever adorned the life of the Church without seeing at once that the greatest characteristic in the life of that saint was discipline and order. Invariably it is the universal characteristic of all the outstanding men and women of God. Read about Henry Martyn, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, the brothers Wesley, and Whitfield -- read their journals. It does not matter what branch of the church they belonged to, they have all disciplined their lives and have insisted upon the need for this; and obviously it is something that is thoroughly scriptural and absolutely essential.
So, through discipline, we form godly habits which help us to, "discern both good and evil." "Discern" is the Greek word diakrisis, meaning: "to judge." Some Christians are swept along by their feelings, situations, media, the latest ideological fads and doctrinal tangents. Others seem to have an almost intuitive ability to sense that something isn't right - and then upon reflection, explain why it's off-base biblically. What is the difference? The latter has discernment - the ability to evaluate beliefs, values, feelings, etc. in light of God's Word and render a verdict on them.
They have acquired experience through habitual use of their faculties of spiritual discrimination. Thus, they are properly trained to make further discriminating choices. Advancement out of babyhood depends upon persistence in making the proper choices. The mature believer can make proper choices between good and evil, moral and doctrinal.
When a person remains a baby too long, that's tragic and dangerous. Baby Christians can't make the decisions that mature Christians make. They can't tell what is good for them and what is bad for them. You put a baby on the floor with a brightly colored marble and a diamond, and they'll probably choose the marble. Baby Christians are inexperienced in making right choices. Mature believers are experienced and can make choices.
Jimmy Breslin is fed up with kids, and not just with other people's kids, with his own most of all. Jimmy is a playwright, a journalist, a novelist. Some years ago he appeared on a talk show and got onto the subject of kids.
Jimmy was explaining that his wife had passed away about a year before and left him with a family of kids to raise, and he had finally found out what kids were like. He said to the show host, "They're lousy, there's no sense even being nice about it, they're selfish." The host pressed him for examples, and Jimmy was happy to oblige. "One day I was at home working on this important book, and I sent my 16 year old daughter to the supermarket. She came back with 150 dollars worth of cake and cookies, and the kids were in the kitchen fighting over what she brought back. So, I go in and I say to her, 'Why did you bring all this stuff back?' And she said to me, 'Because that's all they had on the isle, that I shopped tonight.'" So Jimmy says, "She goes to the supermarket, she shops on one isle and she brings back what they've got and the kids are fighting over it. So I kicked them all out of the house. They're selfish, they haven't done one kind thing all year, they're lousy."
I don't know who's in worse shape, Jimmy or his kids. But one thing is obvious, his daughter doesn't know how to shop at the supermarket. And do you know that there are lots of Christians who don't know how to shop in the supermarket of life? You turn them loose in the supermarket of life, and they'll head right for the isle with the sweets on it. They choose the marbles of life and turn down the diamonds. They can't tell good from evil, and they choose the things that hurt them, and fail to choose the things that would benefit them and bring glory to God. And sometimes they choose poison.
Have you ever noticed how many things have written on them "keep out of reach of children"? And many things have child proof caps. Children put things in their mouth without discriminating, they can't tell the difference between food and poison.
The writer of Hebrews is afraid that his readers may choose poison, the poison of apostasy. That under the pressure of circumstances and trials, they'll get discouraged and give up. They'll throw their Christian faith overboard and walk away. Very often when a game gets tough, people quit; especially children. And when the game of life gets tough, when it's difficult to persevere in the pathway of obedience to God, a Christian, particularly an immature one, may say, "I quit."
Spiritual maturity doesn't come easily, and it doesn't come overnight. If you want a short-cut, there are plenty around - just like there are plenty of DIET PROGRAMS that yield quick results but don't last. But if you want long-lasting results, it's going to cost you something. Is it worth it? It depends on what you want out of life. I think the benefits more than compensate for the effort expended
Believers, if we fail to grow up, we put ourselves in great danger. Defection from the faith, if it occurs, will be the outcome of your immaturity and failure to discriminate between good and evil. Grow up believers, infancy is dangerous!
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