“We have a great deal to say about this, and it is difficult to explain, since you have become too lazy to understand. Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature – for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Did you ever have a bad teacher when you were in school? I don’t just mean a teacher you didn’t like or who wasn’t particularly kind. I’m talking about a teacher who was genuinely not good at teaching. He stood there and lectured endlessly about things no one really understood and never really explained them or entertained questions. He tried so hard to be cool that he never really got around to the teaching part of his job, but then tested you anyway. He covered a difficult subject that he never quite unpacked sufficiently that anyone was following along with him. Bad teachers are frustrating. But sometimes our lack of understanding isn’t a teacher’s fault…it’s ours. We just don’t want to own it, so we blame someone else. The author of Hebrews has been covering some tough stuff so far. He’d like to go further with it, but he knows his audience won’t understand because they’re just average students. He challenges them on this here and leaves us with something to think about in our own lives. Let’s take a minute this morning to do that.
The last few stops on our journey through Hebrews have been tough, have they not? There have been some nuanced arguments that have at times been hard to follow. In my own reading and studying before writing anything, I’ve had to sit with some of these passages for days at a time before really being able to get my own heart and mind a little more around them. I’m just working to stay a step or two ahead of where we are together on here. That’s no small feat with some of this stuff and it’s going to get worse as we keep pushing forward.
You would imagine that the author of Hebrews would have at least given his audience a little bit of time to grapple with things before pushing on, but instead of offering them patience and understanding, he slaps them for being too lazy to keep up. Wow, wow, wow! How could he be so callous?!? And yet, before we take offense at his words on behalf of his original audience, let’s set ourselves uncomfortably under his microscope for a second.
If you are a follower of Jesus and have been following Him for much more than a decade (which is likely about the average time anyone in the community who received this letter had been following Him), how well do you have down the basics of your faith and the Christian worldview? Where would you rank your current knowledge on the subject matter? Pre-school? Elementary? High school? College? Grad school? Post-doctoral work? Where are you? What is a reasonable amount of time a person can be expected to be in a basics-learning mode? A year? Five years? The author of Hebrews here doesn’t seem to grant us ten. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that every believer needs the equivalent of a seminary education in the Christian worldview, but if we are really learning and growing in our faith as we journey toward Jesus, at some point it seems fair to expect we’ve moved beyond the basics to weightier and more advanced subjects.
It is not at all clear what the author here left out that he wanted to pursue further. His arguments after this aren’t really any easier to follow than what has come before. Whatever he might have thought to add, though (which the Holy Spirit obviously didn’t think was necessary for us to have preserved down through the ages as a part of God’s self-revelation to us), what is clear is that he didn’t think his audience was ready for it. And they weren’t ready not because he was wantonly aiming over their heads, but because they hadn’t grown to the point he would have expected them to have reached in their faith by this point in their journey.
I think there are three really key things here for us to take away from these verses.
Number one, we start out our journeys after Jesus as spiritual infants. No one comes in as an expert. It doesn’t matter how smart or educated a person is. Entering into the new covenant of Christ comes through a new birth of the Spirit. That’s not my language to describe it either. It’s Jesus’. We are born new in Him and begin to grow from that point forward to learn the ways and whys of an entirely new kingdom than we have ever inhabited before. We are like immigrants to a new land whose language and customs are totally different from anything we’ve ever understood before. There is going to be a growing process as we begin to follow Jesus, and that’s okay.
Number two, there is going to be a growing process as we begin to follow Jesus. Taking up the journey after Jesus is a great thing. Starting over as a spiritual baby is normal. But like all physical babies grow up over time, so must we also when we are in Christ. We should begin studying the Scriptures with diligence and intentionality. We should put ourselves at the feet of solid teachers who can help us wrestle with increasingly advanced ideas as the sanctification process works its way through our souls. The transformation we experience in Christ is both instant and eventual. We are made new in the moment, but that newness takes its time to work through our souls. Yet it has to work its way through our souls, or it is an open question whether that initial and instant transformation has really taken place. To put that another way: living things grow, and if we are alive in Christ, we must also.
This kind of growth, though, does not happen naturally the way physical growth does. It takes effort and intentionality. We must commit ourselves to it day after day. Engage with the Scriptures, pray, worship with the community of saints, study the Scriptures in community, pursue opportunities for discipleship, serve selflessly, participate in spiritual conversations with other mature believers, wrestle with challenging topics of the Christian worldview, and so on and so forth. These are all the kinds of things that lead to our growth. But at the very bottom of it all is this idea: engage with the Scriptures and put into practice what you find there. And it is the church’s job to equip its people to be able to do this. Churches who aren’t doing this are dropping the ball in one of their most important duties. Living things grow, and if we are alive in Christ, we must also.
There is one more important takeaway here and we dare not miss this last one: At some point in our journey of growth, we will reach a point that we need to begin teaching others. Did you catch that here? “Although by this time you ought to be teachers…” Again, we don’t know how long these folks had been following Jesus, but if you’ve been around the church and following Jesus for at least ten years, you’ve got as much time doing that as most of them did. If they should have been teaching others the basics of the faith by that time…the expectation isn’t any less fair for you to bear. If you have had time to grow in the faith, you should be teaching it to others. You don’t have to teach beyond where you’ve reached, but you should teach at least that much. In other words, not only should you be growing, but you should be helping others do the same. Again, that’s not my idea; it’s Jesus’: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” Living things grow, and if we are alive in Christ, we must also.