Christians Must Grow Up
By Dr. Allen P. Ross
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.
This portion of the Book of Hebrews speaks to our generation as much as it did to that first century audience. The writer was explaining to them how Christ Jesus had fulfilled the Old Covenant by his atoning sacrifice, and had opened the way for life in the New Covenant. They needed to understand all of this so that they could live in the fulfillment in Christ. But he realized that the people were unable to understand what he was saying, and so he addresses their spiritual readiness, or, un-readiness.
Christians Ought To Be Teachers
The text forms a loving rebuke for the people. Yes, they were Christians, to be sure—but they had not grown in their faith, partly because they had not received good teaching, and partly because they had not studied these things themselves. They had been Christians long enough that by now they ought to have been teachers. Now, some might quickly respond to this and say they are not called to a ministry, or that others in their church do the teaching. But the Bible makes it clear that every believer is a teacher, somewhere and in some way, sharing the faith and opening the Word of God to others, whether in the home, or in small studies, or in the work of their church.
No one can plead that he or she is not a teacher, or does not know enough to teach. They may need training on how to do this; but whatever it takes, they need to be fruitful and productive with their knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8). So then, when Christians listen to a sermon or a Bible study, they should have two aims, their own spiritual growth, and their preparation to be useful to others.
In our world we are seeing develop a form of Christianity that minimizes biblical knowledge and sound doctrine. These important emphases are constantly shrinking in the seminaries and institutions entrusted with producing Christian leadership, and as a result they are often largely ignored in the churches. Instead we often find shallow, sentimental, and experiential forms of the faith. Sermons and studies are more likely to be short homilies, or to be filled with experiences and applications that are meant to make the faith practical. Bible studies can easily become times of sharing and building relationships. All these things are a necessary part of the whole Christian experience, of course, but not at the expense of solid biblical teaching. As a result, too many Christians have only a general sense of the faith and how it should work out in life, but the foundation is still weak.
Christians Must Not Remain Infants
The writer then introduces a figure to make his point. Too many believers are still like infants who must have their bottle of milk. They cannot eat solid food. What he means by “milk” in this context is the elementary truths of the word, the ABC’s of the Gospel. Some Christians never get beyond the basic truths they responded to when they came to faith–when they were born into the family of God. But believers are supposed to grow and become strong in the faith, and not remain infants (1 Cor. 3:1-4). They are not to remain as children in their thinking, but to be adults (1 Cor. 14:20).
Those who are still milk-users are Christians who have not grown, and as a result they are “unskilled in the word of righteousness.” Such folk are not ignorant of God’s word, or of the basic Christian faith. They just have not grown to the place of making use of it for themselves; they are always dependent on others to feed them. And sometimes those who are supposed to “feed” the people are remiss in their handling of the Word of God. As a result, a lot of folks live in uncertainty, or with guilty fears, or without any ability to discern truth from error; they do not know the riches of the grace of God in Christ, and cannot get past the old life and its way of doing things. In the physical world it would be a disaster for one full of years still to need to be fed with a bottle. It is an even greater problem in the spiritual world where the issues are greater.
Christians Must Grow Up
Christians must grow up in their faith, and for this the writer uses the image of “strong meat” (“solid food”) By this figure he means the word of God in its fullness, that is, its doctrinal teachings as they are revealed in the fulfillment of the New Covenant. Believers must develop their knowledge and faith so that they can understand and receive the deeper things of Scripture. It is like eating a solid meal of the finest foods. But this exhortation is not simply to accumulate information, for the metaphor of solid food implies that there will be growth to maturity. Those who “eat the solid food” will grow up, and this means that they will have their senses exercised to discern good and evil. If they simply receive a lot of knowledge and do nothing with it, they have not received it properly. It is like undigested food.
The believer who has grown properly in the word will be able to discern what is good and what is evil. A baby, however, is easily fed all kinds of things, even things that could be bad for it; this is also true of spiritual infants, no matter how long they have been attending their church. The mature Christian will have grown through the Word so that the understanding, the conscience, and the affections have all been trained for righteousness. There is no shortcut to the process. Among other things it involves learning how to study the Word of God, developing insights through meditation on how to put it into practice, living by faith in the Word in the decisions of life, and earnestly seeking the Holy Spirit to illumine the understanding and to lead in righteousness. The process is to be regularly followed with diligence and discipline–by constant use. Mature Christians do not allow their faith and their knowledge to remain useless.
This passage in Hebrews is needed today as much as it ever was. In our world there are a lot of groups that are trying to find ways to make Christianity alive and relevant. What is being done, of course, may be very useful; some of it has surely met with initial success in terms of interest, attendance, and popularity. But for Christianity to be the solid life-changing force it is designed to be, believers must grow in their faith and knowledge. To do this, they must have a steady diet of solid food, God’s Word.
It is with this conviction that the Christian Leadership Center has been organized. It is our desire to assist those who are in ministries in their preaching and teaching the Word of God; but it is also our desire to assist believers in their growth in the faith, so that they have a deeper understanding of the Word of God, are able to study it and apply it for themselves in the spiritual issues of the day, and eventually get to the point in their knowledge and training that they can teach others. All these things we hope to do by making available better resources for the study of the Word, by providing opportunities for people to sharpen their skills in studying and communicating the Word, and by providing a place where they may find encouragement, sharpen their focus, and renew their spirits.
Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.