The writer to the Hebrews instructs the church to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrew 13:17). This is an awesome charge, NOT to the leaders, but to the people. While the leaders have charge over the souls of God’s people (which is intimidatingly awesome to say the least) the writer tells the people that it is their responsibility to not cause grief to their spiritual leaders. Spiritual leaders teach, guide, instruct, challenge, protect, admonish, comfort, and yes, rebuke and discipline when it is needed. It is not an authority thing, or a superiority issue, but God says there are benefits in people cooperating with their leaders. As people catch vision, discover their places of service and ministry, live out their faith in a lost and dying world, leading people ought to be a joy, not full of grief.
So, this message is from a heart of love and compassion, to help us and to challenge us all to become the people of God that the Lord desires for us to be.
From the Hebrews 5 passage today, the consequences of not being all-in for God, is spiritual immaturity. And let’s admit it, we often desire to remain immature, probably so that we are not obligated to work, or to serve, or get connected, or talk about our faith, or lead people to Jesus, or teach preschoolers or children… just fill in the blank with whatever you fear that God would ask you to do for his kingdom.
How many of us would admit that we have told God, “Give me enough of Jesus to escape hell, but not so much that would move me toward actually BEING the hands and feet of Jesus in the church or the community.”
After a long discussion about the priesthood of Christ being superior to that of the earthly priests in the line of Aaron (Hebrews 5:1-10), we get to our focal passage today. Here the writer deviates from his theological presentation to address to the people of the church… and in addressing them, he addresses us.
This is a practical section on how to move away from spiritual immaturity and toward spiritual maturity (Hebrews 5:11-14), but first, everyone needs to take an inventory of their spiritual progress. If you recognize your spiritual immaturity, you may be have-way there. But let’s NOT stay there. Using this spiritual inventory, we will see that it is so important to know where you ARE before you can get where you want to GO.
What about the people reading this letter? They needed to face their spiritual immaturity… and so do we. The first thing I want to point out is that…
They had a MENTAL problem, they were dull of hearing. Dullness in hearing is definitely a sign of spiritual immaturity. Let’s read again Hebrews 5:11 – Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. Let’s recap through the book of Hebrews and discover their backward journey…
First, they were drifting from the Word (Hebrews 2:1-3a) – For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
Next, they were doubting the Word (Hebrews 3:7-4:13) – 3:12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end… 4:11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. How will anyone have an evil, unbelieving heart? They doubt the Word of God and embrace the deceitfulness of sin.
Now, they were dull of hearing the Word of God, which manifested itself by being unable to listen to God’s Word, receive the Word, or even act on the Word. They were not like the people in Thessalonica where Paul writes about them, “Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
Face it; one of the first steps backward toward spiritual immaturity and complacency is that we develop a dullness toward the Bible and the things of God.
- The Sunday School class is dull.
- The lesson is dull.
- The preacher and his sermons are dull.
- All this church stuff is always dull, or to use the word of the day, BORING.
But let me submit to you that it is not the Sunday School teacher, not the preacher, or anything else, but the problem resides within the attender himself, because when you encounter the living God, it is anything but dull.
The fact is, you get out of a service or a Bible study exactly what you expect from it or what you put into it. Worship becomes “all about me” when I tell myself or someone else about how the choir special didn’t speak to me, or that the preacher’s message was irrelevant to my life.
How often do we drive to church having LITTLE or NO preparation to encounter the living God? We hurriedly strut into God’s presence with an attitude of, “bless me, wow me, God must surely be happy that I’m here today, this service better not go past 12:00, I hope no one comes forward to get saved because that will delay my lunch, I’m not going to respond to the invitation and commitment time because THAT is for other people, because me and God are just fine.”
So, people were dull of hearing, which indicated they had a MENTAL problem. I also challenge you to see that…
They had a MORAL problem, they refused to be teachers. Face it, the inability to share God’s truth with other people is a sign of spiritual immaturity. Hebrews 5:12a says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God.” The word, “ought” indicates an obligation, and since it was their DUTY to teach others, their failure to do so became a moral problem.
I understand that not all believers have the gift of teaching, but we ALL can tell someone else about what we learned in the Bible, or what God has taught us by reading the Bible.
I find it interesting that the very first real problem we discover in a child is the inability to share with other people? NOT sharing is certainly a sign of childishness and immaturity.
Those who were the recipients of this letter should have been teaching others by now. But instead of helping others to grow in their knowledge of and love for God, they were in need of going over and over again the elementary principles of the Christian life. They wanted to stay in the shallow end of the pool, never desiring to launch into the deep end of spiritual truth and understanding.
If you want to get out of the kiddie pool or out of your second childhood, then learn to teach others, learn to share the Word of God with other people. It takes a little practice to be good at it, but you have to get started and keep moving forward.
Teach in your own Sunday School class; ask for an opportunity to lead a lesson one week, be a substitute once a month.
Tell Connie or Karen that you want to invest your life into the next generation, leaving a legacy of faith to the children in our congregation. You can sign up for every other month in a 9:45 Sunday School class or even once a month working with preschoolers at 11:00.
Think about all the needs we have in our children’s and our preschool departments. If everyone would simply commit to helping out every once in a while, we will share the load, and those who have been serving faithfully for years won’t burn out. People can still be a part of an adult class on a regular basis.
I’ve heard a few stories from older members who founded and established this church, that “we have put in our time, and it’s time for the 30-somethings and 40-somethings to step up…” There IS something to be said for that.
I know that many people in this room have taught for years and faithfully served for so long, but is it EVER true that you can retire from teaching others the Word of God?
Some people may not be physically able to serve like they used to and that’s OK. Maybe your strength doesn’t allow you to securely hold babies anymore, or your knees won’t let you to get on the floor with toddlers.
But I challenge you all to look around the room and see all of the able-bodied believers who could step up to the meet needs of others and share what they have and what they know with others.
After looking around, make sure you also look in the mirror. What is holding YOU back? Knowledge? Apathy? Education? The fear of tough questions? Very few people attended seminary so you can’t simply leave it all to the pastor or staff. The CHURCH is charged with the gospel, that ALL of US, ordinary followers of Jesus allowing the Holy Spirit to use us as he sees fit.
Remember that the Word of God was translated into the vernacular (the common language) so that God’s Word would be in the hands of everyday common people. No longer would God’s Word be only for an elite few (like pastors and priests) who understood Latin, or New Testament Greek. The Bible is for the PEOPLE to read, and then people are unleashed to read, serve, teach, witness, and share about God and what he has done for us all.
Let me put in a good word about small groups and teaching: I would much rather have servant-leaders who have a heart for a small group of people, than those who just teach the Bible without exercising care and concern for their flock.
Fortunately, King’s Grant has a bunch of people serving in our discipleship ministry who do BOTH very well. But the fact is, we will not, and cannot grow to the next level without the body of Christ stepping up and doing what it takes to serve and teach others. We cannot let our faith or discipleship be a “one-hour-on-Sunday” experience.
So, not only did these people in the book of Hebrews have a MENTAL problem, (they were dull of hearing the Word of God); and have a MORAL problem, (they refused to do their duty and teach God’s word to others)…
They had a DEVELOPMENTAL problem: They preferred their “baby food” diet by continuing to feed on “milk” rather than “meat,” which is another sign of their spiritual immaturity. Hebrews 5:12b-13 says, “you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.” These people were still babies.
I believe that spiritual infancy is nurtured by religious ritual. I say this because the nation of Israel would be considered to be in the infancy stage of Christianity. The old covenant has passed away and the new covenant was brought through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. With the coming of Christ, the nursery is left behind. They made no spiritual progress because they were tied to the apron strings of a ritualistic religious system.
Perhaps the ritualistic system today is what I call “drive by church.” Many people say, “I’ll just attend, but have no plans on getting involved, or investing my life into others, or allowing others to invest their lives into me.” For many people, Christmas and Easter are all they desire of the things of God, and this may be the ultimate in a ritualistic mindset.
Let’s talk about the “milk” and “meat” for a moment:
- “Milk” is considered to be the first or elementary principles of God, which would include the teachings about the earthly ministry of Jesus: his birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, burial, resurrection.
- “Meat” would be the teachings about the ministry of Jesus RIGHT NOW in heaven as our high priest.
Even the most mature believer still drinks milk, we enjoy and are challenged by the teachings of Jesus while he was on earth. But we must not stop there. We must include what we call theology. How does all of this fit together? How is Jesus the fulfillment of the Old Testament? How can I apply this teaching in today’s world?
So, these people had a MENTAL problem, (they were dull of hearing the Word of God); and had a MORAL problem, (they refused to do their duty and teach God’s word to others); they also had a DEVELOPMENTAL problem (preferring spiritual milk rather than meat); and finally, we come to the last mark of spiritual immaturity…
They had a DISCERNMENT problem: They were unskilled in using God’s Word, because as we grow in spirituality and knowledge of God’s Word, we must learn to apply it in everyday life. Hebrews 5:14 tells us, “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”
When we APPLY the Word of God, we develop our spiritual senses and exercise discernment. Little children lack such discernment; think about it, a baby will put anything in its mouth, food, bugs, dirt, rocks, moth balls, a soiled diaper.
So, what does that means for an immature believer? He or she will listen to ANY preacher on the TV, radio, or podcast and not be able to discern truth from error.
Discerning good and evil are a part of the Christian life, and those reading this letter to the Hebrews were in danger of making a terrible mistake. Just as Israel failed to discern God’s leadership, their failure caused them to go backwards and wander aimlessly through the wilderness. They were unable to enter into God’s rest.
Hebrew 4:11 says, “Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.”
Wow, it’s time to draw this to a close. How do we make this message practical? Let me tell you a story.
Imagine a football team, fired up, the cheering crowds, with pep rally fever pitch, and now the team is running out to the huddle. They gather to hear the play, break, and then run back to the bench. This happens several times, and the crowd begins to wonder what’s going on. This is a great picture of today’s American church. We run out on the field, huddle, hear the pastor’s plays, he tells us what we need to do, we all agree, then break, we run back to the sidelines. Imagine the church actually running the plays, and making a difference. (from Francis Chan, The Forgotten God)
It’s time to face your spiritual immaturity and you MUST conduct a proper evaluation of where you are before you look ahead to where you want to be. Check your bulletin outline and look at those questions at the bottom.
- How would you describe your level of spiritual maturity?
- How have you grown since you first came to faith in Christ?
- For what decisions do you need a little extra discernment?
- Of what does your spiritual diet consist?
- How can you become more useful to God and his kingdom?
- What will you plan to do to become more mature in your relationship with Christ?
- What will you change in your daily and weekly routine to combat spiritual immaturity and laziness?
- Where will you volunteer to make an impact on others? It’s time to get out of the huddle and run some plays!