The flow of Hebrews, then, so far, is to begin with Jesus and our right response, then to examine our need. Having pointed to Jesus as both fully God and also fully human, as uniquely able to pull off a God-sized rescue of all creation and also meet you and me right where we are, the writer would now address three great needs he saw among his readers, the Jewish believers.
Understanding, Maturity, and Sense of Security.
Great Need of Understanding
About this [chapters 1-5] we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness.
But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.Hebrews 5:11-14 (NRSV)
This had to have been hard for his audience to hear, as they had been raised up in the scriptures, and had already been diligent in the things of Jewish faith. Yet it seems the readers of this Hebrews epistle were tuning out the hard teachings. Perhaps it is because the teachings of Jesus, and the apostles, would require personal sacrifice, and the suffering of persecution.
It is not as though those of Jewish faith were strangers to persecution.
They were a subjugated people living under the strictures of Pax Romana. Although imperial Rome had, after much battling, permitted certain exemptions for the Hebrew people, Judeans and Diaspora Jews alike were expected to pay taxes, obey Roman law, and observe Roman requirements.
And the phrase the writer used—dull in understanding—must have really stung, because the phrase in Greek meant their sense of hearing had become νωθροὶ | nothroi, sluggish, slothful, dull, lazy, stupid.
Why would the writer use such a pejorative phrase?
Because they had received enough teaching by now and been given enough opportunity to live out its truths, that they themselves should have already become teachers.
People who are mature have progressed in their spiritual life to where they have sound judgement and discernment.
Physical babies and spiritual infants cannot tell the difference between good and evil—everything looks interesting, everything seems to have potential for fun and adventure. Both the spiritually and physically immature need caretakers to provide for their basic necessities and to protect them from harm, to even protect them from themselves.
The corollary is not far off, for the writer had only just finished discussing the sad case of the Israelites whom God prevented from entering into the Promised Land because of these very same issues.
Solid food is understanding righteousness, being able to distinguish the difference between the right thing and the wrong thing.
This is not an innate trait in people, it must be taught and learned, and even more so, it must be practiced.
Later in his epistle, the writer will liken the mature to fully-trained athletes who are ready for their contest in the Olympics, making the parallel that the spiritual mature are the spiritually disciplined. Nobody gets muscles just from hiring a trainer, or reading up on body building. You and I have to actually exercise, work out, do it often and keep it up.
Training comes by practicing, by thinking it through and then doing it.
Every opportunity, whether big or small, that you and I have to apply the principles and truths from Scripture makes us stronger.
Great Need of Maturity
Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation:
—repentance from dead works
—and faith toward God,
—instruction about baptisms,
—laying on of hands,
—resurrection of the dead,
—and eternal judgment.Hebrews 6:1-2 (NRSV)
It is only okay to be a baby when a person has first been born.
To not grow is alarming, it is a grave and sobering crisis that must be addressed.
Maturity comes with patience:
- Passing up immediate pleasure for long term reward.
- Facing frustration and defeat with equanimity.
- Making decisions and seeing them through.
- Having integrity, even when that means standing alone.
- Keeping faith with God and others.
The writer outlined six fundamental doctrines all Christians need to be well-grounded in, in order to move on to the deeper teaching that leads to maturity.
- Repentance: That change of mind and heart that causes one to turn away from sin and towards God.
- Faith in God: Faith, for the ancients, was much more than simply believing in something. Faith involved a whole-hearted belief that included willing and loyal obedience.
- Baptisms, or washings: Religious cleansing that acts as a symbol of being cleansed of sin, the reality of which is in the baptism of the Holy Spirit
- Laying on of hands: Sometimes followed baptisms, it refers to healing, bestowing of blessing and especially the receiving of God’s call, the purpose God has for each person in this life.
- Resurrection of the dead: Jesus’ resurrection not only is proof His sacrifice was accepted by God on behalf of all who believe, but Jesus now sends His Spirit to live in everyone who puts their faith in Him. The Spirit imparts the supernatural power that enlivens and enables ever believer and is the seal of God’s promise to raise us up to eternal life when Jesus returns.
- Eternal judgement: Scripture indicates there is an eternal destiny for all people which will be disclosed during the time entitled That Great and Glorious (or sometimes Terrible) Day of the Lord.
The first time I really read that list, I was stumped. “What more is there?” I thought. “If these are the basic teachings, then what in the world are the teachings that lead to perfection?!”
We are remembering together that perfection means being made complete, being brought to maturity or completeness in an ethical and spiritual sense.
But what teachings lead to this, if not the basic truths the writer asked to leave behind?
Are those deeper teachings going to show up somewhere in this epistle?
Are these deeper truths in other epistles?
I think, yes, for the writer of Hebrews next said,
And we will do this, if God permits.Hebrews 6:3 (NRSV)
But first, let you and I now take stock and reflect on our understanding and application of these foundational truths.
Are we ready?
Are we so firmly established in these basic truths that we are ready to move on to the deeper understanding of God Himself? To move into a deeper, more intimate union with the Lord?
(The next post will be on our great need for a sense of security. Once we understand our needs, we can indeed brace ourselves for the matheis and patheis of maturing into Christ.)
Διδαχὴ | Didache simply means teaching (you can see the Greek word at the beginning of the first line), and was also known as The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations. Written towards the end of the first century, it is the oldest existing written catechism. The Didache has three main sections: Christian ethics, instructions concerning baptism and communion, and instructions for church organization.