Meditations in Hebrews 5: 28. Slow Learners?
Heb 5:11,12 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 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.
Teachers in my life: Our writer is a theologian of sorts, at least a man of understanding but he is also pastoral and as such is aware of the people who might end up reading this letter. I, as an aging Christian writer in the UK, am aware that I have lived through a period, during which in the earlier part at least, there was a proliferation of excellent Christian teachers. I have no trouble remembering the ministries of a large number of men, Spirit-filled leaders who had insights, who took us into the truths of the body of Christ back in the 1970’s before the concept was truly understood. Similarly, through a period during which understanding and experience of the gifts of the Spirit expanded from merely the Pentecostals. Then came teaching on discipleship which, as so often happens initially, went over the top. And there, scattered along the way were a variety of incredibly godly and gifted men (and one or two similar women) who brought a depth and breadth to our teaching which is rare today. Several years ago, one of my grown up Christian sons said to me, “You know Dad, the trouble with my generation is that we are just not so well taught as your generation was.” I found that an amazing insight at the time but as I have reflected on it, it worries me that he was right.
A Challenge to his Readers: The writer to the Hebrews was speaking about Jesus’ high priestly ministry and adds, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain,” (v.11a) and I have commented earlier in this series that, certainly by today’s standards, some of his rabbinic teaching has already seemed quite complex and difficult. But he isn’t taking captives, he is quite in your face about it: “because you are slow to learn.” Whoops! That’s unkind. But he wouldn’t say it unless he knew something about his readers.
So what does he mean, what does he really think about them? “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!” (v.12) These people that he has in mind are clearly not new converts as indicated by his words, “by this time”. In what follows there is an assumption that many in today’s church might struggle with – that the Christian life is all about change, about growing up and about coming to maturity so we no longer sit there like sponges taking in, but are out there serving God, blessing others. “You ought to be teachers.” Do you prefer just sitting in the pews to that thought because if we are to mature it means a) we have learnt and b) we are available.
My Testimony: Within the first year of coming to Christ in my early twenties I was leading seven different Bible studies a week. It was the natural thing to do and there were other young people who were hungry for God’s word. I learned as I went along. Yet I am aware of how limited I was. I became a church leader and a number of years later found myself in a position where I was invited to teach in a church in Malaysia for three weeks on “The New Covenant.” I am not quite sure what I taught and how I got away with it but they seemed blessed. I suspect I am much more well equipped today to teach on such things. Yes, it can be a nervy thing to step out but that’s how we learn – by doing it.
The Challenge again: He presses it in: “you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” Now he is going to list some of those things he thinks are ‘elementary truths’ when we get to chapter 6 so it will be interesting to see what we feel about those things because, remember, he is saying we ought to be past those things. Then he says something interesting: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” (v.13) That is fascinating! Do you see what he is saying? All of that other stuff we’ll see in chapter 6 is ‘the basics’ and we should NOT keep on going over and over those things but move on and teach and learn how to live rightly (righteousness) i.e. how to live in this world as one of God’s children and how to serve in the kingdom of God, ‘doing the stuff’ as John Wimber used to say.
And in case we didn’t take it in he goes on, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (v.14). Solid food is a wider understanding of Scripture, knowing how it applies to everyday life so that it produces lives of righteousness, lives that live to the glory of God, revealing the goodness and compassion and love of Christ, lives that are holy, utterly different from those living in the way of the unbelieving and ungodly world.
The Challenge to us today: In the so-called Great Commission, Jesus taught his followers to go out and make disciples, followers in the mold of Jesus, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:20) and ‘obey’ is the same as “do”, so why don’t we do a few little checks before we finish. As we said before, this is to be a ‘doing’ faith.
Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35) Jesus showed love by being with his disciples, accepting them and blessing them, guiding them and teaching them and pushing them out to do the same things he did. Is this what our church community is like? Do we major on relationships and how they can build a strong, secure, genuinely loving ‘body of Christ’ that risks ministering in word and power as Jesus did?
Jesus said, “seek first the kingdom of God,” and “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (Matt 6:33 & Jn 15:4) and so we might ask, do we put God’s will first and do we seek to draw near to Jesus and know him in all we do in his name? This has very practical outworkings. For instance, many churches have prayer meetings, so suppose yours does, what is it like? Have you learnt (been taught) to listen to God, to be sensitive to His Holy Spirit, to hear His heart so that prayers flow out of that and come with a confidence that is born in heaven?
We could go on with many similar examples. These two speak of a community of God’s people who have learned what a Jesus community means and have learned to be a people who know and respond to Him and are thus able to be used by Him. Consider our weekly preaching and teaching. Yes, we need basic Bible exposition but if that is all we have, we produce a bunch of nice and good people (which is not to be despised) but who are just that and nothing more. Is our preaching the same stuff over and over again, or do we seek maturity in the people of God, a people who both ‘know’ and ‘do’?