Milk to Meat
Hebrews 5:11-14 – Milk to Meat
I am a transplant into Alaska. I love about this great state because it is a genuine melting pot. People come here and plant, from all over the world. This place forms a crossroads in trade and air traffic, I understand it to be one of the world’s intersections. I have lived in less diverse places. Before here I grew up in the mid-Atlantic and have visited or stayed in communities up and down the eastern seaboard. I have also lived on the west coast.
As a southerner, I married a northerner. We met in Southern California and I moved Judy to the mid-south. The only place that was foreign to me was the Pacific Northwest and God took care of that on steroids.
In terms of the church the South, where I grew up, has a stereo-type: “Everyone loves Jesus!” This as opposed to anywhere else in our country or world. My Dad’s side of his family comes from Durham, North Carolina where my first name grabs two extra syllables when spoken. “Hey Jay-eh-eff.” It does not get any better where my brother lives and pastors in Atlanta, Georgia.
Many people love the Lord in the South but it is a mistake to say, “They are more spiritual down there!” Often, spiritual life is measured by tradition. Perhaps how clean a culture appears on the outside. I will venture to say, it is equally, undiscerning to believe or say, “People from the North are colder to the Gospel spiritually!”
Show me in God’s Word where someone’s geography, culture, or tradition, dictates someone’s openness to the things of God, to Jesus Christ himself! Wherever you live in the world, the Bible describes a sure fire way to tell whether someone loves Jesus.
- By observing measurable growth in terms of an increasing hatred for sin and practice of it and an increasing affection for and knowledge of Jesus Christ
- Persevering through suffering that is brought on specifically for being a Christians and suffering especially through personal attacks
Whether or not someone is growing in maturity a bigger deal than you might think on the face. The danger of stagnation is not a new theme to Hebrews. Drifting or neglecting the truth of God’s salvation (chapter 2) or allowing your heart to harden (chapters 3 and 4) pose an eternal threat.
Whether someone offers the softest smiles from sunny Virginia or North Carolina or a dogged resolution for being saved from Minnesota or New York City measurable growth and perseverance tell the true story regarding a person’s state of soul.
This week a lifelong friend described one of his daughters being away at her University and described her current faith condition as being Cryogenically Frozen! She knows the Truth, was raised in it, but is taking a four-year pause! No! This doesn’t work! This is spiritual suicide.
The pain and heart-ache associated in this life is bad, really bad! But, this pain isn’t even in the same conversation when someone Frozen passes into a Christ-less eternity! The stakes are so high and this reality is simply ignored on the inside of the church.
What’s the answer? Christian schools? They are so crucial and so dangerous! Crucial because a passive approach to our world will suck our children right to sea! I used to observe parents with children playing at Virginia Beach when completely placid. An unsuspecting parent would put their child on a two-man boat and walk away. Within 30 seconds, an offshore western breeze would zip the child out, where they suddenly appeared as a speck on the horizon!
The same is true in the incubation containers, that are Christian schools and colleges. Kids who have not clue one regarding a spiritual life feel safe with God, hooked into their spiritual life-support system. Their curriculum, teachers, schedules, and quasi-moral friend group all make it feel okay. However, as soon as their life-support is unhooked and life pressure piles on, they flat-line! Not everybody but we know of too many young people who seemed fine but really were not.
This may sound cruel and I am not saying hot-hearted Believers do not exist in both secular and Christian arenas! They do! We need young people in both! However, our text now turns from doctrine to life application! It poses the question: “Are you growing?” “If not, why not?” The text answers this question! From our study, we need to discern how to help someone who shows no growth whatsoever!
The spiritual condition being raised is to “become dull of hearing” (v. 11). This can be boiled down as laziness or being sluggish but the word I think best describes this is lethargic. Being dull of hearing is a moral and spiritual problem. This goes deeper than character into someone’s disposition. Jesus would teach parables and often at the close say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This is to say, “Does the person have the ability to understand what Jesus just said on the level of faith and conviction! In one sense this is simple. The Holy Spirit as either turned the lights on or He has not (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4-6). You are either “naturally-minded” or “spiritually-minded” (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14). But, here the author widens the issue by addressing this real issue in the Christian’s life. This author says, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain…” (v. 11). What’s “hard to explain” is what he just opened up in verse 10, that Christ is a different kind of priest, a superior priest to Aaron’s priests. Jesus comes from “the order of Melchizedek” a priest outside of a temporal order, Jesus’ significance lies in the eternal. Jesus’ high-priestly ministry to us is so critical to our union and communion with God. He constantly flows blessings to us from heaven. What’s of interest is that the author doesn’t want to even go there yet. He will in chapter 7, but he’s not going to waste his breathe. First things first, he must confront this “hearing” problem! This isn’t a physical problem, so what does this look like?
ESV James 1:22-24 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.
For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
James’s version? Real faith is a “doer of the word.” You don’t just “hear” it you act on it and otherwise you are “deceiving yourselves!” The word “deceiving” means to be “self-deluded.” This means your mind is “clouded.” You’re spiritual perceptiveness is inactive. Someone compared this to walking around an airport hearing over the loudspeaker all of the warnings. “Report the unattended bag” or “Do not park in the yellow zone.” You hear these repeated things but you’re not really listening at all. Like when the flight attendant goes over the pre-flight safety routine. You might be looking and physically listening but really you are checked out! This is when “hearing” Truth hardens the heart!
This is where the author calls believers to fight against this kind of lethargy. Staying cryogenically frozen is not a real thing. When you freeze all the way, you don’t come back from this.
Prop: Fighting spiritual lethargy
Drink the milk
a. Be dissatisfied with where you are and are not
The tone the author takes is borderline sarcastic and very straightforward. This preacher is saying, at this stage in your spiritual life, you are proportionately underdeveloped. These believers, of Jewish decent, Christians in Italy (cf. 13:24) were struggling to stride ahead and make disciples. They had been around long enough to experience persecution (cf. 12:4 “not yet resisted to the shedding of blood”). They had been disciple by godly “leaders…who spoke…the word of God” to them (12:7)! They were already organized under a church leadership (12:17). The body should have been taking and giving out both within the church and to the outside community. But, instead they were stagnant!
b. Become teachable to basic Bible truths
There immediate need was to go back to the basics, “again!” (v. 12). This word “again” had to be humbling to hear. This was meant to sting! You should be at the “teaching” stage and by the way, you have been “taught” already but you need to be “taught” again! There is grace in this rebuke. It’s the call to go back to the basics. The old idiom, “You can’t run before you can walk” applies. You need to drink in some more milk! This is not all negative!
ESV 1 Peter 2:1-3 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation--
if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Nothing is wrong with the milk! You come out of the baby phase by drinking milk. Milk makes the teeth that can eat the meat. Milk is “the basic” or “elementary principles” of the “oracles” or the Word that had been spoken. The A,B,C’s concerning Christ. What’s referred to in chapter 6:1, “the elementary doctrine of Christ.” What Christ did on earth, His birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection. Chapter 6:1-2 expands on this in terms of repenting and believing. But, bear in mind, shocking your system out of lethargy is going back to the beginning. The A,B,C,’s are the Bible stories you used to really be fired up about! You remember the great one-liners in sports history, 5 words at the beginning of pre-season training camp. Coach Vince Lombardi, players half Lombardi’s age and twice his size, fully intimidated. He holds up a football and says, “This is a football!” Go for the milk!
At the same time it is important not to stay infantile! This time, drink your milk in order to grow! Drink it so you can start on adult food and so you can start giving milk to others. I think this is where many of you are in our church. There is this fake-comfortable adolescent age where you think you are a lot stronger than you really are. This is the classic syndrome in our culture where people in their 20’s struggle to move out from the comforts of home and on into the world. They say, “But I have it so good!” Really, what they are unwilling to admit is that they cannot yet survive out there without “life-support!” In the church we need to step out and teach which means we have mastered material to a credible level. What gives someone credibility? Look at the next verse.
c. Obey basic Bible truths
Verse 13 predicts the next obstacle for maturity or growth! You suddenly get reacquainted with milk and it tastes so good and you feel just comfortable with yourself that you hit the brakes again. I am back in community group or Sunday school, so “I’m good!” NO! The author doesn’t give you permission to stop with being a “milk drinker.” This is the baby-step one! In fact, there is a pretty clear allusion to how ridiculous someone looks who is an adult who’s still a milk-drinker. This is “everyone who lives on milk” (v. 13) are believers that are so basic that they don’t do anything with what they are learning. They are “unskilled” with it as if “unacquainted” with it. The teaching is called “the word of righteousness” which the context tells us this is not talking about our righteous position in the Gospel. Which is true and taught all through the New Testament! But, here like in James 1:22-24 the author Milspeaks of being a “doer of the Word, not just a hearer!” What’s the problem? These believers were still children! The picture is men and women crawling around in the nursery with their bottles of milk who cannot yet think for themselves. Christians who deliberately refuse to engage or understand the depth of Scripture.
“A surgeon who refuses to use the new techniques of surgery…refuses any new equipment and says: ‘What I learned as a student fifty years ago is good enough for me!’” “Content to stay religious!” “Peter Pan makes a charming play…but the man who will not grow up makes a tragedy in real life.” [Barclay]
ESV 1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (
It’s been said, “Most Christians are betweeners, living between Egypt and Canaan.” Dangerous. The call is to learn how to live “the word of righteousness” which comes with eating the meat!
Eat the meat
a. Make maturity your goal
Verse 14 is a vision of maturity. In one sense, fighting “dullness” begins with a healthy dissatisfaction with where you are and are not spiritually. But, then you have to gain a vision for what it looks like to be mature and that’s exactly what verse 14 offers! Contrasting, those stuck in this “milk drinking” with no “doing” phase, you have “the mature!” This word from “telos” is the same word used of the Lord back up in verse 9. Last week I made the case that Jesus, though sinless, still genuinely “learned obedience” (v. 8) and “grew” or “matured” or “was made perfect!” And, this “growth” came through God-ordained “thresholds” or “tests” which Christ passed at every point! This same passion-filled experience is the journey toward maturity God lays before you. Moving from “milk” to “meat” isn’t simply taking a hard Bible class! Living the Word is exercising Holy Sweat in the most difficult of life’s circumstances. Bible application is hard work and costly and this is why shy away from it.
However, there is much to me gained eating the meat. Eating meat translates into a life filled with “discernment!” The basic “A,B,C’s” are what’s mentioned in chapter 6:1-2. Repenting from “dead works” and exercising “faith toward God!” Believing the Gospel. “Solid food” builds on this basic food source to all of the breadth and depth the Bible has to offer. For instance, the significance of Melchizedek (cf. 5:11). It’s depth for discernment. A baby will put anything in its mouth! Like how a baby Christian will listen to or read anyone who claims Christ! Anything. Any conference, no matter how bizarre! Eating solid meat builds the strong muscles of maturity! This is what you should want for yourself and for everyone else around you! Eating meat with the desire to grow yields “powers of discernment” or spiritual “faculties” that move into action. “Trained by constant practice” meaning a biblical grid in action that’s guiding you in your life-journey toward “maturity!”
The “mature” “solid food” eater is the exact opposite of the “dull of hearing” “infant” “milk drinker!” The problem’s not with the milk! You have that first! But, staying there is foolish and very dangerous as we will talk about next time.
Judy and I raising 6 babies have seen them grow. One of my twin boys, Carson struggled with asthma in infancy. Having asthma herself, she understood the seriousness of this issue. Her solution was to fill Carson’s stomach with milk! Milk and or baby formula. Her strategy (as I understood it) was to build Carson with a reservoir of “milk” so that he could be as strong as possible when struggling to breath. We have a picture of him lying on his back where his stomach looks like a perfectly round hill. His nickname: Mista Chub! I remember we would have to check Carson into the Children’s hospital as his breathing would get so shallow we feared for his life. Judy would stay up and watch his breath even while being hooked up to pulse oxygen and heart monitors. One night, Carson went completely white and she alerted nurses to aid and rescue him. He made it! When did we know Carson was going to be okay? When he moved from milk to meat! He started eating, developing muscle, and maturing!
When do you know you or someone you’re praying for (who’s breathing is shallow) is going to be okay? When they start drinking milk again and move to “solids!” Jesus came to give us life! This life! Discern Jesus this morning. He calls each of us to mature, like he did!