Time to Grow Up

When I was young, one of the insults that kids on the playground would use would be to call someone else a baby. The so-called baby would then vehemently respond back, “I’m not a baby, you’re a baby!” Cue the rumble in the jungle-gym. Adolescents know that calling someone less-mature is not cool & may in fact strike a sensitive nerve. But this principle transcends age because even in the “real world” of higher education, careers & grown-ups, belittling someone’s maturity is not the way to win friends.

In Hebrews 5:11-14, the author calls his audience a bunch of babies who have become “dull of hearing” & still need milk from a baby bottle. They should be able to teach others of Jesus & His gospel, but they haven’t even grasped it themselves. They should be chewing on some steak, but all they can handle is milk. It is a highly encouraging passage. Someone should put it on a coffee mug.

What does “dull of hearing” mean? We don’t use that phrase normally, but it’s the idea we get when we describe the difference between “hearing” & “listening.” Both skills employ receiving sound waves into your ears & having them knock on your eardrum. But listening would entail actively engaging in what you’re hearing, to think upon it & allow it to move your heart. You hear the noise of cars & honking horns as you sit in rush hour traffic. You listen when your best friend relays great news. The writer of Hebrews is saying that his audience isn’t listening to what he’s been saying. They’re not engaging in it, & it isn’t producing a response. It’s not a physical problem, but a spiritual one because although they hear the words of the gospel with their ears, it is not embraced by their heart with faith.

Here’s the reason why they are spiritual infants: they are not putting to practice what they know. The truth of the Word of God isn’t transforming their lives because they’re not actively engaging in it. They aren’t living it out.

[pl_blockquote]Spiritual infants may go to church regularly & listen to podcasts & attend small groups. They tweet their favorite verses or deep, spiritual quotes. They will hear the Word of God & say, “That’s so true! Isn’t our God great? I really needed to hear that! #savedbygrace.” And then they continue to live lives as they had been before, & nothing will have changed.[/pl_blockquote]

They will still “struggle” with the same sins the same way – fighting them the same way week in & week out, year in & year out. They know the truth. They know how God wants them to live, what living in Christ’s righteousness should look like, but there is no movement towards that. If you know the Word of God, but do not do the will of God, you are not mature. You are just an educated spiritual infant.

Our pastor & his wife are expecting their third child, & we’re celebrating with them! Several months from now, if the baby boy is sipping on a bottle of warm milk, no one will get up in disgust & tell the baby to grow up. It’s normal & expected. He needs milk to grow & mature properly. If the baby’s father was on the floor sipping from a bottle, that’s a different story. I love the guy, but I’m calling the cops & pulling out the straitjacket. That wouldn’t be normal! Grown men do not get their nutrition from baby bottles. Now, the author of Hebrews is not saying milk is bad. If you’re new to the faith, if you’ve just started following Jesus, drink milk! Do not be ashamed of that. It will strengthen you. It’s what your body needs! But if you’ve been following Jesus for 5, 15, 25, 35 years, your body needs more than just milk to grow. If we saw a 28 year old, solely living off milk, none of us would call that healthy. In fact, he probably wouldn’t even look very healthy. If a person is still acting like a baby when they’re old enough to be a teenager or an adult, there is something very wrong.

So what do we do? We know it’s not normal for us to stay in this suspended stage. We know the law of the universe that if we’re not growing, we might be dying. How are we to grow?

The opposite of being “dull of hearing” would be to be diligent in our hearing of the Word. To be diligent means to actively listen to the Word, not just passively hearing it. It means that you meditate & chew on it & let it transform how you live. To be completely honest, to be diligent in hearing means that you take the gospel & the revelation of Jesus seriously & satisfy yourself in Jesus. And as we approach the Word with earnestness, our lives are changed as we encounter the living, active Word of God – specifically, the revelation of Jesus & the gospel He brings. We begin living out what we know. The Bible is pretty clear that those who follow Jesus live transformed lives. This means that driven by the grace of God, we do good deeds because it reflects how we’re supposed to live. We serve the needy because Jesus met us in our filth & brokenness & became a servant. We actively forgive others, 70 times 7 times, even those that we think don’t deserve it, because Jesus has forgiven us for the countless times we’ve profaned His name. We stop living for ourselves & our temporary kingdoms because we realize that we’re citizens of an eternal Kingdom where Jesus is King.

It is the mark of every healthy Christian to be spiritually growing & maturing by hearing & responding to the Word of God. We actually obey Jesus. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we actually begin to live differently. And as we hear & respond to God, our capacity for hearing & responding to God grows & we mature as Christians. And thus, solid food is for the mature because maturity increases our capacity for greater truths. When the process stops, so does our growth, but as as long as we’re hearing & responding, we’re growing.

Photo courtesy of ©Lisa Brewster under the Creative Commons License 3.0

Living for Jesus

We will be spending the majority of this year studying this incredibly challenging, yet rich, letter in Hebrews. We don’t know who the author of this letter was. It’s not mentioned anywhere in the letter. However, we do know quite a bit about who the recipients are. Knowing about them helps us see why this letter is relevant for our times and our lives. Here’s just a few things that we know about the group of believers in Rome that this letter was written to.

©JD Hancock

These believers Had Never Met Jesus Before.  The letter was written in about 65 AD. About 30 years have passed since Jesus died and resurrected. By this time, most of the Apostles who had seen Jesus face-to-face had died, but they had spread the Gospel wherever they went. The letter was written to “second-generation” believers. Many of them grew up in the church their entire lives. Most had never met the Apostles. They believed because they had heard the message, and the Gospel began working in their lives.

Often times, I read the Bible and see the faith of individuals, and a part of me feels like that it was easy for them. They saw Jesus. They heard the voice of God. They saw miracles happen. No wonder they could have such great faith. But I am 2000 years separated from that time. Knowing that this group of people were trying to live for Jesus, even though they had never seen Him, is a source of encouragement for me.

They were part of a small church in a huge urban city.  The Church in Rome was a very small church. However, Rome was the largest city in the entire world at that time. The book of Hebrews is filled with references to the city. Consider:

  • For he was looking forward to that city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)
  • But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)
  • But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, (Hebrews 12:22)
  • For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)

The writer is writing to the believers to remind them to keep looking forward to another city. They lived in the middle of an urban city that was broken and full of injustice and poverty – a city that was difficult for believers to live in. They were longing for the day when Jesus would return and create a new city for them to live in.

They were part of a pluralistic culture that accepted everything but Christianity. The city of Rome was an incredibly diverse city. It was diverse in many ways – ethnically, culturally, and in terms of language and religion. The society accepted everything but Christianity.

The believers in Rome were first rejected by the Jews. Judaism was one of the accepted religions of the state. Initially the believers would gather in the synagogues to worship Jesus. However, when the Jews rejected them, they were no longer welcome to come back into the synagogues. Then there was a fire in the Jewish section of the city. The Jews blamed the Christians for the fire. This caused the Emperor Claudius to banish the Christians from Rome. To be identified as a Christian meant ridicule, prosecution, and even imprisonment. After Claudius, there came an emperor by the name of Nero. He hated Christianity. He would find Christians and burn them at the stake, throw them to the wild animals, and use them in the games. Christianity was tough for these group of believers.

I don’t think we are at the point of dying for our faith in our nation. However, I think the Christian voice is slowly being pushed aside and rejected in our nation. Just last week CNN had a poll that basically asked the question, “Should evangelical pastors who don’t support same-sex marriage be allowed in the public square?” Regardless of what your opinion is on the same-sex marriage topic, the fact that this very question is brought up means that evangelical questions are slowly being pushed out of the public square and we will be faced with ridicule, opposition, and eventually persecution. There is a reason why it will get even tougher for us as believers. “The basis of authority definitely differs.  An evangelical’s ultimate authority to truth isn’t the President, public opinion, or any other person – it is the Bible, and what it says” (Bob Roberts).

The Believers in Rome were tempted to give up and quit.   The author is writing to two groups of people. The first group is comprised of people that have grown up in the church, heard the message of the Gospel, and been a part of the community; but they haven’t fully devoted their lives to Jesus. You couldn’t blame them. It’s hard living for Jesus. It’s so much more “fun” out there. There’s more freedom out there. But the church is being rejected, isolated, and persecuted. Their family members are in jail. They have heard of people losing their lives. Why would they want to commit to Jesus?

So they have one foot in the door of the church but another foot out. Isn’t that true even in our day and time? The process of backsliding or leaving isn’t something that just happens overnight. I don’t think I have ever met someone that just plainly rejected Jesus outright. The process starts slow. You slowly start drifting away and getting more involved in what the world offers. What the world offers is so much more enticing, appealing, and easier than the command of Jesus to take up your cross and die. To this group, the author is writing and showing them that Jesus is worth it. He’s so much better than anything the world has to offer. He’s better than the life that you used to live. He’s better than what is being shown out there as the “good life.”

There is another group that the author is writing to. These are the people that have committed their lives to Jesus no matter what. They have counted the cost. They have realized that Jesus is so much better than anything else. The author writes to encourage them. He tells them to keep going and not to give up.

He closes the book by reminding them of an incredible promise. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” What an incredible promise.

Is life hard? Is it hard being a Christian? Is it going to get harder as we try to live out our faith? Is it hard fighting sin? Is it hard being a witness for Jesus? Yes, it is hard and difficult. However, He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will never let you go. He will never abandon you. You are in His arms, and He isn’t dropping you or letting you slip through His fingers.

I’m excited to begin this book and I pray that you will be challenged to see Jesus as so much better than anything else that the world has. I pray that you will be encouraged by the promise that He will never leave you and never forsake you.

Photo courtesy of ©JD Hancock under the Creative Commons License 3.0