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.