Thursday, April 21, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 19

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

A Parenthesis on Maturity

To me it looks like the Writer began his treatise on Jesus and Melchizedek and then realized how hard it was going to be for his readers to understand what he was saying. As soon as he introduces the topic, he drops it in order to exhort his readers about their spiritual life. He then picks up the Jesus/Melchizedek theme again.

Here is how he begins this side trail:

And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:9-14, NASB 95)

"Concerning him we have much to say..." With these words, the Writer exits his thoughts on the high priesthood of Jesus and addresses a problem with his audience, "you have become dull of hearing." The rebuke assumes an earlier state when his readers were not dull of hearing, "you have need again for someone to teach you." He illustrates his point with a picture of someone who has returned to a liquid diet, because he can no longer tolerate solids. His hearers have caught a spiritual disease and must be brought back to health.

His diagnosis is one of my favorite personal mediations, "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness." By this, the Writer defines solid spiritual food as that which produces maturity and righteous living. The word that is milk relates to faith, salvation, God's love and mercy: All the things that are pleasant to our ears and go down easy. Solid food is what inspires us and leads us to become diligent disciples of Jesus Christ.

I especially like what the Writer says next, "But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." From this I deduce the following practical characteristics of the maturing Christian:

  • He makes mistakes. That is what is meant by practice. You read the scriptures, meditate on them, and then apply them to situations. Then he examines the outcomes. Were they what he expected? Having come through the experience, were there other principles that would have been better to apply?
  • Study, mediation, practice, and learning from mistakes produces an innate wisdom. That is what the Writer means by "trained senses." Over time you get a feel for what is right or wrong about the things that come up in life.
  • The goal is discernment. We Christians love to talk about "absolute truth." The usual way we bandy about this term is that there is an absolutely correct answer and response to every event in life. We usually mean that life can be lived by a set of clearly spelled out rules. Such a notion works fine when there is a clear choice between a good and an evil. Discernment is needed when their is a choice between 2 evils or 2 conflicting goods. Let me illustrate. Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place contains an incident in which a Dutch family hides a young Jewish girl who had blond hair and blue eyes. Because of her appearance the girl lived openly with the family. One day a German soldier entered the house, pointed to the girl, and asked directly, "Is she a Jew?" Put yourself there. You are caught between two principles of good: 1. Tell the truth and 2. Protect an innocent life. Which do you choose? Rather than speak of "absolute truth" we should speak of "objective values" against the "subjective values" of relativism. Through practice we can discern which among several objective values best fit the situation at hand.

The Writer is not yet done with this side topic. I will have more to say about this next time.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

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