“We have a great deal to say about this high priesthood, but it is difficult to explain because you are slow to grasp spiritual truth. You still need someone to teach you again regarding the foundational truths God has given us – although by this time you should be teaching others. You have regressed and now require milk instead of edible food. For anyone who still lives on milk is inexperienced in the doctrine of righteousness and is a spiritual infant. Solid food is for mature Believers who have trained their spiritual senses to distinguish right from wrong through consistent use.” (paraphrased)
This passage begins the third warning in the epistle, which extends to the end of chapter six. It consists of two parts. The first is an admonition (5:11-6:8) and the second is an encouragement (6:9-20). Before proceeding to explain the Melchizedekian priesthood, the writer pauses to deal with the lethargy that hinders spiritual growth.
The writer cannot begin to expound “many things of difficult interpretation” without first challenging his readers to awaken from their spiritual slumber. The things “hard to be uttered” were not inexplicable, nor was he incompetent to teach them. But he feels he cannot yet impart these deeper truths because his readers are spiritually immature and incapable of comprehending them. They are in a state of retrogression rather than progression. Their problem was not new: Jesus accused His disciples of being “slow to believe” (Lk. 24:25). Although He had much to share, they would not be able to understand without the help of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:12-13).
The author is confronted with a dual challenge: certain doctrines are hard to grasp and the spiritual hunger of his readers seems to be waning. “Dull” is nothroi, consisting of two words: “no” and “push.” The same word is translated “slothful” in 6:12 and means “to be sluggish in apprehension.” The spiritual advancement of many is hindered not an inability to learn, but an unwillingness to learn. Consistent progress in the Christian faith depends on diligent listening and receptivity, for only the hungry and thirsty will be filled (Mt. 5:6).
Sufficient time had elapsed since his readers were converted and he expected better things of them. They had minimal spiritual knowledge which by now should have been maximized. There was a wide chasm between where they were and where they should be. The writer is not scolding them for what they cannot learn, but what they have neglected to learn. He expresses misgivings concerning their capability to comprehend powerful teachings. “You ought to be” shows the writer is troubled by their immaturity and strongly implies they have shirked their duty to persevere. They had learned only the “first principles” (stoicheia), referring to basic truths. Jesus proposed that those who receive much from God are expected to give much to others (Lk. 12:48). Instead of becoming teachers, they are still pupils. Slothfulness had stunted their spiritual educative process. Paul admonished the Corinthians, informing them they were still on baby food (I Cor. 3:2). “Strong meat” corresponds to the “hard utterances” mentioned in verse eleven. The Melchizedekian priesthood is the didactic nourishment the writer seeks to impart (v. 10).
All Believers are expected to grow. “Everyone” (pas) means there are no exceptions to this rule. “Unskilled” (apeiros) means “untested” and refers to the inexperience of a child. Infants cannot tell right from wrong and are incapable of making rational decisions. Allegorically, spiritual babies cannot digest the solid food of profound revelation. Because they failed to grasp the rudimentary principles, they were unable to fathom deeper truths. They lacked the spiritual teeth necessary to chew fortifying doctrinal meat (I Cor. 13:11).
In this passage, the writer refers to two types of listeners:
1. Spiritual infants who are in need of doctrinal milk and are thus unqualified as teachers. They lack normative development due to inadequate spiritual advancement.
2. Mature Believers who can assimilate doctrinal meat and are qualified to teach. They perpetually exercise sound spiritual discernment.
“Full age” cannot be literal, for there is no reference to the age of the persons he is writing to. “Strong meat” refers to solid food and corresponds to advanced godly instruction. The refusal to grow spiritually results in weakened spiritual perception – and stagnation is fatal. Believers grow as they digest the meat of the Word and exercise their spiritual faculties. “Exercise” is gumnazo (from when we derive “gymnasium”) and pictures one stripped for athletic training. The insight and wisdom to which the writer refers can only be developed through spiritual hunger.
“Discern” means “to discriminate; the faculty to judge.” Believers are expected to mature in order to recognize the difference between corrupt doctrine and sound doctrine. It was prophesied the child Emmanuel would grow to learn how “to refuse the evil and choose the good” (Isa. 7:16). Infants cannot discern what is helpful and what is harmful. Only by experiential knowledge can a miner know the difference between iron pyrite and real gold.
We can appropriate wonderful truths as we demonstrate proficiency in perception. Adept Believers “search the Scriptures” and are “always ready to give an answer concerning the hope that is in them” (Jn. 5:39 & I Pet. 3:15). Paul was willing to lose everything in order to gain the excellent knowledge of Christ (Phil. 3:8). By consistent exercise we “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen” (II Pet. 3:18).
QUESTIONS: THIRD WARNING: DON’T DENOUNCE (Part 1) – MILK AND MEAT
1. In the final verse of the book of Acts, what things do we find Paul teaching?
2. Before we teach others, who must we first teach? (Romans 2:21)
3. According to Acts 12:12, who is best qualified to teach Believers?
4. According to Acts 5:42, what was the primary subject the disciples were teaching?
5. According to II Timothy 2:2, what is the primary qualification of teachers?
6. According to Matthew 5:6, what type of person is truly spiritually fulfilled?
7. Paul said the Corinthians were now ready to eat and digest spiritual meat (I Cor. 3:2). True or False?
8. List the four things Bible study is good for. (I Timothy 3:16)
9. Discuss with your mate areas in which you both need spiritual improvement.
10. List areas in which both you and your spouse have experienced noticeable spiritual growth since you have been married.