Heb5v11to6v3 Immature Christians

(A) Introduction

This is one of the less comforting and more challenging passages in Hebrews. It is part of the Bible's balanced diet. I intend to look at how the Jewish Christians were immature. This is relatively easy and is likely to cause little offence. It will then be necessary to apply what we learn about them to those who are immature today. This is harder. I have to write from my own experience which may be very different from yours. It is possible when writing critically to have the plank of bias or prejudice in one's eye. I just hope you detect a ring of truth.

(B) How were the Hebrews immature Christians

(a)They were not prepared to move far away from Judaism. Every Christian starts off immature. This is inevitable and needs to be recognised. It is wrong to expect too much of new converts who need a lot of help to develop. The Hebrew Christians suffered from arrested development. They did not want to be too different from their fellow Jews. This is a characteristic of some very clever children in school. A bright boy takes no trouble to learn and fulfil his potential because he wants to be like all his mates.

(b) The set of beliefs the Hebrew Christians accepted was not incompatible with Judaism. The common feature of the beliefs in this rather strange list is that they could be held by an orthodox Jew. Let us look at them briefly:

    (1) Repentance from useless rituals. A godly Jew might well acknowledge that washing hands before meals, straining wine for gnats and flies, tithing mint and the like were not essential for holy living
    (2) Faith in God. Devout members of most religions share a belief in his goodness, care, wisdom and providence.
    (3) Instruction about baptisms. The Jews used water for cleansing and found no problem with the baptism of John for repentance. So they would have found nothing unusual about Christian baptism.
    (4) The laying on of hands. This really was an old Jewish practice adopted by the early church. Isaac laid his hands upon Jacob when he blessed him. So the Apostles used it to confer the gift of the Spirit after baptism, for the ordination of deacons and for healing. I am all for ministering through touch!
    (5) The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement. These were beliefs not shared by all Jews but they were held by the influential Pharisees.

(c) The immature Hebrew Christians needed constant reassurance about even these aspects of their faith. We can detect a note of exasperation when the writer says, not laying again the foundation of ..... Heb6v1 and you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. They wanted to hear the truths which they found easiest to grasp and with which they were most familiar over and over again. They were like little children who want their favourite story read to them every other night. It is reassuring and comforting - like sucking a thumb.

(d) The Hebrews showed no appetite or desire for what they were not used to. They wouldn't accept a different diet. They wanted milk but not solid food. The writer says in Heb5v11 We have much to say .... but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. What he wanted to tell them about was the supremacy of Jesus and his saving work accomplished upon the cross. He wished to elaborate upon the matters dealt with in vs7 to v10. This was difficult because the cross was a stumbling block, an offence, to the Jews.

(C) How are Christians immature today.

The short answer to this question is: in exactly the same way as the Hebrews 2000 years ago.

(a) Many Christians are not prepared to move far from the worldly attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of so many of their family, friends, workmates and neighbours. They trim their sails to the spirit of the age. It wouldn't do to be too different, to run the risk of being labelled one of those born again Christians.

(b) Immature Christians today are happiest with those beliefs which are not incompatible with worldly values:

    (1) Most people are happy to believe in God's goodwill. That is why Christmas is a popular festival. If God exists it is comforting to know that he is benevolent and cares for men.
    (2) There is no doubt that Christianity teaches the value of the individual. God knows us by name. The Western world is in sympathy with a belief in individual worth.
    (3) Most schoolchildren still know why Jesus died on the cross. If asked they will answer: so that we might be forgiven. On the whole this is a popular belief. The world is happy to believe that if God is there he will forgive. This sets men free from fear. It is liberating.
    (4) Popular songs highlight the supremacy of love. Love is a good thing. So it is! Christian teaching that God is love goes down well. It does not offend the world.
    (5) Much is made in some evangelical circles of living a fulfilled life in Christ. There is a strong emphasis on feeling safe and secure, being loved and cherished and finding a purpose for living. Again the world is quite comfortable with a faith that increases self esteem and helps you cope with stress and anxiety.
    (6) The provision in a lot of churches of a warm fellowship and a good social life is another characteristic the world appreciates and would not condemn. It understands the camaraderie of the club.

I daresay that there are Christians of wider experience who could deal with this section better than I. My strength is to look within.

(c) Immature Christians need constant reassurances about those aspects of faith I have just dealt with. They have to be dealt with again and again - in as amusing, moving, interesting and entertaining a way as possible. They are good, wholesome beliefs and practices just as milk is good and nourishing. But milk by itself does not form a balanced diet for an adult.

(d) The weakness of these Christians is their lack of appetite for a different diet - more solid food. For example, they may find unpalatable teaching about their obligations as followers of Jesus. Jesus says, John14v21 "whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me." This is a call to a disciplined life of obedience. It goes against the worldly grain. There are so many things Jesus taught that run counter to the spirit of the age. Jesus said that we shouldn't be the sort of person that insists on their rights. What he said was, if a man sues you at law for your coat give him your shirt as well. In Jesus day a man had a well known right to his shirt. Whatever else you could take from him you couldn't take the shirt off his back. This is Jesus way of warning against litigation, insisting in every circumstance upon your rights. Yet litigation is on the increase especially in the U.S.A. with a high proportion of Christians in its population. How can this be when Jesus specifically taught against the spirit of litigation.

There is no doubt that Jesus taught the importance of giving. He certainly did not teach that there was any merit in being rich. He told us to lay up treasure in heaven. Are we? On one of my visits to see Dorothy Boreham she told me of a little incident which illustrates the spirit of true giving. Her widowed mother was very poor and trying to bring up her three little girls during the depression in England. In the 1920's there were no social security payments. The mother took in washing. It was a hard life. Sometimes Dorothy's mother would say, "We'll have a treat for tea today girls - boiled eggs." The tea table was laid and three boiled eggs put before the girls. They looked at their mother and asked, "Aren't you having an egg for tea, mum?" "No", she replied, "I don't really fancy one". The girls knew better. They realised she could only afford to buy three eggs. So they shared their eggs with their mother. Each small girl gave mum a spoonful to spread on her bread and butter. They acted in the spirit of Christ's teaching when he says, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." John3v11. It is far from easy to give sacrificially and some Christians dismiss such teaching as unrealistic. We may give our assent and then fail to put it into practice. Christ's teaching does not inform our lives, it is not real. I can remember on a Geography field trip to the English Lake District reserving a can of drink for the conclusion of the afternoon's climb. It was a very stiff climb to the summit of Red Pike. All the party were thirsty by the time the summit was reached. I was the only one with anything to drink. My boys pleaded with me to share my drink. I hardened my heart and disobeyed my Master and drank it all myself.

In an age when such a high value is placed on individual liberty and personal happiness immature Christians may find it disagreeable to be reminded of their responsibilities to other Christians. Jesus also told us to love one another. John 13v34. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." The small church to which I belong has lost several younger people in recent years to better supported, livelier fellowships. They have left us to get a better deal. They are acting like consumers who stop frequenting their small village store to shop at the large supermarket in town. Some of the people who left were actually converted in our small church. They owe their new life in Christ to our witness. Do they love us as Christ loves us. Does he abandon the struggling aging groups of Christians who worship in the rural areas of England. Is he only to be found in the youth centred worship of causes with a dynamic, personable, leader folk feel comfortable with. It is almost impossible to convince certain Christians that they have any responsibility at all for those old in the faith. Perhaps I have the plank of bias in my eye!

In my experience even quite mature Christians can get used to a certain diet and not like change. They feast on solid food but they get used to fairly predictable fare and do not take kindly to any departure from it. They are a bit like the PE teacher I knew who whenever curried chicken was served at the school canteen turned up his nose and said, "I don't want any of that foreign muck!" He would never try it. Christians can lose the spirit of adventure. They are no longer open minded to the Scriptures but interpret a passage in line with their theological certainties. If someone has something different or unusual to say, well, they must be wrong. It is very, very, difficult to persuade a mature Christian that a belief they have held from youth, a belief held by those near and dear to them for as long as they can remember, is wrong. People do not listen to the arguments; they say to themselves, "Why should he be right and all these other people wrong". That is why we have so many disagreements among Christians on subjects as straightforward as baptism. That is why after spending weeks going through the book of Hebrews at the prayer meeting in my church and showing that it was written to stop Jewish Christians returning to Judaism most of the ten or so who attend still believed that it was impossible for a Christian to lose their faith. I know that at this point some are going to say, "Bully for them". It is very sad if we come to a point in our lives when we are slow to learn. Some come to that point very quickly and remain little babies to the end.

(D) The bad consequences of spiritual immaturity

It means that:
(a) Many wonderful truths about Christ are never fully grasped.
It is clear from Acts21v17 to 26 how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. The fact that they were zealous for the law meant that their worship centred on the temple. They were still making sacrifices in the temple. Indeed even Paul got dragged into a ceremony that involved making an offering as part of the purification rites of four men who had made a vow. He did it to pacify the legalists and I think he was wrong. The Jerusalem Christians, zealous for the law, were still making sacrifices in the temple. They had not taken in the wonderful truth summarised in Heb9v23 So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Do we rejoice in the truths of Heb12 v3 Consider him (Jesus) who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. v7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. v10 God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. Which do we prefer: to be happy or to be holy? Immature Christians know much about happiness and very little about holiness. I have to admit that I often long to be happier, nor do I think that I am very holy. I used as a young man to pray to be better. It was my greatest desire. I did not realise then the cost. It is a dangerous prayer to offer to God. I had a Christmas card this morning from Amanda. She is being treated for cancer at Addenbrookes Hospital near Cambridge. She wrote,'I have made some nice friends in hospital, it is in there that you realise how some people are worse off than you. One boy is 14 and he has been coming up to Addenbrookes for 6 years but he is still smiling and happy enough, not like some people who moan if they have a cold. He said to his dad, "Amanda seems nice", and his dad replied, "It's a pity we meet all the nicest people in here". Amanda is not a Christian, although I confirm that she is a very nice girl, but she has found that there is a common bond, a fellowship in suffering. It is a dreadful discipline but through it she has learned lessons she would never have learned otherwise. I pray that her treatment is successful and she is restored to health.

(b) Baby Christians are very dependent. They are not much help to others. They may be loveable, attractive, endearing but they are not much use. The writer says in Heb5v12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. It is impossible to teach much to others if you have grasped very little yourself. Not everyone in the church is called to be a teacher but every Christian should be capable of giving instruction in the basics at need. An old country woman attends our prayer meeting who would never dream of teaching in the Sunday School or Ladies Meeting but she is prepared to have a few words with her grown up sons about the eternal well being of their souls. Apollos was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and taught about Jesus accurately. However Aquila and Priscilla needed to take him aside and explain to him Christian baptism. We read in Acts18v26 they invited him into their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. I think this incident redounds to the credit of all concerned. Aquila and Priscilla did not stamp out of the meeting angry because the preacher was in error vowing to have nothing more to do with him. I expect they gave Apollos a nice supper and then had a little talk with him. Apollos was sufficiently humble, notwithstanding his remarkable ability, to learn. He was teachable.

Immature Christians make cocksure teachers. I taught at a Secondary School in Suffolk in what is now called a gap year between the end of school and the beginning of university. I had done my A' levels and in my own opinion knew enough. I never spent a minute preparing a lesson. I walked into the classroom and taught. I was dreadful. The children quite enjoyed my company but they learned nothing. During my last ten years as a teacher I spent hour upon hour preparing each lesson with the greatest care. The more I knew the longer I spent on preparation. I find it ironical that in my early, immature, cocksure days as a preacher I was invited to speak in many different churches. What I had to say depended heavily upon other men - C.H.Spurgeon and others. Today in my maturity when I can expound Scripture, with God's help, for myself there are few invitations.

(c) Anyone who stays on a diet of milk will lack discernment about what spiritual food is good for them. You cannot tell from experience what does you good and what doesn't. The writes says in Heb5v14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. A man who has tried all sorts of food discovers what is good for him and what is not. If he is wise he will then stick with what promotes his spiritual growth. We have looked earlier at the purpose of scripture 2Tim3v16. It is significant that in this passage the immature Christian is described as an infant who is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. I, like every other believer, was an infant in Christ once. In those days I was interested in sin and salvation, creation and evolution, free will and election, heaven and hell but disinterested in the Sermon on the Mount and Paul's ethical teaching. The Beatitudes left me cold and I would preach from the Old Testament rather than from the Epistles of Paul. I have become more acquainted with teaching about righteousness. That is a first step to becoming more righteous. I am wiser. I wish I could say that I was more righteous. Certainly not in every respect.

A connoisseur with a wide experience of different food is always willing to try something new. He can assess the quality of a meal because he has educated his palate. It is easier to explain difficult doctrines or Bible passages to Christians used to questioning, pondering, assessing and working things out. This is true in all walks of life. I watched an interesting TV programme about a biochemist investigating a rare and terrible disease that turned a person's muscles into bone. The sufferers became encased in a shell of bone. The biochemist made very little progress until he met up with an orthopaedic surgeon who had been thinking about the same problem.

It is possible to be a connoisseur and never settle on a healthy diet. Gastronomes can become dissatisfied with good plain fare. The writer to the Hebrews doesn't say that we have to be food expert's just adults with a healthy appetite for what does us good. We get plenty of advice about what to eat today. In the end it comes down to common sense. People thrive on a balanced diet. It is best to eat little but often and at regular intervals. This is excellent advice for the Christian.

(d) Throughout this epistle the writer is concerned about Jewish Christians falling away. A growing child that only drinks milk would eventually become sickly. It would be in danger of dieing. The epistle is addressed to erstwhile followers of Jesus who are in danger of losing their appetite for Christian truth altogether and turning back to Judaism. During any time of hardship it is the weakest that are at most risk. Today it is the immature Christian who is in gravest danger of going back into the world.


A criticism of this exposition might be that it highlights the problem without dealing with it's solution. In this I am simply reflecting the passage. If you point out to someone the dangers of continuing with their present diet you hope they will change it. People will sometimes change if they see that it is in their best interest to do so. The writer to the Hebrews urges his readers to leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity. He is telling them that it is time to move on. They have to make that decision and show willing to advance in the Christian faith. So do we all. And God permitting we will do so.

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