Title: “The Unacceptability of Prolonged Spiritual Adolescence”
Date: March 30, 2014
Scripture: Hebrews 5:11-14
Main Idea: The path to apostasy is paved by indifference to God’s Word.
Outline: 3 alarming traits of prolonged spiritual adolescence
1) Instead of eagerness there is apathy (5:11)
2) Instead of progress there is stagnation (5:12)
3) Instead of proficiency there is unfamiliarity. (5:13)
The antidote for this is _____________ (5:14ff).
We live in a time where there has been a significant cultural shift happening right before our eyes. More and more young people are putting off taking steps into their adult lives, even into their 30’s. Sociologists call it prolonged adolescence. This is seen vividly in a world where family insurance plans now cover “children” until they are almost 30. There is no surprise that marriages are down and video game sales are up.
One author, focusing in on the phenomenon for men, coined a phrase, “ban” a hybrid between a boy and a man. They live suspended between adulthood and childhood.
The reality of a nation with an increasing number of bans is a problem. According to one researcher (Darren Patrick, Church Planter),
• Half of American males between the ages of 18 to 34 play video games every day—for almost 3 hours.
• The average video game buyer is 35 years old.
• Every second, $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography, 28,258 Internet users view pornography, and 372 Internet users type adult search terms into search engines.
• To no one’s surprise, men make up nearly 75% of Internet pornography traffic.
Instead of growing up and stepping up in society, those living prolonged adolescence contribute to a social problem and a detriment to society. If left unchecked, its basic building blocks will stop functioning well and there will be a massive degeneration in families, industry, defense, and the economy.
The writer of Hebrews has a similar concern. Although, he is not speaking about the public square ore the impact on society, he is thinking in terms of the church. He is concerned about a prolonged adolescence among Christians.
And here is his chief concern: if professing Christians remain in a state of spiritual immaturity then they are in a dangerous place—they are vulnerable. What’s more, their immaturity is serving to impede the actual ministry of the church.
The writer of Hebrews is alarmed. He is alarmed by what he sees as unacceptable immaturity. He is concerned about why it is there and what it is doing and what it could do.
It is important for us, at the outset, to see the link that is created. The immaturity is connected to indifference to the Word of God.
The call to action from the writer of Hebrews is that we hear the alarm and respond to the Word of God.
Let’s walk through these alarming of prolonged adolescence traits from Hebrews 5.
1) Instead of Eagerness there is Apathy (5:11)
Let’s look together at verse 11: About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
What is the “this” that he is referring to? It is the subject of Melchizedek, and specifically the relationship between Jesus and him. In chapter 5 verse 10 we read that he is introducing this subject. He is putting it on the tee; he wants to take a swing but he stops here in verse 11 and says this.
Notice, that he is very excited about the topic. This is often the case with those who are zealous for Christ and seeing his glory. They want to share. They want others to come and see what they see. But there is a problem. Look at what he says, “it is hard to explain.” He is saying that is difficult to communicate the concepts to his hearers.
What is the source of the difficulty? We might be tempted to think that the difficulty lies in the complexity of the subject—but this is not the case. The reason why it is so difficult to get communicate this truth is because the hearers have grown lazy.
Look again at verse 11 with me: About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
The word translated “dull of hearing” in the ESV means sluggish, lazy or negligent. It is a compound word that literally means “no push.” The reference would be to a rock or something that needed to be moved; they couldn’t or wouldn’t push it. Make no mistake about this: the writer of Hebrews is saying, you cannot bear what I have to tell you because you are too lazy. He is calling them spiritual sluggards. These are hard words.
You know that the Bible talks a lot about the issue of laziness.
Proverbs 26:14 says, “As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.” He never gets up. He just lays around all day, rolling over and not doing anything.
Proverbs 26:15 says, “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.” It is the lazy man who maybe gets some chips and reaches into a bowl of guacamole, and just can’t muster the strength up to bring it to his mouth. His hand just sits in the bowl. He doesn’t feed himself. He just sits there in his laziness.
Now, we may laugh at this but as we do we show that we can understand the foolishness of this type of thing. As others have observed, God has set before us a great bowl of gospel blessings in his Word. There it is. The writer of Hebrews is saying, there in that bowl you have the glory of Christ and his priesthood, wonderful theological truths about Christ and the gospel, but you are just sitting there with your hand extended too lazy to eat it. Instead of eagerness there is apathy.
In the big picture of this letter and the writer’s concern this is a serious situation. It is impossible to discern whether spiritual laziness is the first steps of backsliding or apostasy. You cannot tell. In both instances it occurs. If one walks away from the faith they do it in private far before they do it in public. It is the daily laziness and indifference to the things of God that pave the trail to apostasy as well as backsliding.
Realizing that we all go through seasons of ups and downs, we must be willing to accept the principles of these verses at all times. He is meaning to show us that spiritual apathy is not only unacceptable but extremely alarming. It is dangerous.
Think of how many times you have either said or heard another person say that prayer, Bible reading, and service are struggling?
Friends, this is not supposed to be the norm of the Christian life. It is not acceptable. The writer of Hebrews is rebuking apathy here.
So, how are you doing right now?
How is your heart? What is your heart’s temperature towards the things of God? (prayer, Bible reading, meditation, service, Sunday morning gathering, etc)
Are you dull of hearing?
If so, we need to agree with the tone of the passage, we need to hear and heed the alarm that something is not right. There is something wrong with us if we won’t draw the hand up from the bowl to eat and enjoy the feast.
The answer is always repentance. It is always humility before God, owning our dullness and laziness and apathy. He will hear and heal his people.
2) Instead of progress there is stagnation (5:12)
We are all very good at making excuses. This, of course is not a new development. What might the excuses be for the dullness of hearing, the spiritual lethargy that he highlights in 5:11?
I’m sure they could have sighted the social isolation and persecution from their community. People were losing their homes and jobs because they were Christians.
They could have also referenced physical limitations as no doubt many were afflicted physically.
Without the technological advancements that we have they most certainly could have spoke of their busy schedules (think how long it would take to wash some clothes, cook some breakfast, do their jobs, heat their homes, or whatever else).
The writer of Hebrews does not acknowledge any of this in his urgent words to this church. Although he may have been anticipating some excuses, he does not entertain them. Look at verse 12:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,” (Hebrews 5:12)
This is very straightforward. He is saying that these professing Christians should be teaching others but instead they need to be retaught.
The basic principles referred to in verse 12 were literally “the abc’s of Greek thought.” These are the basics, the building blocks of understanding. Most people would believe that he identifies these in the next verses,
“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Hebrews 6:1–2, ESV)
He is saying that you should fully understand these things by now. You should own the abc’s of the gospel and the Christian life by now. In fact, you should not only know them but be teaching them to others.
Please notice that this is not a matter of intelligence but of laziness. It is “want to” vs. “how to.” There is a full, and evidently quite reasonable expectation upon the people in this church to be growing in there understanding.
What’s more, there is a timeline for growth that is indisputable. They should be teachers by now. The health of the church depends on the health of her individuals. Lazy, apathetic church members who are characterized by stagnation will impede the ministry of the church. (these are his words)
How do we teach? Is this only referring to pastors? What if I don’t have the gift of teaching?
We are all called to be taught and teach one another, at least the ABC’s of the gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19, ESV)
The Apostle Paul modeled this in his ministry: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:28–29, ESV)
Then he turned around and reminded believers to do the same thing: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16, ESV)
You might say, “I cannot do this.” Listen, this is what we are to do.
“I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14, ESV)
“Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18, ESV)
The writer of Hebrews was working off a reasonable timeline. They should have been teachers of the basics but they were not able to. (He wanted to serve them a steak dinner but they needed to have spiritual sippy cups.)
I do hope you see this connection that is made here between the dullness of our hearts and the impact on our church family. There must be an intentionality in private devotions that will impact your ministry in public.
It is the vision and the priority of Emmaus Bible Church that every member is able to teach or encourage other believers. This does not mean that we all need to preach or teach Sunday school but it does mean that we should be able to open the Bible and read it together. We need to know how to instruct others and new believers in the ABC’s.
How is your spiritual growth plan going? Are you progressing?
I think of the military and the various skill levels of proficiency (3 level, 5 level, 7 level, etc). There needs to be this type of intentionality within the church.
3) Instead of proficiency there is unfamiliarity. (5:13)
The final alarm that is sounded here is this unfamiliarity instead of proficiency.
“for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.” (Hebrews 5:13, ESV)
The word that is translated “unskilled” means unfamiliar. The one who is immature is unfamiliar with the word of righteousness. This refers to the Word of God.
You can see how this develops. There is dullness upon the word of God then there is a lack of progress, which brings about a culture of immaturity and inproficiency with the Bible.
What is the answer? It is very interesting how he deals with this. We cannot deny that what he says in this passage is very strong; it is a bit of a verbal blistering. However, he does not stop there. He presses on. In other words, he does not end the letter here with his hands up. This should be very encouraging.
He exposes the problem by shining a light on it. And there are (3) possible responses for those he is so alarmed by:
(1) The genuine believer who is immature and convicted: they will repent, pray and ask God for help. He trusts that God will work in their lives. (2) The unbeliever who is huddling around the church but not actually a genuine Christian, they may truly repent and come to Christ. (3) The unbeliever who is turning away from Christianity. They will better understand the biblical category for their condition.
In all cases however, he keeps on trucking. He goes on to talk about Christ in extremely glorious terms. He will lead them into great theological depth and training. So you see the answer to the problem of prolonged spiritual adolescence is not catering to the immaturity but training them to maturity.
It is as if he is challenging them…They answer, NO! Not us!!
No, we are not dull of heart! We are not apathetic and lazy! We want to hear it! I have some repenting to do, but I want to hear the Word of God unfolded in all of its beauty! If this is your heart then be encouraged. God will grow his people. Avail yourself to the ministry of the word in this local church and make it your daily priority to personally read, study and prayerfully apply the Word of God.
If this is not your heart then there should be great alarm. In fact, just as the next chapter serves to encourage believers it also highlights the dead end of the road to apostasy.
If your heart has grown dull to the Word of God, leading to stagnation, and a life that is unskilled with it—then listen, you must make a change. You must see that there is something clogging the main artery of your heart that is preventing you from truly delighting in the Scriptures above all else.
Medical doctors lament that nearly a third of all prescriptions never get filled. They diagnose the problem and then the patient is required to follow through on their end. Think how foolish one would be to hear an alarming diagnosis of their physical body only to ignore it and pretend that it is not true.
We cannot do this here. Hebrews gives us an alarming diagnosis of spiritual apathy. We are given the prescription of repentance, prayer, faith, and obedience. Let us not ignore it but eagerly take the medicine as if our very life depended upon it.
And lest you forget, because of the cross of Christ, God welcomes all who in faith come to him through Jesus. He welcomes you in your tears of repentance. He wipes them and strengthens you as he affirms his steadfast love for you.