By Denny A. Diehl
I was recently conversing with a Christian who had seven years previous ‘put on Christ.’ We were talking concerning denominational doctrines and the use (or misues) of the Greek language by some groups when translating. He was amazed that I had been a Christian for a period of four years and prior to that I had had virtually no Biblical teaching, but yet I was acquainted with these things. (Allow me to state that I am not trying to compliment myself because I am quite aware of my intellectual shortcomings.) It has been apparent to me in the short time that I have been a part of Christ’s church that many Christians are complacent with studying the Bible only twice a week (if then) and are not concerned with pressing on to a greater understanding of the Truth that has set us free from sin.
Dull Of Hearing
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews faced this same situation. He was writing to the Hebrews how that Christ was “a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:10). “Concerning him” he had “much to say,” but to his dismay it was “hard to explain” because they had become “dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11). The word that is translated dull is nothros. It means ‘sluggish,’ ‘obtuse,’ ‘slow moving in mind,’ and ‘mental listlessness.’ It can be used of a person who has the imperceptive and lethargic nature of a stone (Wni. Barclay). These people had become lazy in their responsibilities to themselves and to God. ‘You have become’ shows that they had not always been in that state of dullness. There probably had been a time when these Hebrew Christians had searched the Scriptures with diligence, rejoicing in their new-found faith. They had had their attention aroused and their thoughts exercised when they had first heard the preaching of the gospel, but since that time it had become commonplace to them and had long ceased to be exciting to them. They had become spiritual sluggards. Turn to Proverbs 24:30-34 and read: “I passed by the field of the sluggard, and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense; and behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles, its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction. ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,’ then your poverty will conic as a robber, and your want like an armed man.” This passage has spiritual application for the person who has become ‘dull of hearing.’ When we forsake the command given in 2 Peter 1:5,10, in that we are to be “applying all diligence” and “be all the more diligent” then we are like the man who is ‘lacking sense.’ Our spiritual lives will be ‘completely overgrown with thistles’ and ‘covered with nettles’ so that the ‘stone wall’ of the gospel that has protected us from “the corruption that is in the world” (2 Pet. 1:4) is ‘broken down.’
Brethren, how this is true of us today. Christians who have had the seed of the gospel sown in their hearts (Matt. 13:22), but because of the thorns of worldly worry and deceitful riches that were there to choke out the word, they became unfruitful (dull of hearing), and then their ‘poverty will come as a robber.’ But this all arises because Christians become ‘dull of hearing.’ They are tired of hearing the same old gospel preached, and studying the Bible has become a burden to them; they have left their first love (Rev. 2:4). The love of the truth has grown old and slipped away and the writer of Hebrews describes the results of that person in 6:4-8.
You Ought To Be Teachers
The writer substantiates his charge against them in v. 11, when he writes in v. 12, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for some one to !each you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” How many Christians are there in the world today who have not “increased in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10) since they were “like newborn babes, longing for the pure milk of the word, that by it” they “may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:22). Brethren, we have an epidemic on our hands of spiritual drowsiness. Don’t let the contentment of ‘a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest’ overtake us, but let us receive “the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11).
‘For by this time you ought to be teachers’ is another way of saying: Consider how long you have been Christians, how long you have been partakers of the Divine Truth, and consider the growth that should have been accomplished on your part by now, even to the point that you should be helping others to a deeper understanding of the Truth.
Let us examine the situation. Most probably among these Hebrew Christians were some who had been called to the Lord on that first Pentecost 30 some years before when “Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them” (Acts 2:14) the gospel of Christ. “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). And it says that “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). A little later “Peter and John were going up to the temple” (Acts 3:1) when Peter healed a man “lame from his mother’s womb” (Acts 3:2). This gave opportunity for preaching and because of it, “many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). Here we see that “the disciples were increasing in number” (Acts 6:1) to the extent that, as is seen in chapter 6 of Acts, it was easy to get lost in the crowd. Later, “a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). This left a small church behind in Jerusalem, but it was attended by the apostles, and such men as Barnabas and Paul (Acts 9:27), Silas (Acts 15:22), and an eldership which included James, the Lord’s brother (Acts 15). Now, if there ever was a church in which a Christian could just sit back and let the leaders do the work, it seems that this would have to be the one. It certainly would have been easy to let the apostles, elders, and teachers do all the preaching and studying of God’s word. Even though we can see them starting out with great enthusiasm after their conversion related to us in Acts 2, it is understandable how they could lose it, when it is taken into consideration all the talented men that were serving the Lord in that congregation. With all the training that they had available to them, they should have, at least by this time, been teachers, How many are there of us who fall into this category? How many are there of us who have not taken it upon ourselves to study God’s word because it is easy to let the preacher, elders, and teachers do it for us? How many are there of us who are called upon to teach a class (or should be called upon, but because of our lack of knowledge we are not) but have to refuse because we are not, by this time, teachers.
You Need Some One To Teach You
Instead of teaching the word by the time that they should have been ready, they were, in fact, in “need again for some one to teach” them “the elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 5:12). Spiritual slothfulness not only prevents progress in the Christian’s spiritual life, but it produces retrogression. These Hebrew Christians had failed to do what Peter commanded: “Supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, selfcontrol, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, Christian love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or shortsighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (2 Pet. 1:5-9). This was the condition of the Hebrews; after they had believed in Christ, they failed to grow into Christ. A person can lose recollection of knowledge unless he uses it. They had been stagnant for such a long period of time that they needed some one to sit down with them and tutor them through “the elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 5:12).
These ‘elementary principles’ are the rudiments or the foundation which must be laid for the person to become a disciple of Christ. The word used here for elementary is stoicheia. “In grammar it means the letters of the alphabet, the ABC; in physics it means the four basic elements of which the world is composed; in geometry it means the elements of proof like the point and the straight line; in philosophy it means the first principles with which the student begins” (Win. Barclay). The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews was deplored at the condition of these Christians. They had been Christians for years and still needed to be taught those basics with which a person begins his spiritual life. Let us draw a picture: Imagine a normal man, 30 years of age, sitting in a kindergarten class still learning his ABC’s. It would certainly be funny if it was not so pathetic. Here is a person who after 25 years has still not taken it upon himself to learn. Do we have any Christians who are 25 spiritual years old who are in the same condition?
The Jews said to Jesus, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’ Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world’ ” (Jn, 6:31-33). When the children of Israel were being led out of Egypt by Moses, they came to the wilderness of Sin. It was at this time that God gave them manna from heaven. “There was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the hoarfrost on the ground. When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.'” (Ex. 16:13-15). God was providing for their physical sustenance, just as He is providing for our spiritual sustenance, with bread from heaven. We have the bread that gives life, but we have to use it. Bread cannot penetrate into our system by osmosis, it has to be eaten and digested; so it is with spiritual bread. It will not do anybody any good when this ‘bread of life’ just sits on a shelf or a table; it has to be used. Look what happened when Moses told them to use up the manna. “They did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul” (Ex. 16:20). When bread is not used, it spoils. The manna bred worms because it was not used-are there any worms in your Bible? Have you checked lately?
Brethren, let us grow up in the word, “let us press on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1), and “grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). May God give us the strength to take the advice of the proverbist when he says: “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the soul of the diligent is made fat” (Prov. 13:4).
Truth Magazine XX: 36, pp. 567-568
September 9, 1976