Sunday, May 30, 2010

Maturity: liquid or solid food

I find that many have no idea how to distinguish those who are spiritually mature. Yet, spiritual maturity is vital to the health of a church, especially, to its leadership. A spiritually immature person is not to be accepted or promoted to church leadership (elders). 1 Timothy 3:16 explicitly forbid ordaining a person who is a “novice” as an elder, with the explanation that novices have not learned to deal with pride. Often, church problems can be traced to immature leadership. Maturity has nothing to do with the physical age of the person and everything to do with the person’s spiritual age.

It is God’s desire that all of His people grow into spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-14). How can one know when that has occurred?

There are markers that clearly distinguish the spiritual age of a person. In Ephesians 4:14 Paul states that children are characterized by consternation resulting from “winds of doctrine.” That is, diverse or contradictive teachings reduce the spiritually immature to internal upheaval. Children have difficulty in resolving personal conflicts biblically. 1 John 2:18ff informs that those that are little children need understanding of the abiding anointing in order to withstand false teachers and prophets.

It is the marker in Hebrews five that is the primary subject of this brief article. Heb 5:11-14 speaks of a contrast between the diet of the immature (babes) and that of a full-grown man.
11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 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, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. ESV
The context is the introduction of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and its relationship to Melchizedek. The writer says that it is difficult to explain this concept to them because they have grown dull (sluggish, lazy) in their hearing. The verb implies their hearing was once sharp and has deteriorated. Their difficulty in hearing had already occurred and the result was that their perceptiveness was lost.

Their lack of spiritual maturity was inexcusable. Sufficient time had elapsed and the investment of teachers in their lives made it their duty to mature to the point where they could train others in the “word of righteousness.” But, that was not the case with them; they still needed someone to teach the first of the basic principles of the utterances of God. Then the judgment; you can only handle a liquid diet (milk) not one of solid food. The Authorized use of the word “meat” did not necessarily mean flesh at the time of that translation but would mean all types of food.

The metaphor is explained, spiritually, those who live on a liquid diet (one’s share in ordinary feeding) is a babe. He is unskilled or inexperienced in the word of righteousness. Full-grown persons, those who have reached the end of normal growth, may drink milk but their ordinary feeding consists of solid foods.

Spiritually, adults are those who have trained their perceptions to the point they can discern between that which is good for them and that which is not profitable to them. The outcome of the habitual use of one’s power of perception is the ability to observe different teachings and take only that that is consistent with the word of righteousness.

These Hebrew Christians understood the basic principles of priesthood. They kept up with the teacher as long as he taught about the priesthood of Aaron. Melchizedek priesthood threw them a curve. It took perception to chew on this food. Their lack of aptitude for the word of Christ had limited their spiritual diet. Evidently, they had in past times foregone the pain of the exercise of thought and discernment and were now locked into the diet of the one not yet able to converse.

When we refuse to examine a fresh understanding of truth and dismiss it out-of-hand we are like these immature Hebrew Christians. The diet of a spiritual adult can require the eater to discard some things such as bones.

The diet marker Hebrews five is a good way of distinguishing spiritual maturity. Things one does not understand do not upset the mature. They are willing to chew on it and make judgments about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

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