A time for milk and a time for meat (a meditation)

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. ~ Hebrews 5:12

“Act your age” is the admonition we sometimes give to older kids, teenagers, or young adults. In life, we expect kids to act one way and adults to act another. The process of moving from childhood to adulthood is maturity.

The same is true on a spiritual level. The Bible calls our coming to Jesus a “new birth” (John 3). We are born again and then enter into the stages of spiritual infancy, adolescence, young adulthood, and then mature adulthood. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

The author of Hebrews wrote to a church he knew and loved dearly, yet for some reason had been separated from (Hebrews 13). He encourages them with many things, but he also rebukes them at points—we find one of these toward the end of chapter 5. Seeing the lives of many in the church, even from afar, he knows something is amiss. They came to know Jesus, started to grow in faith, and then stalled.

They should have been to the point where they could give instruction to others—like a parent teaching a child, but they were still like children themselves. Their teeth should have been cut and they should have been dining on meat, but he had to feed them milk instead.

The meat is the deeper teachings of God through his word; the milk is the basic teachings—“elementary doctrines”, or: the “foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God and of instruction about washings [possibly: baptism], the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2).

There is a proper place for milk. When people first come to follow Jesus, most (if any) are not ready for things like comparing Jesus to Melchizedek (which the author does throughout chapter 7). They need the basics. But if that is all they ever get and never grow into the meat, then something is awry—either in their willingness to learn or in the teaching of their church.

For we must go on to meat.

That doesn’t mean that we never again touch the milk. It can be a good drink to go with the bigger meal—a reminder of the foundations on which we build the rest. But we need to get most of our sustenance from the bigger meal in order to keep growing healthy and strong.

So push onto growth. Gain from the milk, but once your spiritual teeth are cut crave the meat. There is a time for both, but let us not be stuck on the basics. Rather, may we “go on to maturity” (6:1).

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

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