Press on to Maturity

Regarding [Jesus] we have the word to speak and hard to interpret since you have become sluggish in your hearing. For there are those who ought to be teachers by now, but you have a need to be taught by someone all over again from the beginning the elementary principles of the sacred words of The God. You have become those needing milk and not solid nourishment. For every person partaking of milk is really unfamiliar with the word of righteousness because they remain babies. However, solid nourishment belongs to mature persons, those who through the use of their sensory organs have been trained like an athlete to be able to distinguish between what is good or bad. Consequently, having left the basic teachings of the Christ, may we pass along to perfection, not laying a foundation again of [“elementary principles”] -- repentance from dead works, faith toward God, teachings on baptisms, the laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and ageless condemnation. And, indeed, this we shall do if The God permits. [Hebrews 5:11-6:3 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures - NCMM]

The Problem with the Modern Church

Two thousand years ago the apostle Paul as the hand-picked representative of Jesus Christ the Nazarene chastised many of the original Jewish Christians. He said that, despite many years as Christians, they had “become sluggish in their hearing.” Why? Though Paul wanted to explain to them words “hard to interpret” these Christians had remain spiritual infants. Babies who need to start all over again from “the beginning the elementary principles of the sacred words of the God.”

In Basic Teachings to Leave Behind the subject of what these “elementary principles” were is discussed in detail. They are listed by Paul in Hebrews 6:1, 2

One only need attend a modern church, or watch television evangelists on Sunday morning, to see that essentially these are the subjects taught week after week. Every Sunday it’s the same thing over and over. As a result VERY FEW among all the billions of Christendom have advanced beyond these fundamentals into true Christian maturity.

The above is even true of some religious organizations who claim to possess divine truth solely as God’s “channel.” Few of their millions of members really know the Bible. They remain immature babies who have learned to recite three dozen Bible verses. They cannot answer Bible questions from others without resorting to quoting from a handbook or the unassailable writings of founding church members, or current authorities with whom no one can argue.

You Ought to be Teachers

Paul writes that in view of the time these have been Christians they should be now actually be “teachers,” not just of the primary doctrines, but of those things “hard to interpret.” But, these still need to go back to fundamentals and learn them all over again before advancing on to where they should be. They are like someone who appears to be an adult suddenly stricken with a sickness and now confined to a liquid diet. They are not really “familiar with the Word of righteousness.”

What is required? Paul writes, “Solid nourishment belongs to mature persons, those who through the use of their sensory organs have been trained like an athlete to be able to distinguish between what is good or bad.” Thus, after relearning the fundamentals they need to then move on to “solid nourishment” normally identified with mature persons. Paul means those matters “hard to interpret” mentioned earlier.

One can see what these are merely by reading Paul’s epistle to the Christian Hebrews. If such was hard for Jews of the 1st Century, what would these teachings be to persons wholly unfamiliar with the Hebrew Bible and Hebrew forms of worship? For a modern Christian student this would require becoming familiar with such books of the Bible as Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. These would merely lay the groundwork for what is revealed in Hebrews.

So, what factors would be involved? First, Paul suggests the need for “solid nourishment.” That is, progressing on to the subjects in Hebrews? No one could really consider themselves a teacher unless they had mastered Hebrews. This would include learning a whole list of new words. It would involve understanding how the various “shadows” of the Hebrew form of worship are associated with Jesus Christ and his Church. It would involve paying close attention to scores of quotes and allusions by Paul to the Hebrew Bible. It would also include an understanding of what is required of a disciple of the Nazarene.

Second, “use” of this material is required. Use in two modes: a personal application to the Christian walk, and beginning to teach others what one is learning. There are always persons who will be babes or immature in the Christian Church. These need to be brought along to a mature understanding so that they too can become teachers. There is a world of unbelievers that need to learn of their opportunities before the Return of the Messiah. The more one uses the information learned in those things “hard to interpret” in Hebrews the more spiritually adult one becomes.

Third, time and energy are involved. For Paul compares this growth to maturity like athletic training. That is, as some versions put it: KJV: exercised; RHM: trained; TCNT: trained by practice; NOR: habitually in training. The Greek word here for “athlete” is GEGYMASMENA [1128] and literally refers to a “gymnast” and the rigorous training required to become such. This training is founded in time spent in “the word of righteousness” as well as the exercise in experiential use.

All human beings have the same amount of time - 24 hours in a day. One third of this time is used in sleeping. About one third or more is used in necessary work to maintain a family. Slightly less than one third remains for some other necessary things such as bathing, eating, and carrying for other important matters associated with life. Most persons have some time remaining and this may be called “leisure time.” It is often used in what is most important to a person - over-time work, recreation, television, reading of newspapers, books, periodicals, email, or browsing the Internet.

In some Western nations leisure time often equals time spent in work. Regardless of where one lives, this leisure time to one’s self will be used according to one’s interests. The God-centered, Christ-minded disciple will use some of this time in personal reading, meditation, and study of the teachings of the Nazarene and his inspired disciples. Indeed, how much is God-centered might even be judged by the spiritual use of this leisure time.

The serious Christian will be motivated by the inner pressure of the Pneuma, or God’s Spirit, to struggle to use this leisure time in doing exactly what Paul counsels above - to work at it like a gymnast. Anyone who has watched the gymnasts in the Olympics, or any other sport, can see the time required to become adept. And THIS is the use of leisure time by such athletes who also use time from work in order to become world class.

Paul uses another word, as did Jesus, in this connection -- AGONIA. Paraphrasing his words at 1 Timothy 6:12 he writes, “All of you continue to agonize the fine agony of the faith.” This is what Paul did as he confesses, “I have agonized the fine agony.” [2 Timothy 4:7; compare the Greek of Jude 3 - EPAGONIZESTHAI] Possibly he has borrowed from the Nazarene who had urged, “Agonize to enter through the narrow door, because I tell you that many will seek to enter but will not have the strength.” [Luke 13:24]

No where does God, Jesus, Paul, or anyone else, say this would be easy. It is not. It requires the same life-long dedication of a world-class athlete. It requires time. It requires energy. It requires heart-felt, Pneuma-driven effort. Those who do will be easy to spot, for they are characterized by two things. First, a depth and breadth of understanding and comprehension of those thing “hard to interpret.” Second, they are clearly recognized as those who know from the Scriptures what is “good and bad” as Paul says above.

Press on to Maturity

One just cannot remain an infant through life. Even in a physical sense, persons who do not mature are considered socially retarded. Though full-grown men and women they still behave like children. On the other hand, over many decades the “genuine disciple” becomes apparent in a degree of maturity possessed of wisdom balanced with humility.

Paul urges those he chastised above to “press on to maturity.” [NWT] Or as others render this phrase: NCMM: pass along to perfection; ASV: press on to perfection; MON: toward what is mature; WMS: progressing toward maturity; PME: go on forward to adult understanding; KNX: full growth; WEY: mature manhood. He says we will do this “if God permits.”

It has been observed among some Christians that they have got themselves in something of a rut after to many years walking with Christ. They love inspirational music that makes them feel good. They love sweet poetry and verse that makes them feel better. They love “the old rugged cross” and seem almost shackled to the instrument of execution upon which our Lord sacrificed his life. Though their heart is genuine, they have missed the point that our Lord does not want to remain at the foot of the Cross, but “go, and make disciples of people of all the nations." [Matthew 28:19] He wants them to become “teachers in view of the time.”

Many of these Christians have become quite comfortable in their non-sacrificing form of worship. Their search is only for personal happiness. They want nothing that bestirs their conscience or makes them twitch in discomfort. They recoil at anything that seems negative to them. They reject the advice and counsel of modern “prophets” in the Church who call them to that maturity Paul described. They acquire teachers “to have their ears tickled.” [2 Timothy 4:3] Nice and comfortable in their Western materialism, satisfied with their token charity.

They do not want “to press on to maturity.” They recoil at thoughts of prophecy or those “things hard to interpret” found in the teachings of Jesus and Paul and John. Even though the Glorified Nazarene himself -- who received God’s revelation and passed this on to his beloved apostle John and who in turn recorded the Christine visions for future generations [Revelation 1:1, 2] -- inspired personal apocalyptic epistles, they argue in one form or another that we do not need these wondrous things. They give the strong impression that “all we need is Jesus” - not exactly clear as to what that means.

These Christians would have every disciple remain spiritual babies imbibing only the milk of His word. They would have them never become teachers of those “things hard to interpret.” Forever remaining only in the ABC’s of the “doctrine of Christ.” And why? Because deep down it is a matter of their own pride. They have not “pressed on to maturity” and as a result they remain ignorant of major portions of the Bible. Having others possessed of this knowledge of “solid nourishment” makes them look bad. It injures their pride to be around men or women who have truly made “advancement” in reading and speaking. [1 Timothy 4:11-16] They feel intimated because they cannot carry on a conversation into the depths of His Word. So, out of their pride they criticize those who have actually done what Paul urged - “press on to maturity.”

Paul himself compared the Church’s growth like that journey from babyhood to full maturity. In 1 Corinthians 13:11 he describes this process: “When I was an infant my speech was infantile. I thought like an infant. I reasoned like an infant. When I will have finally become an adult man, I will have made the infantile things useless.” [NCMM] And just so, these baby Christians still talk, think, and reason like spiritual infants. This is manifest very often in other characteristics, which Paul also describes at 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, “And so, brothers, I was unable to speak to you as [spiritual] persons, but rather as fleshly persons, as infants in Christ. I gave you only milk to drink and not solid food, because you were unable to accept up. Neither are you able even now. For you are still fleshly because jealousy and strife are in your midst. Are you not yet fleshly?” [NCMM] These words are almost a commentary on those words in Hebrews were have considered above.

It has been often observed that those who have refused to grow up spiritually are characterized by these very things Paul here mentions: jealousy and strife. Of course, it is easy to see that at the root of this jealousy and strife is the pride mentioned above. It is so easy to remain Christian infants who always just want to be held in the arms of Christ and his Church. They never want to get down off his lap and go out into the world and become dynamic full-grown men and women with Christ in their hearts.

Paul writes that this mature attitude is one to grow into: “And this until all of us attain a perfect unity of faith and a heightened relationship with the Son of God. Until we all together grow into perfect maturity measured by the full stature of the Christ. So we no longer remain babies, tossed here and there by (doctrinal) waves, carried aimlessly by every wind of teaching.” [Ephesians 4:13, 14 NCMM Paraphrase] These immature, baby Christians, lacking a solid knowledge of God’s Word, remain uncertain about their beliefs. As a result they are “ billow-tossed and shifted around … by every current of teaching.” [RHM, CON] The mature Christian is not like a rudderless ship at the mercy of tossing seas. Only spiritual babies are “blown round by every breath of human teaching.” [TCN] An infant can be taught almost anything but a mature adult may follow reasonable logic founded on the Scriptures. It is a knowledge of the Scriptures which provide a firm anchor during Christian maturity.

Sadly some of those who have continued as babies despite years of exposure to Christianity begin to think they can understand “things hard to interpret.” Peter warned of this very thing in the infancy of the Christian Church: “Now in harmony with what our brother Paul wrote to you -- according to the divine wisdom given him -- he speaks of the same things in his letters. Now in his letters there are those matters difficult to comprehend. The uneducated and shaky are misinterpreting these to their own ruin.” [2 Peter 3:13, 14 NCMM Paraphrase] Some of these babies convince themselves that they clearly understand such letters of Paul as Romans or Ephesians - or, God forbid, Hebrews.

Where to Begin?

Suppose a man or woman finds after an honest “look in the mirror” [James 1:23, 24] that despite many years as a Christian there are still babies? What can they now do? Paul says that unfortunate as it is such need to lay a new foundation based on the “first principles” and then “press on to maturity.” They may do this by prayerful meditation on “those things hard to interpret” in the Bible. Where to begin though?

First reestablished that firm foundation of “the doctrine of Christ” by reading over and over such things as the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5-7], Plain Teachings [Luke 6], Teachings to the Crowd [Luke 12], and the many parables of our Lord [Matthew 13]. Then move on to the prophecies of the Nazarene. [Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21] This may also involve a close and careful reading of the sources for Jesus’ prophecies. [Daniel 7 and 9] That would lead in time to a reading of Revelation, the very epistle of the Lord Jesus. [Revelation 1:1-3]

When reading Revelation do not assume that in one reading you will completely understand this magnificent series of apocalyptic visions. Read Revelation several times without drawing any conclusions. Prayerfully meditate on these “things hard to interpret.” After some months of serious and repeated considerations of Revelation begin to take some notes of some of the easier or clear matters in the Bible’s last book.

This study will grow and grow as the adult Christian becomes more and more enlightened. In God’s own time they will actually become those the prophecies foretold: “And those Saints possessing wisdom will shine like the sun; and those who bring many to righteousness, like everlasting stars, even forever.” [Daniel 12:3 NCMM] May that be your happy lot because you did, indeed, “press on to maturity.”

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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