Summary: Develop Your Spiritual Muscles 1) Eat right. 2) Work out.
A while ago a friend shared with me some advice from his personal trainer. He said that if you want to build muscle, you need to work the muscles to exhaustion and eat right. No news flash there, I thought. But then my friend went on to explain exactly what that advice meant. Working your muscles to exhaustion doesn’t mean lifting until you feel a bit winded. It means lifting until you can’t lift anymore and then picking up a lighter weight and lifting that until you can’t lift it anymore. Well I can do that, I thought. But I don’t think I can eat the way my friend’s personal trainer suggested. For breakfast he urged my friend to down six eggs and three cups of oatmeal. That sounds like a breakfast for a family, not one individual! But I suppose if you’re serious about putting on muscle, you’ll follow the advice.
Today the writer to the Hebrews urges us to get serious about developing our spiritual muscles. We do this is the same way we would develop muscles in our arms and legs: eat right and work out.
Although we don’t know who the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews is we do know to whom he was writing. He was writing to Jewish Christians who were in danger of leaving the Christian faith and going back to Judaism. There were a couple of reasons for this. First of all Christians were persecuted for their faith while followers of Judaism were not. And second of all Christianity was a rather “plain” religion compared to Judaism’s fancy worship rituals like animal sacrifices. To keep these Christians from falling away the Holy Spirit moved someone, perhaps the Apostle Paul or his co-worker Barnabas, to write a letter explaining how Jesus is better than all of the Old Testament rituals. In the middle of this explanation, however, the author paused and said: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness…Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (Hebrews 5:11-13, 6:1-2).
“You are slow to learn.” Is that something you would hear a teacher say to a pupil today? You might if a student has academic gifts, but is not using them to the fullest potential. That’s what was going on with the Christians in our text. They weren’t slow in the sense that they didn’t have the aptitude to understand what the author was saying. They were slow to learn because they had, as the Greek literally says, “become lazy in their hearing of God’s Word.” While these Jews had started out as eager students of the Word, they had become distracted so that the author had to keep reviewing with them the basics of Christianity. He was feeding these Christians baby formula when they should have been on solid food.
Are we like these Christians? Are we sipping baby formula when we should be downing the meat of God’s Word? Do I ever say things in my sermons that you don’t understand? If so, what do you do about it? Do you seek an answer or can’t you be bothered and are instead content to say that I was speaking over your head again? What about your family devotions? Do you challenge your children or are you reading the basic Bible stories without really delving into them? If so, you could be setting up your children to despise God’s Word as something just for little kids – the way pre-teens and teens think of Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. One of the most memorable devotion series my family did when I was growing up was studying the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. We even had workbooks so that this was more class than a casual after-supper devotion. The fact that I still remember it means that it must have been beneficial. A good place to find solid spiritual food is in our church library. Pick out any one of those books and start reading. You’ll find it’s what you need to re-energize a stagnant faith.
But why should we bother? “Jesus loves me this I know” isn’t that enough to get me into heaven? It is and that’s the beauty of Christianity. Even a little child, even a baby can be brought to faith in Jesus. But “Jesus loves me this I know…and that’s all I wanna’ know” is not a God-pleasing attitude. Our text explains: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13, 14).