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Arrested Development

Hebrews 5:11-6:3


“of whom we have much to say, and 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 first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. [13] For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. [14] But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. [6:1] Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2] of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. [3] And this we will do if God permits.” (NKJV)

 Last week we crossed the continental divide of the book of Hebrews where the writer shifted from the theme of the supremacy of Christ to our response to His supremacy.  We’re walking backwards a bit this week to study a passage we’ve saved for this point in our series from the 5th and 6th chapters.  This passage foreshadows the direction the writer is taking us in his book by giving us the first response to Christ’s supremacy—spiritual grow.  Actually, he uses this passage to underscore the importance of what he is writing and to encourage his readers to be interested in the deeper things of God and not just rehash the same old elementary teachings.  But I felt it would be helpful to study this very important passage after we completed the section on the supremacy of Christ.

 The writer is quite hard on his readers here and by association, hard on us too.  He calls them “dull of hearing.”  For as long as I can remember I have been a teacher, and for that matter, I’ve been a student.  For me, the two are tied together.  As you know, I’ve taught in the capacity of being a pastor since I was a teenager, and through the years have worn other teaching hats too.  I have served as a guest lecturer and on the adjunct faculty of a couple of seminaries, and I spend a fair amount of time teaching pastors and other church leaders in conferences across the country.  What you might not know is that when I was much younger, I taught Speech Communication at a Christian High School and was a substitute teacher in the California public school system.

 While I’m sure that I’ve always been a teacher, I’m not so sure that I’ve always been teaching.  Let me explain what I mean. There are times when I’m speaking that I sense someone in the audience hanging on every word and devouring everything I’m teaching, but then I look to the person sitting next to them and see a vacant stare. Nobody’s home.  Their body may be in the room, but they aren’t.  It would be safe to say that happens almost every time I teach. 

 I accept the responsibility for some of that.  I know that there is a lot a speaker can do to spark interest in a subject.  So I work hard to see that my messages have an compelling structure and relevant, fresh illustrations.  I try to maximize learning by involving more than just the auditory sense, knowing that people process information 75 percent visually and that memory retention increases from 14 percent to 38 percent when listeners see, as well as hear.

 I also know that worship is more that the sum of its parts.  I know that reaching a listener involves more than compelling visuals, inspirational music or interesting structure—it involves the movement of God.  So I pray for those who will sit under my teaching.
 Because of my limitations, there are times I don’t reach these lofty goals.  I know there are times I contribute to a person not learning when I am teaching.

 While I accept partial responsibility for when people are tuned out, I know that they bear some responsibility too.  The writer of Hebrews is perhaps a bit more direct than I’ve been, he says there are people who are “dull of hearing.”  Ever try to cut a board with a dull saw or slice meat with a dull knife?  Ever try to learn with dull ears? 

 He says his readers are dull of hearing, further it says their dullness has resulted in arrested development—they should be ready to enjoy solid food, but instead need milk.

According to Dorland’s Medical Dictionary, “arrested development” is the “cessation of the development process at some stage prior to its normal completion.” 

 That is the state of the people who are “dull of hearing.”  Their development is arrested.  The direct context of his words is the things he is teaching about the supremacy of Christ.  Specifically, he is saying that some people are not ready for what he is teaching because of their addiction to milk and repulsion of solid food.  But in a broader sense, the writer of Hebrews calls to us from the first century and encourages us to grow.  This is our first response to the effectual work of Christ—we grow.

 Living organisms are constantly changing.  In their life cycle, they are either growing or dying.  Which are you doing? 

 This passage of scripture addresses those in the body that are in a spiritual rut—who want to rehearse the same basic things they already know instead of growing.  Really, it is worse than that.  Their spiritual condition has atrophied to the point that they now need to study the basic things that they should have already learned.

 I know that I’ve walked out of more than one meeting of church leaders where I felt the participants would benefit from a lesson we often teach in our two-year old Sunday School Class from Ephesians 4:32 “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” (NKJV)

 In many ways, the writer of Hebrews is calling us back to basics.  He is not saying we don’t need to be reminded of the basics, but that we should be living them so we can move beyond them.  Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers used to begin his training camps each year by holding up a football and saying, “This is a football.”  Of course, everyone in the room knew what he was holding, they were professional football players after all, but I’m sure they got the point he was making—the same point that the writer of Hebrews is making here—we must master the basics before we can move on to more advanced things.  But we should move on to more advanced things. 

 On December 31, 1967, Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers defeated Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys for the Championship by a score of 21-17 in a game we refer to as the “Ice Bowl” because of the minus 13 degree weather.   This was Lombardi’s final year with the Packers and undoubtedly, the game was the crown jewel of his career.  With 13 seconds to go in the game, Bart Starr ran a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line to win the game.   I don’t know what instruction Lombardi gave to Starr before he scored the winning touchdown, but I’m sure that it didn’t begin with, “This is a football.”  There is a time for basics and there is a time for meat.  (

 The writer of Hebrews is urging his readers to grow—to master the basics and to go beyond them to enjoy solid food.  Growing is a reasonable response to the supremacy of Christ.  So sharpen your ears, prepare for growth.

 In the same way our teachers have responsibility to prepare to teach, hearers have the responsibility to prepare to learn.  Let me suggest some things you can do:

1. Pray.  Pray for the speaker and pray for the participants.
2. Check your critical spirit.  You cannot learn from someone who you are constantly evaluating and criticizing.  And neither with your children.
3. Be prepared to teach others what you’ve learned.
4. Be prepared to make immediate application of what you’ve learned.  After all, we really haven’t learned it, if we don’t do it.

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