Friday, January 4, 2019
Hebrews 5:11 – 14 11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12In 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! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
During this first week of the new year I have been focused on what spiritual maturity should look like in my life. Another of the marks of spiritual maturity in the New Testament is that we can distinguish good from evil. This means more than just knowing right from wrong. A two-year-old child is able to understand yes and no, but in their heart, they are not yet able to discern good from evil. The child responds to benefits and consequences but does not have the ability to comprehend the nature of the action that brings the reward or punishment. Maturity happens when we understand the nature of good and evil.
The author of Hebrews says that maturity and understanding can only come through constant practice. The mature believer in Christ will evaluate the nature of every activity before participating. Never will a mature Christian simply respond based on immediate benefit or consequence. Mature believers always look deeper at the nature of every choice to determine its intrinsic good or evil.
Look carefully at how the English Standard Version of the Bible literally translates the Greek terms – But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
There are two key phrases for us to understand: one is trained and the other is constant practice. The word trained is an athletic term used to describe the intense physical preparations an athlete makes for an event. It literally means to exercise naked. So intense was the exercise that the body heated to the point of removing all clothing.
The second word translated constant practice is the word used to describe marriage when in the vows we say, “to have and to hold.” It means that we value something so dearly that we are not only glad to have it, but we will cherish it and use it to its fullest extent.
Let me illustrate the point I want to make. Many of you were tempted about two paragraphs ago to quit reading because it was either boring or too deep or didn’t tell a cute story that was easy to read. Yet every one of you has been given the power of the Holy Spirit to know and understand the deeper things of God. You have been given an incredible gift of spiritual insight, but maybe you have not chosen to train yourself through constant practice and exercise of the mind to use the gift to its fullest extent.
The same principle applies to our everyday lifestyle choices – we look only at the benefit or consequence of the choice and respond on that basis alone, rather than training ourselves through the constant practice of spiritual discernment to see the moral nature of the choice or activity.
When a child begins to reach the age of understanding, we as mature parents move them from the reward and consequence stage of training to the stage of asking them to know why they made the choice they did. We begin to train the child to make moral decisions, not self-centered decisions. We want our children to know the moral difference between good and evil rather than simply choosing based on personal gratification.
That is what mature people do, and that is what mature Christians do. Is it easy? If it were then we wouldn’t be told to exercise naked. It’s hard work to move from the routine of going along with the flow to swimming upstream against the current of popular opinion.
So strip down to the bare essence of who you are and train yourself to identify anything that will harm you. Set your mind firmly on the goal of righteousness in Christ and start exercising your right and privilege to know the moral nature of all things. Constant practice will perfect the skill of distinguishing good from evil.