“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:12-14).
Just what is strong meat? Is ranting and shouting, giving sermons about hell-fire and brimstone? Does strong meat refer to powerful correction and rebuking? Or is it something else?
Today, professing Christians have mistakenly assumed that strong meat and loud noise are synonymous. In other words, the volume of the speaker’s voice has been associated with the strong meat of God’s Word.
Someone might say: “That was a powerful sermon, as the perspiration-drenched minister left the platform, and maybe a great deal of power had been expended, but that doesn’t mean the sermon contained strong meat.”
It is a mistake to associate noise, volume and decibel level with depth. A loud sermon is not necessarily a strong sermon.
The minister may have been making a very simple and straightforward point; he may have made it loudly and perhaps effectively. But we should not assume that the sermon constituted the kind of strong meat Paul had in mind.
If any of us have seen old reels of Adolf Hitler, that shows he was a powerful speaker, he could move people and the nation of Germany. Hitler could rant by the hour and somehow hold the attention of tens of thousands of mesmerized Germans. He would rant and rage with a great deal of energy and millions were stirred to follow his twisted leadership to national destruction.
Adolf Hitler believed, as did his propaganda minister, “that if you told the people a lie enough times and with sufficient conviction, they would eventually believe it. And of course, he was right.
His speeches were heady wine to the post-depression Germans. But his speeches were not strong meat. Hitler mouthed meaningless slogans: he capitalized on national vanity to gain a vast following.
But the blind led the blind to national defeat at the hands of the allies.
Why did they follow this man? Because inside the hollow shell of Hitler was a hollow shell of a man. Hitler believed, without foundation, that he had a divine mandate to plunder, kill, destroy and commit genocide.
His ranting agitated the people to shout “Heil Hitler” and “Sieg Heil.” Millions stood enraptured by his power, his charismatic ability to stir and manipulate the minds and emotions of a nation. But Hitler was nothing more than a narrow-minded, morally defunct, irresponsible despot.
His speeches were redundant and hollow; his ideas were trite and even downright silly at times. Hitler was a mindless pawn in the hands of a higher, yet not divine power. His demoniacal delivery showed no real depth or insight; his philosophy had little form and no real substance. He was, in fact, a little man in every sense of the word.
Yet this man stirred millions to follow his insane leadership. How? He did it by power, by force of personality and by charisma. But those who dared to think and to reason knew better, they knew Hitler for what he was, a mindless madman. They saw he had no depth: Hitler was a prisoner of his own slogans. Now I wrote all this to illustrate a very important point.
Shakespeare once said: “A sermon can be full of sound and fury, and yet signify nothing; an article or a book can be loaded with rhetoric and verbosity, and yet can be meaningless collections of misarranged words.
Now when Paul spoke of strong meat, Paul was talking about depth. Paul was referring to spiritual principles which are more difficult to grasp, harder to wrap one’s mind around.
One of the first rules of Bible study is to check the context. So let’s look at the context of Paul’s originally quoted statement. Paul had been explaining to the Hebrews about the priesthood of Jesus Christ. He was describing Jesus’ compassion for sinners and His experience as a physical human being. Paul referred to Christ’s role as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Paul wanted to tell them more about Jesus Christ: “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard (or difficult) to be uttered, seeing you are dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11). Because of the attitude of the Hebrews, it limited them to comprehend deeper spiritual truths concerning Jesus Christ.
Paul was correcting them very sternly, even powerfully for their attitude. Yet that correction did not constitute strong meat. The problem was, these people never built anything on the foundation of the basic doctrines. In fact, their knowledge of even those basis principles had become soft as the result of their spiritual lethargy and stubbornness.
These people now needed to go back and relearn the fundamentals. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God: and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” (v. 12 again).
Paul’s correction did not constitute strong meat. These people were suffering from lethargy. The word lethargy means: “A state of abnormal drowsiness or a prolonged sleep.” These people had lost their love for study; they were not probing any deeper into the profound spiritual truths of God’s Word. Paul tells them that they were, “unskillful in the word of righteousness.”
The Corinthian Church found itself in the same position. “And I, brethren could not speak unto you (the Corinthian brethren) as unto spiritual (that is mature Christians) but unto carnal (brethren still enmeshed in schism, strifes, and divisions) even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are you able” (I Corth 3:1-2).
Again Paul’s correction throughout the whole book did not constitute strong meat. Paul told them that he was constrained from giving them any because they simply couldn’t bear it.
Strong meat has to do with being skillful in the Word of God. It has to do with understanding the deeper things of God. Now these deep things can be only understood when the proper foundation is laid. The deeper understanding is then built upon these fundamentals.
When a minister has to constantly relay the foundation, it is an exercise in futility. Christians must once lay that foundation of basic understanding and then build on it. That is attaining real spiritual maturity.
Sometimes a little maintenance work may be needed now and then, but if the foundation has to be constantly rebuilt from scratch, then the chances are it wasn’t built right in the first place. Strong meat belongs to those who are full of age, those who are spiritually mature who need strong meat. So a mature Christian would not need to be corrected and shouted at all the time.
So strong meat is not to be equated with correction and voice level. “But strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). A Christian that is full of age doesn’t have a great difficulty determining what is evil and what is good. This type of Christian does not have to be threatened into obeying Jesus Christ.
This type of Christian doesn’t have to be warned of the consequences of sin over and over again. They know and recognize evil and good, that person is on the road to eternal life, that person walks with God. That doesn’t mean that a mature Christian will not occasionally need strong correction both from God and the pulpit. Read Heb. 12:5-13.
Even Paul rebuked Peter in front of the Syrian congregation (Gal. 2:11-14). God gave us the Days of Unleavened Bread to show us that becoming a mature Christian is a learning process. A mature Christian is growing in grace and knowledge; he should be probing deeper to the great mysteries of God’s Master Plan. A mature Christian becomes wise beyond normal human capacity by exercising the Spirit of God.
“I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditations. I understand more than the ancient because I keep thy precepts” (Ps. 119:99-100). A mature Christian wants to learn more of the mysteries of God. A mature Christian should build an ever-deeper rapport with his God, a closer and closer relationship with his heavenly Father.
He or she can look into the spiritual mirror of the Word of God and see themselves and receive correction. “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (I Corth. 11:31). But if we will not receive correction from God’s Word, then God judges. “But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (v. 32).
Is there any one person in any one life time that could really embrace all the depth and breadth of the written Word of God? Even the greatest prophets of old desired to look into things of God that you and I now understand.
Should a mature Christians continue to drink milk? How would a grown adult look wearing a diaper and with a baby bottle in his or her mouth? But this is the manner in which some supposedly mature Christians continue to exist. They have misunderstood the true meaning of the term “strong meat.”
Some may use the statement made by Peter to justify relaying the foundation over and over again. “Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though you know them, and be established in the present truth” (II Peer 1:12).
Was Peter here justifying a constant rehashing of the basics? Was Peter referring to the same things Paul had referred to in the 5th and 6th chapters of Hebrews? Baptism, laying on of hands, repentance from dead works and other foundational doctrines? If Peter meant this; then God’s Word contradicts itself. But the Bible is not self-contradictory. Then Peter had to be talking about something else and in a different context.
Peter’s time was almost up, he was about to die: He was summing up what he wanted the Church to adhere to and remember. “Moreover I will endeavor that you may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” (II Peter 1:15). What things was Peter talking about? Read verses 3-9.
Peter is not talking about the basic doctrines of Heb. 6:1. He is talking about certain Christian characteristics which will aid the Christian in growing in knowledge, in building on that foundation of basic doctrines. It was Peter who said we are to grow in grace and knowledge.
It was Peter who had said, “The unlearned and unstable wrest (talking about Paul’s writings) as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (II Peter 3:15-16). It is only those who refused to study and grow in knowledge who would twist Peter’s writings.
A mature Christian wants to know more, they have a need for deeper and more profound spiritual food than do babes in Christ. If all a mature Christian ever hears and reads are the basics, he or she will soon stagnate. They will lose their zeal for Christianity.
The way God created us was for the need for progress and growth, we crave advancement. We want deeper things and God does not deny them to us, if we will search, dig and study. Is it vain to desire more profound preaching and teaching? Not according to the Bible.
The Bible is God’s instruction book and is filled with encouragement to grow in knowledge, to seek wisdom and understanding. The human mind is the pinnacle of God’s physical creation. He doesn’t expect us to check our minds at the door when we come to His Sabbath services. God wants us to exalt wisdom, and it in turn will exalt us. We should crave and desire new and deeper understanding of God and His divine will.
God’s spirit added to the spirit of man increases our capacity to understand and probe deeper spiritual truths. To negate the Word of God by human philosophy is intellectual vanity; they leave God out of the picture.
That is why Paul warned us: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col 2:8). The world does not understand what God is really doing here below. But God’s people can come to understand some of the deeper things, the true strong meat of God’s Word, by means of the Holy Spirit.
“As it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (I Cor. 2:9-10). It is these deep things which constitute the strong meat of God’s Word.
It is more profound truths of God which compose the solid food of the Bible; it is these things which those who are spiritually more mature should seek. A Christian should go on to greater understanding and spiritual maturity; not remain a babe forever. Strong meat indeed belongs to them that are of full age.