Failure To Thrive

Read Hebrews 5

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 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! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
(Hebrews 5:11-14)

Thoughts… When I was just a kid, there was a family in our small country church who would bring their child and put him in a crib at the back of the sanctuary. There was just one problem: he was nine or ten years old. The amazing thing was, he looked in every way like a toddler, even though he was a school-age boy. He suffered from a condition that doctors call “failure to thrive.” He was physically unable to grow up.

Babies are cute—when they’re babies. But they’re not meant to stay babies. God has designed them to grow and mature and become adults. When they don’t, something is terribly wrong.

Likewise, God has designed those he has called into his family to grow from infancy into spiritual adulthood. When they don’t, it signifies that something has gone terribly wrong. Such was the case with these people the writer of Hebrews addresses—and it was quite disconcerting to him.

In pointing out the various ways they have remained in spiritual infancy, he also clearly benchmarks what spiritual maturity ought to look like for us. Here are five levels of spiritual maturity that you can use to diagnose your own growth as a believer:

Level 1: You must be able to grasp more than just the basics of the faith.

Verse 11 says, “We have so much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.” God’s will is not just that we be saved, but that we grasp the height, breadth and depth of the faith—the deeper truths of the Christian walk.

Jesus never told his disciples to go save the lost. He said we’re to go and make disciples of all people…teaching them to obey all that he commanded. Unfortunately, some of us never get beyond just the salvation stuff. We never move beyond baptism, or tithing, or simple obedience…the “milk.”

Are you at a place in your spiritual life where you are grasping the deeper doctrines of the Word? Grade yourself on this one. Are you at a kindergarten level spiritually, or are you at graduate level learning?

Level 2: You must be able to articulate what and why you believe.

Verse 12 says, “You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures.”

Teaching here doesn’t necessarily involve standing before a classroom presenting a formal lesson. Teaching is the ability to explain something so that others can understand it. Can you explain to others the ABC’s of the faith? Are you able to demonstrate from your life and your lips to a new believer what the Christian walk is all about? If someone else’s walk with Christ depended on imitating you, what would their spiritual maturity look like?

Grade yourself on this one. If you’re not comfortable with someone depending on you to lead them into spiritual maturity, then you’re not there yourself.

Level 3: You must be able to feed yourself.

The last part of verse 12 says, “You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food.” As cute and sweet as babies are, they’re a lot of work. You have to tend to their every need, clean them, clothe them, bathe them, prepare their meals and feed them. They can’t do it on their own. Eventually, though, good parents will train their children to eat solid food and then teach them to feed themselves, otherwise, they’ll always be sucking on a bottle and never able to eat solid food.

Whenever I hear someone complain about not getting spiritually fed in church, 99% of the time it’s because they haven’t grown up enough to feed themselves. So where are you on this one? Is your spiritual nourishment coming primarily from your own efforts…or are you mostly depending on someone else for it?

Level 4: You must be able to make Godly decisions.

Verses 13-14 say, “And a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right.” We judge levels of maturity by the wise or foolish decisions people make. Mature believers have developed the ability to make god honoring decisions. That’s an end product of maturity.

How are you on this one: Is your life characterized by wise decision-making, or do you find yourself falling into sin over and over again? Are there godly patterns of living or is there a track record of sinful habits.

Level 5: You must be willing to fully submit to God.

You will have to look at Hebrews 6:1-3 for this one. It says, “So let us stop going over the basics of Christianity again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start all over again with the importance of turning away from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.”

What the writer is saying is that the problem wasn’t a lack of knowledge, but a lack of obedience. At some point, people who are growing in their faith begin to apply their knowledge of scripture. They begin to live out their faith in every area of their lives. They don’t compartmentalize their lives so Jesus is Lord over some areas but not others. They become fully devoted to God.

Grade yourself in this area. Are you fully submitted to God in your private life? Your thought life? Your financial life? In your relationships? What about your speech? God wants you to grow. He designed you to grow. It is honoring to him when you grow.

So, are you growing? If you cannot point to growth, the writer of Hebrews would say to you, “grow up!”

Make a commitment to growth and start doing the things that growth requires. You will make God very happy—and you’ll enjoy it too!

Prayer… Lord, I desire to grow into a fully mature saint. I commit myself to spiritual growth—I will give it my best efforts. Keep me from complacency and self-satisfaction in this arena. I pray, afflict me with holy discontent in my spiritual formation so that I might constantly strive for Christ-likeness in every dimension of my being.

One More Thing…
“I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.” — A.W. Tozer

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