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Spiritual Nutrition And Exercise

Hebrews 5:11-14
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 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. (NIVUK)

The writer of this letter had started to explain that Jesus was the Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-5:10), whose ministry was detailed in God's instructions for the Old Testament priesthood. But, before returning to the topic in chapters 7-10 he pauses, wondering if his readers understood what he said. They may have had such a poor spiritual appetite that they were not interested in the 'meaty' teaching (1 Corinthians 3:2). He did not want them to become lazy in understanding (Hebrews 6:12), content only to sip the 'milk' of the gospel. They needed a well-grounded understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done, to be able to stand their ground in a sensual culture amid Christless religion. And were they spiritually exercising, by putting the teaching into practice?

Hebrew-background believers, with a good knowledge of the Old Testament, were at risk of two errors: to ignore it, assuming it has nothing to say to Christians; or to downgrade the grace of Christ and return to legalistic religious rites. The Old Testament priesthood illustrated the plan, which was finally fulfilled by Jesus. So the writer wanted his readers to develop an appetite for appreciating the 'types' in the old covenant, to understand how Jesus completed God's plan.

They had been Christians long enough. They should be able to teach others, but no. They were still immature believers, vulnerable to spiritual attack and incapable of explaining their faith to others. They were like easily distracted children who did not think it necessary to put apostolic teaching into practice. Such knowledge as they had was largely unused in their lives. They did not know how to choose between good and evil (Philippians 1:9-11). They could not help others and were at risk themselves of falling away from Jesus – weak through lack of spiritual exercise.

Many in today's church are also spiritually anorexic – thinking they are fine but with no appetite for the deep things of God. In their weakness, they fail to obey God's Word, and are unable to clearly distinguish truth from error. They are at risk of being infected by false teaching or dragged away from Christ by legalistic cults or sensual society. If the links between the Old and New Testaments are not taught, and apostolic doctrine is ignored, the church will be dangerously weak. It is time to reassess our own spiritual health: both 'nutrition' and 'exercise'. If we are still spiritual infants failing to thrive, we need the meat of God's Word as well as milk, with regular encouragement to put the teaching into practice. That will sharpen our consciences, helping us detect the difference between truth and error. Then we can teach others. Ask the Lord to help you think about your spiritual health, and ask others to check that your self-assessment is true.

Lord God. Thank You for explaining the work of Jesus Christ through the examples of the Old Testament. Forgive me for having been content with a superficial relationship with Jesus, and for not desiring to learn from the rich examples of the Old Testament. Help me to recognise the state of my own spiritual health, and that of my church, regarding 'nutrition' and 'exercise'; and increase my appetite to learn from Your Word. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams