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Pastor's Blog - The "milk" and "meat" in Hebrews 5 -- unlocking the rest of the book of Hebrews

The "milk" and "meat" in Hebrews 5 -- unlocking the rest of the book of Hebrews

Posted by Dave Hoffman on

I was reading ahead a bit in Hebrews, and came across the passage in 5:11-14 where the writer talks about those who need still need "milk" and not ready for "solid food", obviously a metaphor for those who are undeveloped in their faith vs those who have matured.  But what exactly is he referring to?  The words and phrases he uses here were always fuzzy to me.   However this morning, after reading it, and the passages around it (because context is often the key to understanding), I had a realization that helped me greatly and is making me excited about reading the rest of Hebrews.  So I thought I would share this with you in case it would help you, too, to get more out of the book.

The passage in question actually spans from 5:11-6:3:

"11 We have much to say about this [note: he is referring to the Priesthood of Jesus from the previous verses], but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.  12 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!  13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God,  2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.  3 And God permitting, we will do so."

So here "milk" is equated in 6:1-2 as "the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God,  instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment."  These sound like pretty significant topics...how could they be considered "milk"?  I then realized it is because as he says at the beginning, these are the foundation.  A foundation needs to be strong and solid, but it is only the beginning of a building.   Likewise these things are really important, they are everything that the rest of our faith and understanding reside upon.  However, they are not the main thing, just as a building is not built for the foundation.  The foundation holds the rest up. 

Hebrews was written to Jewish people who were trying to understand how Jesus fit into their faith and tradition.  Their legalistic teachers made it natural for them think that "meat" would refer to more knowledge, more ability, more theology, more teaching.  And it is easy for us to fall into the same trap.  No... those things are only additional milk.  The real meat is being able to build upon those things you know and actually live it. 

The writer of Hebrews ends the above section with 6:3, "And God permitting, we will do so."  Do what?  To once again lay the foundation for those that missed it amongst the Hebrews who were so used to living by rules and teachings.  Most of the rest of the book is a re-laying of the foundation of why you can live in the Spirit, and how you can move on to meat from milk. 

But what is the "meat" that these foundational truths should be undergirding?  He gives us a clue in 5:14 - " But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."  That still seemed a bit vague to me.  Then I saw, down a little further, 6:11-12   "And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end,  so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." 

I suddenly realized that this is the key to the rest of the book of Hebrews!  The "meat" is in our every day living out of our lives under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  We need to allow the Holy Spirit to show us good from evil, to let us imitate the faithful, and to remain diligent in our living lives for the hope that is in Him, not in anything else.

Notice the progression of the rest of the book (and the relationship to the outline from 6:11-12 above):

To realize the full assurance of hope until the end...

  • Ch 6 (2nd half) - God makes great promises.
  • Ch 7 - Jesus is a great priest who's sacrifice fulfilled the law.
  • Ch 8 - When Jesus did this, He ushered in the new covenant. (That the Law is in your hearts and minds, so you are "able to distinguish good from evil" as he says in 5:14)

so that you will not be sluggish... 

  • Ch 9 - Further explanation for the Hebrews of how Jesus fulfilled the covenant
  • Ch 10 - The great responsibility that comes with knowing about Jesus

but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

  • Ch 11 - The "Hall of Faith"  listing those who exhibited faith and patience.
  • Ch 12 - Final instruction and encouragement to live in the Spirit.

Seeing this passage in this light has given me great encouragement.  To see that the "meat" has less to do with what I know or learn or can recite, but more to do with how I live for God and how I respond to the Spirit.  But also to be reminded that the only reason that this is so is because of what Jesus did.  I hope it helps to make your reading of the rest of the book of Hebrews a richer experience!

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