Sunday, December 6, 2009

got milk? get steak!

00010865 got milk? Masi Oka and Hayden Panettiere, stars of the TV show Heroes are just the latest of many celebrities to appear in these popular milk ads which over the years have featured everyone from Michael Jordan to Superman to Dr. Phil. Masi Oka's ad says drinking milk can make you leaner and help to build muscle. Is milk the answer to fitness? Milk may do the body good, but let's be serious, milk by itself is not enough if you want to be healthy and strong, certainly not enough if you want to be a hero!

If you're growing in your Christian life, there comes a point at which drinking milk alone is not enough! It is to such a group of Christians that Hebrews 5:11–6:20 was written. The author is getting into some pretty serious teaching, about how Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered (5:8), but before he gets into how we too might learn obedience through what we suffer, he suddenly stops the sermon, saying:

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!drinking_milk-300x199 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature... (Hebrews 5:11–14a)

I take him seriously. The author is speaking to people not unlike us, people who have been Christians long enough now that they ought to be teachers, but instead they seem to need someone to go over the ABC's (elementary truths of God's word) all over again. What are the first things we learned as Christians? Verse 12: "You need milk, not solid food!"  Do you really suppose this is a serious prescription for them? for us? Do we really need to relearn the ABC's? Is more milk the answer?

No, of course not! It's ironic: "You poor babies need milk, you're not ready for solid food." Hint: Just a moment before, the author said to them, "by this time you ought to be teachers." Too much milk is their problem, not the solution! What they need now is solid food and motivation to grow. It's too easy for us to become sluggish, slow down in our Christian lives, and settle for just drinking milk. Popular preaching promotes a perpetual pablum problem. But a milky diet is not enough! If we can see the author's irony, understand that it is actually a rebuke, then we can own the truth that we too have settled for milk instead of craving solid food.

Bring on the steak! Let's get beyond the ABC's of being a Christian. I want to grow. Hebrews urges us to stop drifting along (2:1), to really focus on Jesus who is our Hero and Champion (2:10, 3:1), and to recognize that if Jesus is our Forerunner (6:20), we better get moving! And it warns us what will happen if instead we choose to walk away (6:4–6).

Last week in the blog, I wrote about Hebrews 6:4–6 which warns us of the danger of walking away from Christ. And, yes, I said that John MacArthur does not believe that John Piper could ever lose his salvation, but I do. MacArthur and Piper do not believe Heb. 6:4–6 applies to Christians, but to those who are close to becoming believers. MacArthur fails to see the irony of Hebrews 5:12! I guess his Bible does not end the verse with an exclamation point! He writes, “The term [infant] in Hebrews 5:13 describes an unbeliever... who was hanging on to the ABC's... The mature person talked about in verse 14 is one who grows up by putting his faith in Jesus Christ...” By missing the irony, he misses the point! It makes no sense to call these immature Christians non-believers. These are Christians being addressed, Christians who have become sluggish, who have slowed down in their faith and who have settled for just drinking milk. Verse 12 is actually saying “Enough milk already!” You know the ABC's! That's why the author, including himself in the group says, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity” (6:1).

milk_FullWhat is the milk we settle for? Devotional guides that give us a verse or two of Scripture per day but have us spend more time reading the guide itself? Sermons we can listen to rather than Bible studies we can do? [Why not post a comment on what you think is the milk we settle for?] I know the two basic ways to grow as a Christian: read Scripture and pray. And yet, today, I am not where I would like to be. Why? Too much milk has made me sluggish. I settle for getting by and drinking milk rather than craving solid food. My own experience confirms milk is not the answer. I'm ready to move on to maturity; it's time for some steak!


  1. Good thoughts. I never picked up the association between the advanced teaching about Jesus being perfected in suffering and the rebuke to those who would rather settle for milk.

    Often, I think, the milk people settle for is anything that gives me happy feelings. It could be toe-tapping music, formulatic preaching, or settling back now that salvation's in the bag.

  2. Actually, the writer gives us some examples in the very next verses (6:1-2):
    1- repentance from acts that lead to death
    2- faith in God
    3- instructions about baptism
    4- the laying on of hands
    5- the resurrection of the dead and
    6- eternal judgment

    I don't think this list is meant to be exhaustive, but certainly exemplary.

  3. Milk to me is I can get to heaven by going to church on Sunday, sitting in the back row, mouthing the words to a hymn, reading scripture off the big screen. I can repeat this weekly and don't even have to be baptized. I guess the question to myself is why would I want to work harder on my Christian walk if the result is the same in the end? To get steak means effort, commitment to share my faith, prayer, and regular fellowship with other believers.
    I want more of the solid food kind of walk but so often fall back into my milk stage. I need a solid nudging once in a while to get me back on track. Gary

  4. Orlando, great thoughts. I especially liked how you described "settling back now that salvation's in the bag." Milk comes in bags, doesn't it?

    When you settle for what you already have, you limit God. You have him all figured out; you repented of your sins and now you have faith in God. Done deal. Bagged milk. Nothing more to learn.

    But what if faith is a new beginning? What if we've only just learned the ABC's? When we get to Hebrews 6:1 in the text, I feel like the author is trying to tell us that there is so much more to discover: "Let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity." In his book On Beyond Zebra, Dr. Seuss challenges young Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell who has learned the whole alphabet from A is for Ape through to Z is for Zebra. Conrad says, "So now I know everything anyone knows / From beginning to end. From the start to the close. / Because Z is as far as the alphabet goes." And then Seuss continues the story, "Then he almost fell flat on his face on the floor / When I picked up the chalk and drew one letter more! / A letter he never had dreamed of before! / And I said, 'You can stop, if you want, with the Z / Because most people stop with the Z / But not me!" And at this point the older friend takes Conrad on a fantastic tour of all the wonderful things to be found on beyond Zebra. I am convinced that as Christians we are to grow and mature and discover things we never knew before. The temptation as young believers is to accept Christ and think we've got this "Christian-thing" all figured out. But in reality we've only just learned the ABC's! The truth is that there is still so much more to discover. We've drank enough milk! On to maturity! Bring on the steak! Let's go on beyond Zebra! Dr. Seuss might have the voice of the author of Hebrews when he says, "My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!"

  5. patrick, there's another way of taking that list from Hebrews 6:1-2.

    It's possible that "instruction" is in apposition to "the foundation", so the list is two things, elaborated into four.

    the foundation of repentance... and of faith...
    ie. instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

    Repentance and faith, the ABC's of becoming a Christian. We turn from sin and we turn to God in Christ. Everything is built on this foundation, but the point of Hebrews is to argue that we should be building on it.

  6. Bang on, Gary! Excellent comments! In my opinion, the author of Hebrews is writing to guys just like you and me.

    "I want more of the solid food kind of walk but so often fall back into my milk stage. I need a solid nudging once in a while to get me back on track."

    The letter to the Hebrews with its exhortations and strong warnings is that solid nudging we all need to stay on track, following our Hero and Champion, the Forerunner, our Lord Jesus Christ.

  7. I was at the dentis with my son recently to have a tooth puuled and I could not help but overhear the dentist in the next bay chastising a young mother for letting her daughter go to bed with a bottle. He very emphatically let her know that the minute her baby teeth came in she should have been off of the bottle. Her teeth would be affected and could ultimately affect her ability to properly chew solid food.
    Interesting that God built us by design to not live on milk. As we physically develop our habits and what we injest needs to change; or there are negative affects.
    Some times guys the meanin is simply the meaing...not some deep navel gazing reading between the lines.



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