Maturity and Discernment

In this next chapter of Hebrews we begin a short introduction to the nature of Christ’s priesthood and intercession for us. The writer of Hebrews is then diverted into a discussion of immaturity and apostasy before he returns to this theme in the middle chapters of his book.

“For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins. And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: “You are My Son,

Today I have begotten You.” As He also says in another place: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”; who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil

(Heb. 5:1-14).

We have already been shown that Christ is a sympathetic High Priest. The necessity that He be this way may be gathered from the fact that He is a priest at all. Sympathetic representation is part of the job description. The first four verses of this chapter show that compassionate intercession comes with the priesthood. But the earthly Aaronic priests offered sacrifices, not only for the sins of the people, but also for their own sins. In this respect, Christ was unlike the priests of the line of Aaron. Christ as a Priest was a true priest, but He was much greater than the priests of the Mosaic law. But this did not make Him less sympathetic; it did not make Him less of a priest. Quite the reverse.

And just as the priests of Aaron did not assign the honor of priesthood to themselves, so Christ did not appoint Himself to become our Priest. In the second psalm, God’s statement that He had begotten Christ is assigned in this place to the priestly work of Christ. Further, in Psalm 110, God declares emphatically that Christ is a priest in the order of Melchizedek. The appointment came from God Himself. This quotation of the second psalm (Today I have begotten You) should also be set alongside the quotation of it in Acts 13, where that verse is applied to the resurrection. Putting the two together, we can see that in the resurrection, Christ was entering into His priestly office, passing from the one who was the sacrificial lamb to the priest who offers up that lamb in the holiest place in the heavenlies. This passage from Psalm 2 is talking about Christ being begotten from the dead, and as a ever-living priest, He enters into the priesthood of Melchizadek, who is without beginning of days or end of life.

The Aaronic priests offered sacrifices, first for themselves, and secondly for the people. Their sacrifices for themselves were for sin. Christ prayed for Himself first as well, but He did not have to do this because of sin. Nevertheless, He still fits the pattern of a priest.

Christ entered into His perfection — not from a previous condition of imperfection, but from a condition of probationary or untested perfection. Thus it says that He “learned obedience” through His sufferings and it says that He, “having been perfected,” He became the author of our salvation.

The goal and direction of Christian living is maturity. The longing for the “way it was when we were first converted” can be a subtle snare. If by it we are referring to our first love, then well and good. But too often it means that we long for the days before everything was so complicated. This kind of doctrinal infantilism pervades the church today, and is to be soundly rejected. The author of Hebrews rebukes his readers for being dull when they should be sharp (v. 11); he rebukes them for not being able to teach (v. 12); he rebukes them for needing to be taught the basics (v. 12); and he rebukes them for needing milk, not solid food (v. 12). Those in this condition are babies, and, he says, unskilled in the word of righteousness. In contrast to this, those who partake of solid food are of “full age” — that is, they are mature. Through long practice and reason of use, they are able to see and understand subtle distinctions between good and evil.

We should take care note of what he means by maturity. Mature believers would be able to discuss the priesthood of the Lord. Those who are unskilled have to be taught the “first principles of the oracles of God” over again. These first principles are identified a few verses later, at the first part of chapter six. They are the doctrines of repentance and faith, baptisms, laying on of hands, the resurrection and subsequent judgment. These are defined for us here as milk. The priestly intercessory work of Christ as our High Priest is identified as meat. Notice that certain ethical distinctions require maturity, experience, and long practice in order for us to be able to make them. Ethical distinctions (of a certain kind) are not equally obvious to everyone. All men know that it is wrong to kill your grandmother for her money. But what does it take to see the sins of worldliness? Or flattery? Or other subtle sins? Legalism arises when Christian communities try to have the fruit of discernment (the ability to make fine distinctions) without having the maturity that is necessary.

How long have you been a Christian? Do these admonitions apply to you? What is your condition of maturity? Do you need someone to go over the basics with you again? Or are you diligently applying the basics, and hungry for more? Further, if you are hungry for more, is the moral component at the center of it? Do you study the priesthood of Christ, for example, in order to discern both good and evil. Or are you functioning as some kind of a doctrine computer? In Scripture, doctrine is practical and high doctrine is highly practical. Those who disparage doctrine for the sake of practice are impractical. Those who disparage practice for the sake of doctrine are unskilled in the word of righteousness. We are never to put apart what God has joined together.

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