No one wishes to be considered immature. Even as children, the taunting cry, “Don’t be a baby,” or the accusatory, “Baby!”, stung. Many of us as we neared adulthood heard the parental admonition: “Act your age!” And as we grow to adulthood in terms of physical age, the suggestion that we might be behaving immaturely continues to sting—appropriately so.
The writer of the book of Hebrews expressed concerns that the readers he was addressing were not ready—too spiritually immature—to receive the truths that he wanted to deliver to them. In so doing, he provides us with important benchmarks for measuring our own spiritual maturity. He observes that “solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). Let’s note the key terms in this biblical description (if not definition) of maturity.
But first note what spiritual maturity is not. It is not a matter of chronological age. A sixty-year-old believer is not necessarily more mature than a thirty-year-old believer. Nor is it a matter of having a good intellectual grasp of theology or the ability to win an argument about doctrine. Neither is it a matter of adhering to some code of morals. None of those things is wrong—necessarily—but neither are they evidences of maturity. Again, the mature are those “who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”
“Practice.” The word denotes “habit, power acquired by custom, practice or use.” The mature display a consistent pattern of behavior, a reliable response developed over time by constant repetition until it has become habitual. And what do they practice? Submission to the Word of God. Whether issues of doctrine, right behavior, or practical and personal choices, they prayerfully seek the counsel of God’s Word and proceed in accord with the truth they find there. Repeatedly. Time after time.
“Senses.” The Greek term translated senses does not reference our five senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell—specifically so much as it has reference to the mind, “the faculty of the mind for perceiving, understanding, judging.” A mature person is not governed by feelings, emotions, or impulse. Neither the majority opinion nor traditions control his behavior. He understands that the Word of God provides objective truth that is to be understood and measured by the rational mind, then to be believed and obeyed.
“Trained.” The literal Greek is startling; the root word gymnazo (from which comes our English word gymnasium) means “to practice naked.” It had reference to the Olympics or similar games in which every impediment to unhindered exercise was removed. In simple terms, then, it means “to exercise.” The mature person is not one who has earned the right to rest or take a vacation. He is the one who has removed everything that would hamper his living a righteous life. His energy and efforts are continually focused on eliminating, not only sinful behavior, but also any otherwise good thing that would encumber his obedience to God. That sort of life requires diligent effort.
“Discern.” The word conveys a meaning which the flesh in general, and modern society in particular, dislike: “to judge.” Also “to distinguish.” The mature person operates spiritual radar. Every approaching “craft” is examined to determine whether it is friend or foe, in other words, “good or evil” according to the Word of God. Nothing is ignored. Nothing is assumed. Nothing is automatically green-lighted. The mature measure every aspect of their lives and judge it to be good or evil.
So we end this note with the question that began it. Are you mature? Regardless of the answer, the writer of Hebrews admonishes us in the next verse following our text to “press on to maturity” (6:1b). And then he vows: “And this we will do, if God permits” (6:3). God will permit. Will you press on?
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