by. Dr. Jay Hallowell
“…everyone who lives on milk is unskilled… but solid food is for the mature…” (Heb. 5:13-14 ESV)
Sometimes I am asked: “What should I do every day to hear God’s voice from His Word?”
I like the question. It indicates that the person asking wants to survive and thrive spiritually in his or her relationship with the Triune God. The inquirer recognizes that just as eating nutritious food is necessary for one’s physical health, so eating nutritious spiritual food is necessary for one’s spiritual health.
The inquirer often assumes that he or she will need a quiet time or devotional guide to help her or him understand and apply the Bible to his or her life. Some who ask me the above question are overwhelmed be-cause there are so many guides available for sale.1 Such an inquirer is really asking: “How can I choose a really good quiet time guide out of so many that are available?”
The Holy Spirit did not inspire the Writer of Hebrews (WOH) to directly answer the question of which quiet time guides his readers should use. In Hebrews 5:11 – 6:12, though, what the WOH was inspired to write about solid spiritual food does help to an-swer the question of how to select good quiet time guides.
Spiritual milk and the sad consequences of drinking it are the main themes in He-brews 5:11 – 6:12. Let us focus, however, on the two questions about solid spiritual food that this passage, seen in the light of the whole letter to the Hebrews, does an-swer. Those two questions are:
- Why should we eat solid spiritual food?
- What is solid spiritual food?
Let us now turn to the first question: “Why should we eat solid spiritual food?” WOH’s answer to this question in Hebrews 5:11 – 6:12 may be summarized: We should eat solid spiritual food in order to survive and thrive as Christians.
Survive. Sadly, not all who become in-volved in a church continue in that church or, indeed, in any church. I think of my friend, Joe.2 Joe became a leader in his church at a young age. His church then sent him to study at a seminary, where I met him. After graduation from the seminary, he and his wife moved to an Asian country to serve as missionaries. After a few years, though, Joe left the mission field and went back to his previous profession as an engineer. He now calls himself an agnostic. He is no longer involved in any church. Joe, unfortu-nately, did not survive.
The WOH is concerned that his readers, like Joe, might not survive. In 6:4-12, the WOH uses strong words and images to warn about the dangers of giving up.3 He exhorts his readers to be like those who have “hope until the end” and thus “inherit the prom-ises” (6:11-12). The WOH challenges his readers to eat solid spiritual food in order to survive as Christians.
Thrive. In my early days in ministry as a student worker, I was assigned to reach stu-dents at eight different colleges and univer-sities scattered hours apart. When I visited one of these colleges, I would stay in the home of an agriculture professor. Sir Roger got up every day at 5:00 a.m. in order to study the Bible and pray. Later, at breakfast, he always shared what God had taught him that morning. A steady stream of students sought his counsel and prayer outside of his classes at his tax-funded college. Many of these then became believers. Roger was also a very active lay leader in his church. He has since retired from teaching. He remains strong in his faith even while his health is failing due to his age. He still tells his visitors what God had said to him that morning from the Bible. Roger was and is a good Christian teacher, a mature layman, and very fruitful. This is because of God’s grace. It is also because Roger eats solid spiritual food.
Roger is a wonderful example of what the WOH is exhorting his readers to become. They are to be good Christian teachers (5:12), mature (5:14 and 6:1), and fruitful (6:7-8). The WOH challenges his readers to eat solid spiritual food in order to thrive, like Roger, as believers.
All church members, if they have been made right with God based only on what Jesus Christ has done on the cross, want to eat solid spiritual food in order to survive and thrive spiritually. This introduces our sec-ond question: “What is solid spiritual food?”
At first glance, as mentioned above, the WOH ap-pears to not answer this question in Hebrews 5:11–6:12. The passage tells more about milk, and the tragic results of drinking it, than about solid food. There are some hints, though, about solid food. In contrast to milk, solid food has something to do with righteous-ness or justice (5:13). Solid food is moral, ethical, and wise — about distinguishing good from evil (5:14). These helpful hints do not, though, help an inquirer to know what he or she should do in his or her quiet time tomorrow morning. What, then, is solid spiritual food?
For its original readers, the letter of Hebrews itself was the solid spiritual food designed to help its read-ers survive and thrive as Christians.4 They were to read it and respond appropriately to God, who inspired it.
What features of Hebrews make it solid spiritual food? Hebrews is like a whole seminary program packed into one letter. For example, Hebrews:
- has both sharp warnings and warm encouragement, like seminary courses in counseling and pastoral care.
- includes careful, practical teaching for families and churches, as do courses in Christian education.
- is carefully contextualized (relevant and applicable) to its audience, a major theme in courses on missions and preaching.
- includes careful exposition of major themes, signifi-cant passages, and key people from the Old Testament. Jesus, and Jews like the WOH, thought of the 39 books of the Old Testament as divided into three sections – the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.5 Hebrews extensively uses all three sections of the Old Testament. Hebrews also includes many of the teachings of the apostles about Jesus, teachings now found in the New Testament. Hebrews thus includes much that is taught in seminary Old Testament and New Testament courses.
- contains a broad range of theological issues: Revelation, God, Christ, Salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Church, Sanctification, and, the world to come, issues covered in seminary courses on theology.
The book of Hebrews is indeed solid spiritual food that can help those who chew on it, digest it, and live on the nutrition it provides, to survive and thrive in their relationship with God.
These characteristics of Hebrews as solid spiritual food suggest two standards by which any devotional or quiet time material may be evaluated. Before you buy or borrow or use a quiet time guide, ask the following questions about it:
- Is this guide focused on helping believers like me to survive and thrive in my relationship with the triune God?
- Is it doing so by systematically working through the whole Bible and/or by thoroughly working through all of the major themes of the Bible?
“What should I do every day to hear God’s voice from His Word?” Based on the principles from Hebrews 5:11 – 6:12, the answer is first of all to avoid spiritual milk. Instead, chew on Hebrews or guides like Hebrews. We must eat solid spiritual food in order to survive and thrive in our relationship with the Triune God.
1For example, a search for the word “devotion” at Ama-zon.com on March 30, 2011 produced 15,820 books.
2Joe is not his real name.
3Besides Hebrews 5:11–6:12, on which this article focuses, similar warnings may be found in Hebrews 2:1–4, 3:7–19, 10:19–39, and 12:14–29.
4Please email me at email@example.com if you want a list of the sources I used to reach this conclusion.
5See Luke 24:44 for an example of this. There Jesus refers to the Writings by its longest book, the Psalms.
6Some guides have other goals, such as helping the reader feel good or feel inspired.
7Guides that take short passages from the Bible without regard to their context are more like milk. Such guides are good, per-haps, for getting started in the faith, but lack the nutrition needed to survive and thrive. I recommend Scripture Union guides for systematically working through the whole Bible devotionally. Commentaries can also be very good for understanding whole books of the Bible in one’s quiet times. I have found several volumes of the recently published Asia Bible Commentary series, printed by OMF-Literature in the Philippines, to be solid and nutritious. (They all might be; I haven’t had the chance to use all of them yet so I cannot comment on all of them.)
8If one looks up and meditates on the Bible references they contain, good books on systematic theology can make outstanding quiet time guides. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like my recommendations for specific books.