You Have an Obligation: Hebrews 5:11-14
The Greek of Hebrews is terrifying. But I had to write an exegetical paper on a passage in Hebrews for my senior project in Greek class. It scared me to death, but I made it through, much wiser than I'd started. I thought some of you may appreciate it, so I included a link to it on acedemia.edu here. For others, keep reading to see an overview of my conclusions.
The Theme of Hebrews
The overall theme of Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ, but it isn't just that. It isn't a showroom where we are to come in and marvel at the glory of Christ as if in a museum, displayed behind bulletproof glass. We are to marvel at His wonderful work of mediation, to draw near to God, to meditate on Christ, to engage our minds in spiritual growth. In a word, we are to use the gifts Christ has given us and experience God because of the work He accomplished. I stated my conclusions about Hebrews as it is contrasted by the writings of Paul, for example, which are very different.
"Unlike Paul who first sets out the indicatives which drive the imperatives, Hebrews sets out the imperatives, which are constantly supported by the indicatives. Paul makes a distinct divide whereas Hebrews interweaves them together so that sometimes you are wondering if where you are is a result of the indicative or the imperative urge. Both drive the argument forward because the argument is about both: about Jesus and his supremacy, and about us and our need. The argument of Hebrews is not for a deity atop Mt. Olympus; it is for a God-man who simultaneously has dirty feet and a transcendent soul."
The text is Hebrews 5:11-14, and this is my translation:
"Concerning which the message is great and hard to explain (for us to speak it to you), since you have become dull in hearing. For indeed, although you ought to be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the beginning of the oracles of God: you are in need of milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes of milk is untrained in the Word of righteousness because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, for those who through practice have their senses trained for the distinguishing of both good and evil."
The paper begins with 25 pages of overzealous background information, but at page 25 I begin the exegetical commentary section, entitled "II. Introduction to the Passage." I recommend you start there--you can go back later if you want more details. Below is the conclusion to the paper, since it provides the best summary of the argument.
Considering the beginning of the passage in light of the end, we see interesting parallels. The discernment which is the goal of a mature Christian is the cap-stone to his argument for their ￼making spiritual maturity their main priority, such that, even the teaching in 5:12 must be centered towards the same ends of making a mature Christian. After this section we have a good idea of what that looks like. He intellectually learns the truth of God—the λόγος—from start to finish, in the holistic scope of the oracle of God, by means of the continued, disciplined application of his mind (“ἕξιν”) on the Word whose content is righteousness, continually realizing his dependence on God for learning truth—and for the fruit of his learning: spiritual maturity—with the ultimate goal that he is able to call to court all parts of life, not by random proof-texting or Bible-thumping, but by the imaginative use of his own senses, senses which are renewed to see and affirm the good in life, and to shun and condemn the evil.
Before we blow the passage way out of its context, let’s remember what all of this is building toward. In Hebrews the main issue is the “drawing near” of mankind to God because of the absolute, mind-blowing supremacy of Christ as the one-man-to-rule-them-all. DeSilva gives us a great reminder, something to zoom us back out so we can see the forest in which the trees we have come to better appreciate exist, saying, “5:11-14 in particular issues a sharp call for attentiveness to, and internalization of, the author's message.”58 That message, the glorious detail of Christ’s excellent, “better” ministry, is what we must turn to in order to truly respond to the truth in Hebrews 5:11-14.
As we close, I want to encourage my readers with what I have held as the greatest encouragement in my study of this passage. While it goes beyond the scope of this paper, I think it has a place here at the end because it provides context for our passage. First, in the exegesis section of 5:12 we saw the obligation, the “oughtness,” of achieving spiritual maturity. While this would need a book-length discussion in order to unpack the baggage brought by legalism and cheap grace, I just want to focus on the purpose of this maturity. It isn’t an arbitrary demand placed upon us; it is our joy. It is our hope. In chapter 6, the fuller explanation of this passage is given, climaxing in verses 11-12, what some consider the other end of a chiasm with 5:11-14. The goal of spiritual maturity is there presented as “realizing the full assurance of hope” (6:11), which “we have as an anchor of the soul” (6:19). The hope which is anchor of the soul. That is the goal of spiritual maturity. It isn’t that we are perfect, sinless, or a replacement for Jesus—as if we ever could!—but that we are faithfully persevering through the hardships of life. Nothing less than spiritual maturity could sustain the soul about to be tormented by the sufferings of this world. The good news of this passage is that God has established a way for us to grow, to become something we aren’t, and to see things we don’t normally see. These absolute truths will sustain us, like an anchor for our soul, which, when anchor-less, is sure to be “driven and tossed by the wind” (Jam 1:6).
Second, the only time in the entire book the word “beloved” (“αδελφος”) is used is right after this heavy challenge (6:9). Paul uses “beloved” often to denote new sections or emphases, but the author of Hebrews uses it only once, saying, “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way” (Heb 6:9). After a challenging obligation (5:11-14) and a shocking warning (6:1-8), the author reminds them of his love, ending this segment on a doxological note (6:9-20). And so we shall do the same.
The book of Hebrews is incredibly challenging, but it is only an issue for those who, through laziness or unbelief, refuse to come to terms with the author. There are obligations of spiritual maturity, teaching, and discipleship placed on us as believers, but they are for our good because they are intrinsically good. The yoke is indeed light, and yet, the yoke remains, compelling us onward, “further up, and further in.” But we are not alone in our obligations, for there came One before us who took a yoke heavier than the entire human race could bear, who broke down the barrier between God and man and communicated God to fleshly creatures, who alone is better than priests, prophets, kings, and nations, who has introduced something new, tangible, and absolute regarding our eternal life, and who—for joy!—suffered as we suffer. Let us consider Jesus (3:1; 12:3), and let us always believe the message which we have heard concerning Him. As the day of judgment draws near, let us draw near to God; let us take his searing Word into our souls that when the time comes to give our word we may do so with confidence and grace. “[Fix your] eyes on Jesus!” (Heb 12:2). May we be found faithful.