According to the author of the Book of Hebrews, the lack of spiritual growth in the community is clear because they are still focusing on the milk — the elementary principles of the faith. What hinders spiritual growth to maturity, and why are believers sluggish in their faith? What hinders spiritual growth, and how can we overcome this?
There are many things that could be said:
First, distractions. In scripture, we are called to have tunnel vision when it comes to our spiritual walk. Paul, for example, speaks about how in his ministry, he did not focus on his past, but forgot what was behind and pressed on to the Lord’s calling: “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Phil 3:13). Elsewhere, Timothy was warned not to be distracted by things that do not further the gospel: “to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Tim 1:4). For us, there are no shortages of things that distract us, and so without tunnel vision, we run the risk of drifting away.
Second, sin. The author warns about the deceitful nature of sin, and how it hardens the heart. When we allow sin to stay, we must be aware that it is going to grow like an infection. The Spirit stops working through us, and begins a work of conviction in us. And according to the author, those who stay in these preliminary topics are only accustomed to milk, for everyone who partakes only of milk …is an infant. Paul made a similar argument in 1Corinthians, telling them that they are only drinking milk when they should be further along. Why? “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able for you are still fleshly. Now, what does that actually look like? “For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” This demonstrates the connection between our theology (what we believe) and our life (how we act).
So, how do we overcome immaturity?
One important factor is discipline. We may have the desire to grow, but are we willing to put in the discipline to make it happen? In contrast to milk, the author says that solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Growing in godliness takes training. And here is the thing: the term for trained could be seen in the positive, “Train yourself in godliness” (1 Tim 4:7) or in the negative, “They have hearts trained in greed” (2 Pet 2:14). This is a good reminder that we are always training ourselves in one direction or another!
I once had a teacher who everyone looked up to; very humble, caring, and knew the Scriptures well. And people would ask, “How did you get so smart?” I will never forget his answer. He said, “I have the same 24 hours as everybody else.” In other words, it is not about having time, but what we do with our time. Therefore, implementing the disciplines of (a) prayer (b) study and reflection (c) and service to the community are the key ways to grow in spiritual maturity.
So, the author concludes:
Heb 6:1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Messiah [leaving behind is not forgetting about it, but building on it], let us press on to maturity not laying again a foundation of dead works, and of faith toward God.
The term press on means “to cause to follow a certain course in direction” — in other words, discipline. When we implement these, we move on to maturity, or perfection. This does not mean sinless. 1 Jn 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves”. But James calls us to be perfect: that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (Jms 1:4). This means training our spiritual lives to know more about the deep things of God, and to walk in obedience to properly represent God.
So, the author takes us from the problem (lack of spiritual growth) to the danger for those who are stagnate.