What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
On a national scale, we might say this contrasts those who diligently guard their freedoms and rule themselves to those who through laziness have been conquered and forced into slavery. Whatever scale we apply to this, Solomon reveals an ethical principal at work. Unless and until he changes his ways, a lazy person will descend to being a servant to others, while a diligent person will grow, prosper, and control his own life.
Spiritually, the stakes are far higher. Those who strive to master themselves—to exercise self-control to live God's way—will rule in the Kingdom of God (Revelation 3:21; 5:10), while those who slothfully neglect this task could possibly lose everything. Notice Paul's warning in Hebrews 2:1-3:
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him . . . ?
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Everybody would love to hit on a “get-rich-quick scheme” to avoid the rigors and slowness of a tried-and-true way. Those in “get-rich-quick mode” love to find ways to cut corners, quickly getting the job completed and the payment in hand.
The proverb colorfully likens such a person's way to a hedge of thorns. A hedge of thorns, while not life-threatening, is at least irritatingly painful from the hundreds of small wounds that could have been avoided by laboring with wisdom rather than trying to make a quick buck at another's expense. The ignored wisdom leads to the sluggard being constantly hindered by obstacles he has himself created. The Revised Standard Version's translation supplies a clear contrast: “The way of the sluggard is overgrown with thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.”
An element in the proverb that we may easily overlook is that laziness is contrasted with uprightness, a reminder that an element of immorality tinges the sluggard's sloth. The immorality often manifests in a form of dishonesty, as the sluggard attempts to hide the realty of his indolence in “reasons” as to why he accomplished so little or failed to carry his portion of the load.
Again, the instruction aligns with Proverbs 14:12 in that the lazy person's attempts to avoid work produces penalties. The straight course, the tried-and-true one, is ultimately the easiest to walk and produces the most. That is God's way.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Eight)
A person who is lazy lacks understanding. He is ignorant of what is happening. This person is not keeping his property in good condition, and so entropy is pulling it into a state of disorganization. That is the way of all material things. He is not doing enough to overcome inertia.
Proverbs has much to say about laziness. It does not matter whether the laziness is in physical or spiritual endeavors. The point here is that little or nothing will be produced by the slothful person.
Many people conquer laziness concerning physical things, such as business matters. I once heard a radio interview of a millionaire many times over who had become that way through a scheme that he took advantage of. It was perfectly legal; there was nothing wrong with it that way. This man said in response to a question, "You don't become rich being lazy. It takes hard work." That is what this passage in Proverbs 24 is saying.
We want to be spiritually rich. We want our relationships to be rich and to produce the right things, so to achieve this will require a good deal of effort on our parts. Secular people learn these principles and put them to work in business, and they prosper as a result of it. However, they avoid making the same effort in spiritual matters.
In the church, this lack of effort produces Laodiceanism. The Laodicean is rich and increased with goods, which means that he is doing all right in the business world, but he is not paying much attention to the spiritual. He is not using the same principles in regard to spiritual things that he does to physical things. Thus, he becomes reasonably well-off materially, but God says that, spiritually, he is wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17).
We need this instruction from Proverbs because what we see in these verses will produce Laodiceanism in us unless we fight against it and overcome it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Greatest Challenges
Many proverbs refer to the deleterious effects of neglect or passivity involving the sluggard as both the perpetrator and recipient of ruin and waste. It is a perennial theme throughout the wisdom literature of the Bible:
» Proverbs 15:19: The way of the lazy man is like a hedge of thorns, but the way of the upright is a highway.
» Proverbs 12:27: The lazy man does not roast what he took in hunting, but diligence is man's precious possession.
» Ecclesiastes 10:18: Because of laziness the building decays, and through idleness of hands the house leaks.
In each of these examples, destruction, decay, or corruption are shown to be the cumulative effects of neglect. A modest coat of paint will protect metal and wood surfaces from rust, rot, and the ravages of weather. However, doing nothing will cause structures to decay incrementally, looking as though terrorists had intended to destroy them. Who needs bombs and explosives when the same effect can be accomplished by doing absolutely nothing?
David F. Maas
Could You Be a Spiritual Terrorist?
Can a lazy person be proud? We have a saying: "Poor but humble." According to God's Word, all too frequently a reason that a person is poor is because he is proud. The truth is often just the opposite of the saying.
How do many wealthy people become so rich? It is because they are willing to take advice and apply it. They humbly listen to the counsel of those with experience, who are already successful, and in following that advice, they themselves become successful. Their humility leads them to seek counsel and follow the advice.
On the other hand, the poor are frequently poor because they either will not seek the advice, or if they do seek it, they find reasons not to apply it. God is referring to this inaction here. Laziness is a sign of pride.
We would not normally think a person who is out of a job and needs one desperately would do that. However, a lazy person thinks so much of himself that he believes that things should come to him without working. He thus justifies or excuses himself, saying:
"The conditions really are not quite right."
"If I am going to do that job, I first need a new car."
"That job is too far away."
"The pay is not enough for all that I would have to do."
"If I go there, I will have to move."
He is wiser in his own eyes than seven people who can render a sensible reason. At the root of his "wisdom" is pride.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Six)
Ecclesiastes 4:4-8 records Solomon's analysis of four types of workers. The first he simply labels the “skillful” worker. We might better call this person a skillful workaholic.
The second worker, described in verse 5, is at the other end of the work spectrum: He is the lazybones. As the book of Proverbs shows, Solomon has no sympathy for the lazy person. For instance, Proverbs 24:30-34 reveals a major flaw in the lazy worker's character:
I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.
As he describes it, laziness is a slow, comfortable path to self-destruction. How does this apply to our relationship with God? Laziness toward the things of God will kill us through slow, spiritual suicide! It may be comfortable to “sleep in” or to justify not doing spiritual works, but what laziness produces is not pleasant to experience.
Solomon paints a picture of complacency, and its end is unwitting self-destruction. It reveals much deeper damage than simply wasting a person's material resources, for his idleness is eating away not only at what he has, but more importantly, at what he is. It erodes his self-control and grasp of reality.
Therefore, we must discipline ourselves to work through Bible study and obedience to build our relationship with God. What are we truly losing when we neglect this? What does it take to live comfortably? In this culture, it is money. But laziness produces poverty—that is its fruit whether it concerns material or spiritual things. Paul writes, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10). Spiritually, then, we can take that to mean that he will not eat at God's table!
Comparing the first two men, Solomon shows the industrious man motivated by competition, while the lazy man is motivated by his desire for personal pleasure. In the end, both extremes are destructive vanities.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons
Never let anybody convince you that Christianity is not a religion of works. Christianity is hard work! That is what our Savior says. It is difficult! It is hard work because its direction and purpose run counter to human nature.
Confusion about "works" enters the picture when people wrongly try to associate "works" with "salvation." We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8)—there is no argument with this biblical fact. Works enter the picture as a necessary part of the process of growth within God's purpose—not salvation. Salvation is, in a major sense, an already finished work of Jesus Christ, which is why so many biblical statements about salvation are written in the past tense.
However, laziness plays a large part in why we do not grow. God expects us to work, though we will not earn salvation by it. We grow because of work, by overcoming problems. If we are too lazy to work at overcoming things, though we may be in God's Kingdom, we are not going to reap the rewards God's promises to overcomers.
God is looking for His children to grow. Every parent wants his child to become a mature adult who is able to take his place in society, to live independent of the family yet still be connected to it in a loving way, to stand on his own feet. God sets the pattern, and He wants His children to grow as free and independent moral agents. However, we are not that way when He finds, calls, reveals Himself and His way to us, and leads us to repentance. He wants us to grow into what He is:
And God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." (Genesis 1:26)
God gives everybody who reads His Book an early indication that work will play a major role in what He has created. Dominion! That is "rulership" or maybe a better word would be "management." And dominion over or management of our own personal environment requires work.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Greatest Challenges
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins could have depicted the original "sleeper cells," those groups that aid the enemy by their lethargy and inactivity. A sleeper cell is defined as a group of terrorists called "sleeper agents" that belong to a large terrorist organization. The cell "sleeps" or lies dormant, not acting until told to do so. Before the greater church of God was scattered, sleeper cells weighed it down.
Closely allied to sleeper cells are passive sponsors of terrorism. Daniel Byman, in his October 6, 2004, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Security Studies Seminar address, "Passive Sponsorship of Terrorism," notes, "A regime is guilty of passive sponsorship if it knowingly allows a terrorist group to raise money, enjoy a sanctuary, recruit, or otherwise flourish but does not directly aid the group itself." Byman points out that not only are Iran and Syria on the list of "tacit" supporters of terrorism, but the Saudis have turned a blind eye to al Qaida, Pakistan has offered safe haven to the Taliban, and even certain groups in the United States offered sanctuary and economic and weapons support to the Irish Republican Army.
The greater church of God has been infiltrated with sleeper cells and passive sponsors of terrorism. After our previous fellowship was destroyed by neglect, the cells became active, endorsing the antinomian doctrine of eternal security. This false doctrine sabotages the Christian by making him believe that his salvation is eternally assured, causing him to neglect the very necessary works that strengthen his relationship with God and help him to overcome his sins and grow in character.
Interestingly, the term "sabotage" has the connotation of slowing something down. Communist Walker C. Smith, in his treatise on Sabotage, cites the following etymology:
A striking French weaver cast his woden [sic] shoe—called a sabot—into the delicate mechanism of the loom upon leaving the mill. The confusion that resulted, acting to the workers' benefit, brought to the front a line of tactics that took the name of SABOTAGE. Slow work is also said to be at the basis of the word, the idea being that wooden shoes are clumsy and so prevent quick action on the part of the workers.
Some who would not even consider bringing a plastic explosive into the workplace think nothing of spending thirty extra minutes around the water cooler or of idling away their time viewing questionable material on the company computer. Are we built-in liabilities—or worse, actual saboteurs—to our employers by just showing up to work?
As we move in our conversion process beyond justification, we dare not slumber, slow down, or do our work with slackness. The eternal security doctrine has been around since the Garden of Eden, but Jesus warns in Matthew 5:19:
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Emphasis ours.)
Those who teach that God's law has been done away are spiritual murderers, attempting to destroy for eternity those who have God's Holy Spirit. We have been called to overcome and grow, going through trials and tests, conforming to the image of Christ, meeting the requirements to be members of God's Family to the extent that we discipline ourselves, subduing our carnal natures, and taking on God's characteristics.
David F. Maas
Could You Be a Spiritual Terrorist?
The master never sets a time for his return, indicating he could return at any time. However, we know that his return does not occur before his servants have time to increase their talents. The first and second servants cheerfully relate their success in trading, giving their master his property with double interest. Both are rewarded the same, receiving the praise, "Well done!" Both receive the promise, "I will make you ruler." Both receive glory, "Enter into the joy of your lord." Though these two servants differ in the talents they receive, they are the same in obedience, diligence, and faithfulness to their master, and so receive the same reward.
The master passes a serious judgment on the burier of the talent: condemnation for neglecting his trust. This servant's true character reveals itself in his reply. His flawed view of his master's intentions leads him to excuse his own failure to the point of flagrant disrespect. To his idleness, he adds injustice, so his lord sees him as lazy and wicked (Matthew 25:26).
We must always appreciate all of Christ's gifts. "For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have" (II Corinthians 8:12). The true Christian's attitude is contentment with what he has and making the very best use of it. It is better to have a low position in God's service with faithfulness than a high position with unfaithfulness. Our limitation should be an incentive to spiritual and moral action and persistence. In the end, what God commends and rewards is not brilliance, popularity, or cleverness, but faithfulness and obedience to Him regardless of human recognition or praise.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Talents (Part Two)
The Bible displays the Father's and the Son's standard in a multitude of word-pictures that reveal their nature and characteristics in word and deed. Just in case we have difficulty understanding clearly what sin is from the word-pictures of God's attitudes and conduct, He provides us with specific and clear statements. For instance, Romans 3:20 reads, "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." He has made it even simpler by inspiring I John 3:4 (KJV): "Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law."
At its simplest, sin is a deviation from what is good and right. However, within any given context, the deviation and especially the attitude involved in the conduct are often revealed more specifically by other terms. It helps to be aware of these terms so that we can extract more knowledge and understanding.
The most common verbal root in Hebrew for the noun sin literally means "to miss, to fail, to err, or to be at fault," and it is often translated by these terms depending upon context. It is chata' (Strong's #2398). Job 5:24 does not involve sin, but chata' appears in the verse: "You shall know that your tent is in peace; you shall visit your habitation and find nothing amiss." Here, chata' is translated as "amiss": Nothing is wrong; the habitation is as it should be. Chata' is also used in Judges 20:16, translated as "miss." Again, no sin is involved.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 8:36, "But he who sins against me [wisdom personified] wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death." Here is a context that involves moral or ethical issues, requiring chata' to be translated as "sin." The person is failing to live up to the moral or ethical standard.
Genesis 20:9 also contains it:
And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, "What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done."
The word "offended" is translated from chata', and "sin" is translated from a cognate. Abimelech charges Abraham as having missed the standard of behavior against him and his nation.
Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 5:7, "Our fathers sinned and are no more, but we bear their iniquities." Here, the fathers missed achieving God's standard, that is, the level of conduct He would have exhibited were He involved in the same situation as they. "Iniquities" is translated from the Hebrew avon, which suggests "perversity."
Leviticus 4:2 presents us with a different situation: "If a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the LORD in anything which ought not to be done, and does any of them. . . ." Chata' appears as "sins," but it is modified by the Hebrew shegagah (Strong's #7684), which means "inadvertently, unintentionally, unwittingly, or by mistake." It can also indicate that "wandering" or "straying" is involved. These suggest weakness as the cause of missing the standard. The descriptor defines the sin more specifically, helping us to understand that God's judgment includes more than the bare fact that a law was broken. It more clearly delineates the deviation.
David writes in Psalm 58:3-4: "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear." Also, Ezekiel 44:10 reads, "And the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who strayed away from Me after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity." In both contexts, the people sinned through ignorance, wandering, and other weaknesses. Even so, it in no way tempered the effect of them as minor. The sins wreaked destructive results, even though they were committed by simple carelessness, laziness, indifference, or not considering the end.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sin, Christians, and the Fear of God
1 Thessalonians 4:10-12
It is beyond question that Christians should be compassionate. We are to give to the poor and aid the needy (Matthew 19:21; Luke 14:13; Galatians 2:10; etc.). We are to lend a helping hand to those who have stumbled and bear the burdens of the weak (Acts 20:35; Galatians 6:2; James 1:27; etc.). It is sin to us if we know to do good and fail to do it (James 4:17; Proverbs 3:27-28). But how far does this go?
A certain tension exists in God's Word on this point. On the one hand, God indeed commands us to give, help, aid, comfort, and support others in their need. He even set up the third-tithe system to care for those truly in need. However, He is also a proponent of personal responsibility.
Where should charity end and personal responsibility begin?
Even in the land of self-reliance and rugged individualism, we live in a partial welfare state. Government and private handouts are common and relatively easy to get. Citizens can be propped up for long periods if they fit a certain category of need, such as being jobless, a single parent, handicapped, and the like. The nation provides "cushions" of all sorts to soften a person's landing when he falls. Other, more socialist nations are far ahead of the U.S. in this regard.
This has a short-term appeal, but it is regressive and spiritually dangerous over the long haul. Even though they feel a kind of shame for being on the dole, long-term welfare recipients develop an attitude of entitlement called the "welfare mentality." In time, they feel that they deserve help from others and become offended if they do not receive it. They also take offense if someone suggests that they should be looking for work or learning a new skill or weaning themselves off public/private assistance. Why should they? They are getting something for nothing!
The danger appears when this attitude begins to bleed over into a Christian's relationship with God. Sure, God's grace is freely given (Romans 3:24; 5:15), but does that mean He requires nothing of us in return? True Christianity is not "give your heart to the Lord, and you shall be saved!" True Christianity is "Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15)!
Jesus packs so much into these few words! This "gospel in a nutshell" expands to include conscious effort to change and grow in the grace, knowledge, and character of God every waking moment of our day. Christianity is not a lazy-person's religion. It is a God-centered way of living that demands our constant attention so that we can "put on the new man" (Ephesians 4:17-32; Colossians 3:1-17) and "shine as lights in the world" (Philippians 2:15).
A welfare mentality—"the way of get"—is the antithesis of God's way of give, of outgoing concern, of esteeming others better than oneself. It can manifest itself in many forms of behavior: failure to recognize God-given blessings and opportunities to prosper, laziness, sponging off others, rarely helping or entertaining others, making excuses for one's financial state, expressing contempt for "menial" jobs when unemployed, having unrealistically high standards or expectations, etc. All these assume that we deserve something.
To put it bluntly, rather than others owing us something, the only thing we truly deserve is death (Romans 3:10-20, 23; 6:23)! If we are Christians, however, we have been forgiven and set on the right path toward God's Kingdom (Ephesians 2:1-10). To us, God gives the promise that we need not worry about our life, food, or clothing (Luke 12:22-34). God will take care of us! David says, "I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread" (Psalm 37:25). Leave those worries behind! Receive with gladness and gratitude what God gives. Then we can concentrate our efforts on seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness, and part of that is ridding ourselves of the despicable and Satanic notion that we deserve a free ride. Therefore, "work out your own salvation in fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12)!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Welfare and Christianity
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
Do we lead a quiet life, or are things always in turmoil? Do we live in peace, or is it in constant strife? If we are living in strife and turmoil, what are we doing to contribute to it?
Do we mind our own business, or are we busybodies and meddlers? Do we always want to know what the other person across the fence is doing? Do we always call up somebody for the latest news about what's going on over in this church or with that person and his problem?
Is our "helpfulness" really a guise for poking our nose in where we are not wanted? With some people it is. They serve in order to get the goods on others.
Do we work, or are we lazy? This does not mean just our physical labor for the food we put on our table. It could be spiritual work. It could be our service to one another. Do we work with our own hands, or are people always making allowances for us? Are we living off the goodness of another's heart? Some people think they are owed something. They are victims of circumstance, and so they want everybody to give to them, rather than working for it.
Do we show the same Christian character to our work buddies as we do to the people who sit beside us in church? Paul asks that here in terms of "walk[ing] properly toward those who are outside." Are our lives hypocritical? Do we put on our best character and slip into a chair at church just once each week? Do our acquaintances in the world see Christ in us, or do they see "Joe Six-Pack" who has downed a few too many six packs? Do they see someone who curses a blue streak six days a week, but one day a week, he is the soul of pleasant and wise speech? How do people in the world see us?
Lastly, Paul says, "I urge you that you may lack nothing." He does not mean, "Do we lack a pair of shoes, a new DVD player, or the latest PlayStation game?" What he means is, "Do we lack anything that makes us better Christians, or are we satisfied with ourselves where we stand?" Have we come into the church and accepted God's grace, and then say "Take me as I am, Lord, without one plea"? Or do we know that we lack some quality that would make us better Christians and strive to add it to our characters?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
It Takes a Church
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3
Paul likely included this so that the Thessalonians would understand that these are evidences that Christ's return is near, but it had not yet happened. There had not been a falling away, and the man of sin had not been revealed. Paul was gently giving them evidence by which they could evaluate that the return of Christ was not immediately around the corner. As they began to analyze it, this might have been quite discouraging to them. Nevertheless, in AD 51, the return of Christ was very much on the minds of church members.
In addition to this, II Thessalonians 3 deals with the issue that some in Thessalonica had quit their jobs because of misinterpreting Paul's sermons, and they became busybodies while waiting things out. This is not good.
On the one hand, we are to live our lives always anticipating Christ's imminent return, partly because we do not know when we will die and our judgment ends. On the other hand, we are also to live and work as though this world will never end. Since nobody knows when Christ will return, we are to do our jobs with all of our might, as Solomon says (Ecclesiastes 9:10), and because we serve the Lord Christ, as Paul writes (Colossians 3:24). We are to do every job as well as we can, not carelessly cutting corners, assuming that it will all blow away in just a year or so. Such an approach is not a godly attitude.
The people described in Thessalonians 3 were just waiting things out because they had it in their minds that Christ would return almost immediately. That is sheer presumptuousness, carelessness, that God certainly does not appreciate in His children, because that is how He does things. We are to imitate Him. We are to work as He does, and His handiwork is all around us. He does pretty good work! The things that He builds last. They are high-quality work.
In practical fact, there is a tension between the two extremes that must be balanced. Jesus says, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working" (John 5:17). We are to imitate them materially and spiritually. Those simply waiting things out then were castigated, and time is not waiting for us either.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Trumpets Is a Day of Hope
2 Timothy 1:7
Love, power, soundmindedness—these qualities of God's Spirit. Love's greatest challenges are to overcome laziness and fear. There is no way around them; they must be met and conquered. God has given us the Spirit to enable us, but we have to be willing to put ourselves on the line, to stir ourselves up, and risk losing some part of this human nature. We must quit protecting it.
Hebrews 13:5 tells us that God will never leave us, never forsake us, that He is always our Helper. We are admonished, then, to be content. Contentment has its foundation in knowing God. We can never reach that point unless we put ourselves out to love Him and challenge this fear, to overcome the inertia and entropy that is working in everybody's life. That is where the hard work comes in, challenging the fear and the laziness.
If we are willing to do this on a day-to-day basis and put aside our fears and make the effort, our confidence in Him will grow. The fear will dissolve, diligence will cause discipline to appear, and we will meet our responsibilities in loving God and loving men.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Greatest Challenges
In using milk as a metaphor in I Peter 2:2, Peter is in no way chiding people as Paul does in Hebrews 5:12-14. The former uses milk simply as a nourishing food because his emphasis is on desire, not depth. Paul uses milk as a metaphor for elementary because he wants to shock the Hebrews into comprehending how far they had slipped from their former state of conversion.
Paul also uses milk as a metaphor for weak or elementary in I Corinthians 3:1-2: "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able." Paul judges the Corinthians as weak based upon their behaviors and attitudes, which reflected no spiritual progress. So he "fed" these immature Christians elementary knowledge because things of greater depth would have gone unappreciated, misunderstood, and unused. These references directly tie spiritual diet to growth in understanding, behavior, and attitude.
Paul's milk metaphors are scathing put-downs! Undoubtedly, he seriously hurt the feelings of many in the congregation, yet he is free and clear before God of any charge of offense. He does not question their conversion, but he certainly rebukes their lack of growth. He rightly judges that they need to have their feelings hurt so they could salvage what remained of their conversion.
In I Corinthians 3, the embarrassing immaturity that required him to feed the people like babies also produced strife and factions in the congregation, proving that the people were far more carnal than converted. The Hebrews account is more complex: The people had once been more mature but had regressed. It is a situation vaguely similar to elderly people becoming afflicted with dementia, except that faith, love, character, conduct, and attitude were being lost rather than mental faculties. This resulted in the people drifting aimlessly.
An additional insight regarding an insufficient spiritual diet appears in the next chapter. Paul tells them that their problems are directly related to being lazy. Dull in the phrase "dull of hearing" in Hebrews 5:11 is more closely related to "sluggish" or "slothful." It is translated as such in Hebrews 6:12, ". . . that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
Paul charges them with being lazy listeners; they are not putting forth the effort to meditate and apply what is taught them. They are, at best, merely accepting. That they are not using what they hear is proof enough for Paul to understand that they are not thinking through the seriousness or the practical applications of the teachings. In other words, they are not assimilating what they hear, and the result is a lack of faith and a consequent faithlessness. His rebuke is far more serious than the one in I Corinthians 3 because these people are older in the faith. They have frittered away a large amount of time that would have been far better spent on spiritual growth.
Paul attempts to shame and shock them into realizing how far they had slipped by calling these grown people—some of them undoubtedly elderly—infants. He goes so far as to tell them that they are unacquainted with and unskilled in the teaching on righteousness. In other words, he attributes to them the one particular trait of infants: that they do not understand the difference between right and wrong, a characteristic that defines immaturity. A parent must instruct and chasten a child until it understands.
The Bible provides ample evidence that a poor spiritual diet results in a spiritually weak and diseased person, just as a poor physical diet works to erode and eventually destroy a person's physical vitality. Similarly, we can see that a person can be in good spiritual health but lose it through laziness or another form of neglect. Just as a mature adult needs good, solid nourishment to maintain his vitality and remain free of disease, the spiritual parallel follows. For one to grow to spiritual maturity and vitality, a mature Christian needs solid, spiritual nourishment, assimilated and actively applied, to continue growing and prevent regressing, as opposed to the Hebrews sluggish spiritual deterioration.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Eight): Conclusion (Part One)
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