The author of Hebrews has methodically built his case for Jesus’ preeminence throughout the opening chapters of this book. He began by first demonstrating Jesus’ supremacy over angelic beings (1:5-14). He then continued with a look at Jesus’ superiority over human leaders such as Moses (3:1-6), and Joshua (4:8-10).
Having laid that foundation, our author will now turn his attention to a theme that will serve as his primary focus over the next several chapters: Jesus, our High Priest…
“For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Hebrews 5:1).
A Jewish priest in the Old Testament era served as God’s representative to the people and the people’s representative before God. For instance, an Israelite who sought to offer a sacrifice for his or her sins could not approach God directly during that period. Instead, a priest presented that offering on his or her behalf.
The “gifts and sacrifices” mentioned here pertain to different types of offerings. For instance, a “gift” referred to an offering of grain, drink, or incense that was burned in God’s presence. A “sacrifice” took the life of an animal and served to atone (or make up for) the sins of the person who brought it.
Hebrews 5:1 draws our attention to another important aspect of this Biblical priesthood- a priest received his commission by appointment. Only those who descended through the ancient tribe of Levi were authorized to serve as priests. Those priestly offices were held exclusively by the Levites who traced their lineage through Moses’ brother Aaron. Finally, the high priest alone was permitted to enter God’s presence once a year on the annual day of atonement for the nation of Israel.
While the author of Hebrews points out the seemingly obvious fact that “every high Priest is taken from among men…” (GNV), it’s important to note that this is true of Jesus as well. However, there are some important differences that set Jesus apart from the High Priests who served within the Old Testament sacrificial system. We’ll consider those differences over the next few studies, beginning with the following preview…
“In this and following verses, the author of Hebrews analyzes the high priesthood of Christ in such a manner as to prove that the Christians who had given up the priesthood of Aaron and his successors had, in Christ, received far more than they had lost. In every conceivable comparison, as to rank, character, quality of sacrifice, or whatsoever, the marvelous superiority of Christ is emphatically demonstrated.” (1)
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Hebrews 4”. “Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hebrews-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness” (Hebrews 5:2).
Despite his lofty position, a Jewish High Priest was acquainted with the problems, shortcomings, and weaknesses associated with human life. This enabled him to serve with an attitude of compassion as he represented others before God. As Hebrews 5:2 puts it, “He is able to deal gently with the spiritually ignorant and misguided, since he is also subject to human weakness” (AMP).
We can gain additional insight into this passage through the work of a Biblical scholar who guides us through the definition of “compassion” in the original language of this verse…
“Metri-patheo means to be moderate or tender in judgment toward another’s errors. It speaks of a state of feeling toward the ignorant and the erring which is neither too severe nor too tolerant. The high priest must be careful lest he become irritated at sin and ignorance. He must also take care that he does not become weakly indulgent.” (1)
Another source adds, “This is the capacity to moderate one’s feelings to avoid the extremes of cold indifference and uncontrolled sadness.” (2)
Of course, these qualities were not exclusive to the members of the Old Testament priesthood. For example, the Biblical book of 1 Thessalonians offers a New Testament perspective on this characteristic: “…we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV).
Not surprisingly, Jesus serves as our example in this regard. For instance. Matthew 9:36 speaks of Jesus’ benevolence towards the multitudes who came to hear Him: “When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd” (CSB).
Nevertheless, Jesus’ compassion was balanced by His commitment to share the truth about the potential consequences that awaited those who came to hear Him. For instance, Jesus once used a current event to issue a straightforward message to His listeners…
“What about those 18 people who died when the tower at Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more sinful than other people living in Jerusalem? No! I can guarantee that they weren’t. But if you don’t turn to God and change the way you think and act, then you, too, will all die” (Luke 13:4-5 GW).
Therefore, we should pray for God’s help in discerning the best way to assist those who are “…ignorant and those who are misled” (CEB).
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Hebrews 5:2) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary p. 791
“Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins” (Hebrews 5:3).
A Biblical priest had several important responsibilities. As mentioned earlier, an Old Testament priest served as an intermediary who represented God before the people of Israel and the people of Israel before God. In addition, priests were also responsible for…
- Teaching the Old Testament Law. “…you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses” (Leviticus 10:11 ESV).
- Ministering to the LORD. “From among the Israelites take your brother Aaron and his sons with him, that he may minister to Me in the priest’s office…” (Exodus 28:1 AMPC).
- Exercising oversight. “Amariah the chief priest will be over you in any matter concerning the Lord, and Zebadiah son of Ishmael, the leader of the tribe of Judah, will be over you in any matter concerning the king, and the Levites will serve as officials before you” (2 Chronicles 19:11 NIV).
- Seeking God’s direction. “When direction from the Lord is needed, Joshua will stand before Eleazar the priest, who will use the Urim—one of the sacred lots cast before the Lord—to determine his will. This is how Joshua and the rest of the community of Israel will determine everything they should do” (Numbers 27:21 NLT).
We can summarize these responsibilities with a verse that also applies to anyone who seeks to represent God in an honorable manner: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way” (1 Samuel 12:23).
Yet despite these things, a priest was a fallible human being, just like anyone else. This explains why the High Priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sins as mentioned in the verse quoted above. Once the priest completed that atonement process, he was then permitted to minister on behalf of others.
Finally, this reference to “sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people…” (NIV) carried significance that extended to the High Priest’s clothing…
“This was shown forth in the very garments he wore when he offered the national atonement once a year. On the shoulder of the ephod (Exod. 28:10) were two onyx stones, on which were engraved the names of the twelve sons of Jacob, the representatives of all the tribes of Israel, of Levi the priestly tribe as well as the others. As he stood before the mercy-seat interceding, he bore all these names before the Lord.” (1)
(1) B. W. Johnson, The People’s New Testament [Hebrews 5:1-3]. Public Domain http://www.ccel.org/ccel/johnson_bw/pnt.html
“And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was” (Hebrews 5:4).
Unlike political figures, celebrities, corporate executives, or others who might aspire to a higher status, the office of an Old Testament priest was not an upwardly mobile position. The following commentator details the line of priestly succession beginning with Abraham, the great Old Testament man of faith…
“All the priests came from Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, whose name was changed to Israel. All the priests came from Levi, one of Israel’s thirteen sons. God set the tribe of Levi apart as a tribe committed to His service and as representatives of the whole nation (Exodus 13:2; Numbers 3:40-41).
Aaron’s family and their descendants made up the priests and the high priest, those able to serve in the tabernacle itself and to offer sacrifice to God. The high priest was generally the eldest son of Aaron, except if they disqualified themselves like Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3) or according to the regulations of Leviticus chapter 21.” (1)
Although the office of High Priest eventually devolved into a patronage position, (2) the author of Hebrews did not acknowledge that arrangement. Instead, he recognized the priestly ministry as an honor and responsibility that was bestowed upon these leaders by God Himself. That honor and responsibility has also been conferred upon those who follow Christ today…
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Much like the priests of the Old Testament who represented others before God, that important responsibility also extends to God’s people today. The New Testament book of 2 Corinthians addresses that privilege in the following manner…
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NIV).
So while modern-day Christians are far removed from the example of an Old Testament priest, each carries a similar responsibility. Therefore, we should fulfill that leadership role (in whatever form it takes) in serving as God’s ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation.
(1) Guzik, Dave, Hebrews 5 – Jesus, A Priest Forever https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/hebrews-5/
(2) See Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary [Hebrews 5:4]
“So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’” (Hebrews 5:5).
As mentioned earlier, there were no legitimately self-appointed leaders among the members of the Old Testament priesthood. Instead, the Biblical priesthood was an institution that was established by God, with leaders who were ordained for their positions. This was true of the Levitical High Priest but it is also true of Jesus as well…
“Christ did not call Himself to the office of High Priest; the Father called Him to the honor. Both Psa. 2:7 and 110:4 are cited to prove this fact. Psalm 2:7 is also quoted in 1:5 to prove Christ’s superiority to the angels, and now the writer uses the quote to prove Jesus’ special relationship with God the Father. The quote from Ps. 110:4 highlights the eternal nature of Jesus’ priesthood. He will be Mediator between God and us forever.” (1)
Another scholar adds…
“The writer is careful to let the reader see that it was no personal ambition on Messiah’s part that resulted in His becoming a high priest, but rather the fact that God called Him to that position, and that the call to priesthood was based upon the fact that the Messiah was God s Son.” (2)
Since a High Priest of the Biblical era was chosen from among the descendants of Aaron, the Old Testament patriarch, the idea that “Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest” would have been difficult for many first-century Jewish audiences to accept. As another commentator explains: “It was easy to see why the priesthood of Jesus would be difficult for early Jewish Christians to grasp. He was not from the lineage of Aaron. He claimed nor practiced no special ministry in the temple; He confronted the religious structure instead of joining it.” (3)
Hebrews 5:5 addresses that objection by noting that Jesus’ priestly calling stems from His unique position as the Son of God (see Matthew 3:16-17). In addition, Jesus fulfils another qualification for the office of a High Priest that our author has previously established: He is a human being with a compassionate nature who serves an intermediary in representing God to others and others before God.
We’ll consider these aspects of Jesus’ priestly ministry shortly, but first we’ll address a potentially troublesome question: what does this passage mean when it says regarding Christ, “…Today I have begotten You”?
(1) Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 1642.
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Hebrews 5:5) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(3) Guzik, Dave, Hebrews 5 – Jesus, A Priest Forever https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/hebrews-5/
“So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’ (Hebrews 5:5 ESV).
Hidden away behind this passage are some questions that require careful thought. One such question is this: “if Jesus is God from all eternity, then how can Hebrews 5:5 say concerning Him, ‘…today I have begotten you’“? Furthermore, the fact that God became Jesus’ Father on a certain day seems to indicate that there may have been a time when Jesus did not exist, or a least a time when God was not His Father.
We can address these questions by first taking a closer look at what this verse actually says. For instance, “You are my Son…” simply acknowledges the relationship that exists between the God, the Father, and God, the Son.
Next comes this reference to, “today I have begotten you…” We can address this portion of Hebrews 5:5 by remembering that human beings are subject to the constraints of time. In becoming a human being, Jesus also subjected Himself to the limitations of “today” much like anyone else.
With these things in mind, let’s tie these parallel elements together. First, the relationship between the Father and Son has always existed throughout eternity. This is why Hebrews 5:5 can say, “You are my Son…” But in view of the fact that the Son stepped out of eternity and took humanity upon Himself (along with all the restraints that are imposed upon time-bound human beings), it is also proper for God to say, “…today I have become your Father.”
Furthermore, we can say without reservation that Hebrews 5:5 does not mean Jesus is a created being or somehow came into existence, as some cultic organizations would have us believe. In the original language of this passage, the word “begotten” caries several different meanings. Those definitions include “to bring forth,” “to be born,” “to be a parent to any one” and “to constitute as son, to constitute as king, or as the representative or viceregent of God.” (1) It is significant to note that none of those references include “to create” or “bring into existence.”
Finally, we can benefit from the efforts of scholars and commentators who have dealt extensively with these questions over the years. It is well worth our time to familiarize ourselves with their work, lest we fall prey to those who preach “…a gospel that is different from the one you accepted” (Galatians 1:9 GNT).
(1) G1080 gennao Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/gennao
“As He also says in another place: ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek’” (Hebrews 5:6).
Hebrews 5:6 marks the first appearance of a verse that will be re-quoted several times later within this book. That verse is Psalm 110:4, a portion of Scripture that will reappear in Hebrews 5:10, 6:20, 7:17, and 7:21. This passage establishes an important foundation for understanding Jesus’ role as our High Priest before God…
“After informing his readers in verse 5 that Messiah s priesthood was not by self-appointment but by God’s appointment, the writer goes on in this verse to speak of the different and superior order of priesthood into which He was called. He quotes from Psalm 110 where Messiah is prophetically pointed out as a priest after the order of Melchisedec, the distinguishing characteristic of this order of priesthood being that it is an eternal one.” (1)
So having already established Jesus’ superiority over human and angelic beings, the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus also belongs to a superior priestly order. Unlike the priesthood initiated under Aaron (whose members held terms of service that were limited to their earthly lives), Jesus’ priestly service is eternal. This unending priesthood is thus superior to the one held by Aaron and his successors.
The following author alerts us to the revolutionary nature of this idea…
“The author of Hebrews then did a dramatic, unheard of thing. Having already argued from Ps. 110:1,2 for the universal kingship of Christ the Messiah (Heb. 1:5), at this point in the epistle he returned to that same Psalm 110 to bring in the fourth verse from which he also proclaimed the universal high priesthood of Christ, showing him to be not of Aaron’s line, but an independent high priest of universal dominion ‘after the order of Melchizedek.’ Thus was revealed, at last, the mystery of how the suffering high priestly Messiah and the kingly Messiah were one and the same person.
Modern religious people would not find that problem an impediment to their believing in Jesus Christ, but it was a powerful deterrent to Christians of Jewish background in the first century. ‘You cannot accept Christ as your high priest,’ the Pharisees said, ‘because, since he does not belong to the posterity of Aaron, he is disqualified from being any kind of priest whatever!’ And the only verse in the Bible that clears that up is Ps. 110:4. The Pharisees should have known this; but it was true of them, as it was of the Sadducees, that they did err ‘not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God’ (Matt. 22:29).” (2)
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Hebrews 5:6) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(3) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Hebrews 5”. “Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hebrews-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“And he says in another passage: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’” (Hebrews 5:6 Phillips).
Much like a preview that appears before a feature presentation, Hebrews 5:6 serves as a prelude regarding someone who will rise to greater prominence later in this book. That person is Melchizedek, the mysterious priest-king who visited the Old Testament patriarch Abraham upon his victorious return from an armed conflict in Genesis chapter fourteen…
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:18-20 NIV).
Melchizedek is something of an obscure figure in the Scriptures. We know from this passage that he was the king of Salem. “Salem” is a word that means “peace” and is associated with the ancient city of Jerusalem. (1) The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.” (2) Thus, we can say that Melchizedek was “the king of peace and righteousness.”
Other than the fact that he was a king, the only other information we are given regarding Melchizedek is that he was also a priest of God. However, this passage doesn’t explain where Melchizedek came from, why he met with Abraham, how he came to serve as a priest of God, or how Abraham knew him. We only know that Melchizedek brought bread, wine, and a blessing. Abraham then responded by giving Him ten percent of the spoils from his victory.
From one perspective, we can view this meeting between Melchizedek and Abraham in a straightforward manner. For instance, we can say that Melchizedek was an important official who welcomed Abraham home following his successful military campaign. After providing Abraham with the hospitality of a meal, Melchizedek gave him a blessing and Abraham responded by honoring him with ten percent of the valuables he recovered during the conflict.
Nevertheless, the fact that Melchizedek gave Abraham a blessing is important, for a lesser person was always blessed by a more important person in that culture. Because of this, we can say that Melchizedek was a greater spiritual figure than Abraham. The bread and wine Melchizedek served would also take on greater significance in the New Testament era. Finally, there was Melchizedek’s dual role as “king of peace and righteousness” and “…priest of God Most High.”
We’ll consider the importance of these elements in the context of Jesus’ priesthood when we reach Hebrews chapter seven.
(1) “Salem” The Online Bible Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon
(2) “Melchizedek” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
“who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear” (Hebrews 5:7).
In speaking of Jesus, Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 5:7 will now go on to elaborate upon that passage with an example from His life.
First, Hebrews 5:7 sets the parameters for our look at this verse with the phrase “in the days of His flesh.” This tells us that the context for this passage involves Jesus’ earthly ministry. Next, comes a reference to “prayers and supplications.” “Prayer” describes general communication with God, while a “supplication” arises from a specific need or urgent request. Other phrases that convey the meaning behind the word “supplication” include “an appeal,” “a petition,” or “a plea.”
This passage then follows with a reference to “…vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death.” This likely refers to Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to His crucifixion. While Jesus’ Gethsemane experience appears in all four gospel accounts of His life, the Book of Luke offers one of the more detailed depictions of this event…
“Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’
Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, ‘Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.’” (Luke 22:39-46).
Thus, as one Pastoral commentator observes, “the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane (Matthew 26:36-39; Luke 22:44) proves He knows what it is like to struggle with the difficulty of obedience, yet He obeyed perfectly.” (1)
(1) Guzik, Dave, Hebrews 5 – Jesus, A Priest Forever (verses 7-8)
“During his earthly life, he offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7 CSB).
“The all-knowing and all-powerful has no need of petition and no reason to cry. But Jesus fully shared our limitations.” (1)
It is often difficult to appreciate the deep emotional trauma that fell upon Jesus prior to His crucifixion. However, the following authors bring us face to face with the events that led Jesus to offer “…prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (NIV)…
“Christ faced death boldly but not eagerly. He met it willingly but not apathetically. Christ was ‘obedient to the point of death’ (Phil. 2:8). He approached it boldly and bravely, declaring, ‘I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again’ (John 10:18). He willingly submitted to the Father, saying, ‘not as I will, but as You will’ (Matt. 26:39).
Christ’s willingness and boldness notwithstanding, He nevertheless felt the full emotional and existential impact of His impending death. He did pray with ‘vehement cries and tears,’ but the writer adds, He ‘was heard because of His godly fear’ (Heb. 5:7). Jesus wished as a man that His cup (death) could pass from Him (Matt. 26:39), but He willed, as the Father willed, that it would take place for the salvation of the world. While His soul was ‘troubled’ about death, He never prayed, ‘Father, save me from this hour.’ He only asked, ‘shall I say’ this? His answer was no, ‘for this purpose I came to this hour. `Father glorify Your name`’ (John 12:27– 28). He never feared death as such, but banishment from the Father (Matt. 27:46). In fact, by His death Jesus overcame the power and fear of death, defeating the devil (Heb. 2:14).” (2)
“Hebrews 5:7-10 stresses the humanity of Jesus. So does Philippians 25-9. Jesus knew all along He was sent to die an atoning death on the cross. He predicted it many times. Yet all the black, horrid weight of sin upon His immaculate soul gripped Him with reality here in the garden as at no other time. If Jesus was human, and the scriptures emphasize He was, He grew in wisdom and understanding just like other human beings (cf, Lk. 2~40,52). The impact of the cross apparently was something that came upon Him in graduating intensity until it burst upon Him in the garden like a personal holocaust. This does not deny His perfection, it only glorifies it.” (3)
(1) Walters, John. “Hebrews” In Asbury Bible Commentary. 1139-1168. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1992.
(2) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books. Page 150.
(3) Butler, Paul T, The Gospel Of Luke. Copyright © 1981 College Press Publishing Company. Page 535
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear” (Hebrews 5:7 RSV).
Just prior to His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus spoke the following words: “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name’” (John 12:27-28). While this passage draws our attention to the emotional tension that Jesus experienced prior to His crucifixion, it also tells us that he did not seek to reject, avoid, or circumvent God’s will for His life. Instead, Jesus was determined to fulfill God’s agenda, even at a great personal cost.
The first-hand nature of that experience thus added to Jesus’ understanding of what it meant for a human being to conform to God’s will in the face of adversity. The author of Hebrews will expand upon this point in the following verse, but first, Hebrews 5:7 tells us that “[Jesus] was heard because of His godly fear” (MEV).
In modern usage, the word “fear” is often used to describe a sense of worry or apprehension. But here in Hebrews 5:7, this word reflects an attitude of reverence, honor, or respect. Because of this, we can associate the word “fear” with Jesus’ reverent submission to God’s will and His trust in “…Him who could save Him from death.”
Yet even though we rightfully praise Jesus’ expression of trust in the Garden of Gethsemane, we should also remember that it was much more challenging for Jesus to express His trust in God prior to His crucifixion than it is for us to acknowledge it now. This has led one commentator to offer the following observation…
“The fact that the cup was not removed qualifies Him all the more to sympathize with His people; when they are faced with the mystery and trial of unanswered prayer they know that their high priest was tested in the same way and did not seek a way of escape by supernatural means of a kind that they do not have at their disposal.
At no point can the objection be voiced that because He was the Son of God it was different, or easier, for Him. He who would not have recourse to miraculous means to relieve His hunger in the wilderness refused to summon angelic forces to rescue Him from His enemies. He recognized the path of the Father’s will, and followed it to the end; herein lay His ‘godly fear’-His ‘humble submission’, as NEB renders it.” (1)
(1) The New International Commentary On The New Testament – The Epistle To The Hebrews, F. F. Bruce, General Editor © Copyright 1964, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan [pg. 102]
“though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).
Hebrews 5:8 presents us with another challenging question: if Jesus is God, then how could He learn anything? To put it another way, if God is omniscient by nature, then what is there for Him to learn?
To address this question, it is important to remember something mentioned earlier: Jesus is fully God and fully human. As a human being, Jesus was subject to a wide range of human experience. That experience included things such as learning, development, obedience, and suffering. As the oft-quoted passage from the Biblical book of Philippians explains, “And being found in human form, [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV).
The following insights can also help us develop a greater appreciation for this important doctrinal truth…
“What [Jesus] knew by omniscience, He ‘learned’ by experience, thus ‘being made perfect’ -not as God (for as God He was eternally perfect, by definition), but as man. (1)
“Though Jesus was perfectly obedient in his heart, he had to learn what this meant through the human experience. He learned what it is to obey God when the crowds love you because you feed them. He learned what it means to obey when they hate you because you tell them an unpopular truth. He learned what it is like to obey when God sends you to the cross. Jesus learned what obedience means by what he endured. This is why he can sympathize with us when he takes us through the wilderness.” (2)
“He was not exempt from suffering, just because he was God s Son. He learned first-hand how difficult it is for men to obey God. He learned this by experience, and he also learned what kind of help men need to help them stand in the whirlwind.” (3)
“The omniscient God knew what obedience was, but He never experienced it until He became incarnate in human flesh. Before His incarnation, He owed obedience to no one. There was no one greater than He to whom He could have rendered obedience. But now in incarnation, God the Son became obedient to God the Father. He learned experientially what obedience was. It was not that He had to learn to obey, for He said, ‘I do always those things that please Him’ (Joh 8:29).” (4)
“Usually people learn obedience through the disastrous consequences of their disobedience; but not so with Christ. From the first he set forth on a course of the most absolute and perfect obedience; and the sufferings which he endured were the consequence of that obedience…” (5)
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes Hebrews 5:8 https://www.icr.org/bible/Heb/5/8/
(2) Sproul, R. C. (1994). Before the face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries. Page 30.
(3) Ice, Rhoderick D. “Commentary on Hebrews 5”. “The Bible Study New Testament”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ice/hebrews-5.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.
(4) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Hebrews 5:8) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(5) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Hebrews 5”. “Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hebrews-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9).
Hebrews 5:9 introduces another potentially troublesome question for any dedicated student of God’s Word. We can phrase that question as follows: “If Jesus is perfect, then how can this passage say, “After he had been made perfect…” (CEB)? After all, Jesus once challenged His opponents with the following question: “Who among you can prove me guilty of any sin? If I am speaking the truth, why don’t you believe me?” (John 8:46 Mounce). How then could Jesus be made perfect if He already was so?
To answer this question, we must first define the concept of “perfect” as it appears in this passage. This word conveys the qualities of completion and accomplishment in the original language of this verse. (1) Thus, Jesus was not an imperfect person who attained perfection. Instead, He fully completed the course of human experience.
The Amplified Version of Hebrews 5:9 highlights this idea in its translation of this passage: “And having been made perfect [uniquely equipped and prepared as Savior and retaining His integrity amid opposition], He became the source of eternal salvation…”
It’s also important to think about the overall context of this verse as we consider this question. You see, the general theme of this chapter (and several that follow) is Jesus, our High Priest. Hebrews 5:2 established the basis for that discussion in telling us that a High Priest “…is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” With this in mind, we can say that Jesus was a perfect human being who added to that perfection through experience.
Because of this, no one can truthfully say, “A perfect God cannot understand or appreciate what it was like to experience the pain, suffering, and affliction that human beings are often forced to endure.” On the contrary- Jesus, (as the God-man), is personally familiar with those experiential aspects of human life. Thus, He is perfectly suited to His priestly ministry on our behalf.
For instance, Jesus knows exactly what it means to live in the world we inhabit. He knows about love, joy, pain, and suffering. He is personally familiar with acceptance and rejection, respect and humiliation, happiness, sadness, and other human emotions. Because of this, Jesus is fully qualified to represent us before God as our High Priest. Since Jesus knows what it means to live as a human being, no one will ever be able to truthfully say to Him, “You don’t understand.”
“Called by God as high priest ‘according to the order of Melchizedek,’ of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:10-11).
Much like the road construction that often prohibits a traveler from proceeding directly to his or her destination, the author of Hebrews encountered a detour on his way to an in-depth discussion of Jesus’ priestly ministry. That discussion involved Jesus’ relationship to Melchizedek, the Old Testament priest-king mentioned earlier in this chapter. One source provides us with a brief description of that relationship…
“Our Lord could never have been a Levitical priest because He was born of the tribe of Judah (7:14) and not the tribe of Levi. Thus He must be associated with another order of priests, that of Melchizedek. Both Christ and Melchizedek were men (7:4; 1 Tim. 2:5); both were king-priests (Gen. 14:18; Zech. 6:12–13); both were appointed directly by God (7:21); both were called ‘King of righteousness’ and ‘King of peace’ (7:2; Isa. 11:5–9).” (1)
Unfortunately, there was an obstacle on the road to that discussion that caused our author to take an alternate route: “We have a lot to explain about this. But since you have become too lazy to pay attention, explaining it to you is hard” (GW). The good news is that the author of Hebrews will finally reach this destination in Hebrews chapter seven. The not-so-good news is that he will be forced to travel an alternate road of rebuke and exhortation with his readers first.
While the rebuke found here in Hebrews 5:10-11 may seem unnecessarily harsh, we can take solace in the fact that we are far removed from the original audience for this epistle. This should enable us to take a sober assessment of our lives in light of this passage without the emotional sting of a personal reprimand. Unfortunately, the threat of spiritual lethargy that underscores this passage remains an ever-present reality for every generation.
The Biblical book of James addresses this risk when it cautions us to “…be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). A person who de-prioritizes core spiritual disciplines such as prayer, church attendance, and/or reading the Scriptures is someone who sure to become “dull of hearing” in spiritual and/or practical matters.
Finally, there are several other dangers facing those who fail to move forward into spiritual maturity. Our author will examine some of those hazards as we progress towards the close of this chapter.
(1) Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 1950.
“We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become too lazy to understand” (Hebrews 5:11 HCSB).
No matter how gifted an educator may be, he or she is often limited by a student’s ability to grasp the subject material. While good teachers will seek to present their lessons in ways that are best suited for their students to understand and apply, it is often true that some pupils are simply disinterested in learning. This helps explain the dilemma faced by the author of Hebrews here in verse eleven.
While the author of Hebrews possessed the God-given ability to communicate these advanced spiritual concepts, there were some members of his audience who seemed indifferent towards them. Lest we think that this response was limited to the recipients of this letter, the Scriptures alert us to a similar attitude in a different setting…
“One day King Joash said to the priests, ‘Collect all the money brought as a sacred offering to the Lord’s Temple, whether it is a regular assessment, a payment of vows, or a voluntary gift. Let the priests take some of that money to pay for whatever repairs are needed at the Temple.’ But by the twenty-third year of Joash’s reign, the priests still had not repaired the Temple.
So King Joash called for Jehoiada and the other priests and asked them, ‘Why haven’t you repaired the Temple? Don’t use any more money for your own needs. From now on, it must all be spent on Temple repairs.’ So the priests agreed not to accept any more money from the people, and they also agreed to let others take responsibility for repairing the Temple” (2 Kings 4-8).
This passage applies to our discussion of Hebrews 5:11 in several ways…
- The Old Testament priests allowed the Lord’s Temple to fall into disrepair, much like the New Testament recipients of this letter permitted spiritual laziness to dull their understanding.
- The Old Testament priests could have performed the necessary Temple repairs just as the New Testament audience for the book of Hebrews could have dedicated themselves to the study of these deeper spiritual truths. Unfortunately, both groups failed in those responsibilities.
- The Old Testament priests and New Testament readers of Hebrews were each rebuked for their respective failures.
Finally, the author of Hebrews will prescribe a course of action for his audience, much like King Joash imposed an edict upon the priests of his era. This reminds us that it is far more preferable to choose the path of spiritual growth, especially considering the potential alternative.
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11).
If you’ve ever tried to coach and encourage a lazy or indifferent individual, you are undoubtedly familiar with the sentiment expressed in the passage quoted above. If we were to rephrase this message for the benefit of a contemporary audience, we might do so by saying, “I would like to discuss these advanced spiritual truths with you at greater length, but you are just not ready for it. You should be much further along in your spiritual development, but your lack of maturity is holding you back.”
The Living Bible paraphrase of Hebrews 5:11 reinforces this idea: “There is much more I would like to say along these lines, but you don’t seem to listen, so it’s hard to make you understand.” Another version of this passage reveals a nuance that is worthy of our attention: “…you have become dull of hearing” (ESV). In other words, these individuals did not begin sluggishly; they became that way. This leads us to an important insight…
“The Hebrews’ spiritual lethargy and slow response to gospel teaching prevented additional teaching at this time. This is a reminder that failure to appropriate the truth of the gospel produces stagnation in spiritual advancement and the inability to understand or assimilate additional teaching (cf. Jn 16:12).” (1)
Jesus’ closing application from the Parable of the Talents offers a cautionary message for those who are “spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen” (NLT)…
“To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29 NLT).
One of the more effective ways to avoid this kind of spiritual lethargy involves a few simple principles that are recorded for us in the Biblical book of Acts. In Acts 2:42, we find that the early church did four important things: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (NIV).
Thus, we can say that these early Christians made certain to concentrate on four critical areas: prayer, Bible study (the apostles’ teaching), communion (breaking of bread), and going to church (the fellowship). If we prayerfully seek God’s help in observing these four spiritual disciplines, it should help us avoid the fate that is described for us here in Hebrews 5:11.
(1) John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Heb 5:11.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).
This passage tells us that the initial recipients of the Biblical book of Hebrews were people who were lacking in spiritual maturity. But even though we are far removed from that original audience, there are some aspects of this verse that should be familiar to any student with primary, secondary, university, or post-graduate experience.
Anyone who has advanced through these educational levels knows that progress involves training and development. Each new academic level builds upon the previous level and each new lesson builds upon those we have already learned. This same idea holds true of our spiritual lives as well. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we build upon the spiritual tests we have already passed.
Unfortunately, the recipients of this letter were too immature to grasp these advanced spiritual teachings, even though they had been Christians for quite some time. In fact, their condition was so bad that they needed someone to teach them the “ABC’s” (or “…first principles”) of Christianity all over again.
This situation might be compared to a modern-day teenager who attends a class when he or she learns that the letters C-A-T spells “cat.” While that type of lesson is appropriate for a small child, it is (or should be) far too basic for someone at a higher educational level. This sad analogy describes the spiritual condition of the Christians who received this letter, especially when it came to these advanced spiritual truths.
We can apply the lesson of Hebrews 5:12 when we remember that our spiritual lives are not very different from our academic lives in this respect. As we move forward academically, our training builds on the things we’ve already learned. The same should be true of our spiritual lives as well. As we move forward in our relationship with Christ, we should grow in spiritual maturity as well.
In addition to the benefit that spiritual maturity brings to our personal relationship with Christ, a spiritually mature person can assist others who are less advanced, much like a college student might help a child with his or her elementary school work. However, a spiritually immature person who has been a Christian for an extended period is someone who may be subject to the rebuke that is given to us here in Hebrews 5:12.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, (Hebrews 5:12 ESV).
Hebrews 5:12 addresses a group of Christians who chose to remain in a state of spiritual infancy rather than seek a path of spiritual growth. The use of the word “ought” in this passage is quite revealing, for it tells us that these men and women should have grown spiritually, but didn’t.
This passage is instructive on several levels. For instance, a Christian who fails to advance in his or her spiritual knowledge is someone who is vulnerable to spiritual deception. He or she may become a target for those who peddle cultic beliefs or others who prey upon the resources of those who are spiritually uninformed or misinformed.
However, there is another problem associated with spiritual immaturity that may be difficult to quantify, but is real nonetheless. For example, it seems reasonable to assume that there were younger, inexperienced Christians among the congregation of the Hebrews. These younger individuals should have been learning from those who were older. Unfortunately, those older Christians were much like spiritual infants themselves. Because of this, the only lesson they were capable of teaching others involved what not to do.
This leads us to an important question: “Who is missing out on the help we might offer if we chose to pursue greater spiritual maturity? Remember that spiritual immaturity carries a double penalty- it negatively affects us, but it also affects others who might have benefited from our help if we had grown in our knowledge of Christ.
This has led one Biblical scholar to offer a stinging rebuke that is worthy of our consideration…
“We live in one of the greatest periods of ignorance the church has ever seen. The ‘evangelical, Bible-believing’ church in the United States is characterized by people who pursue happy experiences, but whose knowledge of the Bible is limited to junior high school-level fill-in-the-blank booklets. They don’t study the Mosaic law for its wisdom in social issues. They have no idea what is in the Prophets. They know only a smattering of the Gospels and Epistles. So they are not making progress and having influence in our society.
…Too many Christian publishers shy away from books of theology because there is such a small market. Most prefer baby food ‘how-to’ books, with stories beginning each chapter. If your reading habits have been restricted to books that don’t stretch you, are you ready to become serious about learning and applying the Bible?” (1)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (1994). Before the face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries. [Page 121]
“You are like babies who can drink only milk, not old enough for solid food. And when a person is still living on milk it shows he isn’t very far along in the Christian life, and doesn’t know much about the difference between right and wrong. He is still a baby Christian!” (Hebrews 5:12b-13 TLB).
While the lack of maturity among the original audience for the Biblical book of Hebrews was bad enough, Hebrews 5:12-13 reveals a problem that was deeper than a simple lack of spiritual growth. You see, the people addressed here in Hebrews chapter five were like infants when it came to their spiritual development. Consider what it’s like to be a spiritual infant, especially for those who should possess a greater degree of spiritual maturity…
- Babies have all their decisions made for them. Is that what we want for ourselves when it comes to spiritual matters? Isn’t it better to gain the Biblical understanding necessary to make such decisions along with the advice and counsel of trusted spiritual leaders?
- Babies are often confined for their own protection. We often place babies in a crib or playpen because they lack the knowledge and experience necessary to be safely left alone. But as children grow up and become more responsible, they gain additional freedoms. Isn’t that what we should want for ourselves as men and women of God?
- Other people feed babies whatever they think a child should eat. Do we want others to feed us from whatever spiritual diet they feel is appropriate for us? Wouldn’t it be better to go directly to the Scriptures and verify the “ingredient list” of a teaching or sermon for ourselves?
- Babies must be carefully monitored because they often destroy anything they touch. Shouldn’t we prefer to be known as trustworthy individuals who can handle the things of God in a responsible manner?
- Babies will put anything in their mouths. If we place an object into a baby’s hand, he or she will likely put that object (whatever it is) directly into his or her mouth. This is true even of things that might poison or kill that child. We should certainly seek to avoid that example when it comes to our spiritual beliefs.
- Babies have no control over their bodies. Babies spend much of their time eating, sleeping, and defecating. While the image of a soiled diaper may represent an unpleasant word-picture, it serves to illustrate the graphic cost of spiritual immaturity.
With these illustrations in mind, we can thus say that spiritual immaturity is something we should definitely seek to avoid.
“For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe” (Hebrews 5:13).
The New Testament book of 1 Peter makes use of an interesting comparison that relates to our text from Hebrews 5:13…
“Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:1-2).
So, which analogy is accurate? Is milk representative of spiritual immaturity (as Hebrews 5:13 seems to imply) or should we “…yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation” (NET). Well, the answer is both. You see, infants and adults each drink milk; the difference is that milk represents the sole diet for an infant.
In a normal course of human development, a child eventually graduates from milk to solid food. So while milk is generally appropriate for everyone, only an infant would drink milk as an exclusive form of nourishment. In a similar manner, we should partake of the milk of God’s Word, yet we should also strive for the “solid food” that is associated with maturity in the “…word of righteousness.”
Remember that there are many dedicated, hard-working Pastors, teachers, and other church leaders who stand ready to help us grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word. Their work serves to “…equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” Ephesians 4:12 ESV). We would do well to seek out these ministers and learn from them.
Nevertheless, we are individually accountable to God when it comes to our level of spiritual maturity (or lack thereof) and we must accept responsibility for our personal spiritual development. Two commentators from different eras make thought-provoking arguments on this subject in discussing this text from Hebrews 5:13…
“When you go to church, your pastor, who has digested some spiritual food from the Scriptures, teaches you what he has spiritually digested. That is like drinking milk, which is a predigested food for babies who have not yet developed a digestive system of their own. If the only Scripture you know comes to you through a pastor who has predigested that Scripture that makes you a spiritual baby.” (1)
“Milk is food which has passed through another’s digestion. Many cannot get their spiritual nutrition direct from God’s Word, but have to live on what others have obtained and have passed on in speech or book. Seek a first-hand acquaintance with the things of God. We grow by feeding and exercise.” (2)
(1) Dick Woodward, Mini Bible College Study Booklet #15 Hebrews, James, I and II Peter, I, II, III John, Jude and The Revelation [pg.4] https://mbc.icm.org/
(2) Meyer, Frederick Brotherton. “Commentary on Hebrews 5”. “F. B. Meyer’s ‘Through the Bible’ Commentary”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbm/hebrews-5.html. 1914.
“You will never be able to eat solid spiritual food and understand the deeper things of God’s Word until you become better Christians and learn right from wrong by practicing doing right” (Hebrews 5:14 TLB).
Most societies have enacted legislation to protect children from various forms of exploitation. These protections are necessary because children generally tend to be vulnerable, inexperienced, and susceptible to deception and/or victimization. Unfortunately, some Christians are similarly vulnerable to deception because they haven’t “…trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (NIV) as we read in the passage quoted above.
This leads us to a discussion of the “solid spiritual food” mentioned here in Hebrews 5:14. This analogy represents the good, sound instruction we receive from reading the Scriptures each day. It also involves knowing what God’s Word says and acting upon it. The approach is reflected in the words of Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (NIV).
However, these spiritual disciplines are important for another reason that bears repeating. You see, a spiritually immature person who is unfamiliar with sound Biblical doctrine is someone who is susceptible to various forms of deceit. The good news is that we can avoid many of the problems that come with spiritual immaturity simply by reading and prayerfully meditating upon the application of God’s Word each day.
For instance, we can start by asking for God’s help in committing to read a portion of His Word each day at a designated time. We can find support for this practice in the Biblical book of Joshua: “Always remember what is written in the Book of the Teachings. Study it day and night to be sure to obey everything that is written there. If you do this, you will be wise and successful in everything” (Joshua 1:8 NCV).
We can apply that passage by asking three questions as we read through God’s Word…
- What does this portion of Scripture say?
- What does this portion of Scripture mean?
- How should I apply this portion of Scripture in my life?
If we seek God’s assistance in understanding and applying His Word in this manner, we are sure to grow in Biblical knowledge and spiritual maturity.
Finally, we can say that times have changed, but people in the Biblical era were much the same as they are today in many respects. As we read about the lives of the Biblical personalities we encounter in the Scriptures, we are certain to find many positive examples to emulate as well as many negative examples to avoid.
“But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
There are many potential dangers that await a Christian who isn’t familiar with Biblical teachings. This unfortunate reality may explain why the closing verse of Hebrews chapter five emphasizes the importance of maturity in Christ. Much like a talented athlete or musician artist sharpens his or her skills through practice and repetition, we can follow that same path in a spiritual sense by reading the Scriptures and applying their teachings each day. This helps promote growth and maturity as we learn to live out Biblical teachings in the events and circumstances of daily life.
The twin emphasis upon “use” (KJV) and “practice” (AMP) from this passage stresses two important elements:
- Knowledge (or the grasp and understanding of Biblical teachings).
- Application (or the act of putting that knowledge into practice in discerning good from evil).
Taken together, these elements recall a well-known verse from the New Testament book of James: “…be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). This has also led one commentator to make the following observation…
“The writer’s point in these verses is not just that spiritual babies lack information, which they do, but that they lack experience. A person becomes a ‘mature’ Christian, not only by gaining information, though that is foundational, but by using that information to make decisions that are in harmony with God’s will.” (1)
In some respects, we can say that good spiritual discernment is not very different from the various types of discernment we exercise in other areas of life. For instance, an experienced sales professional might easily identify the elements of a “sales pitch” that others fail to recognize. A skilled musician may listen to a recording and discern certain aspects of another artist’s talent that may escape the notice of a casual listener. A law enforcement officer may use elements of his or her training to detect when others are being untruthful in various other environments.
The point is that our skills often provide us with valuable insights that benefit us in other areas of life. The same can be said for spiritual maturity as well. As we grow in spiritual discernment and maturation, we should also grow in our ability to identify and “…reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train [ourselves] for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).
(1) Constable, Thomas. DD, Notes on Hebrews 2022 Edition “1. The readers’ condition 5:11-14” [5:14] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14 ESV).
We will complete our study of Hebrews chapter five with a final look at the topic of discernment. In a spiritual sense, discernment refers to the ability to see things as God sees them and not how they seem to appear. 1 Corinthians 12:10 identifies “discerning of spirits” as a spiritual gift, and the Old Testament book of Proverbs adds the following insight regarding this subject…
“…the Lord grants wisdom! His every word is a treasure of knowledge and understanding. He grants good sense to the godly-his saints. He is their shield, protecting them and guarding their pathway. He shows how to distinguish right from wrong, how to find the right decision every time” (Proverbs 2:6-9 TLB).
A person who seeks better discernment will find that the single most reliable, accurate, and trustworthy means of developing that quality involves reading the Scriptures each day. While it may be helpful to read books that explore various Biblical topics, it’s important to note that the Bible was written by those who were inspired by the Spirit of God to communicate the Word of God.
For instance, the New Testament book of 2 Timothy tells us, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This means that we have an opportunity to hear directly from God whenever we prayerfully read the Biblical Scriptures.
We also have the following encouragement from the New Testament book of James: “…if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Therefore, we would do well to avail ourselves of the opportunity to access God’s wisdom through the pages of His Word each day.
Finally, we should consider that our need for God-given discernment is essential in many respects. For instance, one element of good character involves the ability to discern the potential consequences of our actions. Unfortunately, there are countless individuals who have been hurt by those who failed to discern the potential effects of their decisions upon others. Therefore, those who regularly read and apply God’s Word are well-positioned to have “…their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:15 ESV).
As we close our look at this verse, it’s important to be conscious of our internal motives as we seek to apply this passage. For instance, it helps to remember that God is aware of any ulterior motive we may possess in choosing a particular course of action. If we seek to maintain the appearance of doing good with a different corresponding motive, we can rest assured that God is fully aware of it.
The Biblical account of Ananias and Sapphira may represent the clearest example of this reality. You see, Ananias and Sapphira were a husband and wife couple who brought a financial offering to the first-century church under false pretenses. It appears their willingness to offer that gift was motivated by a desire to secure praise, honor, and recognition for their “generosity.” However, the Apostle Peter quickly identified the inappropriate nature of their offering and their seemingly noble gesture was shown to be not what it seemed.
Jesus also had an experience with others who came to Him with disguised motives. Once after feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, a group of individuals sought Him out once again. But Jesus, knowing their true motive, said to them, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (John 6:25-26 NIV). Unfortunately, those who were seeking Jesus in this passage seemed to be less interested in Him and more interested in what He could do for them.
These examples demonstrate the need to prayerfully audit our internal motives in a given situation. For instance…
- Are there other agendas hiding behind our words or actions?
- Are we acting selfishly or unselfishly?
- Are we considering the needs of others as well as our own needs?
- Are we seeking to do the right thing or the easy thing?
While others may look upon outward appearances, God looks upon our hearts (see 1 Samuel 16:7). If our motives are good and acceptable before God, then our actions should follow as well. But if not, we should take care that we are not counted among those who are mentioned in the book of the Biblical prophet Isaiah…
“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).