Slowing or Growing?
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Slowing or Growing?

From Series: Fix Our Eyes on Jesus, Volume 1

Hebrews 5:11-6:3  (ID: 1911)

Where are you in your walk with God? Are you growing stronger and better equipped? Or are you feeling sluggish and indifferent toward the things of the Lord? Spiritual maturity isn’t a quick fix; like physical development, it’s a daily process of training, learning, and growing. Teaching from Hebrews, Alistair Begg offers believers practical advice on moving from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity, encouraging us to make diligent use of the means God has provided for our growth in Christ.


Sermon Transcript:

In the spirit of prayer, let’s pick it up at 5:11.

The encouragement which the writer has just delivered to his readers is on the basis not simply of gracious words but is largely on the basis of good theology. And indeed, every lasting encouragement which is to be ours on the journey of faith is encouragement which emerges from solid theology. Superficial responses to the circumstances of our lives will sustain us for only a very short period of time. And the great truths of the fact of the high priesthood of the Lord Jesus and the deity of Christ, the wonder of who he is and all that he has done, are the solid theological underpinnings upon which our Christian faith is built.

And so the writer, in addressing this, before he proceeds with what he has identified as this issue of the priesthood of Melchizedek, in 5:10—to which he’s going to return in chapter 7—before he deals with this, he takes a purposeful pause. And between 5:11 and 6:13, he deals with three matters of pastoral concern. And they are, first of all, the problem of spiritual infancy, then he identifies the pathway to spiritual maturity, and then he tackles the issue or the peril of spiritual apostasy. And this matter of the apostasy passages of Hebrews is a grave and pressing issue, has caused heartache to many, and to it we’re going to come; but until we deal first with these initial aspects of infancy and maturity, we need to wait. So let us look at the eleventh verse, and look concerning this problem of spiritual infancy.

The Problem of Spiritual Infancy

He says in verse 12, “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some[body] to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” Now, this is a quite graphic picture. If you imagine going into a restaurant somewhere in the city, and walking in and looking around, and discovering that everybody in there is doing nothing else other than drinking milk—and worse still, they are all drinking it out of large baby bottles! Gentlemen in suits, and ladies in dresses, and ties, and teenagers, the whole group, they’re all suckling out of these baby bottles. You’d have to conclude that there was something severely wrong with the group, or that they were just a particularly strange society of milk drinkers or something. But we would have grave cause for concern.

In the same way, to come upon a congregation of God’s people who ought, by this time, to be advancing in the things of biblical theology, having moved beyond the elementary instructions of basic Christianity—to find them all sitting, as it were, with big bottles of spiritual milk, sitting around in their diapers… it’s a graphic picture! If you imagine this whole congregation sitting in nappies and sucking on milk bottles—you imagine that for a moment, you say, “What a bizarre thought.” That would simply be a graphic portrayal of the condition which he identifies in the lives of those to whom he writes. “By this time,” he says, “you folks should have become teachers, but you yourselves need somebody to teach you the ABCs all over again.”

Now, if you’ll allow your eyes to look at the verses, you will see that the source of their difficulty doesn’t reside in the complexity of the subject matter, nor does it rest in the inability of the writer to explain the matter, but the reason for their infancy and their continued babyhood is on account of the fact that they are, at the end of verse 11, in the phrase “slow to learn.” “Slow to learn.” This word was used contemporaneously in the writer’s day to describe the numbed limbs of a sick lion, so that in seeing the lion unable to stand up as the king of the jungle, unable to put himself up on his paws and move about with freedom, was an indication of his sickness. And the word that was used there to describe the condition in his legs was this very same word. It’s the same word that is used in 6:12, and there it is translated “lazy”: “We do not want you to become lazy.” It’s the same word. “We do not want you to [be slow to learn], but [instead] to imitate those who through faith and patience [receive] what has been promised.”

It’s not that these individuals were good souls who were listening carefully, who were trying hard to grasp what was being said and were simply having difficulty. If that were the case, we would not expect the writer to speak to them as he does. Those of you who are teachers here today know that there is a great difference, in your mind and in your approach to teaching, between dealing with somebody who frankly has a total disinterest in the subject and dealing with an individual who is listening carefully, trying hard to grasp what’s being said, and yet having difficulty in assimilating the information. The good teacher will work with that individual in hoping to advance them from where they are to where they might be. So we ought not to think that he is being hard on those who were trying to do their best. That’s not the picture. He is being hard on those who should have been eagerly receiving the truth but had developed a “couldn’t care less” approach to the instruction.

They had become, in part, professional listeners. They had become the kind of individuals to whom I referred a couple of weeks ago: like people on aircraft who, when they ask you to take out the flight instructions and the safety instructions, flat-out ignore it, because we say, “I know all that!” But every time that I refuse to take it out, in the back of my mind I say to myself, “If I ever had to get this jolly thing from under the seat, I don’t know if I could grab it, and I don’t know if I would have it the right way round, and I wouldn’t know when to suck and when to blow on that jolly whistle thing.” But you’re so smart, so smug: “Hey, let old Mrs. So-and-So in 13-F, let her read that stuff, and I’ll check with her if it starts to go down. But for me, I’m okay.” That’s the picture of these individuals. The Word of God comes to them, and they have adopted a position of mental listlessness. They don’t really pay attention; therefore, they don’t understand. And because they don’t understand, they don’t feel the impact of the truth.

When you see little children being fed, and when you recall feeding your own little children—those of us who now have our children beyond the stages of hand-feeding—you remember those circumstances well. I see it around me in restaurants all the time. The baby is fastened into the little seat and gets the plastic thing around their sorry neck that chafes their neck half the time; and then out comes the little bottle, or whatever it is, and the spoon goes in, and the mouth fastens closed. And then it involves ingenuity on the part of the feeder. And so you have all of the flying spoon routine, you know—say, “Whoo, here comes the aeroplane! Whoo!” All that nonsense. You know that stuff? And the kid’s like, “Hey, don’t give me the aeroplane stuff; we did that last week. I don’t care. I’m not interested in this.” “Come on, we’re going to bring the ship into the harbor!” “Nah, we did the ship thing Friday. The ship thing’s not gonna work. I don’t care.”

And so what happens to a congregation who refuse to absorb the Word of God as it’s given to them—what happens to a lot of pastors and teachers is that they start to try and present the food, as it were, on roller skates. Or they start to bring it in: “Come on, here comes the aeroplane! Come on, now, open up! I’ve got to get it in you somehow. I gotta think of a clever way to come at it. I have to come at an angle with it, because, after all, they don’t really want it.” And so that’s why when you go to churches, all this paraphernalia going on, because you’ve got a big bunch of babies! They’re sitting there with their bottles, never advancing. And consequently, the feeder has to get dramatic and creative in seeking to force-feed them.

The same kind of carelessness and indifference to food is that which is expressed by many of a husband whose wife goes to see her mother for a few days and leaves behind all the careful instructions on the refrigerator door and all the prepackaged meals in the requisite places with the identifiable “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” Dinner” thing on it—“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday”—only to come home and find out, when she opens the refrigerator door, that everything is exactly as she left it. Why? Because he said he couldn’t really be bothered. And she says, “What? You only had to reach your sorry hand in here, pull it out, put it in here, take it out, put in down here, and eat it. And you couldn’t be bothered?”

“That’s right, I couldn’t be bothered.”

“Well then, you couldn’t have much of an appetite.”

“I guess not.”

“We have much to say about this; it’s hard to explain to you, because you’re too lazy,” he says. “You started out paying attention. In the beginning your minds were focused, your hearts were stirred, but now so much of what you hear is to you nothing more than routine.” I say to you again and again, loved ones, that if you find yourself listening to the good news of the gospel being proclaimed and saying in your minds, “Oh, I know that stuff, I can switch off for this,” you’re in danger, and so am I. Because those who love the gospel and love the Word of God will love to be stirred by its truth all over again. And when for us the sound of God’s Word, the instruction of Scripture, becomes to us nothing more than a dull routine to which we respond with mental listlessness, then Hebrews 5:11, 12, and 13 come to hit us square in the face.

And such failure means that instead of being teachers, these individuals have to go back and repeat first grade. They were like children who had previously made progress in their reading, and they had chucked it for a while, and as a result of their disinterest and their thoughtlessness, they had actually forgotten the alphabet. And at their best, they could only go over the same old basic stuff. Their diet by this time, he says, should have been solid food, the kind of mature information that is necessary to grow to maturity. But instead of them being able to take solid food, all they could do was take this diet of baby food over and over again. So instead of what was obscure becoming clear, that which had previously been clear was becoming obscure. It’s a sad thing to witness individuals who have never grown up—neither physically or emotionally or mentally. It’s also very sad to see individuals who have never grown up spiritually. Laziness has led to ignorance, and apathy has led to infancy.

Those who love the gospel and who love the Word of God will love to be stirred by its truth all over again.

Now, you see, the real danger in this is, as 6:12 says, “We don’t want you to become lazy like this. We don’t want you to do that, because if you become lazy like this, it is a short step from there to spiritual oblivion.” There’s something very endearing about seeing a baby take its milk; there’s something really bizarre about a mature gentleman sitting sucking on a baby’s bottle. You may have done that as a grandpa, for a joke with your grandchildren, if you have a little bit of a sense of humor. And what do they say to you? They say, “Oh, Grandpa, don’t do that. Don’t do that, Grandpa. Look at what Grandpa’s doing! Grandpa’s sucking on Susie’s bottle, look!” Because you look such a clown! And even the children know, “This is ridiculous. Grandpas don’t suck on these bottles. Grandpas did that when they were wee, but grandpas are big and old and gray and baldy, and they don’t do that. Because they’ve gone from there to maturity.” You don’t have the senior citizens ministry in the “0–6 months” room.

“By their indolence,” says John Brown, “the neglect of proper nourishment, they had spoiled their spiritual appetite, they had spoiled the power of digestion, and they had brought themselves to a state of second childhood.”[1] Do you realize that that can happen? This is not a sort of mythological concern; this is a reality. These people had their own eating disorder that they had developed. They were spiritually anorexic. They could be surrounded by the best of meals, and then only they would pick at their food, and they would only eat mush, and they would go back to the same old thing: Rice Krispies and toast, Rice Krispies and more toast—and when all else fails, Rice Krispies and toast! You say, “How do you know about that?” Because I like Rice Krispies and toast! I just had a conversation with my wife in between the services, and she told me, she said, “You’re not having any more of that ‘Rice Krispies and toast’ routine.” ’Cause I was suggesting that I didn’t need lunch, and we would be fine. She says, “No, you have to eat. You must eat.”

That’s what the writer’s saying: “You gotta eat, folks. Otherwise, you’ll just be big babies.” You can’t live on the milk. It’s okay to like milk; it’s good to have it as a part of our diet. But these individuals had never got beyond that stage. And consequently, they were unable to grapple with the implications of genuine Christian experience. That’s verse 13: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” He doesn’t know the right thing to do under God. He is not seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness—Matthew 6:33. Since they haven’t got beyond the ABCs themselves, these individuals cannot seriously hope to be an encouragement to others in the things of faith.

In fact, the opposite will be true. If you hang around with babies and with infantile conversation, you have to accommodate yourself to them. Isn’t that what happens with babies? Why is it that people put their heads into prams and go, “Oochy, goochy, diddely doo, kannee, canoo?” What is that? They’re talkin’ baby talk. Why? ’Cause they’re with babies! You don’t go put your head in a crib and go, “Hey, can you spell antidisestablishmentarianism? Hahaha!” You’re just met by a blank stare. You put your head in and you go, “Coochy, doochy, poodlies,” all that stuff. It’s baby talk.

You hang around with spiritual babies, all you can do is talk baby talk. And the level of our Christian pilgrimage will largely be determined by the level of the people with whom we hang. So we either hang with people who are urging us to press on to love and to good deeds, or we’ll hang around with spiritual babies. And as long as you hang with spiritual babies, you won’t feel bad about being a baby yourself, because, after all, if everyone in the restaurant is drinking on the big bottle of milk, it’ll feel fine to drink on the big milk bottle. But if you’re sitting with people who are tucking into a nice steak, you’re going to feel like a bit of an idiot going [makes sipping noise].

The churches are full all across America; you can fill service after service after service if you’re content to produce a congregation of milk drinkers. ’Cause you just go …. Right? Fine, okay, next battery in. Bring ’em in. Give ’em a little more. But if you teach solid food, it’s only for the mature, and the babies get left behind.

That’s the problem, then, of spiritual infancy. We could say more about it, but we shouldn’t.

The Pathway to Spiritual Maturity

Let’s go on then to the pathway to spiritual maturity. Verse 14: “Solid food is for the mature.” There is a life cycle here; there’s a kind of food chain, if you care. And this is how it goes: A person embraces faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he becomes a baby Christian—she becomes a baby Christian. As a baby Christian, she learns the elementary truths. She then puts them into practice. She begins to grow in spiritual discernment. She is then able to take on more solid food. And then she proceeds to spiritual maturity, and then she is able to teach others. First of all, infancy, the elementary instruction, growth, and so on.

Now, this is the encouragement of these words. “Let’s go on,” he says. “Let’s leave behind, and let’s go on to maturity.” If our children are teenagers and towards the end of their schooling, we don’t anticipate them sitting down and rehearsing for dinner guests how good they are at the poems that they learned in the first and the second and the third grade.

“How are you doing at school?”

“Oh, I’m doing very well. Would you like to hear the story of Old Shep?”—which dates me. “Old Shep was the sheep dog. The sheep dog was nice. Old Shep looked after the sheep. The sheep like Old Shep.”

The people are going, “What the world happened to your kid? What is this about? Isn’t he eighteen?”

“Yes.”

“Well, why’s he doing this?”

There’s nothing impressive in that. Now, it’s impressive if you’re five years old, but not if you’re eighteen or twenty.

“Let’s go on to maturity,” he says. The beginning is a beginning, but it’s just a beginning. It’s a starting point, it’s a launching pad. First and second grade is important. The alphabet is important. Past, present, and future tense is very important in the syntax of language. “Two and two is four” is a very important thing. Binary numbers are important to learn. All of that stuff is vital. But it’s all foundational. People use it every day in their lives, but they don’t make reference to it, and they don’t build shrines to it, and they don’t seek to impress their neighbors and their friends by referring to it. Not if they’re sensible, they don’t. So it’s not that the foundations are unimportant. They’re very important. But it is that we’re not to be constantly footering about with the foundations and laying the foundations.

And you see some people who say they’re going to build their own house. And you look at it, and you’ve been in their neighborhood for seven and nine years, and it’s got weeds growing out everywhere, and there’s just about two courses of bricks sticking above the ground. And every so often, on a miserable Saturday, you drive by, and there’s some poor soul digging around in the foundations. And then nothing happens for three months, and you go by again, and there it is again. And you want to roll the window down and say, “Are you ever going to get beyond the foundations? I mean, are you gonna make a career about fiddling around here?” The foundations are very important; we should take time with them. But once in, we move on. He says, “That’s exactly what we need to do. We build on the foundations; we don’t camp on them. And with God’s help,” he says, “we’re not going to remain stuck at the level of Christian beginnings.”

What does he mean here, “not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and … faith in God, [and] instruction[s] about baptisms,” etc.? I think that what he means is simply this: that all of these are elements which mark essential foundational truth regarding what it means to know, love, and follow Jesus. So, for example, what is the first word of the gospel? When Jesus begins to preach, what is the first word out of his mouth? “Repent!” “Repent and believe the good news!” he says.[2] So repentance is a vital foundational truth. Repentance is also a daily experience. Once we have grasped that, we are to live in the light of it. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—trusting in him, relying upon him—is foundational, and then we build upon it. Baptism is foundational. The laying on of hands was a symbol of the receiving of the Holy Spirit and of being incorporated into the church. The resurrection was the foundational news given to the new believer that death is not the end, but Jesus is alive from the dead, and therefore, when we die, we will go before God, we will face judgment, and we will be welcomed into his presence. All of these are the foundational truths. “Now,” he said, “we build on these things, but we don’t stay there.”

We build on the foundations; we don’t camp on them. And with God’s help, we’re not going to remain stuck at the level of Christian beginnings.

Loved ones, can I say to you as graciously as I try, the reason that some of you are where you are in your Christian pilgrimage is because you’ve never even dealt with the foundations: “Repent, believe the gospel.” In fact, on the day of Pentecost, when Peter preaches, and the individuals are cut to the heart, and they say to Peter and the rest of the chaps, “What are we going to do?” he says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you … for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[3] What is he talking about there? He’s talking about the foundational package of Christian experience.

What does it mean to become a Christian? It means to realize that I am a sinner, that Christ’s atoning death upon the cross paid the price of my sin, that when I trust alone in his atoning sacrifice, he redeems me and I enter into the blessings and benefits of that; and having been incorporated into Christ, I take upon myself the mark of my incorporation, which is in my baptism. The New Testament knows nothing of unbaptized believers. Those who have discovered the reality and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, have committed their lives to him—baptized. And yet a significant number of you sit out here Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, and you’ve decided that baptism is not foundational; you’ve decided that baptism is a kind of postgraduate qualification for you when you get further down the road. And you wonder why it is you can’t go on. ’Cause you can’t get off dead center. Have you ever thought about that?

These things all refer to the outset of Christian experience.

Now, how do we take the moving on and really make it something that brings a change in our lives? Well, I’ve neglected verse 14 at the end of chapter 5, and purposefully, because I’d like to take you there and notice just two phrases. “Solid food is for the mature,” he says, “who by”—notice the two words—“constant use…” “Constant use.” In other words, instead of apathy and laziness, there is diligence—diligence in making progress in the Christian life. Some people I don’t think have actually understood this: that there is a direct correlation between the commitment that we make to it and our growth and participation in it. Some of us, I think, have the idea that what we’re supposed to do is to simply do nothing, and the more we do nothing, the more we make progress. That’s not the case.

And the reason that many of us are still in our nappies and drinking milk bottles is because we are doing absolutely nothing. We come in on the Lord’s Day in the morning; we never come back in the evening. Somehow or another, we decided that it doesn’t matter if we’re gonna finish the chapter in the evening. We’re just the morning gang, you know; we can get by on the morning. We’re just the fill our bottle up in the morning, spill half of it in the afternoon, use the rest by the evening, and then we’re on a dry spell for the next six days. Then we come back, and somebody spoon-feeds us all over again. We take about as much as we can handle, we switch off at a certain point, we go away, and we do the same thing all over again. We say, “Why am I the way I am?” The reason I am the way I am, if that’s the way I live, is because the way to spiritual maturity is to take the means of grace and to make constant use of them.

It doesn’t matter how many exercise machines we have in our basement. “Would you like to see my exercise machines?” Well, fine. But I’d like to see your muscles. Or I’d like to see the change in your cardiovascular. We can have a museum, we can have a glittering array of it all, and never do a thing with it. We can have all of our favorite preachers’ commentaries, all of our tapes, all of our stuff in the car, all of our bits and charts and notebooks and everything, and be a spiritual pygmy. Why? Because of an absence of constant use.

One of the things you can always find in garage sales are exercise bicycles. Pretty well, most decent garage sales have exercise bicycles. They’re usually being sold by people who had big dreams and—I was going to say big rear ends, but I shouldn’t say that—but they had big dreams about what they were gonna do. And you say, you know, “Has it been used much?” And they say, “Oh, no, hardly at all.” You know, and you say, “Yeah, I can see that.” And if you look at the seat, you can see that. And I’m talking about the seat of the bicycle, for those of you who were ahead of me. If you look at the seat and you look at the pedals, you can tell whether anybody used it or not. ’Cause the seat will bear testimony to its constant use. You got those big things they sell you when you buy those bikes—been there, done that. They sell you that big, squishy thing. You get it in red, royal blue, and black, and it’s kinda like space-age gel. And they tell you that if you sit on this, you can have the boniest posterior in the world, and you’ll never feel a thing. Bogus! Because eventually that stuff moves and settles into your particular little shape. And when you go and you look at the exercise bike, you can tell a number of things just by the seat. And the same is true by the pedals—constant use!

That’s what it’s supposed to be like with our Bibles. You should be able to take up somebody’s Bible and say, “Hey, constant use!” Now, if you took up this Bible, you wouldn’t necessarily assume constant use. ’Cause I try not to scribble in this Bible, and I try to keep it so that I won’t foul it up. But if you saw the Bible that Sue gave me when I was seventeen—my Scofield Reference Bible—on my birthday: it’s held together by Sellotape and bits and pieces, and I look back on it, and I say, “Did I really, as a teenage kid, read my Bible that much?” I’m not so sure I might even have read it more then than I do now! I’m not so sure I might have read it with a greater passion and a greater longing and a greater appetite! “Oh no,” you say, “it couldn’t possibly be—the pastor of a church!” Uh huh.

Does your Bible get constant use? Does your little prayer place get constant use? Do your attempts at sharing your faith get constant use, because you’re looking for opportunities? Or are you and I content just to keep laying down the foundations again and again and again? “Let somebody else be mature. Let somebody else carry me. Let somebody else know the answers to the questions.”

Laziness and ignorance sleep in the same bed. Lazy Christians are ignorant Christians, and ignorant Christians who have the opportunities of instruction are lazy. As April 15 approaches, and you go to those tax fellows and ladies, it is their constant familiarity with the material which allows them to be the help that they can be. Indeed, those who have spent sparse time with the material ought to have a sparse clientele.

Because the other phrase in the same verse is not only “constant use” but “trained themselves.” “Trained themselves.” Trained themselves! It’s very trendy to have a personal trainer—have you noticed that? Read any of the Hollywood magazines, they always have a personal trainer: “This is my personal trainer.” And it’s nice if you could have somebody that would do that for you. But it’s not necessary if we’ll make a commitment to train ourselves.

I was getting a rental car a few weeks ago, and as I stood at the counter, I noticed from the lady’s name tag that she was Swedish. And, so I just spoke to her a little bit in Swedish, you know; I said, “Cood I hahv a rental car, please?” I can’t tell you want she said, but she held my gaze from that point. And as she did, she was doing this [taps fingers on podium] on the keyboard. Never looked down, just did this. She had the number thing here and the letters here, asked me questions, just kept doing it. I said, “How can you do that so good without looking?” She said, “Hey, if you did this as many times a day as I do it, they could blindfold you, anesthetize you, tie you up in a ball, and you could still do it. It’s a result of constant use; I have trained myself.”

I think one of the reasons that we have so many baby Christians going around is simply because this light has never gone on in many of our heads. When Paul says to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 4—he says, “I want you to train yourself to be godly.”[4]

Timothy said, “That’s something I’m supposed to do?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, are you gonna do it for me, Paul?”

“No, I’m not.”

Stuart Briscoe’s got this great story that he tells, as he only he can tell. He talks about going to Elmbrook Church in his early days, and a lady came and said to him, “Excuse me, Pastor Briscoe, could you tell me where such and such a verse is in the Bible?” And she quoted the verse without a reference.

He said, “No.”

She said, “Pardon me?”

He said, “No, I could tell you, but I’m not gonna tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Because I want you to go and find it for yourself. Because if you find it for yourself, you’ll remember where it was. And also, you’ll be able to tell somebody else who may be looking for the same verse.”

She didn’t get particularly blessed by his response, but she went away and found the verse. And he’d made a very simple point. I’m not the great universal provider of verses. You can get a computer to do that. You can get Young’s Analytical Concordance to do that. I have the responsibility as a pastor-teacher to edify the saints so that they might do the works of ministry, but the way that you will go on to maturity and leave behind the baby bottles is when you, by constant use, train yourself to be godly—when you get at the business, when you make a resolution on a morning like this, as a young man or as a woman, say, “Here it is: as of today, this is my plan, and I’m going for it. I am determined to train myself in righteousness. I’m not gonna rely on him, her, or anybody. With God’s help, I’m going for it.” And such an individual will make progress in the things of faith.

Paul himself made the exact same journey. By the time he writes from the dungeon in Philippians. What is he saying? He’s saying the same thing. Philippians 4:11, he says, “I am not saying all this,” about their concern, etc., “I’m not saying [all] this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content.” “I have learned to be content.” “I have learned to be content.”

It is as we are trained in the Scriptures and as we lay hold upon them that we make progress.

See, we want somebody to come along and go: “Contentment!” “I’m asking God for the gift of contentment.” Guess what? You’re not getting it. “I’m asking God for the gift of patience.” It’s not coming. “I’m asking God for purity today.” You’re not going to get it. Not without constant use and personal training.

Because the way in which God conforms his children to the image of his Son is not in abstraction, it is not in isolation from life, and it’s certainly not in isolation from the instruction of God’s Word. And therefore, it is as we are trained in the Scriptures and as we lay hold upon them that we make progress. Paul may well have been an old man with a gray, wizened beard by the time he was able to say, “I have learned to be content.” He doesn’t say, “I am content.” Simply, “I have learned to be content.” Maybe he wasn’t so content in his earlier days. Probably not. Maybe there was much about his life that was marked by complaining. Maybe he was a complainer, and he learned to be content.

Not difficult to complain, is it? Complaining comes naturally. You don’t need a school in complaining. Put it in your local newspaper. “There will be a course on Tuesday evenings in the local town hall from seven until nine: ‘How to Complain Effectively.’” People go, “I don’t need to go to that. I could teach that! I graduated from that. In fact, I think I was born knowing that.” People’ll say, “That’s dead right, you were.”

It’s like weeds: “‘How to Grow Weeds in Your Garden,’ Saturday mornings, nine through twelve.” Need no course. Why? Unnecessary. Why? Thorns and brambles and thistles and dandelions, they just grow all over the place. You don’t have to do anything. But if you want to have a garden, then it takes work. If you want to have flowers, if you want to have rosebushes, if you want to have all those herbaceous borders, it takes absolute constant activity and effort.

And Paul says, “In the same way, I don’t want you to think that my contentment came about overnight. This was not a power that I acquired naturally. It is a science that I have discovered gradually.” And says Spurgeon, we, like Paul, need to enroll in the College of Contentment.[5]

These are very practical verses, loved ones. Some years ago, when I was preaching with Alan Redpath—when I say I was, sounds presumptuous—but anyway, I was with him. And in the course of his instruction, he said to the group these words, which I’ve quoted many times to you and have never forgotten. And even allowing for the statistical freaks that are involved in this, I’m sure there’s a measure of truthfulness. Said Alan Redpath on this occasion, “Of all the people whose names appear on the membership rolls of our churches, 5 percent don’t exist, 10 percent can’t be found, 25 percent never attend, 50 percent attend only once on a Sunday”—that’s actually high—“50 percent attend only once on a Sunday, 75 percent are involved at no other level of small group involvement in the church, 90 percent have no family devotions, and 95 percent never lead a person to faith in Jesus Christ.” Why? Sitting around in diapers, waiting for somebody to spoon-feed us to the next level of spiritual maturity. It won’t happen.

Therefore, make a commitment today. It may be a commitment to get in a men’s Bible study. It may be a commitment to read a verse or two of Scripture, which would be a big start. It may be a commitment to get involved with a small group of women. It’s whatever it might be. But whatever God prompts you to, say, “Hey, you know what? I’m not gonna sit around sucking on this baby bottle any longer. I’m going to, by constant use, train myself to be godly. I want to say no to the problem of spiritual infancy, and I want to say, ‘Yes, Lord, I want to be on the pathway to spiritual maturity.’”

Let’s pray together:

O God our Father, we pray that your Word would wound and heal, bring clarity to our confusion, challenge us in our lethargy, move us from our infancy, encourage us in our progress. We do not want to be those who, as a result of laziness, unbelief, disobedience, slip back and are destroyed. We want to be those who hasten on, who endure, who continue, and are saved. We realize that fading and faltering is a classic illustration of worldliness. Stability and progress describes part of your grace in our lives. May we find it there, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


[1] John Brown, Hebrews (1862; repr., Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1994), 269. Paraphrased.

[2] Mark 1:15 (NIV 1984).

[3] Acts 2:38 (NIV 1984).

[4] 1 Timothy 4:7 (paraphrased).

[5] Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, revised and updated by Alistair Begg (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), Feb. 16 morning reading.

Copyright © 2020, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.