Hebrews 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Toward the end of Heb. 5, the writer is continuing his explanation of the priesthood of Christ when he refers to Melchizedek, the somewhat mysterious figure who met Abraham as the patriarch returned from rescuing Lot (Gen. 14). The writer intended to explain how Melchizedek was a type of Christ, the High Priest of the New Covenant, but hesitated due to the immaturity of his audience. These believers were not recent converts, which made their lack of understanding even more serious.

The text indicates that they had been trained in basic doctrine at some point in the past. (cf. 13:7) The writer expected them to be capable, spiritually speaking, of receiving and benefiting from some significant and complex teaching regarding the ministry of Jesus Christ. In fact, he declares that these believers should be teaching others by this point. This additional information would help complete their understanding of the ministry of the Savior and more precisely reveal the nature of His relationship to the Church.

The phrase, “elementary principles,” refers to the first in a series or the first element on which every other element in the group depends. In this context, the writer is referring to primary Christian doctrine. The readers of this epistle did not have a solid foundation, doctrinally speaking, which left them unprepared for instruction that necessarily would rest on those first principles. Although they were not new converts, as noted, they still could not accept the “solid food” of Biblical revelation; at their present level of maturity, they could only “digest” the simplest of instruction (referred to as “milk” in this text).

The cause for this situation is identified in vv. 13 and 14. These believers had not made sufficient effort to learn and apply what they already had been taught. They remained “infants” in terms of their theological perception. Therefore, this passage illustrates how adversely we may be affected if we ignore, forget, or count as unimportant our doctrinal “ABC’s.”

In the beginning, a believer learns the rudimentary elements of our belief system. As time passes and by God’s grace, he endeavors to conform to that divine standard. This is the process of sanctification. Maturity comes as the convert progressively builds doctrine upon doctrine, as it were, while also continuing efforts to apply what is being learned.

Regretfully, I recently experienced a real life example of what can happen when a congregation becomes convinced of its theological superiority and, at the same time, neglects the foundational teachings of the Bible in regard to telling the truth, handling offenses, protecting reputations, avoiding gossip, forgiving one another, and demonstrating simple Christian charity (see also my recent post “Remembering What We Have Received”).

In what turned out to be my last sermon for this church, one of the issues I emphasized was my perception that we, as a body of believers, were not giving appropriate attention to many of the elementary commands in Scripture. Over a period of two or three years, I told the congregation that I noticed a disturbing increase in the number of relationships being shattered. In almost every case, it was apparent to me that the basic obligations given to us by God were being neglected (see my partial list in the paragraph above). With such foundational imperatives being discarded, intense turmoil was bound to follow.

The level and intensity of the destruction that has taken place in this church is well beyond anything I’ve ever heard of or witnessed. But, as I just said, it was inevitable. When believers set aside our elementary obligations regarding how we treat one another, the way is cleared for horrendous abuses. Sin that is practically unrestrained is a frightening thing to encounter; it gains momentum rapidly, begins to consume, and expands. But that is what we face when we ignore the “ABC’s” of Christian conduct. In my opinion, much trouble in the church could be avoided if we concentrated on the foundational commands of God; this commitment would keep us from becoming arrogant, overly confident, and hypocritical. We should never allow ourselves to reach the point where our expanded knowledge of doctrine obscures basic relational requirements.