"Strong meat," asserted the Apostle Paul, "belongeth to them that are of full age..." (Heb. 5:14). But what is strong meat? Is it to be equated with ranting, shouting, apoplectic hellfire and brimstone sermons? Does strong meat refer to "powerful" correction and rebuking? Or is it something else? Many Christians have mistakenly assumed that "strong meat" and loud noise are synonymous. They have measured a sermon's strength by the volume of the speaker's voice. They have associated a bulge-veined, foam-flecked, threat-filled delivery with the strong meat of God's Word. "My that was a powerful sermon!" exclaimed the little old lady as the perspiration-drenched minister left the speaker's platform. And perhaps a great deal of power had been expended — but that doesn't mean the sermon contained "strong meat"! Let me explain: It's a mistake to associate noise, volume and decibel level with profundity. A loud sermon is not necessarily a strong one. The minister may have been making a very simple and straightforward point. He may have made it loudly and perhaps effectively. But we should not assume that the sermon constituted the kind of "strong meat" Paul had in mind.
Adolf Hitler was a powerful speaker. He had the ability to move audiences — in fact, to move a nation. He could rant by the hour and somehow hold the attention of tens of thousands of mesmerized Germans. He raged with unbridled emotional energy — and shouted the glories of the Aryan peoples. Millions were stirred to follow his twisted leadership — to national oblivion! Adolf Hitler believed — as did his propaganda minister — that if you told the people a lie enough times, and with sufficient conviction, they would eventually swallow it. And he was right. His speeches were heady wine to the post-Depression German. But they were not strong meat! Hitler mouthed meaningless slogans, hollow blatherings and capitalized on national vanity to gain a vast following. But the blind led the blind to national ignominy and defeat at the hands of the Allies. Why? Because inside the hollow shell of Adolf Schicklgruber was a hollow shell of a man. He believed, without foundation, that he had a divine mandate to plunder, kill, destroy and commit genocide. His foam-flecked mouthings agitated the populace to shout "Heil Hitler!" and "Sieg Heil." Millions stood enraptured by his power, his charismatic ability to stir and manipulate the minds and emotions of a nation. But Adolf Hitler was a shallow, narrow-minded, morally defunct, irresponsible despot. His speeches were redundant and hollow. His ideas were trite and even downright silly at times. He was a mindless pawn in the hands of a higher — yet not divine — power. His demoniacal delivery showed no real depth or insight. His philosophy had little form and no real substance. He was
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee...." Hosea 4:6
a little man in every sense of the word. Yet he stirred millions to follow his insane leadership! How? By power, by force of personality, by "charisma." But those who dared to think and to reason knew better. They knew Hitler for what he was — a mindless madman. They recognized his lack of depth — his superficial slogans. Truly, he was a prisoner of his own slogans. All of this illustrates a very important point. To borrow a thought from Shakespeare, a sermon can be "full of sound and fury" and yet signify nothing! And an article or book can be loaded with rhetoric and verbosity, and yet can be a meaningless collection of misarranged words. Of course, this is not to say that a speech cannot be both audibly powerful and deeply profound (or an article very well written in terms of verbiage) and at the same time be extremely stimulating and thought-provoking.
The True Meaning of Strong Meat
When the Apostle Paul spoke of "strong meat," he meant depth. He meant profundity. He was referring to spiritual principles which are more difficult to grasp, harder to wrap one's mind around. Let's prove that! One of the first rules of Bible study is to check the context. Let's look at the context of Paul's originally quoted statement. Paul had been explaining to the Hebrews about the priesthood of Christ. He was describing Christ's compassion for sinners and His experience as a physical human being. He referred to Christ's role as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. He wanted to tell them more about Jesus Christ: "Of whom we have many things to say, and hard [difficult] to be uttered, seeing you are dull of hearing" (Heb. 5:11). The attitude of the Hebrews limited their capacity to comprehend deeper spiritual truths concerning Christ. Paul was correcting them very sternly, even powerfully for their attitude. Yet that correction did not constitute strong meat! The problem with the readers of Paul's epistle was that they had never built anything on the foundation of the basic doctrines. In fact, their knowledge of even those basic principles had atrophied as a result of their spiritual lethargy and stubbornness. They now needed to go back and relearn the fundamentals. "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat" (verse 12). Paul's correction did not constitute strong meat! The Hebrews were suffering from lethargy. They had lost their love
"The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge." Proverbs 18:15
for study. They were not probing any deeper into the profound spiritual truths of God's Word. Paul described their problem in verse 13: "For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe." The Corinthian church found itself in the same unenviable position. Paul said he "could not speak unto you [the Corinthian brethren] as unto spiritual [mature Christians], but as unto carnal [brethren still enmeshed in schisms, strifes, and divisions], even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able [because they were still babes in Christ]" (I Cor. 3:1-2). Again, Paul's correction (throughout the whole book) did not constitute strong meat. He told the Corinthians that he was constrained from giving them any because they simply couldn't bear it. Strong meat has to do with being skillful in the Word of God! It has to do with understanding the deeper things of God. But these deep things can only be understood when the foundation is properly laid. The deeper understanding is then built upon these axiomatic fundamentals.
Should We Relay the Foundation?
Constantly relaying the foundation is an exercise in futility! The Christian must once lay that foundation of basic understanding and then build on it — attaining real spiritual maturity. Granted, a little maintenance work may be needed now and then, but if the foundation has to be constantly rebuilt from "scratch," then it probably was not built right in the first place! It is those who are of "FULL age" — those who are spiritually mature and grown — who need strong meat. Does it seem sensible that a full-grown, mature Christian would constantly need to be corrected and shouted at all the time? Absurd! Let's lay to rest the myth that strong meat is to be equated with correction and voice level. Let's bury the old notions which die so hard, and press on to greater things — deeper things. "But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:14). An experienced Christian is not going to have great difficulty determining what is evil and what is not. He does not have to be threatened into obeying Christ. He does not have to be warned of the consequences of sin over and over again, ad nauseam. Rather, he has been making choices for a long time. He knows and recognizes evil and good. He is on the road to eternal life — he walks with God. But this does not mean that even a mature Christian will not occasionally need strong correction — both from God and the pulpit. (See Hebrews 12:5-13. The Apostle Paul rebuked the Apostle Peter in front of the Syrian congregation [Gal. 2:11, 14]). We need to maintain the proper balance.
How the Mature Christian Grows
Becoming a mature Christian is, however, primarily a learning process. The mature Christian should grow in grace and in knowledge. He should probe ever deeper and thrill to the revelation of the great mysteries of God's magnificent plan. He can become wise beyond normal human capacity by exercising the Spirit of God (Ps. 119:99-100). He should strive to plumb the depths of the mysteries of God. The mature Christian should build an ever-deeper rapport with his God — a closer and closer relationship with his heavenly Father. He should continue to search the Scriptures and seek knowledge of prophecy. He should page back and forth through the Maker's Instruction Book correlating, comparing and probing. He can look into the spiritual mirror of the Word of God and see more and more of himself and receive correction. "For if we would judge ourselves [by reading and heeding the admonitions in God's Word], we should not be judged [corrected, chastened directly by God]" (I Cor. 11:31). But if we will not receive correction as mature Christians by the relatively gentle admonitions of God's Word, then God judges (corrects or chastens) us in a more direct manner so "that we should not be condemned with the world" (verse 32). What human being in anyone lifetime could really embrace all the depth and breadth of the written Word of God? Even the greatest prophets of antiquity desired to look into things of God that we can now understand. Should we then continue to drink milk and consume Pablum? How would a grown adult look wearing a diaper and with a baby bottle in his mouth? Yet this is the manner in which some supposedly mature Christians are content to exist! In their spiritual infancy they misunderstand the true meaning of the term "strong meat."
What Peter Really Said
Some have used a statement made by the Apostle Peter to justify relaying the foundation over and over again. Let's examine it and see what it really says. "Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth" (II Pet. 1:12). Was Peter here justifying a constant rehash of the basics? Was he saying that one should re-explain again and again the fundamental principles concerning baptism, laying on of hands, repentance from dead works and other foundational doctrines? Was he referring to the same thing Paul had referred to in the fifth and sixth chapters of the book of Hebrews? Remember, Paul had told the Hebrews to "go on unto perfection; NOT LAYING AGAIN THE FOUNDATION ..." (Heb. 6:1). If Peter had been saying "relay the foundation again and again," he would have been contradicting Paul. But God's Word is not self-contradictory. Peter was talking about something else and in a different context. Peter was near the time when he would die. He was summing up what he wanted the Church to adhere to and remember. He said: "Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance" (II Peter 1:15). What are "these things" Peter is talking about? All we have to do is to check the context and find out. "And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity [love]. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off..." (verses 5-9). Peter is clearly not talking about the basic doctrines of Hebrews 6:1. Rather, he is talking about certain attributes of Christian character which will aid the Christian in growing in knowledge — in building on that foundation of basic doctrines. One of the very things Peter was advocating was the addition of knowledge.
Growing in Knowledge
It was the same Peter who said: "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (II Pet. 3:18). And it was that very knowledge — concerning Christ — that Paul had said he couldn't get across to the Hebrews because they couldn't comprehend it yet! And it was the same Peter who had stated that those who were "unlearned [uninstructed]" wrested and twisted Paul's writing (II Pet. 3:15-16). Peter was one of the Bible's greatest advocates of growing in knowledge. Peter did not wish Christians to be merely rehashing the basics over and over like children reciting simple nursery rhymes by rote memory. Peter did not contradict Paul by encouraging a constant rebuilding of the foundational doctrines — which every Christian should know and be thoroughly schooled in. It is only they who themselves refuse to study and grow in knowledge who would twist Peter's writing to mean that they should be spiritual sticks-in-the-mud! Those who have attained a certain amount of spiritual maturity have a need for deeper and more profound spiritual food than do "babes" in Christ. They must probe deeper into the mysteries of God's revelation and seek greater insights into His will. But, they must be careful that they build this new-found knowledge properly and correctly on the basic fundamentals — lest they be sidetracked into false doctrines. If all a mature Christian ever hears and reads are the "basics," he will soon stagnate in boredom. He will perhaps become contemptuous of even those truths which once created great joy and enthusiasm in his life. He will lose his zeal for Christianity! God has built in each human individual a need for progress and growth. We crave advancement. We yearn for deeper things. And God does not deny them to us if we will search, dig and study! Is it intellectual vanity to want to grow in one's knowledge of the truth — or anything for that matter? Is it vain to desire more profound preaching and teaching? Not according to your Bible! The Maker's Instruction Book is filled with encouragement to grow in knowledge, to seek wisdom and understanding.
Seek Godly Wisdom
God instructs us to exalt wisdom — and it in turn will exalt us. We should crave and desire new and deeper understanding of God and His divine will. The prophets of old "inquired and searched diligently" concerning the truths of God and His plan of salvation (I Peter 1:10-11). The human mind is the pinnacle of God's physical creation. He does not expect us to allow it to become a vestigial organ. He does not expect us to "check our minds at the door" when we come into His Church. Rather, we should learn to use our minds more than ever! We are given God's Holy Spirit to enhance the function of our minds — to lead us into all truth. God's Spirit, added to the spirit of man which is in him, increases our capacity to understand and probe deeper spiritual truths. We are then given great ability to evaluate worldly wisdom and place it in its correct perspective. We then realize that worldly wisdom must be replaced with godly wisdom — not lack of knowledge! "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise" (I Cor. 3:18). To negate the Word of God by human philosophy is intellectual vanity. The philosophers of this world often philosophize God out of the picture. This is why Paul warned: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Col. 2:8). Not that all the knowledge and wisdom of the world is evil and wrong. Even the Apostle Paul borrowed from the scholarship of this world. He quoted Greek poets. He borrowed from lists of qualifications for civic officials to frame the minimal prerequisites for ordination. He was familiar with the existing philosophy of his day. Paul was not ignorant of the Roman political machinery or the people's love — which he shared — for Olympic sports events. Paul was well-informed and educated. He was no crude fool. He had studied at the feet of one of the great scholars of his day — Gamaliel. Paul was, without question, an intellectual person — but he was not vainly so! He had a mind and he was not ashamed of it or reluctant to use it. The apostle probed and understood many of the deep things of God. However, he did not fall victim to the Athenian's problem of spending all his time either telling or hearing some new thing (see Acts 17:21). Neither should we. Bible study should not be a constant exercise in discovering some new, picky, piquant point.
The Holy Spirit's Role
The world does not generally understand what God is really doing here below. But the people of God can come to understand some of the deeper things — the true strong meat of God's Word — by means of the Holy Spirit. "... As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:9-10). It is these "deep things" which constitute the "strong meat" of God's Word. It is the more profound truths of God which compose the solid food of the Bible. It is these things which those who are spiritually more mature should seek. God does not require laying the foundation of basic doctrines over and over again, and never building anything upon that foundation! But once that foundation of basic understanding is built, it should never be forgotten! It should never be set aside. It should occasionally be reviewed and reinforced. It should always provide the basis for further growth and understanding. And yet it need not become an obsession, a preoccupation. Once laid, it should be built upon. The Christian should go on to greater understanding and spiritual maturity, not remain a "babe" forever. Strong meat indeed belongs to them that are of full age.
Editor's Note: The Good News magazine is sent to an audience comprised of many levels of biblical understanding. Most of you are relatively new to the teachings of the Worldwide Church of God. Yet there are thousands of Church members who have known of many of these truths for some years. We try to provide a balanced diet of "milk" and "meat" in the pages of The Good News. Future issues will contain basic articles explaining foundational doctrines and teaching. But those who are older in the faith will also find many articles of a more profound nature. There will be some instruction, some exhortation and correction, much encouragement and help. We hope to improve with each issue and we invite your comments and suggestions. Thanks for reading The Good News!