Dull of Hearing

Intro: Have you ever tried to explain something to someone and they just cannot get it. What makes it worse is if you know they should be getting it. This is not the first time, or they have been around this long enough to get it. It can be frustrating.

The writer of Hebrews must have felt that type of frustration as he was writing to the Hebrew Christians of his day. Here is how he characterizes the situation:

Hebrews 5:12-14 – 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. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 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.

It seems implied in this epistle that the writer of Hebrews is addressing problems among the brethren. He hasn’t come right out and said it until now. Burt notice the urgent admonitions:

  • In 2:1 he said, Pay close attention to the message you’ve heard lest you drift away.
  • In 3:1 he said, Consider Jesus.
  • In 3:8 he said, Don’t harden your hearts like Israel did in the wilderness.
  • In 3:12 he said, Take care, lest you have an evil heart of unbelief.
  • In 4:1 he said, Fear, lest you fail to enter God’s rest.
  • In 4:11 he said, Be diligent to enter God’s rest lest you fall by disobedience.
  • And in 4:14 he said, Hold fast to your confession.
  • Then in 5:11 he says of whom [Melchizadek as a type of Christ] we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

What is the problem that exists which concerns the writer? The diagnosis may be found here in these words… you have become dull of hearing.” This is what’s behind all those exhortations: Pay close attention! Consider! Don’t harden your heart! Fear! Be diligent! Hold fast! These are all doctor’s prescriptions for the disease of dullness of hearing.

I. Is Your Hearing Dull? Do you have this disease? What is it? Let’s let this writer explain his own terms for us; let’s take the two words one at a time and look at the one other place in Hebrews where each is used.

A. “Dullness” – does not mean boring or uninteresting. It denotes that which is slow or sluggish. It describes that which takes place with great difficulty.It’s used one other time in the New Testament, namely, in Hebrews 6 – Heb 6:11-12And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

1. The opposite of dullness is diligence or earnestness. Those who respond to the words of God with faith and patience are not sluggish or dull. They are eager to embrace the truth and do the will of God. Those who are dull, physically hear the words, but the words do not have an impact of trust or action. “Hearing”

B. “Hearing” – The other word is the word “hearing.” It is also used one other time in Hebrews, Hebrews 4:22 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard [lit. the word of hearing] did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.So here is the same problem again: a word from God, and a physical hearing, but no faith. This is “dullness of hearing.” The word goes in the ears, and comes to the heart (mind), and meets dullness and slowness and hardness.

1. The opposite of dullness of hearing is hearing with faith which produces obedience. Consider this connection in Hebrews 3:18-1918 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Notice the switch from “disobedient” to “unbelief.” Disobedience is the result of unbelief, or a lack of trust in God. It comes when the word of God has no spiritual impact in the heart of the hearer. This makes dullness of hearing a serious problem.

2. One author describes dullness of hearing this way… “Dullness of hearing” is hearing without faith and without the moral fruit of faith. It’s hearing the Bible or the preaching of the Bible the way you hear the freeway noise on I-94, or the way you hear music in the dentist’s office or the way you hear recorded warnings at the airport that this is a smoke-free facility. You do but you don’t. You have grown dull to the sound. It does not awaken or produce anything. (Like announcements in the airport… you can sit right through the call for your personal flight)

C. A word of Jesus from is very important here. Right after Jesus telling the parables of the four soils… (The seed is the word of God) He says… Luke 8:1818 Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.” if you hear correctly, (with faith and obedience) you will get more to hear; but if you do not, even what you think you have will be taken away, namely, the Word.

1. Lenski says this…The man who hears with a good heart and the full measure of attention and eagerness to receive the Word, more and more of the Word shall be given to him—so much depends on the right way of hearing. But he who has not is he who cared not how he heard, who gave the scantiest measure of attention and desire, and, perhaps, begrudged even that with the result that he had not, and that even what he thought he had ….was taken away from him—so fatal is the wrong way of hearing… The agent in the two passive verbs is God; he gives and he takes away. These are not arbitrary acts. He sends Jesus to give his Word, and they who keep hearing aright grow richer and richer. God can give to them, and thus God does give because giving and enriching us for eternity are his delight. But they who hear amiss prevent God from giving thus to them so that the more they continue hearing thus, the worse their state becomes. (from New Testament Commentaries, by R. C. H. Lenski)

2. Now Jesus’ point is the same point the writer to the Hebrews is making: the one who has grace to hear will receive more grace, and the one who does not (in other words, is dull or hard in his hearing) even what he thinks he has will be taken away. Hebrews 5:11 says that there is so much more that the writer wants to give his readers: “Concerning him we have much to say. . . but you have become dull of hearing.” If they had more grace to hear, they would receive more that the writer has to give. But they are becoming hard and dull, and in danger of throwing away the little they have.

II. What Is the Remedy? How do you get well? Is it correct to call this a disease? The text uses the terms “babe” and “mature.’ A person who is dull of hearing is compared to a babe (in verse 13b) that has to drink milk. There is nothing diseased about a baby’s dependence on milk, but if a person is still a baby when he is old enough to be a teenager, he has a disease. And the disease in this text is called “dullness of hearing.”

A. It is not a physical problem. Deaf people can be the sharpest hearers and blind people can be the sharpest seers. It is the failure to make use of the Word heard to nurture faith and bear the fruit of obedience. Dull hearing is passive and lazy and does move beyond the hearing. It is characterized by a continual feeding on the milk of the word.

B. The key verse to describe the remedy is verse 14: “Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Consider this: If solid food is only palatable and digestible for the mature, with what food do you become mature so that you can then eat the solid food? The answer is: milk. Maturity begins in the proper use of the milk.

1. The problem with these Christians is not that milk is weak or that babes can’t eat steak. The problem is that babes are not exercising with the milk they have. You see the key word there in verse 14: you become mature by “practice” or exercise or habitual responses to the milk. The problem is that the milk of the Word is not producing growth toward a deeper faith, and acts of righteousness. There is an intended progress of growth that takes place in the discernment of right and wrong.

2. The milk of the word should produce anew mind that practices discernment. Because of practice [the mature] have their senses [internal, moral, spiritual senses] trained to discern good and evil.”

3. If you want to become mature and understand the more solid teachings of the Word, then practice the discernment and obedience contained in the milk you already know. This growth is as much a moral challenge, as an intellectual one. If you want to eat the solid food of the Word, you must exercise your spiritual senses so as to develop a mind that discerns between good and evil.

4. If we stumble over the meat of the word, it may indicate a moral deficiency in how we hear the milk of the word. The pathway to maturity and to solid biblical food is not first becoming an intelligent person, but becoming an obedient person. What you do with alcohol and sex and money and leisure and food and computer have more to do with your capacity for solid food than where you go to school or what books you read.

C. Got Milk? How do you drink the Milk? It is interesting to note that even though the writer Hebrews recognizes they needed to be taught the first principles again (they should be teachers themselves) he refuses to go back to those elementary things (6:1). They need to move beyond the shadow of the Law of Moses into the reality of the gospel. But the solution is not simply jumping to steak, and leaving the milk behind. They needed to grow to maturity, so as to be able to feast on the meat of God’s word.

1. This spiritual maturity comes through a proper hearing and obedience to the milk. The key is the way you drink the milk and what you do with the milk of the Word. – four steps in how to grow with milk to maturity.

a. First you drink in the milk. That is, you listen and read the message of God for yourself. Commit to a study of God’s word, beginning with the simple principles of faith and obedience. Give it heed, pay attention. Be earnest and diligent to apply your heart and mind to what is being said. “Blessed are the those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.”

b. Second, be satisfied with the milk that God provides. True spiritual nourishment comes from the Spirit of God alone. John 6:63It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

c. Pray for discernment and wisdom. There is knowledge without discernment: Philippians 1:9 “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, (NKJV) Vincent’s word study tells us that the word translated as discernment here means, “sensitive moral perception” What does that mean?

1) Seeing how the word applies to real life.

2) Being able and willing to see myself in the words, instead of just seeing how it condemns others. Luke 11:52“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” The Pharisees not only refused to hear God themselves, but their false interpretation of the law took away the ability of others to see it clearly.

d. Act upon the truth you know… Use the milk to lead you in a life of consistent obedience to God. God will provide you with the ability to move ahead to greater truth in the meat of the word.