Narcissism isn’t a new issue, but I’m often overwhelmed by how prevalent it is. It seems to be tolerated, perhaps at times celebrated, even among self-proclaimed Christians. Pragmatism rules the day so that if someone “gets the job done,” then we’ll turn a blind eye to their narcissistic ways. I recently listened to a podcast discussing narcissism among church leaders, and the speaker made a powerful observation: perhaps the reason we have approved and allowed such leaders is that we’ve been blind to the narcissism in our own heart.
A few days later, I was struck with a similar idea from Hebrews 5:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 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, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 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 5:11-14, ESV).
Before this passage, the author of Hebrews had been explaining the high priestly role of Christ. He almost seems to come to a full stop in v. 11. He has more to say, but they won’t be able to understand because they have become “dull of hearing.” Their lack of spiritual growth dulled their ability to understand deep doctrine, and v. 14 tells us it also impaired their ability to discern.
This means if we are not growing in our faith and knowledge of the word or, in other words, if we are not maturing in the faith, then there are consequences. There will be certain teaching from Scripture that is helpful and beneficial that we will not be able to understand and apply. Spiritual immaturity squelches our powers of discernment.
Have we lost our discernment?
The Hebrews had heard the message enough times that they should have become teachers. However, they had become “dull of hearing.” They had not walked in obedience and moved on from the “milk” of the word. Instead of teaching others, they still needed to be taught the basics. They were spiritual infants who could only handle milk.
Babies are cute, but they don’t make good decisions. Where we see immaturity in the church, we will see a lack of discernment. Discernment is needed as God’s people navigate life in a cursed world, make disciples, choose leaders, and speak into difficult issues.
Perhaps the overwhelming amount of headlines about fallen church leaders speaks to our lack of discipleship. Perhaps it shows that our “powers of discernment” have not been “trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
What should we do?
If this is us, then Hebrews 5 encourages us to get serious about our faith. Get in to the word and soak it in. Apply it to every area of your life and practice living it. Find helpful studies, find a spiritual mentor, work through helpful books, and make time each day to spend focusing on your spiritual growth. Maybe you need to turn off the TV, go to bed later, or wake up earlier in order to prioritize your spiritual growth. We won’t mature overnight, but faithful obedience of time in the word and prayer will, by the Spirit’s power, transform us. As we are transformed, our ability to discern will improve, which will affect the witness of God’s people to the world.