Both the Apostles Paul and Peter mention consuming what they refer to as spiritual milk. In 1 Peter 2:2 we are told, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” In 1 Corinthians 3:2 Paul remarks, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it, and even now you are not yet ready.” It is easy to dismiss this, or become lost on what this means. However, we must understand it if we are to obey Jesus’ command to “make disciples.”
My wife likens the idea of new Christians consuming spiritual milk to nursing a baby. A newborn needs the nutrition that a mother’s body is created to produce. But, as a baby grows, the nutritional value of the mother’s breast milk diminishes. The child needs to graduate to consuming solid food. If a child doesn’t graduate to solid foods, then they become malnourished and will not grow.
In the same way, when someone first becomes a Christian they need “pure spiritual milk, that by it [they] may grow up into salvation.” This pure spiritual milk makes up the principles of the truth of God, and is essential for you to grow into salvation. It’s the beginning of the process to put off the old and put on the new. Eventually you need more than milk. Ultimately you need the deeper truths of God, spiritual meat, which enables you to grow into the fullness of Christ and become a disciple-maker. You need to become someone who is capable of feeding others. My wife would say it like this: Just as a woman matures and becomes equipped to nurse a baby into maturity; you mature as a follower of Christ and become equipped to nurse new Christians into maturity.
Unfortunately, what I see happening in numerous churches, is that pastors are content to preach to the “lowest common denominator.” They decide to preach a sermon so someone who has never heard the Gospel will understand. While I commend their desire for others to hear the Gospel; and on the surface there is nothing wrong with this method; sadly, there are some larger issues with this approach.
A MALNOURISHED CHURCH
First, it disregards the majority of the congregation that has already heard the Gospel and accepted Jesus as Savior. This style of preaching fails to feed the portion of the congregation who need to be consuming the deeper truths of God. As a result, we continue to feed milk to Christians who should have graduated to spiritual meat. While it is important to be routinely reminded of the fundamental truths of the Gospel, a steady diet of just milk is how we have 30-year Christians who never grow past the fundamental elements of being a follower of Jesus. It is also how congregations sit in their church seats, malnourished yet content, with only showing up on Sunday mornings. They never or rarely engage their faith outside the church.
Secondly, it dismisses the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” (John 16:13) It also says, of the Holy Spirit, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” (John 16:8) In telling us this, Jesus is saying that we can trust that the Holy Spirit is right and good to reveal the truth of the Gospel message. The Gospel message is already quite simple, in and of itself. When we attempt to preach the Gospel “down” we depend on ourselves, rather than trusting the Holy Spirit, to bring people to Christ.
GOD’S GIFT TO THE CHURCH
So what do we do about this? The Bible tells us that one of the reasons that God, “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds (pastors) and teachers” was “to equip the saints for the work of ministry…” (Eph 4:11-12) And what is this work of ministry? According to Paul in 2 Cor 5:18 God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” He “entrust[ed] to us the message of reconciliation” and made us “ambassadors for Christ.” He did this so that we could fulfill the commission that Jesus gave us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Again, I’m not saying that pastors are not focused on this or not intentioned on leading their congregation down this path. However, the vast numbers of Christians who feel ill prepared and unsure about how to share the Gospel, is an indication that they are not being equipped to do the work of the ministry of reconciliation.
TEACHING OR BEING TAUGHT
What would happen if our church leaders focused on maturing and graduating the “already Christians” to consuming spiritual meat? What would church look like, if rather than using Sunday as a platform for evangelism, we saw a shift toward preaching and teaching people that already know Christ? How would our communities change if pastors trusted the Holy Spirit to lead believers in the pews into all truth, and trusted their congregants to bring the message of reconciliation to a lost world? It is exciting and life-giving to find a church where leaders feed the saints spiritual meat, to mature them and equip them to make disciples that they can nurse, with spiritual milk, into maturity. I am concerned this is more the exception than the rule.
LEARNING TO EAT
Sadly I think the admonishment in Hebrews 5:12-14 still applies today:
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.
Perhaps those of us who are consuming spiritual meat, will consider encouraging our teaching elders in moving past the spiritual milk. Begin first by praying for the leaders in your church, to be led by the Holy Spirit in this concern, and then reach out to encourage and discuss as the Spirit prepares the right time.