I’m blessed to be the daddy of two amazing little girls. Each day, they surprise, please, and sometimes frustrate me. I couldn’t be happier than to be their daddy. Each has her own personality and is unique in her own way.
On Christmas Day, we began to feed Aleah real food. For weeks, she was grabbing at our food as we were eating. She would reach for our drinks, our plates, our forks, and even our hands as we were eating. Just days before Christmas, I was eating a sandwich and she grabbed it out of my hand and tried to put it in her mouth. She was READY to eat!
Hannah, on the other hand, has become picky in what she eats. Often, she refuses to eat what she once loved. In fact, sometimes, she’ll ask for something and then refuse to eat it when we fix it for her! All she seems to want are gummy bears, peaches, and cheese. She doesn’t understand that there is better food and better tasting food to be had if she’d just be willing to taste and see.
As I was watching my two little girls and their eating habits, I began to think about how much they mirror the growth of a Christian. As a Christian grows, they should desire to move on from the milk of Scripture to the meat of scripture. Just as our bodies demand a greater level of nourishment as we grow, our spirits do as well. And, just as we have stages of growth, so do we spiritually as well. So, what are the three stages of spiritual growth?
1. Infancy and Milk (1 Peter 2:2-3)
Both Hannah and Aleah were breastfed. The amazing thing about breastfeeding is that the mother’s milk is almost a perfect food. When Hannah was a couple of months old, she stopped having dirty diapers. After several days, we began to grow concerned and took her to the doctor. He told us that the mother’s milk is so well designed that there is often very little waste left over after a baby digests it. He said to only worry if she went over 10 days without a dirty diaper as long as she was having wet diapers. I can tell you, we were floored! A mother’s milk provides nutrition, immunization, fluids, and everything that a baby needs to grow during one of the periods of the fastest development the human body experiences. As the baby grows older, the content of the milk even changes to aid in the new demands on the baby’s body.
Like a mother’s milk, the scripture has everything that a new believer needs. In the early stages of belief, a believer is unable to grasp the deeper things of theology and spiritual growth and that’s OK. Scripture provides everything we need. In fact, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:2-3 to desire the pure spiritual milk. It helps us to grow as believers in our salvation. But, there comes a stage when we should desperately long for something more than just the milk of scripture. We should be grasping at the thicker food, the food that helps us to move on to the next stage of growth.
2. Childhood/Adolescence and Food (1 Cor. 3:1-2)
As we move from infancy into childhood, our needs change. We need something that gives more fuel than milk does. This doesn’t mean that milk is no longer needed. But, it becomes more of a supplement to the full nourishment that we find in solid food.
Right now, Aleah is eating solid food, but she is still nursing. She still needs the milk that is helping her to grow and develop, but she also needs the solid food that provides more energy, greater endurance, and the joy of taste.
In the same way, as we grow, we should be striving to move from milk into the solid food of scripture. We should be moving from the basics of belief into deeper areas of study and experience as we develop and grow our personal ministry to both believers and unbelievers. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, expresses his frustration that he gave them milk while visiting them and as he writes, they still have not progressed from that milk. There comes a time when we must be weened, but unlike infants and toddlers, our bodies don’t demand a change in our spiritual eating habits. We often ignore the demands our spirit places on us for growth and miss its call for more food. Or, we find one or two things that we really like and are afraid or unwilling to move on to a greater variety of food. In this, we come across three dangers.
Danger #1 – Refusing to Eat (Hebrews 5:12-14)
Just as Hannah has entered into a stage of pickiness, Christians can do the same thing! I know there was a long time when I would fight trying anything new. There were certain foods that I wanted to eat and that was that. But, as I grew, I began to try new foods and was amazed at the variety that was available. Now, I am willing to try new foods and, while I find there are some I don’t like, I often find that I fully enjoy what I’ve tried.
If only I could get Hannah to understand that. Oh, I’ve managed to get her to try a few things and, once she’s tried them, she wants to eat more (at least during that setting). But often, she just says no, blows a raspberry, or turns away with her lips pursed.
Christians do the same thing. They become comfortable with certain foods and that’s all they want to stick with. They are often unwilling to allow scripture to stretch them and grow them, because they’re afraid that they won’t like what they find. So, as long as they don’t try it, then they believe they’re OK.
Danger #2 – Junk Food (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
As I mentioned above, Hannah would live on gummy bears, peaches, and cheese if we’d let her. She wants sweets. In fact, we live in a junk food society. It is easy to get, takes little or no time to prepare, tastes sweet (or salty) to the tongue, and gives a quick burst of energy. However, the downside of junk food is that it has little or no nutritional value, it leaves us thirsty, it leaves us hungry, it robs us of endurance, and can even lead to illness. We often know the dangers…and eat it anyway!
We are warned of junk food in scripture. Paul warns Timothy of a time when false teachers would abound and people would seek them out. They would want their ears tickled with teachings that are not sound, provide no spiritual nutrition, and rob them of their growth and vitality as believers. They want spiritual food that makes them feel like they’re getting something when they’re really worse off after eating it than they were before they ate.
Today, there are a plethora of false teachings about the Bible. I often hear people talk about the bible, but their understanding of it doesn’t come from studying it, but from what they’re hearing or reading that fits what they believe scripture should say or shouldn’t say. Just like a well-prepared and nourishing meal takes time to prepare and consume, studying and understanding scripture takes time and effort.
This is more of a danger within the church than in an individual’s life, although the individual believer plays a key part in it. Paul has a lot to say in the book of Romans, Philippians, 1 Corinthians and other books about allowing fights over preferences drive a wedge into the church. In Romans 14 and 15, he warns immature and mature Christians about just that. There were believers in the Romans church who were maturing in their belief. They were moving from milk, to meat, to a more well seasoned food. As they were growing, they were letting go of legalities.
Others in the church were less mature. They were newer, growing slower, or not growing at all. These were hanging on to the few things they liked. However, they weren’t just content to hold on to what they liked, they were judging and accusing those who were growing of being somehow less in their walk because they’d moved past a certain point.
Those who were growing were growing impatient and judgmental of those who hadn’t yet matured as much. In fact, we often see this in children. Before I became a pastor, I was at church and listening to two little girls speak. They were both around 5-6 years old. One was watching her little sister play and said, “When I was a little girl, I was just like her. I’m glad I’m not anymore.” I had to laugh! She was still a little girl! Yet, she was frustrated with her little sister.
We Christians can be just like that. We have to remember that, regardless of our maturity, in God’s eyes, we still have a LOT of growing to do! We should be looking for ways to grow and, if we see a believer who isn’t where we believe he or she should be, then we should be patient and understanding. After all, we ourselves still have room to grow!
And, as we grow, we reach the third level of our growth.
Finally, we grow into adulthood as Christians. We reach a level of maturity where we become teachers, disciplers, and we take on the work that is expected of believers. We understand the need for healthy and nutritious food and we seek it in God’s word. We understand the dangers of junk food and we’ve grown past the stage where we get into food fights. We look forward to the opportunity to experience the fullness of God’s word and, as we share his word with others and they become believers, we start them on the milk of scripture and then help them to grow to appreciate the fullness of God’s word.
God’s word is amazing in that it provides a full diet. From milk, to solids, to the fullness of a feast, God provides for us in each stage of our growth!