A baby Christian on the bottle is darling. A twenty-year believer still on the bottle is pathetic. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. Even the Apostle ran into believers who refused to grow up.
“1 Corinthians 3:1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly.”
This passage, and a parallel one out of Hebrews 5 (Heb. 5:11-14) raise other fascinating questions which we’ll consider today:
What’s the difference between spiritual milk and spiritual solid food?
Since neither writer goes into detail about the differences, what follows are my best guesses, meant to get us thinking in more depth about the subject.
Here are some characteristics of spiritual milk drinkers
1. Spiritual milk-drinkers receive teaching which deals with basic truths of Christianity in a straightforward, simple format
There are fundamental spiritual truths that we need to understand before we’re ready to come to faith in Christ and then begin our walk with Him – like a child learning their “ABC’s”. These involve, of course, the basic gospel message – that we’re all sinners, that our sin has separated us from God, that Jesus died to pay the price for our sin, and that we need to repent of our sins and receive God’s forgiveness through faith. Milk also covers the basics for a healthy walk with Christ – like the need for regular devotional practices, obedience to God’s commands, how to deal with sin, serving with our spiritual gift, and the importance of time spent with other believers. These fundamentals, plus a few others, are the milk which allow a new believer to flourish and begin to grow. Without them, normal spiritual growth is stunted and after the initial enthusiasm fades the new believer sinks back toward their old, worldly ways.
2. Spiritual milk-drinkers receive teaching on a simple level
Discussion of even basic Bible topics have different levels of depth and nuance. Whole books are written on single topics. Difficult questions are raised and wrestled with at these deeper levels. This, however, is usually not appropriate for a baby believer. They need to understand the big picture basics and establish a consistent regular walk with Christ. One doesn’t try to teach calculus to a baby. We hope, by the way, that even meat eaters don’t forget these basics.
3. Spiritual milk-drinkers are teacher-dependent
Just as physical babies don’t fix their own bottles, so spiritual babies acquire most of their nourishment through other, more experienced believers at first. If they grow, they’ll still benefit from teachers, but eventually learn to fix their own sandwiches as well. This high degree of dependency leads to another characteristic of spiritual milk drinkers.
4. Spiritual milk-drinkers are unusually vulnerable to those who teach them
Physical babies tend to believe whatever they’re told (Santa Claus myths, for example). Spiritual babies are pretty susceptible that way too. They lack the capacity to skillfully evaluate what they’re being fed. Paul alludes to this in Ephesians 4:14, where, speaking of speaking of spiritual maturity, he says: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching . . .”
This vulnerability works both ways. If the teacher, or mentor, has an accurate knowledge of Scripture, the spiritual infant will be unusually open to learning these precious truths. If the teaching is biblically distorted, unfortunately, the spiritual infant will probably absorb these untruths as well. And it’s not just the technical biblical knowledge that’s being communicated to the infant. It’s also the mentor’s spiritual walk and attitudes. One may teach good theology, but teach it with a prideful, divisive spirit or in an unnecessarily negative way. The best teaching is not only biblically sound, it also is given in a spirit of love and humility; taught by one who walks closely with the Lord. The next point is an exciting one.
5. Spiritual milk-drinkers often grow really fast
Physical babies progress at an amazing rate. There’s a huge different between a three-day-old and a three-year-old. Baby believers can also be the same way. They’re enthusiastic about their faith, can’t get enough of the Bible, are open to God and willing to make substantial life changes in obedience to God’s commands. Lots of positive change can occur fairly quickly. The dirty mouth, the critical attitude, the self-centeredness, the pride and so on, these, while not disappearing completely, can transform substantially. And just as a physical baby lights up the eyes of those around them, so a spiritual baby gives a boost to their fellow believers. They’re fun to have in the church! Even their missteps are can be cute. Their growth encourages everyone.
It all sounds good. So why is Paul coming down on the spiritual milk-drinkers? The problem, as mentioned before, is that babyhood is meant to be temporary. It’s a stage which is supposed to lead to another, more advanced stage. If we stay babies, it’s no longer cute or appropriate. It’s sad. In the prior column I gave you six traits of a believer who’s stuck in spiritual babyness. I won’t repeat them here, but let’s ask one more question; a rather obvious one:
Why would anyone want to stay long-term in the spiritual baby stage?
1. Maybe they stay spiritual babies because they had poor spiritual parenting
Dysfunctional parenting can cause significant regression both in the physical and the spiritual world. While, this does not entirely excuse them, those who lack proper basic biblical teaching and godly example, are definitely at a disadvantage when it comes to spiritual growth. Maybe they’re in a spiritually stagnant home or church surrounded by spiritual thumb-suckers.
2. Maybe they lack the will to keep growing
After the first blush of enthusiasm wears off, some young believers back off. Growing requires more effort than they want to give. They’re disillusioned by their own failures or the fact that their growth begins to slow. Or, like the seeds planted among the thorns (Matt. 13:22), they allow the cares of the world to distract them and drag them back into worldly ways.
3. Maybe they get disillusioned by other believers
To baby Christians, the church often seems wonderful; everyone’s friendly, everything’s fresh and new. After a while, however, we discover the church’s seamy underside. It’s full of people in process – we’re becoming like Christ, but we have a long way to go. Sister Sally can be snotty sometimes. Brother Joe doesn’t treat his wife that well. And so it goes.
Long-term milk-drinkers don’t want to let go of their faith, but they’ve allowed themselves to stop pursuing it seriously; settling for a compromised, half-a-loaf sort of Christian walk. It’s actually a miserable state to be in since they can neither enjoy the Lord nor the world, with one foot on both sides of the fence. The good news is that God is willing and able to grow each one of us into beautiful, solid food-eating spiritual adults if we let Him. More about that next time.