Are you mired in spiritual baby-land, in other words, are you still stuck suckin’ rather than chomping; still needing milk rather than solid food? For the last two weeks we’ve been considering the plight of perpetual spiritual infanthood as discussed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:1,2 where he says: “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.” Here’s today’s question:
What constitutes “solid” spiritual food?
Again, I must confess that, because the authors don’t spell this out in detail, what I’m giving you are suggestions to at least broaden your thinking about these passages.
1. Solid spiritual food involves increased scriptural breadth
Iconic verses, like John 3:16, are essential, milk for a spiritual infant. They explain the gospel in a nutshell; clearly and simply. They give the big picture and set a foundation. But, as we grow, it’s important to also know John 3:15, and John 3:17, not to mention all of John and, in fact, the rest of the Bible. An awareness of the Old Testament adds considerably to our understanding of the New Testament. Without a broader acquaintance with the Bible, our ability to interpret Scripture well is severely limited.
2. Solid spiritual food involves increased scriptural depth
Knowing John 3:16 may be essential spiritual milk, but there’s a lot more to know about John 3:16 than its most basic meaning. And this is true of all Bible verses. Like a lake, John 3:16 has unexplored depths – questions to be asked, insights to be uncovered. What does it mean, for instance that God “loved” the world? Did he feel a warm glow about it? Why does it say that God” so loved” the world? What does “world” mean? When did this love begin? What does “his one and only Son” or “only begotten son” mean? Aren’t all believers sons and daughters of God? Scriptural depth provides solid food, filling in the details of basic truths.
3. Solid spiritual food involves learning basic rules of Bible interpretation
The Bible is not clay to be molded to mean whatever we want it to say. There are basic rules of Bible interpretation which limit the boundaries of accurate interpretation. Part of what good Bible teachers do is to instruct their students about the proper boundaries of Bible interpretation. They learn to figure out what’s intended to be taken literally and what is more symbolic, how to find out what the text meant to the original audience, how to use context clues, and so on. While we don’t all agree on every interpretation, good rules of interpretation weed out a lot of fanciful or illegitimate uses of Scripture. They also give us tools to evaluate what others, including preachers, tell us about a passage.
4. Solid spiritual food involves tackling more difficult passages or doctrines
The Bible is not always easy to understand. Try explaining how the Trinity works, the doctrine of election, or any number of obscure or apparently contradictory passages. It’s a rich, deep book written over a period of about 1400 years by at least 40 authors. While a baby Christian probably shouldn’t get tangled up in these issues, eventually they need to face them, even if they can’t resolve them all. At the very least, their faith won’t be blindsided when someone else brings them up.
5. Solid food involves learning how to apply a wide range of passages to real life
The Bible gives us a large number of principles and commands, often without explaining exactly what they mean or how to apply them. It’s one thing to understand that we’re called to forgive one another (Col. 3:13) and another to know how to do this. Does forgiving someone mean, for instance, that we let them by with their bad behavior without giving them any consequences? Can we forgive someone and still feel angry at them? When I forgive am I saying that what they did was okay; no big deal?
These are application issues. God gives us leeway to figure them out; He expects us to use our brains. This is a lot of what solid food is about; defining terms and discussing the how-to aspects. Our instincts in these practical areas often need to be refined. For example, when it comes to forgiveness there are a number of misconceptions.
6. Solid food means that we learn to distinguish between false doctrine and true doctrine
Back to the Ephesians 4:14: “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 can be tricky, since false doctrine may be subtle, often small lies mixed into a larger package of truth. 2 Peter 2:1 speaks of false teachers who “will secretly introduce destructive heresies”. Note the word “secretly”. There are gray areas of doctrine where godly Christians disagree, but these are different from serious doctrinal error, like denying that Jesus is the only way to God, or saying that we’re saved by our good works.
7. Solid food teaches us to better discern the Spirit’s voice from false voices
Every spiritual voice that comes into our head is not from God. There is, for instance, a true conviction or sense of guilt that comes from the Holy Spirit when we’re sinning. This guilt is immensely useful in keeping us on God’s holy path. There is, unfortunately, however, a false guilt that does not come from God, but from other sources, such as our upbringing, society, or Satan. The first guilt is brief if we repent. We can let it go and move on. The false guilt is not brief. It sticks to us like Velcro no matter how repentant we are; it keeps beating us down. Solid food helps us to distinguish between them.
8. Solid food gives us a proper sense of spiritual balance and priorities
All of God’s commands and principles matter, but some are more crucial at a given time than others. I’ve found, for instance, that when a friend is struck by tragedy, they need my ear more than my mouth. There are times to be tough and times to be gentle. Times to overlook doctrinal differences and times to bring them up. Times to be serious and times to laugh. Solid teaching helps sensitize us to these spiritual balances. And we always want to keep in sight that our ultimate goal is relational: to love God completely and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If those aren’t getting done, then something’s out of balance and the Spirit needs to help us make corrections.
Solid food is crucial if we’re to grow into spiritual adults. But chewing takes more effort than sucking. Are you willing to make Scripture mastery a high priority, to set aside other priorities, even legitimate ones, in order to study and master Scripture at a deeper level? Are you willing to stretch and grow? Or are you still stuck in the “a dab will do ya” stage; spiritual babyhood, getting just enough religion to make you respectable, but not enough of God and His Word to transform you?