by H. Slack
There is a right time for everything, and everything on earth will happen at the right time. Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ERV) Our years are fixed with seasons when particular things happen in nature. For example, spring time is a time when all bulbs and seeds that were planted underground shoot up out of the soil and begin to put out their first buds and blossoms. Our natural lives also go through a cycle from birth to death. We were born as babies that are fully dependent on others. We then grow from infancy to become children that can walk and talk. Our development continues through to teenagers then to adolescence before we mature into fully grown adults. Our spiritual development also follows this pattern from birth to maturity.
Jesus told Nicodemus, “I tell you for certain that you must be born from above before you can see God’s kingdom!” (John 3:3)
Peter says this, “…as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby…”1 (Peter 2:2 NKJV)
The Problem of Perpetual Infancy
The writer of Hebrews lamenting about believers who refuse to grow up says this, “ In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NIV)
Paul also had this problem with the Corinthian believers, “My friends, you are acting like the people of this world. That’s why I could not speak to you as spiritual people. You are like babies as far as your faith in Christ is concerned. So I had to treat you like babies and feed you milk. You could not take solid food, and you still cannot, because you are not yet spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4)
We learn from the above Scriptures that infancy is measured according to levels of carnality and ignorance. A person just saved should have more carnality to work through and be more ignorant than a person who is saved for a while. A person that is still ignorant and carnal has not grown spiritually.
The Corinthian church’s carnality was manifested in their quarreling and jealousy. They were also hung up on personalities possibly based on superficial things such as a person’s spiritual gifts or their style of preaching or nationality etc. Such petty prejudices does not come through spiritual judgement but from a carnal assessment.
Milk versus Meat
Paul and the writer of Hebrews said that the infancy of the believers meant they could only feed them milk and not solid food. The question therefore arises, what is the difference between milk teachings and meat teachings? What does a minister tell a congregation of infants?
It is natural to be an infant at the point of birth and a few years after.The problem however, is with those who want to remain infants. Perpetual spiritual infants can still only handle the soft truths i.e. teachings that are easy to swallow and pleasant to the ear but choke on the tough truths. They strive on the blessings of God but struggle to come to grips with the dealings of God. Perpetual infant believers continue to scream and throw a tantrum when experiencing the sufferings of God’s discipline. They haven’t learnt much about God and still only have a surface understanding of His ways. They may be happy and praising God when everything is going well and they are hearing messages about salvation and being swept up to inherit their heavenly possessions but becomes very sad, complaining or even questioning God’s love when put to the test. They fail when persecuted for the name of Christ, or when difficulty comes in the form of job loss or financial struggles.
On the contrary, mature believers will stay the course and are not swayed by every wind of doctrine. They are more grounded in the truth, are not easily offended and therefore not quarrelsome. As meat eating believers they will rejoice in all things knowing that God is working in whatever comes their way, even the bad things. They exercise trustful obedience because they have grown to know and develop confidence in God’s character.
Moving from Milk to Meat
Where God’s word is available there really is no excuse to remain infants. Note however, that moving from milk to meat is not about understanding the complexed doctrines of scripture as one may believe after reading Hebrews 6:1-3. Maturity is a deepening relationship with God where we grow to know and understand Him. The knowledge we need comes through intimacy with God and not through attending Bible college. We must know Him more. The mature knows, through fellowship with God, that whatever He promised He will fulfil, even though it may take some time. He is with us wherever He may lead us and He disciplines us for our own good. These assurances brings the mature into a greater level of serenity peace and abiding joy in spite of the roaring tides. God’s word cannot be understood purely through mental exercise but requires spiritual revelation. The person with a closer walk with God is the one who will have a better understanding of His word.
Mentoring to Maturity
The fact that the bible is so readily available does not mean the more mature among us have an excuse. Scripture teaches that the mature are responsible for the infants. We should help them through their growing pains knowing that we were like them once. As a gardener handling tender plants so the more mature should nurture the infant believer who wants to grow. Paul says, “If our faith is strong, we should be patient with the Lord’s followers whose faith is weak. We should try to please them instead of ourselves.” (Romans 15:1) We must not be so selfish to feed ourselves but leave the babes to flounder. God’s plan is that we all grow up together into the fullness of Christ. For this to happen we must do what big brothers and sisters in large families do. Help to feed and change the babies.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants…” (Ephesians 4:11-14 NIV)
The time has come for us to all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.
Signs of Infancy
Spiritual Babes/Infants are…
Blown around by winds of doctrine
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4:14 (NIV)
Easily offended and therefore more prone to quarrels
Still moved by personalities and outward appearances
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 NKJV)
In need of teaching
Unskilled in God’s word
Stuck at elementary Doctrines (Milk teachings)
Underdeveloped in the skill of discerning right from wrong
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NKJV)
Weak in faith
“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.” (Romans 14:1 NKJV)
Spiritual infants need to…
- Feed on the pure milk of God’s word to help them develop
“…as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby…” (1 Peter 2:2 NKJV)
- Begin putting away childish things as they grow up.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11 ASV)
- Continue to allow the word of God to sink deep into their hearts that they may grow up to begin producing fruit. Read the parable of the sower and then how Jesus explained it. Matthew 13.
It is unfortunate that some spiritual infants purposely retard themselves by deciding that they will not grow up. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 and the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 5 seems to have expected that the believers they were addressing would have developed beyond milk stage by now. It’s time to grow up.