The cause and cure for spiritually malnourished Christians

28 Jun

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Hey there, Christians.  Quick question for you: are you spiritually mature?  Take a few minutes and think about that.  Pause reading the rest of this post, and really try to answer this question.

I am concerned that though Peter is very clear in 1 Peter 2:1-3 that we need to crave pure spiritual milk from God in order to mature spiritually, what we actually crave is far different.

Just like the difference between skim and raw milk, I am concerned that we are skim milk Christians, when we need to be raw milk Christians.  Is it possible that we have attempted to nurture Christians on skim milk for decades, teaching them that only a thin, weak commitment to growing in maturity is what is needed?

But Peter says that if we want to grow up in our salvation, we are going to have to crave raw milk.  I’m concerned that we might be malnourished baby Christians.  In fact, it is entirely possible that people can be baby Christians for decades.  For their whole lives.  Staying in a state of immaturity because they are not craving pure spiritual milk.

Do you need to go deeper with Christ?  Evaluate how much time you give in life to receiving the nourishment of pure spiritual skim milk.  The Daily Bread is good, and the verse of the day app is good.  Nothing wrong with them.  Use them.  But they are spiritual skim milk.  We simply need to go deeper.

In order to mature as followers of Jesus, we need to take in lots of pure spiritual milk.  We talked about that yesterday.  So where does a Christian get this pure spiritual milk?  The Bible?  Is it from the Word of God?

Think about the Christians Peter is talking to in 1st Peter 2:1-3. How could they get this pure spiritual milk?  They did not have smart phones with the Bible app.  They did not have Christian bookstores where they could visit and choose from 100 different kinds of Bibles.  They didn’t have Amazon where they could go online and select from 1000 different kinds of Bibles.  This might be shocking, but those Christians Peter is writing to didn’t have any Bible at all.  So though the Bible is a source of spiritual nourishment from God, Peter is not talking about the Bible.

Where, then, could those early Christians get spiritual nourishment?  Well, they did have bits and pieces of the Bible.  They would get letters, like this one from Peter, and from guys like Paul.  Those letters were often copied and distributed.  But they didn’t have copying machines with cheap ink and paper like we have.  Each week at Faith Church we crank out paper bulletins at minimal cost.  To have one’s own copy of Peter’s letters would have been unthinkable for most Christians.  So they would gather together as a group, and they would listen to the letter read to them.  They would listen together as the apostles and pastors taught them.  They would gather in groups to encourage one another.  And of course they could grow their relationship with God through prayer, fasting and other spiritual disciplines.  Their church family was a treasure to them. That was how they could take in pure spiritual milk.

Their church families, therefore, were vital for spiritual growth.  Those first Christians were a small minority.  They did not and could not approach their faith in Jesus as something they did alone.  They were in this as a family.  That’s why Peter has to say “love one another deeply from the heart” and “get rid of” all the family killers.

They would have conceived of craving pure spiritual milk primarily as something they did together.  Look again at 1 Peter 2:1-3.  See all those times Peter uses the words “you” or “your”?  We can’t see it our English translations, but in the original language, those words are all plural.

If we were to capture his meaning in English we would have to add the word “all”.  Like this: “You all rid yourselves of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind.  Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you all may grow up in your salvation, now that you all have tasted that the Lord is good.”

So craving pure spiritual milk is something we do together.  It is participating in worship, it is hearing the word of God preached, it is gathering in smaller groups and praying and discussing what it means to live as a follower of Jesus in the real world.

But it wasn’t only a group thing. Each person also has to receive spiritual nourishment.

What helps us get this spiritual nourishment?  I am convinced that spending time in spiritual disciplines is essential.  Spending time in prayer, contemplative prayer, silent prayer and studying God’s word.  And going deeper it in groups.  It requires time.  I learned that during sabbatical.  Prior to sabbatical I didn’t spend nearly enough time craving and drinking pure spiritual milk.  I was way too distracted, and figured “Well, at least I got the spiritual skim milk.”  That was an excuse to not actually drink pure spiritual milk.  I am so thankful for sabbatical.  And now in the three months that I have been back from sabbatical, I’ve made a change.  I spend time almost every day with God, particularly in contemplative prayer.

The next keep step is putting action to what we learn.  And this is where the group can be so important.  For accountability.  Telling someone what you are learning and what action you think it might be requiring.  Pure spiritual milk always leads to action. It is not simply knowledge.  And it is so much more effective when we do this with others.  That’s the plural “you” that Peter is talking about.

Make the time to bring others into your walk with God.  We Americans talk a lot about our “personal relationship” with God.  And God does love us each personally.  He cares about our individual lives, needs, concerns.  But community is where the power of nourishment from raw milk comes can really grow us.

Our church family is where we have to work through things in our lives, where we can be about doing things for the Kingdom together, as His church.  Do what Jesus did.  He had plenty of personal time alone with God. He went away to quiet places to spend time with Him.  But he also then came back to his earthly family, the 12 disciples, and he helped them understand how to live life.

So let us crave pure spiritual milk.  That almost certainly means our lives will have to change in some way.  Stopping the wrong habits and starting new ones takes work, it means establishing new patterns. It can take time.  What do you need to change?  What will it take for you to invest the time to change and grow in that area?  Do you need a mentor?  Find someone to be your guide!

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