Large Letters

By Ps Jim McInnes

“Stop being such babies.” That’s essentially what the Apostle Paul tells a bunch of squabbling believers in Corinth. “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready,” he says, chastising them for their slow spiritual growth and failure to love one another. (1 Cor 3:2)

He wonders whether they have grasped anything of the gospel. Paul uses the image of a baby transitioning from milk to solids to exhort the church to digest and put to use what they have already been taught so they can move onto higher truths. We can stretch Paul’s growth metaphor to think of a baby moving, not only from milk to solids but also learning to feed itself. The trajectory Paul envisioned for Christians in his church was that they “no longer be children” but rather “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Eph 4:14-15)

Paul doesn’t want passive dependants who wait for the next meal to arrive from the apostolic kitchen. He wants to see believers harvesting the raw ingredients from the word of God for themselves, and producing means for themselves and each other through prayerful, obedient Christian living. He wants a church full of chefs.

I wonder how many of us still require milk (the basics) when we should have progressed to solid spiritual food. Or, how many of us are dependent on the others to feed us when we could have learned by now to feed ourselves?
We are of course spiritually fed by others in lots of important and appropriate ways. A Sunday sermon from a thoughtful preacher is food for the soul that someone else prepared, cooked and metaphorically put in our mouth so we have something to chew on for the week ahead. That podcast devotional that got you thinking on your way to work today, and better still, got you praying and determining to live for God’s glory, is spiritual food from the hand of another. It was either snack food or healthy and nutritious, depending on its depth. We have much to learn from others. God speaks to us in valid, life-giving ways through church pastors, Christian authors, conference speakers, friends, family and fellow believers. We rightly teach and encourage one another in the Body of Christ. We are indeed fed by others and that’s not a bad thing—unless, of course, we never learn to also feed ourselves.

As in human development, so also in spiritual development—feeding ourselves is a mark of maturity. Furthermore, if the personal responsibility we need to take for our spiritual growth is akin to learning to feed ourselves, then our knife and fork, or chopsticks, are the spiritual disciplines by which we do that. You need a tool in your hand to put food in your mouth. Prayer, reading scripture, public and private worship, the confession of sin, giving thanks to God; these acts, and many more besides, are spiritual disciplines that nurture the soul and shape the life of the believer. Without them, we are dependent on others to feed us.

God has given us two magnificent means by which we may hear His voice for ourselves and grow in relationship with him directly: Scripture and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s living presence within us, and scripture is a faithful witness to God’s nature, including the person and saving work of Jesus Christ. To open the Bible for yourself, or welcome the presence of God through prayer and private devotion, is to invite God to speak into the depths of your being, and by doing so, to mould and transform your life so that it conforms to Him.

The cultivation of personal spiritual disciplines is one of the most important things we can do to nurture our growth in Christ. Admittedly, church attendance is also a discipline. So is authentic engagement in a Christian small group, or accountability to a spiritual friend. Participation in a Christian community, where we share our lives with fellow believers, is no less formative than individual spiritual disciplines. Besides, we need other believers to help us interpret scripture and the voice of God safely. We are meant to be interdependent as the body of Christ, not a loose collection of solitary spiritual pilgrims. However, to contribute to a life-giving body of believers, we also need to learn to go to God ourselves and drink from the source directly. That way we too have something to offer the body of Christ. We are called to teach one another—all of us. Not only are we to learn to feed ourselves, but a mature Christian community is one where every believer is a fountain of truth.

Have you taught your congregation to feed themselves? Does your congregation know where to source the ingredients and how to nourish their own spiritual life? Or is the Christian equivalent of Uber Eats, the only way they get fed? Do they order it all in?
“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear Your name, Lord God Almighty” Jeremiah 15:16a

Jim McInnes was the Executive Pastor at Vine Church, Hong Kong, before returning to New Zealand last month.