When we think of milk in modern times, I would guess that most of us imagine a cold glass of milk with a cookie, or milk we pour over our cereal – things we readily consume as adults. But when the Bible refers to milk, it is in the context of infants and therefore can be presumed to primarily mean breast milk. Breast milk and its alternatives are really incredible foods. Babies grow exponentially fast in their first year of life – if we continued growing at this rate, we would be a race of giants! It is high calorie, high fat, built for exactly what babies need.
I have been breastfeeding babies off and on for nearly fifteen years. In fact, with the majority of my babies nursing into the next pregnancy, I’ve only had a known break from either for about two weeks in 2009. I am very familiar with breastfeeding and the demands of infants and toddlers who are still nursing. New babies nurse around the clock and this is natural and to be expected. Most of my babies have nursed during the night until around sixteen months. Regardless of how you feel about that personally, I never questioned it and have just gone with the flow (no pun intended) in feeding my babies.
However, as my kids got a bit older and started eating more solid foods, even before weaning them from the breast, I started giving them their own plate and utensil to eat with, or giving them bite sized pieces they could feed themselves. This is expected as children grow up – we want them to feed themselves because it is a time consuming process to be feeding ourselves and also feeding a baby or small child. At least half of my kids refused to be fed by a year and only wanted things they could put in their own mouths. We applauded this even when it meant a mess would be made.
Something we often hear in the Church is that we are looking to be “fed” when we attend services. People leave churches because they feel that they were not being fed enough. “Feed me!” we cry every Sunday, and most never question it.
This is what the authors of 1st Corinthians and Hebrews were talking about. We need to distance ourselves from this language and the expectation that it is the pastor’s job to “feed” us. Maturity in Christ means giving up milk and moving on to meat – solid foods. It means that instead of someone feeding us around the clock on simple food – milk – we move on to meat that we feed ourselves a few times a day. These things take longer to digest, are more nutritionally diverse and are much more exciting than milk anyway. But how many in the Church are existing on milk that a pastor feeds them once a week? How many never move on to more interesting foods because they refuse to give up the comfort of around the clock (spiritual) breastfeeding?
I write this while literally breastfeeding my youngest child. He is thirteen months old now and still desires this comfort but also loves solid food. He loves to eat half a banana, mash some of it up between his hands and feed the rest to the dog. He likes to beg for whatever the rest of us are eating and if I wanted to, I could wean him at any time and he would be just fine. There is no harm in continuing to nurse him for the foreseeable future but I do so with the full expectation that he will eventually wean and move on to eating full meals that look just like mine, with no need for the nutrition or comfort of the breast.
While new believers need the milk of the Word – the simple food, life giving, full of fat and calories – we must expect that as we grow in Christ, we trade the milk for solid food. At first, we might split our intake fifty/fifty. The initial foods we eat are basic, maybe a bit bland and still consumed frequently. Over time, though, we need to move on to meat – the solid, diverse and exciting Word of God. The stuff that takes studying, puzzling over, questioning. The parts that require a Strong’s concordance or commentary alongside to understand the original meanings of words and phrases. The chapters and books that may even confuse us until we study the historical and cultural context of the times they were written in. This is the meat.
A friend recently made a statement about the Church as a whole that was painful, but I believe to be true. The Church, in many ways, is dying. Not necessarily shrinking, but dying. Many never move on to meat as they grow up, stunting their growth, and eventually killing them. They may never leave the Church but are forever babies in Christ. If I forced my children to eat nothing but milk beyond their infancy, they would become nutritionally deficient and would not thrive. The same is true in the Church and it is time we face this head on and start the weaning process.
1 Corinthians 3:2 (KJV)
I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
Hebrews 5:12 (KJV)
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.