Milk is gradually replaced by a variety of mashed- up food that will inevitably be spattered over the floor and the walls. The child requires a bath and a full outfit change after consuming approximately one mouthful of sweet potato. However, before long they are ready for their first roast dinner or contentedly scoffing a Happy Meal.
Reflecting on this process caused me to think about the references to milk and to weaning in the Bible.
1 Peter chapter 2 verse 2 (NASB) says, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation”. Anyone who has ever cared for a newborn baby will know that they crave milk. Milk meets all of their nutritional needs and keeps them alive. As Christians, we should always be longing for the milk of God’s Word as it provides us with all of the spiritual food that we require. Peter’s emphasis is on the intensity of the desire a baby has and the purity of that milk in contrast with the deceit and hypocrisy that is characteristic of the world around us (verse 1). If we are to be spiritually healthy we must be feeding on that pure Word of God and should be wanting it more than anything else.
However, Hebrews chapter 5 and 1 Corinthians chapter 3 present a different picture. Here, the analogy of milk in contrast to solid food is used to rebuke the Christians.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary 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 not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NASB).
“I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it” (1 Corinthians 3:2 NASB).
Why the difference?
These passages are highlighting a lack of spiritual growth. A healthy baby must progress from milk to solid food as they grow. The milk is no longer enough to sustain them as they progress. The Christians who were receiving these letters had not made progress and were therefore unable to receive deeper spiritual teaching and revelation.
Explaining the verses from Hebrews, John Piper states, “What this means is that if you want to grow up and feast on the fullness of God’s revelation, you don’t do it by jumping from milk to meat. You do it by the way you drink the milk. The milk has to make you a certain kind of discerning person before you can digest the meat.”
In this context, the basic Gospel truths (milk) should be consumed in a way that prepares the Christian for solid food. As we read the Bible it should be transforming our lives and creating a more discerning mind within us.
Piper says, “If you want to eat the solid food of the Word, you must exercise your spiritual senses so as to develop a mind that discerns between good and evil.”
If our character is not changed by the basic Gospel truths of the Bible then we will not mature and be ready for a deeper revelation of God. This is important as it highlights that reading the Word is not just about gaining knowledge but primarily about becoming increasingly holy in our behaviour.
The Corinthians and Hebrews had not implemented what they had been previously taught and therefore it had to be retaught until progress was made. It is a very serious challenge that it is possible to be stuck in spiritual infancy indefinitely. Physical age or even many years on the Christian pathway are not a guarantee of spiritual maturity. If we have not effectively digested the “milk” of God’s Word then we will not grow.
So, how can we be ready for spiritual weaning? Hebrews 5 says “…solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Note the use of the words “practice” and “trained”. This is a process. We are required to consume the Word, put it into practice and allow it to train our thinking, our understanding and our desires. Every little decision we make in our daily lives should be shaped by what we read and discover. The more that we do this, the more we will grow and mature. We will be able to discern what is good for us and what will harm us and we will be ready to progress onto the solid food of God’s Word with more in-depth revelations of Him.
I regularly have to explain to my toddler that his baby sister is not yet ready for the solid food that he has, but I also remind him that she will be eating food soon. Just as babies are weaned from milk to solids, may we be continually nourishing ourselves on the Word of God and allowing it to shape our lives so that we may progress from being spiritual babies to more mature Christians.