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Why your spiritual growth matters to those around you

Sep 20, 2019

I once preached a Mother’s Day message from 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9. Paul compares discipleship to the actual practice of a mother nursing her child. In this, the mother is a source of life for her child. Likewise, as Christians, we must be conduits of life-giving spiritual nutrition for those around us.

This has important implications for the way we live. 

First, it matters what we ourselves are consuming. A mother who is nursing has to be careful about her diet because what she consumes will be in the milk she gives her baby. As a Christian, what is nourishing you? Is it beneficial for your growth? Are you taking in the meat of the Word so you can feed others? You see, there is a progression here. You can’t exactly give a baby a steak or pork chops or pizza. A mother has to take in the food, chew it up, digest it, and then her body produces milk. A baby’s digestive system needs the simple formula that milk gives.

When one of our daughters was a baby, she had such digestive problems that we had to purchase very expensive formula. It broke down the proteins so finely that it enabled her sensitive system to process it and get good nourishment. Paul’s comparison to a nursing mother and her baby tells us something about the way we grow. We begin, as spiritual infants, with milk. 

Another Apostle, Peter, picks up this theme: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:2-3). Notice Peter’s words. We begin as children with the pure spiritual milk of the Word—not diluted or polluted. But, God doesn’t intend for us to stay that way. He intends for us to grow up. To do that, according to Paul, it seems we need to be fed and nurtured by someone more mature than us. Someone who can take the heavy meat of the Word and help us be nourished by it.This is why pastors and teachers and spiritual leaders are given to the Church (Ephesians 4).

Sadly, there are some Christians who are still drinking milk and don’t pursue growth. Paul discussed this, in his frustrations with the Corinthians: But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” (1 Cor. 3:1-2).

This is a crisis. Imagine if my daughter was still on that expensive formula. When she was a newborn, it was what she needed. But it would be insufficient for her growth now. And so it is with some Christians. They are still drinking milk. They’ve not pursued, with intentionality, the deeper things of God. They are content with milk. And something is wrong. It’s not always a matter of how old you are or how long you’ve been a Christian; it’s the way you approach your spiritual nourishment.

Sometimes you can present a child with food, but he doesn’t eat it. A good parent makes their kid eat. God as a good Father, bring circumstances in your life that force you to look deeply into the Word, to lean on him, and to grow up in your faith. But if you continue to resist, you will not grow. It’s up to you to take your fork and eat.

The Christian life is to be one of giving, of making disciples, of growing up into salvation. It is allowing the gospel to so capture us that we grow up so that we can handle the deep things of God and pass them on to others.

This means you prioritize church. This means you make Bible study, reading, and prayer a habit. I think of Paul, who at the end of this life, was still asking for his books. I’m amazed that my wife, who takes care of four children, homeschools, minsters, takes care of the house, still prioritizes her study of the Word and her pursuit of wisdom. She’s probably read more books this year than many Christians with way fewer responsibilities. Did I mention to you that she’s dyslexic and has a hard time reading?

The truth is that there are many Christians who are still spiritual infants, who haven’t grown much in the last few years, and still need milk. And here’s the tragedy of this, really: God has created each of us to be a fountain of spiritual nourishment, a conduit of his grace to others. But when we fail to grow, we can’t feed others. We can’t help build the church. We can’t be a light in our communities.This was the concern of the writer of Hebrews:

Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature ​— ​for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil ( Heb. 5:12-14 CSB).

Do you see what Paul is saying here? It should be a sober warning to all of us. To live on milk means we can’t digest, can’t handle the meat of the Word. And the reason we need to handle the meat of the Word is not so we can be arrogant Bible nerds and know all the ways to pronounce Hebrew words and correct people on Twitter but so we can feed and give life to others.

The Christian life is to be one of giving, of making disciples, of growing up into salvation. It is allowing the gospel to so capture us that we grow up so that we can handle the deep things of God and pass them on to others. There are people in our world God is calling us to feed, to love, to care for, to disciple, to nurture—are we fulfilling our role?  When we don’t grow spiritually, it’s not just a matter of our own malnutrition; it directly affects the community. People may be starving because we haven’t grown enough to feed them.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications. He is a contributor to Christianity Today, In Touch and a columnist for Homelife. His works has appeared in The Washington Post, CNN, Huffington Post, Washington Times, OnFaith, and The Gospel Coalition. Daniel is the host of The Way Home Podcast and... Read More