I love milk, the higher the fat content, the better. (Don’t tell my cardiologist!) I remember that, while I was a seminary student, I knew a woman who milked her own cows and sold the milk in one gallon pickle jars. I loved that milk! And my favorite part was skimming off the cream on the top. Putting that in my coffee or over a bowl of strawberries, wow, was that delicious!
In the Scriptures, milk is used as a metaphor for two things. First, it was used to describe the Promised Land—“the land flowing with milk and honey.” Milk was used as a metaphor for blessings. And for those of us who find it tasty, it is indeed a blessing, but for the ancients, it was used to communicate something of great value and enjoyment.
However, milk is also used as a metaphor for immaturity. The Hebrew writer referred to his readers as ones not ready for meat, but who could only handle milk:
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
For the follower of Jesus, there is a time to drink spiritual milk, defined in Hebrews 6 as:
. . . elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (verses 1-2)
As I have observed the American Church from my vantage point of “downstream” on the university campus, what I see is a crisis in spiritual immaturity of the college students with whom I have worked for nearly four decades. Year after year, with only a few exceptions, students raised in the church come onto campus as spiritual infants. What that tells me, without even visiting the churches or homes from which they come, is that those taking responsibility for raising them spiritually are likely still drinking milk themselves or have not learned the art of discipleship which leads to maturity.
I believe the American Church needs to read carefully the words of the Hebrew writer, because I think he is talking to us American Christians. Are we still drinking spiritual milk after years, decades, of proclaiming ourselves as followers of Jesus? Are we still focused on the “elementary” teachings about Jesus as Savior, on the importance (or non-importance) of baptism, on the importance of repentance, the Resurrection, and the Judgement? Are those the things that occupy our attention? If so, it’s time to move on to deeper, more mature things, such as putting these all into practice on a daily basis.
The Hebrew writer is not denigrating these things. They are important, but they are merely a starting point. Like a student who learns his multiplication tables; later on in her education, it will be time for geometry and algebra. Or a child or young adult who is introduced to tennis. The first step is to learn the basic two strokes—forehand and backhand. Those are crucial to start, but then one builds on those skills by adding more. Someone having played tennis for 10 years should have more shots in her arsenal than merely hitting it over the net with a forehand or backhand.
Let’s do a spiritual maturity test and see how you score. The questions you should answer on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being not at all and 10 being very much) are:
- Do I truly have an authentic relationship with Jesus, one defined by the surrender of my life to him—my lifestyle, ambitions, and dreams? (Luke 9:23)
- How comfortable am I with finding verses in the Bible that pertain to life challenges? (II Timothy 2:15)
- Can I adequately explain the hope I have in Jesus to anyone who asks? (I Peter 3:15 )
- How comfortable am I using the Scriptures to explain the Gospel to someone else? (II Timothy 2:15)
- How much time weekly do I devote to times of Scripture reading and prayer? (Acts 2:42)
- How generous am I with my money, time, and spiritual gifts for the work of God’s Kingdom? (II Corinthians 9:6)
If you scored seven or higher, you are well into spiritual maturity; if lower, you are a spiritual milk drinker and have some work to do.
Enjoy your milk. It’s a pleasant part of a diet. However, a healthy diet needs to include much more, particularly a spiritual one. It needs lots of meat. If it is not there, then it is time to incorporate it into your diet in increasing measures. The American Church desperately needs mature and maturing believers to reach an increasingly wayward culture.
© Jim Musser 2021 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.