I would like to share some statistics with you that may or may not surprise you. Did you know that in a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 65% of adults in the United States identify as Christian, which is down compared to the 81% identified as Christian in 2001? To break that number down for you, of the 65% who identified as Christian, 43% identified as Protestant while the majority identified as Catholic. Here are some more statistics I found:
- 82% of Christians only read their Bibles on Sunday while in church.
- 25% of Christians in America attend church on any given Sunday, which is down 47% since 1990.
- Of the 25% of American Christians who attend church weekly, only 36% believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.
- 57% of American Christians believe that other religions can lead to eternal life.
- 1 in 4 American Christians believe the Bible to be a book written by mere men and is not the word of God.
- Only 22% of American Christians believe the Bible is fully inspired by God through men who were divinely appointed by him.
I have served in some pastoral capacity as an ordained minister for a period for 20 years. Most of those 20 years have been in three churches. I have heard from people who left churches, including the ones I have served, that the primary reason why they felt the need to find another church was because they were not being fed. Of all the statements I have heard over the years, I think, “‘I was not’ or ‘am not’ being fed is at the top of the list.” Here is what I hear when someone tells me that they left the church they were attending because they were not being fed:
- “I do not like the way the pastor preaches.”
- “I was bored.”
- “I liked my old pastor better.”
- “I did not like what the pastor said.”
- “I did not like the way the pastor led.”
- “I did not like the pastor.”
I also understand that in some churches, it is a legitimate complaint to say, “I am not getting spiritually fed.” However, in the church where the Bible is being faithfully taught and preached, which only happens when God’s Word is exposed regularly, then to say that you are not being spiritually fed is not the fault of the pastor or that church. God always uses his Word to shape his people through the transforming power of his Holy Spirit. In a letter to a young pastor by the name of Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). He then charged Timothy with the following words: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1–2). The faithful preaching and teaching of the Bible is vitally important in the local church for the shaping of his people to look more like himself.
So, whose fault is it that the American Church appears to be so spiritually anemic? How did we arrive at the place where there is little difference between moral behavior of American Christians and secular Americans? I think it has a lot to do with a discipleship crisis in the Church where Christians do little to none of it in many of our churches today as evidenced by an awareness of what the Great Commission actually is.
There are three scripture passages that I think can help us address what it means to be “spiritually fed” this morning. I want to use Hebrews 5:11-14 as our primary text, but I also want to spend a little time in 1 Peter 1:22 – 2:3 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 (in that order).
Spiritual Milk is Good for You
The author of Hebrews addresses a problem that was true of some of the Christians he was writing to, and that problem was spiritual immaturity. The problem some in the Church were having was not that they were drinking spiritual milk, but that they were not yet able to handle anything beyond spiritual milk. What is spiritual milk? It is, “basic principles of the oracles of God.” These basic principles are the fundamentals of the Christian faith which point to one’s need for Jesus as our savior. In other words, they heard the good news that Jesus not only fulfills every promise God made in the Old Testament, but that he is the only way to receive the forgiveness of sins once and for all.
The problem was not that these Christians needed to forget the fundamentals of the Christian faith, but that they were unwilling to grow beyond the fundamentals of their faith in Jesus. The problem was that they should have matured in their relationship with Jesus to the point that they should have graduated from only drinking the spiritual milk of the fundamental principles of their faith, to more complicated things to chew on theologically. It is good to know the ABC’s of the faith, but by now they should have been able to construct full sentences regarding their faith as followers of Jesus. They should have grown in their relationship with Jesus to the point that they were able to help baby Christians graduate from milk, to meat, without choking on concepts such as Jesus’ perfect humanity while remaining perfect in His deity.
Graduating from milk to solid food would be to go from accepting the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to understanding the implications of what it means for your life today and what it means for your community.
To never grow beyond your need for the spiritual milk of the Gospel is to possibly grow indifferent to the fundamentals of the faith. This is why the author of Hebrews writes in verse 12, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.”
Spiritual milk is vital for the one who becomes a Christian, but as that Christian develops and grows, he/she will need to learn how to eat spiritual meat. This is the point Peter makes and assumes will happen among the Christians he addressed in his letter, “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). What does this kind of growth look like? It looks like 1 Peter 1:22-23, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…” (1 Peter 1:22–23).
The same problem that is addressed in Hebrews 5:12 is the one Paul faced with the Corinthian Christians. Here is what he told 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, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way” (1 Cor. 3:1-3). For the Corinthians, the milk of the gospel should have caused them to grow in their love of one another, but because they did not grow beyond their need of milk, they were bickering with each other.
Here is the thing: healthy babies begin with in insatiable hunger for milk, but as they grow, they will develop teeth and a digestive system that is able to process solid food. If you stick with milk, your growth will be stunted, and you will eventually get sick. Christians who do not move onto spiritual meat will eventually become spiritually malnourished.
Solid Food Will Sustain You
In Hebrews 5:14, we learn that, “solid food is for the mature…”. Solid food cannot be slurped up or poured down your throat; it requires the hard work of chewing. If you have children, you understand the process of moving from milk to solid food. After a baby is born, he or she will drink with milk exclusively for about four months. Between 4-6 months you will introduce your baby to pureed fruits and veggies. Between 7-8 months your baby will graduate to strained food combinations with different textures. Around 9-12 months, you will begin feeding your baby foods in small chunks that he or she will have to chew. Sometime after 12 months you will then begin to introduce your child to table foods with the goal that your child will graduate to eating whatever the rest of the family is eating with his or her own fork, spoon, and eventually a knife. If your baby only drinks milk and nothing more, he or she will eventually become sick and malnourished. To live and grow we must consume more than just milk. Your child will never be able to cross the street on his or her own if your child never graduated from milk to solid food.
What are the solid foods of the faith? If spiritual milk is the understanding that I am a sinner in need of the forgiveness of my sins that can only come through Jesus Christ who died for my sins and rose from the grave on the third day, then spiritual meat is that Christ’s righteousness is now my righteousness positionally before a holy God, and my righteousness in Christ must begin to transform the way I live my life today. Spiritual milk is that God is holy. Spiritual meat is that because I worship a holy God, I too must seek to live a holy life. Spiritual milk is that in Jesus I am a child of God; spiritual meat is learning what it means to live my life in light of the reality that I am a child of God. Both spiritual milk and spiritual meat is only found in the Word of God.
If you are only drinking spiritual milk, you will find yourself in the place of Hebrews 5:13, “for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness…”. What does that mean? It means that you are unable to cross the street because you can barely keep your spiritual balance on your own two feet. You ought to be strong enough to not only get yourself across the street, and you have been alive long enough that you should be able to help others across the street, but because you are still sucking milk from a bottle that you are not even willing to hold yourself, you are sick, weak, and in real danger spiritually. Instead of growing in your faith, you are regressing!
Babies need to have a bottle prepared and for the first 6-10 months, someone needs to hold that bottle for them. This is why discipleship is so critical for new Christians, we all need someone to hold the bottle for us just after we are born again. Eventually, as you gather together on Sunday mornings, as you meet in your Life Group, and as you sit down throughout the week to read your Bible, you will develop the skill to chew, and an appetite for solid foods. As you grow in your faith you will then be able to help others grow because that is what healthy people are able to do, or as Hebrews 5:14 states, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Just like you will never outgrow your need for food, you will never outgrow your need for the spiritual milk and meat of God’s word that can only come from studying it. You will also never outgrow your need for the local church and your need for other mature Christians to speak into your life. As you grow in your faith as a follower of Jesus, you will grow in your capacity to reason spiritually, you will develop the skill to apply what you are reading in your bible to aid the discission making process in living your life for the glory of God and the good of those around you.
Listen, if you are a Christian, and you are expecting someone to hold the bottle of spiritual milk for you, you will eventually grow dull of hearing the Word of God (Heb. 5:11). The reason some of you feel that you do not understand what you read in your Bible every time you pick it up may be because you are “dull in hearing.” You cannot expect to grow in spiritual strength if you are not willing to learn to eat.
The reason why you may feel like you were not fed at your previous church, or this church, may have more to do with you than it has to do with anyone else. For the Corinthian Christians the apostle Paul addressed, their spiritual immaturity resulted in some of the same things we continue to see Christians doing today. Consider again the complaint Paul made with these Christians: “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…. For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2, 4). In other words, some were saying, “I don’t care for Apollos much, but I really like being fed by that Paul guy.” Others were saying, “I really don’t get much from Paul, but Apollos is really engaging and holds my attention.”
Do you know how weird it sounds when you say that you are not being fed? How strange would it be if each Sunday, some of you came up to the stage to have my bottle feed you? Yet, for some of you, that is how you see your part in the life of this church. Instead, my role is to serve up both milk and meat to help you learn how to do some of your own cooking at home each day when you open your own Bible.
Spiritually mature Christians do not demand to be fed; spiritually mature Christians are able to eat with their own fork and knife. The best way grow in our faith is to do it together in community with the Word of God at the center of the table of our church family. Some of you are newer to the faith, so right now… milk is enough. Others of you are toddlers in the faith, you are not ready for steak and potatoes, but mashed potatoes and tender chicken cut in to bit size cubes is enough; you however, are able to hold the bottle for your newborn brothers and sisters in the faith. Those of you who have been walking with Jesus for some time, you have been eating steak for some time; it is time to throw some of it on the grill for other members of your family.
What is the goal in growing in your faith? It is to, “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8; 1 Pet. 2:3)! And by tasting that the LORD is good, you will discover that he is enough… even when everything is giving way in your life. He is enough, just as the Prophet Habakkuk described long ago: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments” (Habakkuk 3:17–19).
 Ed Stetzer. The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches (SmallGroups.com).
 See http://poncefoundation.com/christians-dont-read-their-bible
 Brian Dodd, Church Leadership, April 14, 2015
 Barna Research, “51% of Churchgoers Don’t Know of the Great Commission.” (www.barna.com).