In the third chapter of First Corinthians, Paul gives the following criticism of some believers that were members of a church that he was instrumental in establishing:
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto
spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes
in Christ. 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. For ye are yet carnal:
for whereas there is among you envying, and strife,
and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
I Corinthians 3:1-3.
The indictment was particularly severe because the
church members had been taught by the apostle through whom
most New Testament doctrine had been given. In other words,
they couldn't use the excuse that the needed teaching hadn't
been offered, as many church members of today can. And,
Paul's words point out the fact that believers bear a
responsibility to accept the highest spiritual level of
teaching that is available. Unfortunately, spiritual babies
need instruction from men that have a better understanding
of scripture than the babies have. If the teachers are as
spiritually immature as the students, we can't expect very
much in the way of spiritual development.
The contrast here is between milk and meat. The Greek word translated meat is broma, meaning food, and the emphasis is on the lack of ability of the Corinthians to accept a high level of spiritual concepts because they were preoccupied with self-importance. However, the writer of Hebrews uses the same analogy between milk and solid food and adds more that will give us a better idea of what is meant:
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. For every one that useth milk is unskilful
in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But
strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age,
even those who by reason of use have their senses
exercised to discern both good and evil.
This passage repeats the contrast between milk and food that
requires chewing and other ingestive processes that a
newborn baby's body can't perform. And, the word translated
meat is the Greek word trophe which is another more or less
generic term for food. However, the adjective strong
(Greek stereos) is added and that one adjective gives us an
important insight as to exactly what spiritual teaching the
writer is referring to. One of the meanings of stereos is
strong, but the root meaning is solid; and the idea of
strength derives from the idea that solid objects (those
having three dimensions) are stronger than those with only
two dimensions. All physical objects, of course, have
three dimensions, but one dimension of some items such as
a sheet of paper is so slight as to be negligible. Just
try standing a perfectly flat sheet of typing paper on its
edge on an open surface without bending it; that is, without
supplying it with three well-defined dimensions.
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Note that Paul mentions the discerning of good and evil
as something of which mature believers are capable.
Mature Christians also are able to recognize whether
doctrine is sound or not and receive only that which is
acceptable. They also control their actions based on what
is spiritually profitable rather than what they can get
By keeping in mind the idea that a solid object has more than two dimensions, we can relate these passages to the following one:
That he would grant you, according to the riches of
his glory, to be strengthened with might by his
Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in
your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and
grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with
all saints what is the breadth, and length, and
depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ,
which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled
with all the fulness of God.
Here, Paul gives not just three, but four, dimensions to the
spiritual comprehension that he wishes for the Ephesians.
The four dimensions indicate that believers' insight should
surpass any physical analogy that could be used. They also
could refer to the sojourn of Christ on the earth, his
descent into the place of the dead and his ascent into
heaven. And, we have to consider, as much as our
comprehension will allow, what Christ accomplished for our
sakes before we can have any knowledge of the love of
Christ for us.
Prior to the verses quoted from the fifth chapter of Hebrews, Paul compares Christ to Melchisedec in his appointment to the position of high priest. In so doing,he infers that considering Old Testament types is one way that we can develop a three-dimensional appreciation of the work that God has done for us in Christ. This opens a field of study that we could undertake for several lifetimes and still have plenty to learn. For example, the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament portray the offering of Christ as meeting our several needs as sinners and as being under the Adamic curse. The offerings are mere shadows as compared with the death of Christ, but we can develop mental images and associations that make the works of Jesus more real to us.
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When Paul wrote concerning the way pastors should prepare spiritual food for the churches they serve, he used the analogy of erecting a building instead of referring to teaching as preparing food:
For other foundation can no man lay than that is
laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build
upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones,
wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made
manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it
shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try
every man's work of what sort it is.
I Corinthians 3:11-13.
There are some obvious reasons for not using the food analogy
in reference to developing doctrine. Unless food is grossly
overprocessed, its nutritional value depends on the raw
ingredients used, not the way it's prepared. And, the primary
purpose of preaching is to glorify God. Adding to the church
roll, though important, should follow logically as God wills.
The extent to which individual members are edified depends
to a great extent on their efforts to assimilate that which
is taught. Therefore, a pastor's objective should be to
rightly divide the word of truth so that what he teaches is
as coherent and logical as the structure of a house
is logical. Also, the scripture implies that a pastor's
work will be judged as a life-long study and development of
doctrine; not a series of meals.
The first three building materials mentioned are gold, silver and precious stones. The gold refers to the absolute purity of God's righteousness and our need for that righteousness that God imputes to believers in Christ. The silver refers to our redemption in Christ. And the precious (building) stones represent God's reconciling us to himself and placing us as sons in his spiritual building. The other materials represent teachings that have no spiritual value and have to do with the business of this age. In considering these analogies, we should be able to form mental pictures that we almost feel as though we can touch as solid objects; that is, as objects having three dimensions.
Our experiences with stereoscopes and stereophonic sound reproduction devices should help us to realize what is implied by the use of the Greek word stereos. A stereoscope was used to view stereotypes that were pairs of pictures that the viewer's eyes combined to make images appearing to have three dimensions. And, when people listen to music that is presented through a stereophonic system, they hear instruments that seem to be placed from left to right and at varying distances from the listener. When we compare these types of reproducers of pictures and sound with words on a two-dimensional page or sound from a single source, we can better understand the difference between milk and strong meat where spiritual food is concerned.
To summarize, we should desire spiritual food that does much more than keep us alive spiritually. We need solid food that gives us a multi-dimensional appreciation for the work that God has done to provide for our spiritual needs. The more solid our spiritual vision, the less we'll be impressed by worldly symbols of success and by religious relics; and, the more we'll base our faith on God's word.