A baby is helpless and needs love and nurturing. The babe has so much to learn, but the first lesson is love. A mother holds the baby close and gives nourishment to her baby. Milk is all a newborn can handle, and that milk gives needed nourishment that helps the child grow. Milk is necessary for the beginning of life, but if a person is never given solid food, there will be no growth. Cells won’t develop properly and the weakened child won’t survive. The same is true of a person who has been born into the family of God. We accept the free gift of salvation, and then it’s time to be fed and grow. At first, it’s all strange, and a person isn’t able to digest deep spiritual matters.
“As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:2-3).
When you first accept Christ, the Holy Spirit is sealed within you and many newborn babes in Christ tremendous zeal for the Lord. Too often, that zeal is stifled rather than nurtured. Either there hasn’t been a mentor to guide in spiritual growth, or they get frustrated by their lack of understanding of God’s word and the fresh excitement fizzles. The congregation they join may be one where nobody has progressed beyond drinking milk. There are many dying congregations because the flock receives no meat for spiritual growth.
After Jesus gave His life on the cross, conquered death, and arose from the grave, He met with His disciples at the Sea of Galilee. Peter had denied Christ and wasn’t sure he should have been included in this meeting, but there was a very important reason that Jesus wanted him there. It was Peter who was given the specific call to be a pastor and shepherd a flock of believers. Peter had followed Jesus for three years; he had seen miracles and had been taught wonderous things. Now it was time for him to accept the forgiveness and grace of Christ and set about feeding the flock.
First, Peter had to recognize what his priorities were. He was a fisherman, and while waiting to meet Jesus on the shore, he became discouraged and returned to his old life of fishing. Because Jesus did bless his efforts, he and the other disciples had caught many fish in their net. Peter needed to decide where his love truly lay. Was it in his old life and ways of a fisherman, or was he ready to grow in his faith and teach others?
“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs” (John 21:15).
Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him with the agape, God-like love, but Peter could only say it was a brotherly (phileo) love. Was Peter still beating himself up because of his past failures and unable to believe Jesus could forgive him? Yes, Jesus always forgives the repentant sinner. Peter was valuable to the growth of Christianity, and Jesus gave him the charge to feed the lambs. These are babes in Christ, not ready for deep truths. They are fed milk, but they must grow. If they don’t grow beyond milk, they will never mature.
Jesus wasn’t done. Peter was capable of giving more than milk to the lambs. “He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:16).
In addition to feeding the lambs, the babes in Christ, he was told to feed sheep who had grown beyond the newborn stage and needed a different type of nourishment. They had outgrown milk. Once again, Jesus asked if Peter’s love was the godly type of love, but Peter could only say his love was brotherly love. Peter had all he needed to be a leader and a teacher who fed both lambs and sheep, but he needed to face his failures. Jesus had forgiven him, and now he needed to forgive himself.
Jesus knew Peter, just as He knows you. Peter was capable of great things in the spreading of Christianity, and Jesus had chosen him for that important task.
“He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).
This time Jesus asked Peter if he had brotherly love. Jesus accepted Peter for where he was right then, just as He accepts all of us, but He wants us to grow. Peter loved Jesus but didn’t feel his love was worthy of feeding lambs or sheep. Jesus does know all things, and He knew that Peter would eventually fulfill his calling. He would give new Christians the basics of faith they needed in order to grow, but he would also continue to give them spiritual nourishment to help them mature. Peter wouldn’t let a Christian weaken from only being fed milk.
What’s holding you back? Are you ashamed of past sin? Jesus has forgiven you, and now you need to forgive yourself and move on with the calling Jesus has given you.
Many pastors today try to be politically correct. Don’t rock the boat, don’t hurt feelings by calling sin what it is, and don’t upset anyone by standing firmly on Scripture, especially if there’s a chance of losing tax exemptions. Many Christian women dress in tight pants, short shorts, and are covered with tattoos, and many Christian men don’t respect themselves, let alone people around them. A new Christian may not understand that a woman is to dress modestly or that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves His followers, but lambs need to be taught.
The congregation in Corinth was a prime example of the leaders not respecting God’s word and accepting sin as normal. The congregation was only fed milk, and that had to change. Paul wrote a letter that didn’t pull any punches. He spoke hard truths to them about changes they needed to make. Sadly, he couldn’t speak to them as mature Christians because they hadn’t grown.
“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?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Paul recognized that these people were Christians because he called them “brethren,” but he also recognized that they hadn’t grown spiritually and were still living as the world around them lived. These people wanted the benefits of God’s grace while embracing the ways of the pagan society in which they lived. That seems to be the way of many congregations today. That has to change.
Why do you need to grow spiritually? God thinks it’s important, so that’s reason enough. The Bible is God’s inspired word. It contains the truth of creation, a history of the nation of Israel, facts about why that history is important; it tells about the life of Jesus and why God had to become human in order to reconcile this fallen world to Him so He can forgive us. The New Testament letters give us a solid basis of how to please God in our daily lives; they nourish our growth with solid food. Scripture also gives us prophecy.
Many pastors won’t touch on prophecy because they don’t make an effort to study it. By not teaching on it, they ignore about 1/3 of God’s word. God thought prophecy was important enough to put it into Scripture, so it needs to be studied and taught. Prophecy shows us where we are on God’s timeline. Prophecy is part of the meat that encourages spiritual growth. Peter saw many things that he could testify to, such as hearing God speak from Heaven when Jesus was transfigured. In spite of that, he said prophecy is a more certain witness of God’s truth.
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:19-21).
Peter wasn’t talking about false prophets, such as palm readers, fortune cookies, or Nostradamus. Peter was speaking of Old Testament prophecy, which told of the coming Messiah. Jesus fulfilled those prophecies perfectly, which is a testimony to the truth of Scripture. Both Old and New Testaments tell of the Rapture, which is on the very near horizon, and the horrors of the Tribulation. We need to be nurtured and grow in understanding God’s word, even prophecy.
We must be careful, though, when moving from milk to solid food. There are many false teachers with unscriptural teachings. How do you learn to discern what are false teachings instead of God’s truth? Easy. Study Scripture. That may seem impossible for someone who hasn’t been to seminary, but the truth is, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen. The only “seminary” they attended was taught by Jesus. So, start growing in spiritual health by studying Scripture for yourself. Write down questions and search for Biblical answers. Pray for guidance.
“Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
“Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from you own stedfastness” (2 Peter 3:14-17).
Peter is feeding the sheep here. He is encouraging growth and discernment. He acknowledges that some Scripture, including Paul’s letters, can be hard to understand, but he doesn’t say they are impossible to understand. Scripture wasn’t written in English, so to get a better understanding of what was written, use a concordance to look up cross-references as well as to help understand what the original word means. Seminary isn’t necessary to understand Scripture, just a desire to grow in the Lord.
The writer of Hebrews criticized those who aren’t growing spiritually healthy. He wanted his readers to learn, but he wasn’t able to teach them because they hadn’t grown. For instance, he wanted them to understand about Christ being our High Priest after the order of Melchisedec.
“Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered seeing ye are dull of hearing. 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” (Hebrews 5:11-14).
There are wonderful truths to be learned from studying Scripture and growing in your walk. Every Christian needs to feed on the strong meat of God’s truth.
Don’t be spiritually sick and “dull of hearing.” Get spiritual nourishment for yourself. Don’t wait for your pastor to feed the sheep if he only feeds the lambs. He may only be a lamb himself.
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).
God bless you all,
Ron and Nathele Graham’s previous commentaries archived at https://www.raptureready.com/featured/graham/graham.html
All original scripture is “theopneustos” — God-breathed.
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