When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth he addressed them as brothers because they were fellow believers, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. He expressed real affection for them. Nevertheless, he also conveyed some frustration and disappointment over their lack of spiritual growth.
Paul wrote, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet able. But now you are still not able”(1 Corinthians 3:2). Paul was comparing spiritual life with physical life. He said that the believers in Corinth were infants in Christ. In other words, they were not growing up spiritually as they should.
Peter encouraged followers of Jesus to crave pure spiritual milk, like newborn babies, so that they could grow up in their salvation (1 Peter 2:2). Milk is good for babies. Healthy adults require more than milk. New believers are satisfied with the basics of faith. But healthy Christians grow and require an expanded spiritual diet.
The writer of Hebrews also compared spiritual growth with physical growth, noting the necessary change in diet. He was frustrated with the believers to whom he wrote because they should have been teaching others about God’s truth but they still needed someone to teach them the basics (Hebrews 5:12-14). Baby Christians, he said, were those who still struggle to distinguish good from evil.
Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus and encouraged them to grow spiritually so that they would no longer be infants, tossed around by false teaching and deception (Ephesians 4:14). He explained that Christ is the measure of spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:13, 15). The Christian life is a life of being transformed into the likeness of our Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The leaders of the Early Church expected followers of Jesus to grow in faith, building on the basics of salvation and moving ever closer to spiritual maturity, living like Jesus. Spiritual growth requires greater understanding of God’s Word and greater passion for God’s glory. Growing spiritually requires health and vitality that comes from God’s indwelling Spirit.
Of course, to grow toward maturity in Christ one must first be in Christ. In other words, to grow spiritually a person must first be saved. New birth is the first step in spiritual growth just as birth is primary in physical growth. If a newborn fails to grow then everyone agrees that something is wrong. The same is true of Christians. When a follower of Christ fails to grow spiritually then something is wrong.
Our task as a church family is to help lost people get saved and to help saved people get strong. We are in the business of growing spiritually mature Christians. Paul told the believers in Corinth that there is a message of wisdom for the mature. We want to help as many people as we can to enjoy the message of wisdom that is for the mature.
What a joy it is for me to see brothers and sisters who are spiritually healthy, growing in Christ and being transformed from glory to glory into his image. But like Paul, I also see those who are struggling to move beyond the basics. Let us continue to labor together in the Lord’s power and wisdom until we all become mature, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, NIV).
May the Lord bind us together and strengthen us in His great power and wisdom,
Brother Richard Foster