Number 98. Food for Thought
Hannah Weiss


Scripture speaks of "solid food", contrasting it with "milk". Yet many believers see no difference between them.

We are generally taught that once we receive new birth through Yeshua, our spiritual maturity is guaranteed by taking in "the pure milk of the Word" (1 Peter 2:2). The spiritually mature are simply those who can consume "the pure milk of the Word" at a faster rate.

The Lord feeds "the pure milk of the Word" to His "newborn babies", UNTIL they are ready for "solid food". How are these two kinds of nourishment different? How do they affect (and reflect) our spiritual condition?

Who is Stuck on Milk - and Why?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able..." (1 Corinthians 3:2)

This congregation was rich in spiritual knowledge, grace and gifts (1 Corinthians1:4-7). By modern charismatic standards, that's the height of spiritual maturity - verified miracles, anointed preachers, growing crowds! Yet Paul called them "infants in Messiah" (3:1). Why?

"...for you are still fleshly." (v.3)

Spiritual gifts, then, are not evidence of spiritual maturity.

In what way were the Corinthians "fleshly"? Paul describes them elevating "big-name ministers" of their day, dividing the Body not only into factions, but into an elite class of God's servants towering above the ordinary brethren.

The same spiritual "leadership caste" exists today, defined by scholarly credentials, media exposure, and sometimes (God help us!) Jewish pedigree.

Paul condemns all reverence for worldly achievement as fleshly and "foolishness" (v.18-21). Believers who give and accept such reverence remain "infants in Messiah", unable to receive solid food.

The writer of Hebrews pinpoints another sign of spiritual infancy:

"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food." (Hebrews 5:12)

These saints were in Messiah long enough to be eating solid food by now. But they had failed to absorb something called "the elementary principles of the oracles of God". Another translation is "the first rudiments of G-d's utterances". G-d's "oracles" or "utterances" are the Law and the Prophets, which were entrusted to the Jews (Romans 3:2). The "elementary principles" are the "first" (rudimentary, most obvious) meanings of those Bible passages.

The "elementary principles" are important foundations, listed in Hebrews 6:1-2: "...elementary teaching about the Messiah...repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment."

Many will recognize these topics as the food dished up regularly in balanced congregations... except maybe "instruction about washings and laying on of hands", which is less familiar and might be greeted with suspicion. Yet the Jewish believers were exhorted (6:1) to leave all these behind and "press on to maturity" with "solid food" teaching.

Like what? Like "the order of Melchizedek", which provoked the reproof about spiritual infants (Hebrews 5:6-11). We accept what Hebrews says about this obscure priest as Scriptural truth, because after all, it's the New Testament. But note the teachings not mentioned in the Old Testament: that Melchizedek was immortal, was "made like the Son of God", and received tithes from the Levitical priests centuries before Aaron was born (Hebrews 7).

Paul also went beyond Scripture's plain meaning. In a command about oxen treading grain, he saw ministers of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:9, 1 Timothy 5:18). He taught that Sarah and Hagar were not just two wives of Abraham, but two covenants, and two mountains... and also two Jerusalems (Galatians 4:22-26).

Again, we accept Paul's extra layers only because they are already in the New Testament. If a teacher today were to do the same with another Bible story, most believers would reject it as "reading too much into Scripture".

Those who are convinced that a passage can have only one legitimate meaning are still dealing with the "milk of the Word". Those like Paul, who can dig into multiple layers of meaning - without discarding any of them - are dealing with "solid food" from the Word.

We don't tolerate much teaching beyond "the elementary principles of God's oracles", the first or obvious meaning of God's written Word. And yet Hebrews 5:11-12 says that believers with this limitation are "dull of hearing" and need to be retaught - implying that they themselves are not competent to teach the Word.

Hebrews 5:13 continues: "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant."

The Greek word for "righteousness" here means "rightness of character". In other words, those who feed only on the "elementary principles" of Scripture cannot recognize an unusual or submerged interpretation that rightly expresses God's character. An infant must see the truth explicitly spelled out in the written Word, or he cannot receive it.

Many readers might become uneasy at this point. How can anyone be sure that a teaching is Scriptural, unless it IS spelled out in Scripture? How else can believers avoid accepting heresy?

That depends. Are we "infants" or "mature"?

Who Can Handle Solid Food?

”But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." (Hebrews 5:14)

The mature can handle deeper layers of spiritual teaching because they have practice in discerning between a "right" word and one that's "out of character". The Greek word for "discern" means "to separate thoroughly". The same word is used for "judging" in a dispute (Acts 7:27, 1 Corinthians 6:5). Training our senses to judge between subtle nuances of good and evil protects us from accepting (or offering) spiritual food that is not from God.

Of course "training" implies that our spiritual senses are fully developed and working! Such growth requires faithfulness to spend time with God - increasing that time to the point where we "abide in" Him (we never leave Him).

Without functioning senses, we cannot practice judging the exotic teachings that claim to be "hidden truth in Scripture". The destructive doctrines spreading like wild-fire through the Body these days, with the blessing of prominent leaders, are proof that mental mastery of the Bible, and even seminary training, is not enough to "separate thoroughly" between good and evil teaching.

Milk by Choice

Paul stated that the Corinthians were still spiritual babies, when they should have been "men" (1 Corinthians 3:1). How can we recognize believers who are "too old" to be on God's Milk diet? By their fleshly "appetites".

Training for maturity violates comfort zones. The reward for "discerning evil" is the obligation to struggle against it, which can leave us bruised and bleeding (Hebrews 12:4). Fleshly believers will evade the challenge by "underachievement" - token struggles, shallow repentance, easy snap-judgments. They drift with the crowd, feed their minds with junk-food entertainment, watch the precious irreplaceable hours tick by... and are content. Laziness produces dullness, each reinforcing the other, resulting in permanent spiritual babyhood.

Training for maturity also kills personal ambition and self-confidence. God's aim is to reveal our personal poverty (Revelation 3:17) so that we will lose ourselves in Him. More gifted fleshly believers will therefore escape to "outstanding achievement" - human initiative that feeds on human approval. 1 Corinthians 3 describes the program: joining manmade institutions, relying on men's endorsements, building by men's standards ("straw, hay, wood" - quick, cost-effective, chosen for image). Man's value system rewards ambition. Ambition goes hand-in-hand with competition, self-promotion, using people as "opportunities"... followed by hypocrisy, envy, "every evil thing" (James 3:16)... including spiritual infancy for life, which is sealed by pride.

Preparing to Graduate from Milk to Solid Food

Healthy spiritual senses and maturity come from internalizing the foundational basics of God's Word, making them our own foundation... leaving the elementary teaching "about" the Messiah to become like the Messiah.

The first foundation is "repentance from dead works and faith toward God" (Hebrews 6:1). We must abandon the fleshly walk of "mere men" (1 Corinthians 3:3), and learn to walk as sons of God, being led by His Spirit (Romans 8:14)... otherwise refusing to move. That is the meaning of "faith / faithfulness toward God" (the Greek word is the same for both).

We must sell all we have, are, and wish to be, to gain Messiah... our rights, our "red lines", our reputation... until He is our Everything.

He gave His all for us. Does He deserve any less in return?

(This article was first published in the third series of Tishrei Journals, Number 8, March 2010)