A few years ago, while traveling to a country with a high percentage of vegetarians, I was presented with a choice at restaurants: vegetarian, or non-vegetarian. While I probably need to limit my intake of meat for health reasons, I do sometimes eat it, and so I would normally tell them that I was not a vegetarian.
However, the net result was that sometimes I was presented with only meat to eat. As colleagues were eating tasty-looking vegetables, the servers continued to bring out more meat and set it in front of me. I don’t remember if I said it out loud or not, but it kind of felt like, even if I could eat meat, I didn’t want to be limited to it!
Those who have read the Bible for a while may be familiar with the following passage from the book of Hebrews:
You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.
Hebrews 5:12 NLT
Far be it from me to disagree with the Bible! This is an important reminder to all those who have been living on the fringes of following Jesus for too long, and never chose to take the steps required to build on that relationship. Becoming a follower of Jesus is relatively simple: choosing to accept Him as our Lord and Savior, and following His instructions. However, neither the beginning, middle, or end of the Christian walk is easy. It takes investment and effort to foster and develop that family relationship with Jesus, as well as with others who have made the same choice to follow Him.
However, let us consider those who have truly matured in their faith. They have spent years talking with God and learning from His Word (the Bible), while developing their thoughts, habits, and behaviors to match those that Jesus taught. For those who are in this situation, congratulations! I’m sure that you’ve learned that the process of learning to love like Jesus, and getting to know Him better, is not one that any of us are likely to master perfectly here on earth. In addition, I applaud your investment.
For those who are mature, it can be easy to enjoy the “meat” of God’s Word1. As our understanding of His message to us grows deeper and deeper, the insights and connections that we make help us to understand ever-increasing depths of God’s nature and His work throughout history.
But, even for those who have learned the “meatier” aspects of God’s instructions to humankind, I would like to suggest that it’s OK to have a little milk with your meat, sometimes.
Whether we are appreciating the symbolism of a book like Daniel or Revelation, or re-reading the gospels to see how the life of Jesus was carefully woven together into the fulfillment of prophecy, these are exciting opportunities to learn more and expand our own knowledge. However, that doesn’t mean that simple messages – the “milk” of the teachings of God – aren’t still relevant and appropriate for the mature Christian to study.
For one thing, we cannot lose the basics while studying more “advanced” topics. God’s message is complete and uniform, so deeper discoveries in the Bible confirm what the simplest messages also say. Remembering that we need to love our neighbor is still important, even as we read what that looks like. (Otherwise, we might know what to do, but risk forgetting to actually do it.) Similarly, understanding the subtleties of the Greek and Hebrew language are purely academic if we don’t step back and appreciate the big picture that God has shared with us.
For another thing, maybe someone else needs to hear the basics about a life of following Jesus, even if you are past that stage of your spiritual walk. Said another way, we should remember to make sure that our conversations are considerate of the hearer. To someone who has never heard about Jesus, and how He loves each of us, discussing the genealogy of King David probably isn’t going to be helpful in getting to the point about the good news that Jesus offers us.
So, even if you have studied the Bible and walked with Jesus for years, if the pastor delivers a sermon about a simple topic (like Noah and the animals on the ark), enjoy it. If a radio preacher doesn’t define at least three Greek and Hebrews words during a message, let it go. If a Christian speaker fails to include a Bible verse during a lesson, but makes a point consistent with God’s Word, be OK with that. All of these things are pointing people to God, which is our goal, anyway.
Have a little milk with your meat!
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.