What does advanced, mature Christianity look like? Well, sort of like advanced eating.
That is Paul’s metaphor, not mine. In his first known letter to the church at Corinth, Paul drew a clear distinction between those who have advanced in their relationship with God via the Holy Spirit and those who have not. His critique of the church was harsh; despite having had plenty of time to grow in their Christian faith, they remained mewling babies, unable to handle anything except the most basic spiritual food.
The evidence underlying Paul’s accusation was straightforward. The church in Corinth suffered from disunity, breaking into factions and rallying around human leaders rather than Christ and the world-changing message of the cross.
It’s a brilliant metaphor, one that can be stretched far without breaking. Most of us have seen how children grow from milk to mashed food to an eventual desire for nourishment as complicated as red meat. (I’ll just go ahead and apologize to the vegetarians now; feel free to visualize raw kale and radicchio instead.) Many children even exhibit a strong desire to move from one type of food to the next, demanding what they’ve never had when they first see it.
We’re called to hunger in the same way spiritually, moving from the basic, comforting message of the cross to more challenging concepts. Just as it would be sad to see an adult unable to stomach anything except milk, it should sadden us to see people 10 or 20 years into their Christian lives who have not moved beyond a beginning Christian’s understanding of the cross.
C’mon, Try a Bite
With all that in mind, I want to put a spiritual sampler platter before you. If you haven’t tried some of this, you should.
Advanced Bible Study. I’m not just talking about being able to distinguish Noah from Moses. Can you dive into God’s word and tease out the big, overarching messages of Scripture? For example, there are recurring themes like creation and holiness, the brokenness sin brings, God’s overwhelming love for us, and the tremendous gifts of grace granted us. Can you then use those concepts to keep the more complicated or troubling points of Scripture in context?
Do you know what it means to study the Bible inductively, to let the Holy Spirit work through Scripture to shape you and change you? It’s a much better approach than letting your human thoughts and emotions blind you to God’s revealed truths.
You do not have to go to seminary to learn all of this. Every good church offers you the opportunity to learn such things. This church offers you such opportunities.
Advanced Prayer. It’s good to pray the Lord’s Prayer and to take time to pray for your family and others around you. But we can go so much further in prayer.
Ever heard of contemplative prayer? Everyone talks about meditation these days, usually from the perspective of yoga practice or Buddhist teachings. Christianity has its own form of meditative prayer, designed to help us better understand God’s will in our lives.
Ever tried praying Scripture? Using the Psalms as a basis for prayer is particularly helpful and enlightening. We’re going to make it possible for you to learn more about praying the Psalms during Lent this year.
Our goal should be to turn our lives into a walking prayer, to “pray without ceasing,” living in constant union with God. Are we there yet? I’m not, but I know I want more!
Living through your spiritual gifts. Remember last week how I mentioned that God continues to pour out grace on us, in part by granting us new spiritual gifts? Do you know what your gifts are? I continue to be astonished by Christians who don’t know how they are gifted.
The gifts we are given tell us specifically how God is wanting to use us in this world now. Knowing these gifts lets us be more effective as we help God build his kingdom. There also is great satisfaction in developing these gifts.
Portrait of a Healthy Eater
If you’re not trying all the possibilities God has placed before you, maybe it will help if I give you a picture of what a mature spiritual eater looks like. We become spiritually svelte, holy and attractive to God.
In particular, I look to another of Paul’s writings, the letter to the Galatians. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul listed what he called the “fruits of the Spirit,” the result of deep engagement with God.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” Paul said. Who would not want to be described by others as such a person? And as Paul knew, such people have little trouble understanding God’s will and how to live in unity.
As I say sometimes during communion, the table is set. Come, partake.