I trust that you have all enjoyed a good and restful holiday. I trust that the children and young people are ready to return to school and studies. I trust that as a church we are ready to focus on a new opportunity for service together and a desire to grow together as a local demonstration of the Body of Christ.
That sounds a good goal, but how do we in fact grow together? To some extent Peter addressed this in his first letter when he wrote, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” (1 Pet 2:2). Peter makes it clear that he expects Christians to grow after they have been saved. In the Spring our garden was full of bare brown patches of soil, but seeds and plants have now grown, increased in size and appearance and cover a lot more of the ground. The appearance of our garden has changed. Therefore the most obvious way to test for growth is to ask, “What has changed?” Where there is no change it is fairly safe to say that there is no growth. It is fairly safe to say that a baby that is still being pushed in a pushchair at 2 years, with no attempt at walking is not growing as expected and must therefore be ill.
Similarly a Christian/ church that is not changing is likely to be ill. That raises the question though, how do we grow as Christians. It would be totally foolish and dangerous to chomp through a bowl of ‘growmore’ or to sprinkle ourselves with ‘baby-bio’. We are not plants. By the same token 3 healthy meals a day will do virtually nothing for our spiritual growth, except that healthy meals might deal with our inclination to gluttony. Peter describes our source of spiritual food as “the pure spiritual milk.” As an isolated statement that is a metaphor that tells us nothing. Linking this verse with 1:23-25 that “speak of the living and abiding word of God” helps us to understand why the authorized Version actually says, “desire the sincere milk of the word.” As Christians we grow as we take in the Word of God, the Bible.
How do we do that? The most obvious way is that we attend church services regularly and listen to the Word of God being preached. It also means that personally we read the Bible as regularly as possible, preferably daily. We can also spend time encouraging each other formally and informally from the Word, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col 3:16).
The first approach is by far the best, so that as a church we are all hearing the same message and as a result grow together in response to that. With the demands of shift work and also the privilege of easier travel, it is all too easy to be away from services on a regular basis. You might find it quite enlightening to take some form of year planner and see how often circumstances take you away from the public gatherings of the Church. That in itself is not sinful, but it does mean that you miss out the spiritual food that is presented in order that the whole church might grow together. Blessing might come or decisions might be made, but you miss out on the whole experience. On various occasions people say to me “I find it so hard to remember the sermon.” No one wants you to remember the sermon, but God wants you to grow as a result of the spiritual food received.
Think of different people visiting a restaurant – Jamie Oliver will assess the meal on its nutritional value; another chef might judge it according to its presentation; an environmental health officer might consider the hygiene of the setting. I just go in to enjoy the pleasure of the food and let it do me good. I cannot explain the food value, nor can I tell you what I have eaten in restaurants over the years, but I do know that I have grown and been satisfied.
The second alternative for feeding on the Word is what has traditionally been called the personal “quiet time.” This is the daily practice of reading the Word and for those who cannot attend services regularly this is a vital discipline as long as it is accompanied by prayer. We should never be content to let a day go by when we have not enjoyed an experience with God.
In a day when we have seen an increased emphasis on the central preaching of God’s Word, we have seen a similar decline in the practice of ‘chatting’ with each other about the things of God. That seems to be Paul’s concern in Col 3:16, the Bible verse quoted above.
We live in an age of terrific technology. No-one need ever miss a sermon if they have a computer, because the majority of sermons can be heard on our website. Similarly those who have CD/DVD players can ask for copies of each Sunday’s message, but this can never equal or replace the gathering together in order to grow together from the Word. So as we focus on another period of service let us each “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.”
Bernard Lewis September 2012