As we discussed in part 1 of this series, Christians need a wholesome diet of spiritual food to grow properly in Christ. Let's continue where we left off:
Eating Solid Food (strong meat)
Christians that are maturing in Christ are referred to as eating “solid food” or “strong meat”. This means that even as a child grows into adulthood, so you too are growing into Christ-like adulthood.
There are two types of maturing believers – those who are adolescents and those that are approaching full adulthood. Both can eat the same type of meat; they just process the food slightly different.
The adolescent uses the food for the further development of their “spiritual bones” as they continue to grow, while the adult uses the food for energy to keep them going in the faith. But the food is the same regardless.
This means all of the following:
- that you know and understand the Bible pretty well (have read it through at least once or twice) and are learning more about how it was compiled as well as how to apply its doctrines to your life,
- you fully understand and can explain God’s plan of salvation,
- you are attempting to live a holy or consecrated life in Christ (becoming more like Christ and less like the world),
- you are able to identify and operate in your spiritual gifts, you are growing in the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23, Eph. 5:9, and 2 Pet. 1:5-8),
- you actively and consistently take part in a prayer-life and worship services, you have a sense of Godly wisdom, you strengthen/encourage fellow believers, and you can witness to others without being “over-zealous” (being overly enthusiastic).
Heb 5:14 But solid food (strong meat) belongs to those who are of full age, even those who because of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
These types of believers must eat solid food (advanced study of the Bible and its doctrines so that they will not regress spiritually). If you are maturing in Christ, you need to spend time with other maturing Christians. Remember that “Iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the face of his friend.” (Prov. 27:17)
Who is feeding you?
If you are going to grow spiritually, then you must be fed by a pastor or shepherd who is as dedicated to his/her own spiritual development as they are to your development. Your pastor should be growing in Christ at a faster rate (or equal rate) than/as you are.
If iron sharpens iron, then your pastor cannot have a “dull blade”. He/she must always be advancing in the knowledge of God or else they are of no use to you. Hard words, I know, but true none the less.
Paul wrote that he wanted those under his care to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ”. This should be the goal of every pastor –
1Cor. 1:5 “That in everything you are enriched by Him, in all speech and in all knowledge;
2Cor. 8:7 But even as you abound in everything, in faith, and in word, and in knowledge, and in all earnestness, and in your love to us; you should abound in this grace also.
Php 1:9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in full knowledge and in all perception;
Php 1:10 that you may distinguish between things that differ, that you may be sincere and without offense until the day of Jesus Christ,
Php 1:11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
God intends for all of us to bear good fruit (abound) – “Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Mat 7:19). If a pastor cannot grow by feeding him/herself spiritually, what good can they do you?
Positive signs that your shepherd is growing spiritually
Ask yourself the following questions about your spiritual leader based upon what the Scripture dictates –
• Does my pastor show the Fruits of the Spirit? - Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), diligence, virtue (valor), knowledge, temperance (control), patience, and Godliness (2 Pet. 1:5-7). These are sure signs of growth. Your pastor may not have them all yet, but they should be striving for all of these.
• Does my pastor take time with me or other members of our church/congregation? –
Rom 1:9-10, 11“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers… For I long to see you, so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, to you for the establishing of you.” Gal 4:11 I fear for you, lest somehow I have labored among you in vain.”
• Does my pastor truly believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and teach us to trust in it as well? - Rom 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes,” (verse 12) “And this is to be comforted together with you by our mutual faith, both yours and mine.”
• Does my pastor hold him/herself accountable to God and to our church members? -
Mat 12: 35-36 “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings out good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings out evil things. But I say to you that every idle (useless) word, whatever men may speak, they shall give account of it in the Day of Judgment.” Rom 14:12 “So then each one of us will give account concerning himself to God. “ (see also Mat. 25: 14-30, Luke 16:1-13, Heb. 13:17, and I Pet. 4:5)
• Does my pastor exemplify I Timothy 2:3-7? – blameless, with their first spouse (faithful), self-controlled, orderly (modest, good behavior), hospitable, didactic (knowledgeable/able to teach others), not greedy for “ill gotten loot”, gentle, rules their household well (their authority is respected by their family), mature in Christ (not a “novice” – new convert or *babe in Christ).and of good reputation amongst those in the world (a lot of pastors fail here).
Signs that your shepherd is “lagging behind” spiritually
Would you let someone feed you if you knew that their hands were dirty or unclean? Of course not!
Yet a number of Christians constantly allow themselves to be fed by pastors who have “dirty hands”. Please consider this when you are going to follow a spiritual shepherd – if he/she is out of sync with God and His word, where are they really leading you?
A leader cannot give you directions to somewhere that they’ve never been to.
Stop and read I Timothy chapter 3 before going on.
Ask yourself these questions about your spiritual leader based upon what the Scripture dictates –
• Does my pastor display any of the negative characteristics that Paul mentions – of a bad reputation with those outside of my church, unfaithful to his/her spouse, lack of self control, unreasonable, inhospitable, unable/unwilling to teach others, drunkenness, argumentative, “money seeking/money-hungry”, materialistic, or unable to control his/her own family?
• Does my pastor put him/herself before others? Is he/she like those that Paul warns about in II Timothy chapter 3 - self-lovers, money-lovers, boasters (egotistical), proud (arrogant or “puffed up”), blasphemers, unthankful, unholy, concerned more about pleasing people than pleasing God, or merely pretending to be saved while outwardly denying the authority of the Scriptures (having a form of Godliness, yet denying the Power), full of lusts (sexual, greed, etc.)?
*Please note that if we see these “bad fruits” in people, that Paul urges “from such (people) turn away” – 2 Tim. 3:5.
• Which Fruits of the Spirit might they be lacking at this time? (Gal. 5:22-23, 2 Pet. 1:5-7)
All of these questions are necessary to assess whether or not your leader is really capable of feeding you spiritually. Along with the above questions, ask yourself if your pastor is always feeding you milk when you need meat (solid food) or if they feed you meat when you can only handle milk.
A good shepherd spreads a variety on the table so that each believer can get what they need. There should be plenty of spiritual food to go around as the Holy Spirit leads –
Joh 21:5 Then Jesus saith unto them, “Children, have ye any meat?” They answered him,” No”.
Joh 21:6 And he said unto them, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find”. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.
Jesus’ commission to Peter is in actuality a commission to every minister of the Gospel –
Joh 21:11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.
Joh 21:12 Jesus saith unto them, “Come and dine”…
Joh 21:15 Then when they broke fast [finished eating], Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You”. He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
Joh 21:16 He said to him the second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You”. He said to him, “Feed My sheep.”
Joh 21:17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me? Peter was grieved because He said to him a third time, Do you love Me? And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things, You know that I love You”. Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”
Notice that Jesus waited until Peter had finished eating before He asked, “Simon, do you love Me? Feed My lambs.” Peter would not be capable of feeding the Church if he had not eaten first. By causing him to eat first, Jesus was preparing Peter to be in position to answer the questions and then the command to feed the sheep.
Whoever feeds you (the sheep), must have dined at the Holy Spirit’s table first so that they are now prepared to feed you. Remember I said earlier that a leader cannot direct you to a place that they haven’t been themselves.
Jesus tells Peter to feed the “lambs” or babes in Christ first, then feed the maturing sheep, and lastly, feed the older sheep who have been in the Lord for awhile.
Each of the 3 times Jesus asks “Simon, do you love Me?” signifies that Peter must commit to each of the 3 types of sheep (believers) separately.
Only in these individual commitments can the entire Body of Christ be properly fed so that we can grow in Him.
Finally, Christ ends His sayings to Peter (and to all of us in actuality) with the resounding words that He utters twice to keep Peter’s heart focused on Him – “Follow Me”.