Text: I Corinthians 3:1-9
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In my house growing up there was a familiar phrase that would echo around the dinner table every night. Over and over again. The phrase heard most often probably should have been “Thanks for dinner, mom,” but instead, with three growing boys around the table, was “Please pass the milk.” I honestly can’t recall a dinner that we had together where there wasn’t milk on the table. Pulling the gallon jug out of the refrigerator and bringing it to the table was as much a part of setting the table as was laying out forks and knives and plates and glasses. It’s the same way in our home these days. Except, instead of “Please pass the milk,” the refrain is “Dad, please pour me some milk.” You can imagine what kinds of incidents precipitated the Only Dad Pours Milk rule which now prevails in our house.
The point is that milk is a staple. It’s one of the things that everyone knows is healthy and helpful for the growing body. In fact, it’s so good that a mother’s milk is the only thing that a baby needs for nearly the first year of his life. And beyond that first year we acknowledge that milk continues to benefit us as it strengthens bones and provides much needed minerals for our bodies. So, whether an infant, child or adult, our refrain can always be, “Please pass the milk.”
Paul realizes this in relation to the teachings of the Christian faith as he reminds the Corinthians of the milk he fed to them when he was among them and teaching them in their spiritual infancy. He also acknowledges, as we do, that body, and our soul, need more than just milk. We need solid food which provides for us all the other things that we can’t get from a single item diet. In spiritual terms, as a child of God, we need and want to be growing constantly and partaking of weightier and deeper spiritual truth as we grow in our faith. And yet, as we grow in our faith, we do not cease to be sinful people, forever in need of the basics of the faith we learned
as a child or when we were new in the faith. So, Paul’s message to the Corinthians, and to us, can be summed up by saying,
AS CHRISTIANS WE LONG FOR DEEP SPIRITUAL TRUTH, BUT CONSTANTLY NEED TO RETURN TO THE SPIRITUAL MILK OF OUR INFANCY.
Just like the Corinthians, we’ve been given a strong foundation to our faith through our baptisms and by what we were taught when we were new to the faith, whether that was as a child, or whether we came to the faith later in life. Jesus himself exalts the simple faith of a child when He tells His disciples, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And He also says, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall never enter it.” Paul’s teaching style for the people who were coming to faith as he went about his missionary journeys was clearly a logical course in the Christian faith. Just as one doesn’t learn Calculus before learning simple arithmetic and one doesn’t eat solid food before being nourished by milk for a time, we can’t and won’t understand the deeper spiritual truths before we’ve learned the basics.
It’s always comforting to me that when I struggle, I can return to the simple things I learned as a spiritual infant. ‘Jesus Loves Me’ is an old friend that reminds us of so much of what’s important about the One we worship. Every time we pray, ‘Come Lord Jesus’ we’re strengthened in our resolve to remember and acknowledge the giver of all good gifts. And when we’re in a bind and a simple, yet powerful, bible passage we learned as a youth comes to mind, we have evidence that the spiritual milk we’ve been fed continues to strengthen us in our walk.
And yet, there’s so much more for us to continue to learn as we grow in the faith. We all know that we could spend the rest of our lives studying God’s Word and we’d still have so much
to learn. Which is why we can’t concern ourselves with where along the path we’re at, as long as we are on the path. But too often, we, like the Corinthians Paul is writing to, slide backwards in our sin. Not leaving the path, because we haven’t rejected our baptism, or the salvation it provides, but simply falling into the sins that we so fervently cling to. Paul seems to be a bit perturbed at the Corinthians that they haven’t made greater progress and he says to them, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” Jealousy and strife are common sinful behaviors we each find ourselves guilty of, regressing to childlike behavior as we attempt to show our superiority over someone else as opposed to treating one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We so often think of our sins as things that happen ‘out there’ in the world and yet too often our sinful behavior manifests itself within these walls.
It’s that type of sin that Paul is calling out among the Corinthians. Some are following the teachings of Paul, and others are following Apollos, as if their teachings were anything other than the teaching of Christ himself, simply delivered in slightly different ways. And isn’t that too often the case. The acceptance of the message so often becomes about the one who is delivering it as opposed to the message itself. The solid food being delivered to God’s people should be heard just the same regardless of whose mouth is being used to deliver the message. I don’t know if you’ve experienced it, but I have too often seen the cult of personality at work. Churches that are growing simple because there is a charismatic teacher, even though the message being taught is so far off
base. And on the other side of the coin, churches where the purity of the Word is taught, but because the teacher is not popular, or not as energetic, people stop coming to hear it.
Paul warns against this. He reminds the Corinthians that the message being proclaimed by himself and Apollos is one and the same, and moreover, it’s not their message. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” The truth of the message for us sinners is not in the delivery system, but in the One who gave us the message to begin with, and who causes all seeds that have been planted to grow, according to His will.
We will stumble and we will fall along this path. We will experience jealousy and petty strife along with all manner of other sins. Some days we’re going to feel like we’re ready for the substantial meat of God’s teaching and other days we will simply need the milk we were brought up with. Living this Christian life is about constantly being in flux. Saint and sinner all at once. One step forward and two steps back and then another three steps forward. Having the law to constantly remind us where we have fallen short, but even more importantly to point us to the Gospel which we so desperately need. The message of Jesus, who, sent by His Father, came to earth and dwelt among us in order that He might live the perfect life we are unable to live. And so that He might die on the cross in the place of each of us who rightly deserves that punishment. This is the pure spiritual milk of our infancy. This is what Paul taught to the Corinthians and what we have each been taught. And it’s the very message each of us must remember each time we fall short. And so, may our refrain with our Christian family, here and throughout the world, as we gather with one another, always be, ‘Please Pass the Milk.” Amen
The peace of God which passes all understanding guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.